Thursday, February 25, 2021

Going to the Poorhouse: Dorothea Dix In The Adirondacks  

It must have been cold that November day in 1843 when Dorothea Lynde Dix, a confirmed spinster at the age of 41, boarded the Albany to Montreal stagecoach. The stage would take the 220 mile winter route through Rensselaer and Saratoga counties before continuing on into the mountainous Adirondack counties of Warren, Essex, and Hamilton. Having grown up in abject poverty in an icebound cabin in the wilds of Maine, Dorothea was well acquainted with the bitter cold of a Northeast winter but now, no hardship, not even the frigid North Country weather, would stop her.  She was on a mission.

Ever since she had discovered mentally ill people chained to the walls in the basement of the East Cambridge, Massachusetts jail three years earlier, Dorothea had considered it her calling to bring the plight of the lunatic as they were called, to the attention of the public. She spent the next two years visiting jails, almshouses, and even private homes, going where ever she was told there were people who suffered in their mind, the ones who heard voices, the ones they called mad.

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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Hugging Ice: Saranac Lake’s winter palace


This month, one block at a time, an ice palace emerged again on the shore of Lake Flower. If you had the chance to stop by, you may have felt its warm embrace.

The massive ice blocks of the palace remind me of the stone walls of Machu Picchu. Relying on a system of communal labor called mit’a, the Inca built enormous stone structures and highly engineered roads and bridges. Each citizen who could work was required to donate a number of days of their labor to cultivate crops and build public works. Historians of ancient Peru trace the ways the mit’a system forged a complex society. Working together, people developed friendships and bonds of reciprocity that served the common good throughout the year.

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Friday, February 12, 2021

John Brown’s Farm: 125 Years in Support of Abolitionist History

John Brown Farm

Celebration of John Brown Farm as a NYS Historical Site

When you stand at the grave of famed abolitionist John Brown, you stand at the intersection of the timeless forest and the modern society that humans have created. Behind you rises the “Cloudsplitter” that has framed this view for as long as anyone has looked at it. In front of you looms the Olympic ski jump, and down the road are other signs of a busy human world: upscale summer homes, an airport, a major highway. Looking in one direction shows you history. Looking in the other shows you a modern world that may not seem to have much in common with the past…right? At John Brown’s Farm in North Elba, I don’t believe this to be the case.

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Thursday, February 11, 2021

Stewarts Landing: Long dammed but still special

With the water down for the winter, it’s easy to imagine the channel as the Mohawks of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy once saw it.  Though the current dam on Stewarts Landing determines the summer level of the water, the top of the upstream rapids appearing when the level goes down is the determining factor for the winter level.  This waterway was suitable for canoeing long before any dams were constructed.

What we call Stewarts Landing is the 2 mile stretch of flat water carrying the outflow of Canada and Lily Lakes to a concrete dam. Once called Fish Creek, the stream through and below Stewarts Landing is currently known as Sprite Creek.  Below the dam, the unnavigable rocky stream flows into East Canada Creek, which joins the Mohawk and then Hudson Rivers.

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Thursday, February 4, 2021

History Matters: Three Doctors in One Act


Seeking some historical perspective on the current pandemic, Historic Saranac Lake recently hosted an imaginary panel discussion at St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery. Three generations of Doctors Trudeau shared their thoughts on change and continuity in science and public health.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

DOCTOR 1: Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau (1848-1915) Leader of the sanatorium movement in the U.S., founder of the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium and the Saranac Laboratory. (Pictured, left, in the Saranac Laboratory. HSL Collection.)

DOCTOR 2: Dr. Francis Berger Trudeau (1887-1956) Saranac Lake physician and leader of the sanatorium after his father’s death. (Pictured, center. Courtesy of the Saranac Free Library) 

DOCTOR 3: Dr. Frank B. Trudeau (1919-1995) Prominent local physician and founder of the Trudeau Institute. (Pictured, right, opening the doors of the Trudeau Institute for the first time. HSL Collection.)

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

A librarian’s memories of working at ‘The Club’ and Dewey’s legacy

By Wayne Miller

Gary Peacock’s piece on Melvil Dui, nee Melville Dewey, spurred my memories about both ‘The (Lake Placid) Club’ and Mr. Dewey.

