Among the folks who played an important role in regional history and personified the traditional Christmas spirit was Willis Wells of Lake Placid. Long before Willis gained attention, his father, Duran, a Peru, New York, native, had become a North Country fixture, operating a peddler’s cart in the post-Civil War years. From the shores of Lake Champlain to the Paul Smith’s area, he supplied homes and farms with the daily needs of life, an important function in those early days when stores visited many of their customers.
Duran was somewhat of a showman, adding to his popularity. His arrival at large hotels like Smith’s, or the Stevens House at Lake Placid, was greeted by requests for his famous team of gray horses to perform. Wells had taught them several tricks (playing ball, standing on their hind legs, etc.). Guests loved it, and it was a great advertising gimmick to boot.
Success as a peddler led to Duran settling down and operating a store in Lake Placid in the late 1870s. The business flourished, but the onset of rheumatism eventually left him crippled and unable to work, forcing him to retire by the age of 50. » Continue Reading.