Monday, June 24, 2024

How Mark Friden led the creation of historical society in Clifton-Fine

Mark Friden at breakfast

Adirondack Almanack contributor, Susan Sweeney Smith, who has written stories about Cranberry Lake, has shared a series of profiles highlighting Cranberry Lake/Clifton Fine-area community leaders who dedicate much of their time and energy to volunteer work. These profiles were originally published on the Cranberry Blog. Check out the Cranberry Blog here, and please enjoy a profile on Mark Friden below.

What brought you to the Clifton Fine region?

My family is from Cranberry Lake – and Childwold, and Wanakena. My father grew up in Cranberry and went to school in the village. My step-mother’s family were among the first settlers in Childwold, and my step-dad was a Professor at the Ranger School in Wanakena. Even when living away, I would always come back on vacation. After living away for a lot of my life, I always wanted to return ‘home’ permanently, and was happy when the opportunity presented itself.

How did you find this place and what made you decide to stay?

It has been a part of me all my life! I loved hearing my grandparents tell stories about “the old days” on Cranberry Lake, and living year-round without road access on Union Point. I have been interested in local history since childhood.

When you arrived, what were your first loves?

For me, life was all about being at camp, being on the lake, and exploring the area. My family had annual outings that we’d do every summer, like climbing the Cat Mt. Fire Tower, having a picnic at Burnt Rock, and going to Sliding Rock. With our camp being at the foot of Bear Mountain, there were many, many ascents made of that mountain! Mt father loved to fish, and I was often along on fishing expeditions to places like Hedgehog Pond, Cowhorn Pond, Olmstead Pond and others. There were always things going on in Cranberry Lake, it seemed, and it was great to be a part of such a vibrant community, where everyone pitched in.

What are your volunteer activities and why did you pick them?

I moved back to the Clifton-Fine area from Saranac Lake, where I had been a volunteer for Historic Saranac Lake, just as they were finishing renovating the old Union Station. I think my first volunteer activity in Clifton was either with the Clifton Community Library Board (I was a Trustee and Treasurer for ten years) or possibly with the CFEDC (Clifton-Fine Economic Development Corp; I was Vice-President of the Board). Shortly thereafter, I was given a seat on the Clifton-Fine Hospital Board of Managers (that’s what they called it then). Each of these three activities afforded me the opportunity to do something special and unique for the community. While serving on the Library Board, I was able to represent the entire North Country Library System (NCLS) on the Board of Library Trustees Association of New York State; the first NCLS Trustee to do so. This required attending meetings in Albany several times a year.

I joined the Western Adirondack Presbyterian Church, and was soon thereafter an ordained Elder, serving on the Session. I have also served on the Session of the Childwold Memorial Presbyterian Church. While on the WAPC Session, I chaired the committee that was able to get the Wanakena Church on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. 

In 2007, I was approached and asked if I would be interested in running for Town Justice. After investigating the requirements, responsibilities, and training, I decided to run. I served Clifton as Town Justice for a little over eight years.

Not long after this I sent a letter to the Town Board expressing an interest in the position of Town Historian, should the position ever become available. It was not long after that the then-historian decided to step down, and I was appointed to that position. I have expanded the collections and brought the Historian’s Office more into the public eye by hosting an Open House on the First Friday of every month, from April through October. This has generated more interest in local history, as well as brought more donations for the collections. I became a member of the Board of the St. Lawrence County Historical Association; that organization was 70 years old in 2017, and I volunteered to host the Annual Meeting that year, and do so in Wanakena. Many do not know that the very first St. Lawrence County Historian was J. Otto Hamele of Wanakena, so this seemed like to right thing to do there at the time.

For several years, I recognized the need for a local Historical Society, to engage others in the community. I assembled some volunteers, and we formed the South Woods Historical Society (the name comes from a page in an old atlas of St. Lawrence County, which is how our area was described and labelled). Our biggest achievement to date was hosting a two-day weekend event to recognize and honor all those who had worked at the Newton Falls Paper Mill and at J&L Steel in Benson Mines. We held this at the Star Lake Arena in the summer of 2021, and it was a huge success – close to 500 people attended, which, for our area, was a lot!

