Friday, February 4, 2022

Deer Jackers, Drunkards and Loggers: The Hunt family’s Adirondack Legacy

Some brief history and lore, fact and possibly fiction, of the Hunt branch of my Adirondack gene pool. This story spans the vast rolling wilderness of Connecticut 300 years ago, the tall virgin wilderness forests of Vermont, and then the rugged wilderness of the Adirondacks of New York, and a tiny wooden roof of the 121-year-old Hunt family home in Indian Lake, New York.

hunt house indian lake

Our Indian Lake farmhouse has 121-year-old cedar shakes that are beautifully weathered and dark brown.

A Tiny Roof

Three years ago, I built a small new walkway with a plywood roof to protect people from the ice dam when it falls each spring.  When looking out at the walkway roof from the upstairs bedroom, weather damage is evident on the exposed roof, and it has been getting worse. In the back of the henhouse along with rakes, tools, and my collection of mowers in various states of disrepair, I happen to have some unused bundles of cedar shakes. So for three years, in my daydreams I have imagined nailing on these shingles with our grown up, 20-something daughters, Laura and Elly, as a father-daughter bonding thing.  An unusual and interesting thing to imagine–right?  Well, it’s because that Adirondack house has been in our family for many, many generations, and, as such, is near and dear to my heart.

Fast-forward three years, and it’s October, 2021. And here I am rushing around cleaning and fixing, with guests arriving exactly at 2 PM TODAY.  So–in my last 45 minutes (with the stop work time dictated exactly by my iPhone timer), I put three and one half courses of cedar shakes on the roof. By myself. No daughters in sight.

hunt house


Imagined Conversations

Turns out it was really fun watching that little roof take shape. Like working in hyper-drive, and yet not the Adirondack craftsman experience, or the family bonding time of my daydreams.  I have imagined conversations about cedar and its ability to last more than 150 years, telling my daughters about the history of the house.  We might talk about the Hunt family history as loggers in the lumber camps, my grandmother, Mable Hunt, cooking at the lumber camps deep in the forests of Moose River Plains to be with her new husband, Almon.  ​​


Adirondack Log Drive  (or my alternative caption, Drinkers with A Logging Problem).   Photo used by permission of Adirondack Experience museum.

They might be thrilled to hear about my grandfather, Almon S. Hunt, known as Allie, during the spring high water snow melt, working the dangerous river drives, riding logs and removing log jams with a long pike pole all along the Cedar River and then down the Hudson River. Or I might tell them about Grandpa Allie shooting deer to feed the loggers with his small bore, pump-action 32-20 rifle, or guiding fishing trips for the wealthy owners of the Great Camps in his hand-made Adirondack guide boat. Rumor has it that Allie was a rum runner during Prohibition, taking advantage of his familiarity with the tiny logging roads. He was also rumored to have jacked a deer or two to feed his family during the Great Depression.

hunt bridge

The re-built Durant Bridge by Charles S. Hunt

They might be amazed to learn that the Hunts were renowned wooden bridge builders. Mom’s “Drinking Uncle Charlie,” Charles S. Hunt, even built one iconic bridge to a remote Great Camp on Raquette Lake. Charles Hunt also made the very best snowshoes around, but your grandmother Gladys said not to pay him until the goods were delivered, otherwise your money would be all drunk up. By the way, Grandpa Allie Hunt died when he fell off a bar stool.

olive Gooley

Olive Gooley

I might tell them about my Mom’s Great-Aunt Olive Gooley, (originally Goelet in French) who wrote and recited by memory her long Robert Service-style Adirondack poems to my mom when she was a girl visiting the Gooley Club, a rustic private hunting club catering to rich out-of-staters. She also fictionized the hardships of life in the Adirondacks in 1886 in a story about a tragic hard-drinking Barney Dugan. (excerpt below)

gooley camp

Gooley Club: Confluence of Hudson and Indian Rivers

Opening section of Barney Dugan, His Dream by Olive Gooley, written 1886

“They are deer jackers, loggers, and drunkards …”