Dewey had additional connections to the Adirondacks: The Library Bureau and its plant in Ilion produced a number of innovative products constructed of Adirondack maple and other hardwoods, including the card catalog cabinets that used to greet patrons as they entered every library. These and other library staples were needed to implement the Dewey Decimal System. While online catalogs have decimated card catalogs, some of the Library Bureau’s products, like the book truck, remain staples of libraries and bookstores world-wide.

Prior to the system’s invention by Melvil, libraries were arranged using an assortment of methods including when the book was added to the collection, the size of the book, or its color. The system itself was dependent upon use of a printed work whose size and complexity grew as the sum total of recorded human knowledge grew. By the third quarter of the 20th century, the full Dewey Decimal System had grown to three large, thick volumes or, for smaller libraries, an Abridged version, itself several inches thick. Used by over 80% of the world’s libraries, each of the more than twenty new editions became an essential purchase for every library using the DDS. This extensive recurring market and the profits it generated became a part of a brilliant tax avoidance scheme.

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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Where is the north country?

I was thinking it might be fun to try a new discussion thread each week. To get the ball rolling I was digging through the Almanack archive and came across this post from 2013 titled “Where Exactly is the North Country?”, written by Herb Hallas.

In his essay, Hallas traces the origin of the term North Country back to “the author, Irving Bacheller, when his novel, Eben Holden: A Tale of the North Country, became a literary sensation in 1900. Bacheller was born in Pierrepont, St. Lawrence County, NY in 1859 and graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1882. Two years later, he founded the first U.S. newspaper syndicate and introduced the writing of Stephen Crane, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Conrad to American readers. Bacheller retired from newspaper work in 1900 to concentrate on writing novels. Eben Holden: A Tale of the North Country was his fourth novel and it became a runaway best seller.”

While Bacheller’s “North Country” referred to St. Lawrence County, Hallas cites five varying versions of what counties and places make up the North Country.

What are your thoughts? What comes to mind for you when hearing “North Country”? Does the North Country have a distinct identity apart from the Adirondacks or are the two forever linked together?

Image from NYS Empire State Development


Sunday, January 17, 2021

Driving the Northway with Paul Schaefer

As the decade of the 1990’s began, noted Adirondack conservationist and wilderness coalition leader Paul Schaefer’s eyesight was failing. He had macular degeneration. We had noticed that this skilled carpenter, home and cabin builder and historic restorationist was no longer hitting the nail squarely on its head.

We worried about him continuing to drive. Some of us were eager to drive him to meetings or to his Adirondack cabin and, increasingly, he accepted our invitations. He had a lot to say to those who drove him or sat with him in his living room or at his Adirondack cabin before a blazing fireplace. Paul liked his fires hot.

His larger-than-life experiences, salted with many humorous moments, crackled along with the logs in his hearth. Paul laughed heartily in recounting his adventures, and those of us privileged to sit with him joined right in.

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Thursday, January 7, 2021

HISTORICAL PROFILE: Bartonville Mountain of Brant Lake

Brant Lake in the Town of Horicon, Warren County, offers opportunities for the outdoor enthusiast to kill some time and enjoy a relaxing day. One can indulge in canoeing, kayaking, or fishing on the lake, or venture to Bartonville Mountain to go mountain biking, trail running, hiking, or, in the winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The trailhead for Bartonville Mountain is in back of a business called The Hub, located on 27 Market Street in Brant Lake, by Mill Pond. The Hub is a bike shop, restaurant, and bar, so after expending some energy outdoors, one can head to The Hub to enjoy a good lunch or refreshment.

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Sunday, January 3, 2021

It’s a Wonderful Life, Tony Anderson

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives.
When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole.”
— It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946


This is a good time of year to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Set in a fictional town in upstate New York called Bedford Falls, the movie tells the story of a man named George Bailey who discovers how much his life matters. The movie brings to mind the wonderful life of Saranac Laker, Alton “Tony” Anderson.

Tony Anderson fell ill with tuberculosis while working as a toolmaker in Southington, Connecticut. As a member of the Masons, he received financial help to come to Saranac Lake for treatment in 1919. “I came here to die,” Tony used to say.

