Monday, February 14, 2011

Lawrence Gooley: Love So Strong, It’s Criminal

(Warning: If your partner reads this, expectations for today may rise.) Ah, Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. Chocolates, flowers, and special cards are a must. Maybe a family meal, or perhaps a romantic dinner for two. Jewelry? Diamonds? The sky’s the limit when it comes to making your sweetheart happy and showing true dedication. But it’s all pretty amateurish compared to real commitment. Which brings us to Fred Roderick and Agnes Austin.

Here’s the story as described in 1883 in a couple of newspapers. Without hard facts, I can’t account for all the details, but you gotta love the sense of purpose, focus, and ingenuity this couple used to achieve togetherness.

At Sageville (now Lake Pleasant, a few miles southeast of Speculator), Fred Roderick, about 25 years old, had been jailed for stealing a pair of horses, which had since been returned. In those days, a convicted horse thief could expect to do time in prison. Next to murder, it was one of the most serious crimes—horses were a key component to survival in the North Country.

In rural Hamilton County, it was no simple task to organize a trial, so for several months the county jail served as Roderick’s home. It was lonely at times, but he wasn’t entirely without company. Every Sunday, the local Methodist pastor brought a dozen or so members of his congregation to the jail, where they sang songs and held a prayer meeting.

For a couple of years, young Agnes Austin was among the church goers who participated. Shortly after Roderick’s incarceration, parish members noticed that, instead of lending her voice to the choir at all times, she seemed to have taken a personal interest in Fred’s salvation.

Soon Agnes gained special permission from the sheriff for weekday visits which, she assured him, would lead Roderick down the straight and narrow. But it seemed to work in the reverse. Agnes began showing up less often on Sundays and more frequently during the week. Imagine the whispers among her church brethren. Their pretty little friend was consorting with a criminal!

Or maybe her missionary efforts were sincere after all. Fred Roderick finally came forward and accepted religious salvation, owing it all, he said, to young Agnes. People being what they are, tongues wagged more frantically than ever about the supposed scandalous goings-on. Mr. Austin forbade (what was he thinking?) Agnes from making any further jail visits. Taking it one step further, he spoke to the sheriff, hoping to kill a tryst in the making.

It wasn’t long after that Agnes disappeared. With her supposed lover lingering hopelessly in jail, why would she run away? Well, as it turns out, she didn’t. Agnes and Fred had made plans. She was told to hide out at his father’s camp, where he would join her after his escape. (Country jails were often loosely kept, and escapes were common.)

After waiting more than a week, Agnes took matters into her own hands, which led to a sight that shocked the residents of Sageville. A constable rode into town, and behind him trailed Aggie Austin. The charge? That she was a horse thief. In broad daylight, she had taken not just any horse, but one of the very same horses Fred had stolen.

Because she was female, and because she made no effort to run when pursued, bail was set at $600—which Agnes immediately refused. To the puzzled bondsman and the sheriff, she explained: if Fred couldn’t be with her, then she would be with Fred. To that end, she left the camp, stole a horse, made sure she was caught, and now refused to be bailed out of jail.

It gets better. The next morning, Fred informed the sheriff that he wished to marry Miss Austin, and Agnes confirmed the same. Papa Austin most certainly would have objected, but Agnes was 19, of legal age to make her own choice. And that choice was Fred.

The judge was summoned, and the sheriff and his deputies stood witness to the joining. The district attorney weighed in as well, contributing what he could to the couple’s happiness.

Though they must be tried separately, he promised to “bring both cases before the same term of court, and thus allow the pair to make their bridal journey together to their future mountain home at Clinton Prison.”

Now THAT’s commitment.

Photo: Clinton Prison at Dannemora, notorious North Country honeymoon site.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, February 7, 2011

The Wreck of the George W. Lee

In November 1886, Captain John Frawley of the canal boat George W. Lee reached the eastern terminus of the Mohawk River at Cohoes. Before him was the Hudson River leading south to Albany and New York City, but Frawley’s intended route was north. At this critical waterway intersection, the Champlain Canal led north from Waterford to Whitehall at Lake Champlain’s southern tip.

Access to the Champlain Canal was on the north bank at the Mohawk’s mouth, opposite Peeble’s Island. Just as there is today, at the mouth of the river was a dam, constructed by engineers to enable canal boats to cross the river. About 500 feet upstream was a bridge. Canal boats were pulled by tow ropes linked to teams of mules or horses. To cross from the south bank to the north, towing teams used the bridge, which is what Frawley did.

Sounds simple, and usually, it was. But the Mohawk was badly swollen from several days of rain. Traveling at night, Frawley was perhaps unaware that the normally strong current had intensified. Water was fairly leaping over the nine-foot-high dam.

