Posts Tagged ‘Saranac Lake’

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mark Wilson: Where Budgets Overlap, Redraw The Map

With the legislative season over, and as the Big Ugly and same sex marriage debates drift off into memory, and Senators and Assembly members scurry home to their Independence Day parades and summer vacations, a word or two of sanity and frugal budgeting in the quiet wake of the dysfunction that is New York State Politics.

For years now, politicians across the state have promoted cost savings through consolidation of services and the resulting efficiencies: neighboring school districts here, a coterminous village and town there, adjoining public works departments somewhere else. In the vast landscape that is our ongoing fiscal crisis (state, county & local budgets combined), these kinds of economic savings are small potatoes. Any legislator (or governor, for that matter) who is really serious about saving money and eliminating redundancy through consolidation needs to think bigger. Way bigger.

In short, it is time for our state leaders to throw away their microscopes and pick up their surveyors’ transits. It is time to redraw the map of entire counties and regions across New York.

By way of example, consider the Village of Saranac Lake, the poster hamlet for upstate geopolitical dysfunction: one village which overlaps two counties, three towns, two congressional districts, two State assembly districts, nestled high within the Adirondack Park. The inefficiencies are numerous, the taxes redundant, and governmental gridlock over almost any cost-saving measure is guaranteed.

Much of Saranac Lake’s overlapping political chaos dates to 1822, a time when the minds of Albany power brokers conjured up an Adirondacks populated by Wolverattlers, Grizzelopes and general outcasts from polite society. It seemed far easier to determine boundaries from the comfort of a down-state office using a straight edge on flat maps than to take into account more meaningful topographic boundaries such as watersheds, rivers and mountains. The region’s eventual settlement quite naturally followed these more practical constraints and the stage was set for the village’s perpetual governmental tug of war.

Quite recently, the mayor of Saranac Lake declared his village “the capital of the Adirondacks.” For all the scorn and derision this boast brought on, it might just be that he had a point. After all, like Saranac Lake on a grand scale, the Adirondack Park’s geography comprises two whole counties and parts of ten others. Portions of six congressional districts overlap the park. Likewise the park is partially represented by four state senators and six members of the assembly. The population and therefore power centers of all the overlapping political divisions lie outside the blue line, making it the political equivalent of a maple tree dangling a dozen sap buckets.

Attempts have been made over the years to redress the boundary chaos. As far back as 1913 Dr. Lawrason Brown of Saranac Lake proposed an eponymous county for the Adirondacks. Echos of this call for an administrative restructuring have been heard as recently as 2007. More recently a commission in the village of Saranac Lake has looked into changing the hamlet’s designation to a city, thereby seceding from its component township administrative zones. All these efforts have run athwart of deeply vested interests lying outside the proposed frontiers. It is abundantly clear that any change in the wasteful status quo will need to come from less subjective offices in Albany.

Part of the solution will soon rest in the hands of state legislators as they redraw congressional and state legislative districts. This is a prime opportunity to create representation more along lines of common interest and less along lines of political expediency. While this will not end the redundancy of the current county maps, in the Adirondacks at least it will guarantee that the interests of an important cultural, environmental and economic region is at the top of at least a few leaders’ agendas.

A far more productive solution to bureaucratic redundancy and a guarantee of long-term budget savings would be to redraw New York State’s county boundaries from scratch to more accurately reflect over three hundred years of settlement since westerners first began dividing the map. Such a plan is hard to imagine in a state that last saw a significant boundary change nearly eighty years ago. But in the age of GIS and Google Earth, there is less and less defense of lines that were drawn in the middle ages of manual cartography with little or no connection to the real world.

This Commentary first appeared in the Sunday Gazette of Schenectady


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Adirondack Family Activities: Scenic RR Summer Events

There certainly is controversy about the Adirondack Scenic Railroad being a viable tourist attraction versus the tracks becoming an interconnecting bike path through the towns of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.

Those that believe the expense, need and usage isn’t warranted are often pitted against nostalgic train riders who want to ride the rails. For now the Adirondack Scenic Railroad is running full steam ahead for the summer season. For parents wishing for a different type of experience, perhaps this is the way to go.