Facing death, Tony received a gift, a chance to imagine the world without him. He made his home here and dedicated his life to giving back. He served as village mayor for nine terms. He worked as the volunteer ambulance driver and as a plane spotter on top of the Hotel Saranac during the war. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, the Elks Club, the Rotary, the Boat and Waterway Club, the hospital board, and the blood bank.

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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Town of Long Lake Receives Grant for Five N.Y.S. Historic Markers

Five New York State Historic Markers were awarded to the Town of Long Lake. They were funded by a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation for the New York State Historic Marker Program.

The five signs were awarded to commemorate four locations in Raquette Lake. Including the Raquette Lake Rail Bed, Raquette Lake Hotel, Raquette Lake Train Station and the Raquette Lake General Store and Supply.  The sign in Long Lake will commemorate W.W. Durant’s Buttercup Steamboat which was deliberately sunk in 1885 and recovered in 1959.

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Sunday, December 20, 2020

Uncovering the mysteries behind a bridge’s remains

The First Suspension Bridge to Cross the Hudson River – 1871

Eight or ten years ago, when some of the last of the Finch-Pruyn lands were transferred from the Nature Conservancy to the State of New York, my wife and I hiked into Palmer Pond and then bushwhacked down to the Hudson River on the last of their logging roads.  Almost at the edge of the riverbank there was a log-header and just behind he the header was what appeared to be the remains of an old roadway.  We followed the overgrown roadway for approximately a quarter of a mile.  We then turned around, not knowing if we had inadvertently hiked on to private lands.  However that memory of the roadway lingered in my mind.  Where did it go ??

A few years later a friend and I were paddling the Hudson River from Riparius to the Glen and after paddling through “Z rapids” and “Horse Race Rapids” we stopped to rest at the Washburn’s Eddy.  There, my friend pointed out (river left) two iron cables that reached down the rock face and entered the water.  What was this ?   My friend told me that it was the remains of a bridge that had one time crossed the Hudson River.

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Saturday, December 19, 2020

Adirondack history website brings museums, orgs together in one place

To say that John Sasso is passionate about Adirondack history would be an understatement.

He’s the founder of the History and Legends of the Adirondacks group on Facebook, which launched five years ago and has since grown to almost 21,000 members. In that forum, Sasso frequently posts his own research into the history of different peaks and the areas that surround them. Some of those historic peak profiles have been published here as well. Click here to see John’s work on the Almanack.

On top of all that, John has been quietly working behind the scenes on a personal project: An interactive map of historical organizations, museums and related landmarks.

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

Mount Marcy: The Name, The Climb, The Legacy

The first known ascent of Mount Marcy occurred on August 5, 1837 when a team of New York State Geologists, led by Ebenezer Emmons, spent a glorious five hours on top of the peak.

But it was not Emmons that best described what his team saw that day. Instead, it was his intrepid guide, John Cheney, that historians most often quote. Looking out over the vast range of mountains and lakes below them, Cheney observed, “It makes a man feel what it is to have all creation placed beneath his feet.” What Emmons did make note of on that brilliant August day was the presence of ice patches up to a half-inch thick scattered about the summit. Still, the lead geologist for the New York State Survey could not comprehend the existence of huge boulders, or erratics, that were left behind by glaciers. Emmons thought at the time that they were there as a result of a biblical-type flood.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Coming home to play

“Oh, how cute!”

That was our first impression on seeing the little piano in Linda Kaiser’s basement in Syracuse.

Then we tried to carry it up a flight of stairs.

Linda had called Great Camp Sagamore’s executive director, Emily Martz, to donate the piano that she and her husband Harvey bought at an auction on Sagamore’s Main Lodge lawn in October 1975.

The piano has only 61 keys – the standard is 88. Margaret Emerson probably bought it for her children to play at Sagamore. Her grandson, Alfred Vanderbilt III, remembers playing a piano with “a strange number of keys” when he would visit camp as a young child.

Linda’s generosity reminds us of the extraordinary confluence of institutions, individuals, and events that surrounded that fall weekend in 1975.

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