Accompanying the captain were his mother, around 60 years old; his ten-year-old son; and the boat’s steersman, Dennis Clancy. To help ensure that things went okay, Frawley left the boat to assist the team driver during the crossing of the 700-foot-long bridge. They moved slowly—the rope extended sideways from the bridge downstream towards the boat, which was much more difficult than pulling a load forward along the canal.

Below them, the George W. Lee lay heavy in the current, straining against the rope. All went well until the bridge’s midpoint was reached, when, with a sound like a gunshot, the rope snapped. Horrified, they watched as the boat swung around, slammed sideways into the dam, and plunged over the edge. Nothing was left but darkness.

Shock and grief enveloped them at such a sudden, terrible loss. Within minutes, though, a light appeared on the boat’s deck. It had held together! At least one person had survived, but no one knew how many, or if any were injured. The roar of the river drowned out any attempt at yelling back and forth. With the boat aground, there was nothing to do but sit and wait until morning.

With daylight came great news. All were okay! But, as had happened the previous evening, great elation was followed by great uncertainty. How could they be saved? The river remained high and dangerous. The boat, resting on the rocks below the dam, could not be reached. And the November chill, heightened by cold water pouring over the dam all around them, threatened the stranded passengers with hypothermia.

A rescue plan was devised, and by late afternoon, the effort began. The state scow (a large, flat-bottomed boat), manned by a volunteer crew of seven brave men, set out on a dangerous mission. Connected to the bridge by a winch system using two ropes, the scow was slowly guided to the dam, just above the stranded boat.

The men began talking with the passengers to discuss their evacuation. Then, without warning, disaster struck. Something within the winch mechanism failed, and again, with a loud cracking sound, the rope snapped. Over the dam went the scow, fortunately missing the canal boat. Had they hit, the results would have been catastrophic.

Briefly submerged, the scow burst to the surface. A safe passage lay ahead, but the drifting scow was instead driven towards nearby Buttermilk Falls by the swift current. Two men leaped overboard and swam for shore in the icy water. The rest decided to ride it out.

In one reporter’s words, “The scow sped like an arrow toward Buttermilk Falls. It seemed to hang an instant at the brink, and then shot over the falls. It landed right side up and soon drifted ashore.” Incredibly, everyone survived intact. Chilled, wet, and shaken, but intact.

Meanwhile, still stuck at the base of the dam was a canal boat with cold, hungry, and frightened passengers. A new plan was needed, but darkness was descending. The stranded victims would have to spend another night on the rocks.

On the following day, Plan B was tried. According to reports, “A stout rope was stretched from the Waterford bridge over the dam to a small row boat at Peeble’s Island [a distance of about 1800 feet.] Two men stood on the bridge and pulled the skiff upstream until it came alongside the canal boat Lee. The party embarked and the boat was allowed to drift back to the island.”

What an amazing, fortuitous outcome. Two boats (one at night) over a dam; three people trapped for more than 36 hours in a raging river; two men swimming for their lives in icy water; and five men and a boat over a waterfall. All that potential for tragedy, and yet all survived unscathed.

Photo Top: The dam at Cohoes, looking west from Peeble’s Island.

Photo Bottom: A canal boat scene at Cohoes.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

War Of 1812 Symposium Planned for Ogdensburg

During the War of 1812 the dogs of war barked and bit along the U.S. northern frontier from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain as American forces tangled with their British and Canadian counterparts for two-and-a-half years. The War of 1812 in this region, and its wider implications, will be topics at the third annual War of 1812 Symposium April 29-30 in Ogdensburg, NY, sponsored by the Fort La Présentation Association.

The five presentations by authoritative Canadians and Americans are: Ogdensburg and Prescott during the War of 1812, Paul Fortier; American supply efforts on Lake Ontario: “Cooper’s Ark,” Richard Palmer; “Colonel Louis” and the Native American role in the War of 1812, Darren Bonaparte; The war on the St. Lawrence River, Victor Suthren; and Excavation of American Graves at the 1812 Burlington Cantonment, Kate Kenny. The post-dinner address by Patrick Wilder is the Battle of Sackets Harbor

“We established the symposium in advance of the war’s 2012 bicentennial to help develop a broader public understanding of the War of 1812, so important to the evolution of the United States and Canada,” said Barbara O’Keefe, President of the Fort La Présentation Association. “The annual symposium is a vibrant forum of scholars from both sides of the boarder presenting informative seminars to an enthusiastic audience of academics, history buffs and re-enactors.”

The cost of the symposium is $100 for the Saturday seminars and after-dinner speaker, including a light continental breakfast, a buffet lunch and a sit-down dinner. The Friday evening meet-and-greet with period entertainment by Celtic harpist Sue Croft and hors d’oeuvres is $10.

The symposium and dinner fee for Fort La Présentation Association members is $90, and they will pay $10 for the meet-and-greet.