I have never been sure what made my son stop in his tracks when he heard a train’s whistle. Is it a taste of magic, new destinations or a promise of adventure? For us as we board the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and hear the conductor yell “Ready to button up,” it is a bit of each. With our busy lives this is one Adirondack family activity where we really do get to sit and watch clouds go by. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Historic Saranac Lake Unveiling Photo Exhibit

On June 22, 2011, Historic Saranac Lake will unveil a new John Black Room Exhibit, “The Little City in the Adirondacks: Historic Photographs of Saranac Lake.” Created in collaboration with the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library, the exhibit features almost fifty framed historic photographs of Saranac Lake residents and buildings during the early part of the twentieth century.

The exhibit portrays a vibrant little city with a prospering and diverse economy. Saranac Lake grew quickly in the early 1900s to accommodate thousands of health seekers that came to the village seeking the fresh air cure for tuberculosis, made famous by Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau. The exhibit features the unique architecture of the village as well as photos of local residents at play and at work.

The photographs represent only small portion of the rich photo collection of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library. Library curator, Michele Tucker graciously loaned the photos to Historic Saranac Lake, and a team of dedicated volunteers has worked to install the exhibit. Many of the photos were originally printed and framed by the late Barbara Parnass, who was one of the founding Board Members of Historic Saranac Lake in 1980.

The photograph exhibit replaces an earlier exhibit on World War I in Saranac Lake. The exhibit will be on display for twelve months. Plans are underway for a new, comprehensive exhibit on Saranac Lake history to be installed in the John Black Room in 2012.

The Saranac Laboratory Museum opens June 22. The public is invited to visit the new photo exhibit and the laboratory museum space during regular hours through October 7, Wednesday through Friday from 10:00 to 2:00, or any time by appointment. Admission is $5 per person, members and children free of charge.

Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Room, Saranac Lake Free Library.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

USA Cycling Sanctioned Races This Weekend

Team Placid Planet, a cycling and multisport club based in Lake Placid and the High Peaks Region, will host the 4th Annual Wilmington-Whiteface Road Race on Saturday, June 11th and the 3rd Annual Saranac Lake Downtown Criterium (NYS Criterium Championships) on Sunday, June 12th. Both races are sanctioned by USA Cycling, the national cycling sanctioning body, and provide opportunities for men, women, and youth of a variety of experience levels as well as first-time racers to participate.

More than $4,600 in cash and merchandise prizes, medals and trophies will be awarded. A portion of the proceeds from the race will be donated to local charities in Wilmington and Saranac Lake. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spencer Boatworks Fire [UPDATE]

The building destroyed by fire Early Saturday morning at the Spencer Boatworks compound on Route 3 north of the Village of Saranac Lake was the large converted barn set back off the east side of the road (photos adapted from Google maps).

No full assessment of the damage has yet been released, though the Plattsburgh Press Republican cites a loss figure in the $2 million range. Spencer Boatworks hosts the annual Runabout Rendezvous, a classic boat show on Lake Flower in Saranac Lake. This summer’s gathering is still scheduled on the Spencer web site for July 9th.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spencer Boatworks Fire Recalls 1919 Blaze

The fire that claimed Spencer Boatworks’ storage building on the Bloomingdale Road north of Saranac Lake early Saturday morning destroyed an untold number of antique boats from around the Tri-Lakes region.

The monetary loss at a storage facility renowned for its restoration of and care for rare wooden motor boats—Fay & Bowen, GarWood, Hacker Craft, Chris-Craft, as well as their own designs—could be incalculable. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Missing NYC Sport: Adk Guides Take The Stand

Suspicious circumstances had developed surrounding the disappearance of respected New York City businessman John C. Austin in July 1891. Two insurance companies who held life policies on Austin were deeply interested in his possible whereabouts. Neither had bought the story that Austin had drowned near Coney Island, leaving three small children fatherless. They believed a boat had picked him up and that Austin was now living and hiding out in the Adirondacks.

Colonel Edward C. James, a nationally renowned, colorful attorney represented the insurance companies. His opening statement was a classic. After building to a crescendo, James presented his climactic claim: “Gentlemen of the jury, I will show you John C. Austin as he is today, alive and well.” With that, he unwrapped a heretofore mysterious package, revealing a nearly seven-foot-tall cut-out likeness of Austin, taken from a hunting photograph.

The courtroom was stunned, and for the entire trial, the jury and a packed house of spectators were constantly confronted with a powerfully connected message. Facing them from a corner was the huge likeness of the missing man in hunting regalia, while in the courtroom sat a grand selection of Adirondack woodsmen dressed similarly to Austin, awaiting their turn to testify.