Also related to local history, I have volunteered with the Grasse River Railroad Trail Initiative from its inception. I was also on board from the beginning of the Cranberry Lake North Shore Hub, serving on their Advisory Committee and also as the Historian.

I have been a Trustee for the Cranberry Lake Cemetery Association for several years now, serving as Treasurer for the past three years.

Another of my volunteer positions was that of Registrar of Vital Statistics for the Town of Clifton. I spent much of one winter indexing all of the old record books, cross-referencing them to create both an index and a table of contents for each volume. It was a tedious process that was a labor of love – and only needed to be done once!

For several years I volunteered as an Election Inspector, working at the polls on Election Day here in Clifton. It was interesting to be a small part of such an important process!

I am presently finishing up my six-year maximum term on the Cranberry Lake Boat Club Board of Directors. This is valuable organization that does a lot for the community, and it has been a lot of fun (and work!) to be a member and volunteer at various events they put on every summer.

What skills that you learned in your professional lives are relevant here? How do you apply them?

Throughout my life, I have been involved in sports as an official or judge – and sometimes, as a competitor. Being a World and Olympic Level Official for Luge enabled to me to travel to Europe for races, but much of my time volunteering was in Lake Placid at the Olympic Bobsled and Luge Track. Working closely with people not only from other parts of the United States, but from other countries helped me sharpen my communications skills. My background as a linguist came in very handy in communicating with coaches and athletes from Germany, Russia, and other countries. In what now seems like another life, years ago, I was a certified rodeo judge, when I lived in Oklahoma and in Texas. Being a rodeo judge requires you to think on your feet – fast! It also requires that you be as unbiased and fair as possible, and to be well-versed in the rules. I was invited back by several rodeo associations year after year to officiate their rodeos, once they saw I was completely unbiased and “called ‘em like I saw ‘em.” I’ve judged rodeos from Seattle to San Diego, Tucson to Denver, Houston to Kansas City, and Chicago to Washington, D.C. If you’re not good at what you do, you don’t get asked.

What / Who inspires you here and why?

I am inspired by people who think outside the box, and who are tireless. Just when I think I have considered something from every angle, someone will tell me their point of view, and is something I’d not considered. I love moments like that! One person who has inspired me here is no longer with us: Jeanne Reynolds. She was Town Historian just prior to me. She was an artist, which made her very creative in all things. Plus, she was dedicated to doing for the Town, and was a fixture all every event. And she absolutely loved local history. I am also inspired by Halsey Bagg, Commodore of the Cranberry Lake Boat Club. Although new to our area, he has jumped in with both feet and is always looking for ways to improve activities and events for the community. His spirit is contagious!

What do you hope for the future here?

That we can all work together for a common goal: the success and sustenance of our community! I want see us not only survive, but thrive.

Photo at top: Mark Friden enjoying a home-made bagel and coffee at Otto’s Abode in Wanakena. Provided photo.

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Susan Sweeney Smith grew up in Peru, NY and is a 28 year resident of Cranberry Lake. She raised kids and donkeys and dogs and cats in the hamlet. During her professional career she worked in philanthropy and community relations for North Country Public Radio, SUNY Potsdam and supported a host of smaller nfp’s in the region with their philanthropic projects. Today, she’s a community volunteer who believes in Cranberry Lake magic. You can find her writing at

8 Responses

  1. I’ve had the privilege of consulting with Mark on my novels set in and around Wanakena and benefit from his extensive knowledge and generous sharing of the history and lore of the area. Great to read about his contributions in more detail!

  2. "Joel Rosenbaumn says:

    Thanks Susan Smith for the story of the wonderful and interesting life of Mark Friden!

    Joel Rosenbaum (formerly from Massena, NY).

  3. Sally Holden says:

    What a wonderful article! I never knew how to access this until Mark brought it to my attention. It is fabulous! I wish I could help collect stories too. Thank you Mark — thank you Susan. And thanks to everyone who puts this all together.

    ~Sally Holden

  4. Martin Hogan says:

    This is and has been wonderful fascinating articles. I’ve read about a local person in the Adirondack. I’m completely impressed and that the great privilege of Mr. Friden in person. What a fantastic history so far.

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