Friday, February 19, 2010

Marcus Granger: Warren County Fiddler, Poet, Hotelman

Not long after my father purchased the Warrensburg News and its old printing plant in 1958, he found in a box of papers a small booklet entitled “Guide to Schroon Lake and Vicinity,” with Marcus E. Granger listed as the author.

The booklet had been printed in the shop eighty years earlier. Although numerous guidebooks to the Adirondacks had been published before Granger’s, his was unique in two respects. His was probably the first guidebook devoted to Schroon Lake. Dr. Durant’s Adirondack Railroad had been completed in 1872, and the station at Riverside, or Riparius, brought Schroon Lake within reach of tourists for the first time. Second, and even more remarkable, was the fact that it was written entirely in heroic couplets.
After dismissing the wonders of New York City, Coney Island and Niagara Falls, the poet bids his reader follow him “thro’ yon blue hills to yonder crystal lake.” Only a few lines are required to get the traveler from Manhattan, via the train, to the station at Riverside. From here the journey is made by stage, drawn by “E. Leavitt’s champing teams” to Locke’s Hotel in Pottersville, six miles away.

After a meal of “nice brook trout,” the traveler continues another three miles to the boat landing on Schroon Lake, where the steamer Effingham awaits:

“We’ll mount her decks and northward start again,
To view the prettiest lake on earth’s domain.”

But first the reader is introduced to the Effingham’s crew, headed by a Captain Barnett, and including Peter, “the boss engineer.” Then the voyage begins. Three-fourths of a mile north of the starting point, Granger points out the Lakeside Cottage, whose menu features “the speckled trout, the “swago bass and eel.”

At Little Sand Point, there is another boarding house. Beyond Eagle Point comes Benedict Bay, named, Granger says, for the man who put the first steamboat on Schroon Lake.

Next comes South Schroon, good farming country:

“They envy not the owner of mine,
They raise fat cattle, and ditto swine.”

Outdoor sports are not the only joys of an Adirondack vacation. Already the amenities of Lake George are becoming familiar:

“for Mr. Isaac Kierstead is a-going to play,
And his music you’ll find will be lively and gay.”

The author does not slight any of the several hotels in Schroon Lake village, and even adds a visit to “Monroe Leland’s tidy drug store” and to Fisk’s barber shop. He lists the docks where boats may be rented, horse liveries for “grand turnouts,” and the names of those who, he guarantees, will guide the visitor to the best fishing spots.

Granger concludes his guidebook with a visit to Chestertown and an accolade for the Chester Hotel there, operated by Marcus H. Downs:

“The house is well furnished and room a plenty,
“He can lodge and feed one hundred and twenty.”

In the evening he listens to a concert by the Chester band and concludes:

“You’ve come to Chester and heard the band play,
And no further will I ask you with me to stray.
You’ve contemplated all of which I tell,
Accept my thanks, dear tourist, and farewell.”

My father assumed that Granger, like W. H. Murray and Benjamin DeCosta, was a visitor from New York. That, at any rate, was how he identified Granger in an article for the New York Times about the guidebook. It was not until much later that he learned that Marcus Granger grew up in Bolton Landing and never left the region. Until his death in 1902, Granger operated hotels, restaurants and saloons throughout Warren County. Although he weighed over three hundred pounds, it was said that he never once was bested in a bar room brawl.

Granger’s connection with Bolton was no doubt one reason why Jonathan Streeter Gates clipped his obituary, which is preserved in his “Turn of the Century Scrapbook, published by local historian Bill Gates in 1999. There, it is noted that he was a renowned fiddle player. His grandson, Albert Granger, once recalled, “He played in every town, village and hamlet within a radius of fifty miles of Lake George Village.” Despite his girth, he often joined the dancers on the floor.

Granger traveled the roads of Warren County on a buck board behind a little wooly black mare. On the back of the buck board he carried a small pedal organ, a melodian, on which his daughter accompanied him as he played the fiddle.

The little mare herself was distinctive. Her hair was said to be curly as sheep’s wool. Granger first saw her hitched to a coal wagon and vowed that she would be his. When he at last owned her, he had Bronco Charlie Miller train her to perform circus tricks – untying a handkerchief from her foreleg, or bowing her head to count.

I’ve seen a copy of a photograph taken of Marcus Granger in old age. It shows him laughing – proof, if proof were needed, of his grandson’s claim that “when he laughed, he could be heard for blocks, up and down Glen Street in Glens Falls.”

In fact, his laugh was famous. As the anonymous author of the obituary from Jonathan Streeter Gate’s scrapbook said, “As a fiddler for country dances Marcus was in his happiest mood and he enjoyed the merrymaking of the young people as much as they. Then it was that his laugh became infectious.”

The cause of his death was attributed by many to an attack brought on by a fit of laughter.

Illustration: 19th century Adirondack tourists, Lake George Mirror archives


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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.

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