My daughters might find it interesting that their ancestors clear-cut their way through two New England states before settling in the Adirondacks–a place finally big enough to hold the Hunts. My wife Wendy and I had our “starter home,” also affectionately known as, “the dump of our dreams,” in Huntington, Vermont–a town named for that same Hunt family after they moved up from Connecticut. My brother Ken Valastro did some deep family tree research and found a reference in the sheriff’s blotter in a local Connecticut newspaper circa 1750 referencing the Hunts residing in the wilderness of Connecticut: “They are deer jackers, loggers, and drunkards …” Ken, knowing both the lore and the reality of the Adirondack Hunt family then noted, “Apparently, apples don’t fall far from the tree in the Hunt family.” I think the girls would get a kick out of uncle Ken’s dry sense of humor.

adirondack guides

Adirondack guide boat on Third Lake

A Caretaker’s Legacy

I have imagined these conversations unfolding as we sort through the pile of cedar shakes, finally deciding on which would be the next perfect one to nail on. And I have imagined that later, we roof builders would look out that upstairs window and admire our tiny roof with pride for as long as we are caretakers of the house.

Oh well. In 45 minutes I got less than half of the roof done.  But it will have to do for now. So Laura, Elly, if you find yourselves at the Indian Lake house and that roof is still not finished, grab one of the Hunt’s old hammers, dig through the workbench for the right nails, and have fun finishing that tiny roof.

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James Valastro is a wildlife tracker, videographer and cartoonist living with his wife and assorted pets in the wilds of Vermont.

15 Responses

  1. Tony F. says:

    I always enjoy paddling under the Duramt bridge and now I can appreciate the history of it on my next trip.

  2. Mary Waldron Henry says:

    I remember Uncle Allie well. My grandmother Minnie Waldron was his sister. She often took me from Raquette Lake to Indian Lake to visit him and Aunt Mabel.

    Uncle Allie was a great carpenter and stone mason. He did drink a bit.

  3. Reba Barnes says:

    My grandmother was a Hunt from Indian Lake and I was wondering how I could get in contact with James Valastro to get more family history.

  4. james valastro says:

    That’s wonderful! Give a nod to my moms “drinking Uncle Charlie”, and his artistic skills as you pass.

  5. Christopher Lehfeldt says:

    Wonderful article! Does the bridge still exist today? Is it the one that Route 30 goes over? Or at the drainage site where Lake Durant flows out, at the campground?

  6. Virginia Hunt Phillips says:

    My father, Eric L. Hunt, was born in Malone, NY. He had relatives in Narural Bridge. I could possibly be related.

  7. Randy clark says:

    How can I get the book Deer jackers, drunkards, and loggers?

  8. Kenneth Hunt says:

    My great grandfather Carmi Hunt, was a logger from Enosburgh Falls Vermont. Are we related? We ended up in Ray Brook, NY.

  9. Keith Hunt says:

    A fun read. Yes, I did quickly check for any linkage between my clan and yours. You would think that with all that clear cutting, our family trees may have fallen on a shared forest floor! My Hunt branch from Virginia must’ve been scared off by the work and headed South to Mississippi but who knows… Maybe back in the streets Of England, our brothers shared a beer or two…no doubt.

  10. James valastro says:

    Thanks for your fun note. And your research. Yes indeed , I am sure they drank a pint of something back in the old country.

  11. G.F Bell says:

    I remember Allie well !
    Well as good as a 3rd or 4th grader could.
    Toward the end of days he scared my father (stan Bell) really bad .
    Allie could not see very well, and would run a table saw (I think it was) and he would hold his hand close to the blade to feel the breeze to know where it was!

    • James Valastro says:

      Hi G.F.Bell, I knew your dad as the “Old Mr Bell” who lived diagonally across the street from our house. One summer day as I wandered home through the back woods, with a single shot 20 gauge shotgun, a Partridge startled me by bursting into the air full of noise, without thinking I sent a shot it’s way, and made a clean shot. I was startled. (I’m not saying how old I was at the time). And amazed. And had no idea what to do next. At home, my mom Gladys Valastro simply said- “go over to Old Mr Bell and have him show you how to clean it. That can’t go to waste. So i did. Mr Bell stopped having his afternoon Old Moosehead Beer long enough to show me how to dress a bird. I will never forget that.

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