Ed Pitts is a retired attorney and Administrative Law Judge who lives in Syracuse, NY. He is a past president of the Rap-Shaw Club, an Adirondack sportsman’s club founded in 1896, now located on an island in the Stillwater Reservoir. He has a life-long interest in local history especially of the Adirondacks and Central New York.
The subject of cannons in the woods came up while I was sharing a cup of coffee with retired DEC Forest Ranger Terry Perkins at our camp on Stillwater Reservoir. In the middle of our discussion of the old roads and trails of the area Terry paused. “Did you ever hear the story of how a lost hunter once found an old cannon back there in the woods?”
“Yes,” I said, “I’ve heard that story before connected to the old Albany Road.” » Continue Reading.
During a recent discussion concerning pre-Civil War roads in the Adirondacks I mentioned to a friend that I am amazed by the number of people who insist on calling certain roads “Old Military Roads” even though they never had a military purpose.
My friend told me he heard that a hunter once found the remains of an old cannon somewhere near Terror Lake deep in the Pigeon Lake Wilderness. His point, I think, was that the cannon must have been abandoned in the course of some American military expedition along a long-vanished woods road. » Continue Reading.
Jessie Elliott was a unique figure in the history of the Beaver River country in the west central Adirondacks. Visitors to the tiny settlement of Beaver River are still told she went to prison for her role in the bootlegging that was rampant in the lumberjack days of the early 1920s. She is listed among the “lawless ladies” in Niki Kourofsky’s recent book, Adirondack Outlaws. Pat Thompson’s memoir about life in Beaver River claims Jessie rode her steed through the settlement with her long hair flowing and a pistol in a holster on her belt. More fantastic stories about Jessie can be found in Bill Donnelly’s Short History of Beaver River where she is described, among other things, as a good-looking Calamity Jane, a bootlegger, and a prostitute. The truth underlying the legends reveals a much more complex and interesting wilderness woman. » Continue Reading.
Monroe H. “Pop” Bullock was born in December 1846 high on the Tug Hill Plateau in Lewis County. He was the son of Hiram and Almeda Bullock who owned a farm just to the west of the village of Worth. Hiram was the son of Leonard Bullock, earliest settler of Worth, who moved to the area in 1802.
Hiram’s brother, Leonard Bullock, Jr. owned the farm next door. The crossroad between the two Bullock farms was known as Bullock’s Corners. By 1850 the family had moved into the village of Rodman where Hiram and Almeda operated a boardinghouse. This enterprise apparently did not work out well, for by 1860 the family had moved west and resumed farming, this time in Grundy County in northeastern Illinois. » Continue Reading.
In early October of 1925 about a dozen members and guests of the Rap-Shaw Club, hailing from Buffalo, Rochester and Elmira – plus an unlucky guest from Hartford, CT named William C. Roach – gathered at their Beaverdam Pond camp for deer hunting.
The camp was located deep in the forest about six miles north of the Beaver River along the western edge of Nehasane Preserve. Since 1917 the club had rented ten acres on the pond from the Webb family. They had a spacious clubhouse, four cabins and a number of outbuildings.
Every year since the club was founded back in 1896 deer hunting was under the direction of a local guide named Jimmy Wilder. He was a young man when he was first hired as a guide for Rap-Shaw Club. Now he was a 55-year-old experienced woodsman. The members of the Club liked the hard working but soft spoken Wilder. He was short, strong, and ordinary looking. Most importantly, he knew the Beaver River country so well he could walk the woods on a moonless night without a light. » Continue Reading.
Settlement came slowly to the upper Beaver River valley in the west central Adirondacks. John Brown Francis, governor of Rhode Island and grandson of John Brown, the original titleholder, built the first road from Lowville to Number Four in 1822 with the hope of starting a village there. To spur settlement he gave 100 acres each to the first ten families willing to clear the land and establish farms. A number of pioneers moved in, the first of which was a man named Orrin Fenton who arrived in 1826. By 1835 there were about 75 residents. Gradually all attempts at farming failed. By 1864 the settlement of Number Four was nearly deserted. » Continue Reading.
Two books published this year have significantly expanded our understanding of Adirondack architecture. People familiar with the Adirondacks know that twig furniture and palatial robber baron wilderness compounds are the exception, not the rule, for the Adirondack built environment. Unfortunately, until this year there have been no real resources that document the diversity of what really exists along the roadsides and in the settlements of the region. Now, at last, two truly amazing new books have arrived to fill the void. Both books belong in the bookcase of anyone who wants to know more about the Adirondacks.
Destined to become the reference book most often used to jog the memory is A Guide to Architecture in the Adirondacks by Prof. Richard Longstreth ($34.95, 427 pages). Published by Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) and produced by Adirondack Life this book covers the most significant buildings and structures throughout the region. Longstreth is a well-known architectural historian who teaches at George Washington University. He has deep first hand knowledge of the subject having been an inquiring seasonal resident of the Adirondacks since 1978. » Continue Reading.
As the once seemingly endless supply of Adirondack brook trout declined from over-fishing in the late nineteenth century, sportsmen’s clubs turned to fish stocking in an attempt to keep fishing at accustomed levels. Seth Green established what is believed to be the first commercial fish hatchery in the western hemisphere at Caledonia near Rochester in 1864. Green was among those who strongly advocated for New York to engage in fishing regulation and fish stocking. The state established a stocking program in 1868. Green himself brought fish from his hatchery to the Fulton Chain in January 1872. This was probably the first recorded instance of Adirondack fish stocking and incidentally marked the introduction of smallmouth bass into Adirondack waters.
Thus began what a 1981 DEC report on fisheries called a “near maniacal” program of fish stocking in the Adirondacks. New York acquired Green’s hatchery in 1875, then began to construct hatcheries throughout the state. The Saranac hatchery was completed in 1885. The Cold Spring hatchery on Fourth Lake was constructed later the same year. In 1887 the Cold Spring hatchery was relocated to Old Forge just below the dam. At first native trout roe were collected and raised to fingerlings in the hatcheries. As time passed native fish were supplemented with brown and rainbow trout as well as a host of other non-native species. » Continue Reading.
From its founding in 1893, and over the next 30 years, the Beaver River Club was the destination of many of the visitors to the Stillwater area.
It was the summer retreat of wealthy and influential families from Syracuse, Utica and to a lesser extent from throughout New York State. The decision to enlarge the Stillwater Dam and create today’s Stillwater Reservoir utterly destroyed this glittering outpost in the wild. Here is its story. » Continue Reading.