The plaintiffs appeared to have a tough case to prove, but their attorneys approached the trial from an angle that would elicit much sympathy. Pointing to Austin’s three young children strategically placed in front of the jury box, they presented their opening line: “The only question you are called upon to decide is whether the father of these three little children was drowned on July 4, 1891.” The intent was obvious, but no less effective.

Colonel James enjoyed some remarkable moments, shocking the court with the revelation that Austin, widely believed to be very well off financially, was in fact virtually bankrupt. He owed over $2500 (about $62,000 today) on various bills. Since his disappearance, Austin’s home had been sold for substantially less than its mortgage value. Days before vanishing, he withdrew $150 from the business (equal to $3,700 today). And on July 3, he had cashed a $400 check (equal to $10,000), even though his account to cover it held only a $2 balance.

The $400 check (he vanished on July 4—it was written on July 3 but postdated for July 7) had been cashed by his brother-in-law (Carruthers), who was stiffed for the full amount. Colonel James pointed out that Austin, a supposed pillar of society, apparently wasn’t so averse to fraud after all, having knowingly committed it against his own relative. It was powerful stuff.

The keystone of James’ case in support of those suspicious elements was what the media described as the “mountain flavor” of the courtroom. The effect was enhanced by the fact that many of New York’s “well-to-do,” including a number of top attorneys, frequented the Adirondacks as a favored getaway. Their interest in the Austin case was further piqued by the opportunity to see and listen to “their” guides speaking in court. Thus, the serious legal battle did contain a sideshow element.

When the time came for the Adirondack guides to testify, the defense suffered a serious setback. James Ramsay of Lowville said he had known Austin for many years and had delivered him to Crystal Lake in Lewis County just a month after Austin’s disappearance from Manhattan Beach.

However, Ramsay recounted conversations they shared regarding Austin’s recently deceased wife and the status of his children. During intense cross-examination, the details he had provided were shredded due to inconsistencies. The plaintiffs’ attorney suggested that Ramsay’s statements bordered on perjury, delivering a strong blow to the defense case.

Other guides, however, acquitted themselves quite well before a thoroughly pleased audience, some of whom recognized the mountain men by sight. Certain testimony, like that of Charles Bartlett, helped undo the damage from a day earlier. Much was made in the media of the visitors from the mountains and their service in court (their rough appearance was also noted). Colonel James, himself a North Country native (from Ogdensburg), was appreciative of their efforts.

Bartlett was followed by a parade of fellow guides who insisted they knew Austin and had spent time with him. He was said to have stayed for a while at Eagle’s Nest on Blue Mountain Lake. Some described his behavior at the Algonquin Hotel on Lower Saranac Lake, where he displayed outstanding skill on the billiard table. Austin was, in fact, known in New York City as an excellent pool player—one witness had played against him a day or so before he vanished.

Among those who took the stand were Eugene Allen, Edwin Hayes, Robert King, Walter Martin, and Ransom Manning, all described as guides in the Saranac Lake area. Others included Hiram Benham, James Butler, Thomas Haley, Charles Hall, and James Quirk, offering convincing proof that Austin had perpetrated a fraud and was moving about in the mountains, avoiding detection.

The men described encounters with Austin at several well-known establishments: the Ampersand Hotel, Hatch’s, the Prospect House, Miller’s Hotel, and Bart Moody’s. Many of the sightings were by multiple witnesses. One of the biggest problems for the company case was the outright honesty of the guides, who frequently used “I don’t remember” when asked about details from the events of the past few years. They were being truthful, but hearing that statement repeatedly from witnesses helped suggest the likelihood of faulty memories.

When testimony ended, Colonel James offered a fine summation supporting the statements from many people who had seen Austin since his supposed drowning. Trull, the lead attorney for the Austin family, enamored himself with the crowd, making light of the guides’ claims chiefly by attacking Ramsay, who had made conflicting statements. By targeting the guide with the weakest testimony, Trull hoped to dismiss them as a group. He smiled at the weak memories of some, and dismissed as untruthful those who recalled the past with remarkable clarity.

He also ridiculed the idea that a man in hiding could wear “ … leggins’, slouch hat, corduroy trousers, duck coat … what a likely yarn! Dressed in this conspicuous manner … and he wanted to hide!” Trull’s voice fairly dripped with smiling sarcasm.

The analogy was actually warped (though he would certainly stand out in New York City, no man who dressed like that in the mountains would be conspicuous), but the erroneous concept was lost on the jurors—city men who routinely dressed in suits.

In the end, the jury was out only 23 minutes, returning to declare Austin dead. There were several moments of complete silence following the announcement, as if everyone were stunned.

Then, punctuating the victory, Trull revealed the major role that sympathy had played in the case. Turning to the jurors, he said, “Gentlemen of the jury, on behalf of my clients, the three little orphan boys left alone and helpless by John C. Austin, I thank you.”

Excused by the judge, the jury filed out, stopping only to offer Trull an unusual comment that was in keeping with the prevailing air of sympathy: “We want to contribute our fees as jurymen to the unemployed poor, and want you to arrange the matter with the clerk for us.”

The companies later dropped a plan to appeal, instead deciding to cut their losses and pay the settlement. Thus ended the court case over the insurance claims. But as far as the companies were concerned, that’s all that was settled. They remained convinced that Austin had successfully duped everyone and was alive, well, and soon to be much better off financially.

When the Austin family received the death benefit checks, they were at the same time relieved and angry—relieved to collect the amount in full, but angry with the section of the check that said, “Pay to the executors of the estate of John C. Austin, deceased.” The insurance company had drawn a line through the word “deceased,” emphasizing their belief that he was still alive.

Though Austin had been pronounced dead, his story wasn’t. Reports came in of more sightings, and two agencies asked for a bounty in exchange for bringing him to New York.

Barely a month after the trial ended, headlines reported that Austin was under surveillance by a detective in Toronto. Subsequent articles addressed the issues of his status. Having been pronounced dead, was he now safe? Could a country extradite someone who had been pronounced dead? Could the other country accept extradition of a deceased person?

The questions were put to Colonel James, who commented on the jury’s decision: “They did not seem to appreciate the evidence that was presented, and with one fell swoop, they killed Austin and rendered his children orphans. It was sheer murder, but they thought they were right. You may have thought I was jesting when I said that the jury killed Austin. It is not that.

“Actually, Austin is not dead, as this revelation proves. There is no reason to doubt the truth of the report. He is judicially dead in this country. As long as he stays in Canada, he is alive, all right. As soon as he crosses the border into this country, he drops dead—theoretically.”

That’s the last anyone heard of John C. Austin.

Photo Top: Manhattan Beach Bath House on right.

Photo Bottom: Headline from the Austin case.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sketchpad: Governor Cuomo in Lake Placid


Governor Andrew Cuomo came to the new Lake Placid Conference Center on Wednesday to promote three initiatives he wants the State Senate and Assembly to pass before the end of the legislative session.


Village of Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, fresh from Daffodil Festival, made a rare appearance in Lake Placid. The Governor notably referred to the Mayor as “my good friend.” Impressed by the abundance of meeting facilities available in the neighboring village, Mayor Rabideau returned home determined to bring the Olympics to Saranac Lake.


Mayor Rabideau handed off the introduction to “Lake Placid Supervisor Roby Politi.”
North Elba Supervisor Politi thanked Mayor Rabideau for “the sincere introduction,” receiving the biggest laugh of the afternoon.


The capacity crowd at the mint conference center gave Governor Cuomo a warm welcome. The governor’s PowerPoint presentation, refined over recent weeks at locations across the state, addressed the issues of a property tax cap (popular among realtors in the audience), government ethics reform, and gay marriage (popular among local event planners).


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Adirondack Ice: Local Ice-Out Contests

For many, springtime (mud-season) looms as the longest and most trying of seasons. Skating, skiing, ice fishing and other winter sports are no longer possible; hiking trips await drier footing, paddling is on hold until the ice goes out. Adirondackers, often in some desperation, look for diversions to help them survive this interminable time of year.

With the arrival of March, temperatures start to swing wildly from 5º to 65º. Water drips, brooks babble and lake ice slowly dwindles away; not sinking as some would believe, but rather becoming porous and water filled until finally it melts completely and disappears. This happens bit by bit in different parts of lakes and over a period of many days. Ever resourceful, residents take advantage of this phenomenon to provide entertainment in the form of ice-out contests. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Chris Morris: Where Are All The Volunteers?

Earlier this month, volunteer fire departments across New York state took part in a unified recruitment effort, aimed at increasing ranks and attracting younger volunteers.

Hosted by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, the Recruit NY effort was deemed a success.

I reported on the recruitment and retention issues that are, according to most fire departments, putting volunteer ranks at risk. You can listen to — or read — the story here. » Continue Reading.


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