Other pricing options are available: $80 for the Saturday seminars without dinner; and $35 for the dinner with speaker.

Seminar details and registration instructions on the Fort La Présentation Association webpage.

The Freight House Restaurant in Ogdensburg will host the symposium, as it has in previous years.

The Fort La Présentation Association is a not-for-profit corporation based in Ogdensburg, New York. Its mission is to sponsor or benefit the historically accurate reconstruction of Fort de la Présentation (1749) in close proximity to the original site on Lighthouse Point.

Seminar Presenters

Darren Bonaparte from the Mohawk community of Ahkwesáhsne on the St. Lawrence River is an historical journalist. He created the Wampum Chronicles website in 1999 to promote his research into the history and culture of the Rotinonhsión:ni—the People of the Longhouse. Mr. Bonaparte has been published by Indian Country Today, Native Americas, Aboriginal Voices and Winds of Change, and he has served as an historical consultant for the PBS miniseries The War That Made America; Champlain: The Lake Between; and The Forgotten War: The Struggle for North America.

Paul Fortier, of Kingston, ON, worked 10 years as a military curator and historian for Parks Canada and a following 10 years as a manager at the National Archives of Canada. While living in Prescott, ON, the home he restored was the Stockade Barracks, British military headquarters on the St. Lawrence River during the War of 1812. Mr. Fortier is a founder of the re-enacted Regiment of Canadian Fencible Infantry. He owns Jessup Food & Heritage, providing period food services at Upper Canada Village, Fort Henry and Fort York.

Kate Kenney is the Program Historian at the University of Vermont Consulting Archeology Program. She supervises historic artifact analysis and also helps supervise field work, particularly at historic sites. She is the senior author of Archaeological Investigations at the Old Burial Ground, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Ms. Kenny has organized and conducted UVM CAP public outreach, including presentations to elementary and high school students. Personal research projects involve Vermont history from the earliest settlement through to the Civil War.

Richard F. Palmer of Syracuse is a senior editor of “Inland Seas,” the quarterly of the Great Lakes Historical Society, and has written some 40 articles for the publication, covering more than 250 years of Lake Ontario’s maritime history. His presentation on “Cooper’s Ark,” is the story of a short-lived floating fortress built in Oswego during the War of 1812, but lost in a storm while sailing to Sackets Harbor. He’ll also recount the attempt to raft lumber for the construction of ships from Oak Orchard to Sackets Harbor; the delivery was intercepted by the British.

Victor Suthren, from Merrickville, Ontario, is an author and historian. He served as Director General of the Canadian War Museum from 1986 to 1998, and is an Honorary Captain in the Canadian Navy and advisor to the Directorate of Naval History and Heritage, Department of National Defence (Canada). He has worked as an advisor to film and television productions and has voyaged extensively as a seaman in traditional “tall ships.” Mr. Suthren has published several works of historical non-fiction, as well as two series of historical sea fiction.

Patrick Wilder is an historian retired from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. He is the author of The Battle of Sackett’s Harbour, 1813.

Photo: Canadian Fencibles Colours, courtesy Fort La Présentation Association.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Travelling by Ice: Ice Bridges and Short-Cuts

Ice sports bring us out on frozen lakes for the sheer pleasure of being there. But through the years, folks have traveled our “winterized” lakes and rivers for a number of more practical reasons such as visiting friends and relatives, or hauling food, hay, coal, firewood, furniture, logs, milk and just about everything else imaginable.

In the late 19th to the early 20th century, the term “bridge” was commonly used to refer to the ice which allowed for these crossings. Note the following report from the Plattsburgh Sentinel, 2 March 1923: “The ice bridge between Willsboro and Burlington is quite extensively used, many visiting the city for both profit and pleasure.”

Throughout the 1800s, horse-drawn sleds and stagecoaches carried paying passengers on regularly scheduled trips back and forth across Lake Champlain between New York and Vermont. As recently as 2010, when the worn Crown Point bridge had to be destroyed, folks again took advantage of the ice to commute across Lake Champlain to their jobs.

Milda Burns of North River said her father told her that from 1890 until 1930, he bridged the Hudson River by “brushing” it. This meant laying tree branches and twigs across a shallow part of the river to damn up the ice flowing downstream. In this way, ice built up to a depth sufficient to make a road strong enough to support horses and wagons crossing to the other side.

Ice crossings were also carried out for military reasons. By the 1600s, Indians, French Canadians and the English traversed Lake Champlain, most often to do battle with one another. One of the more famous crossings was that of Rogers’ Rangers, a British scouting force, which in the 1750s, retreated from the French by snowshoeing some thirty miles down the length of Lake George.

In 1870, Thomas H. Peacock accompanied his father on a trip from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake to bring supplies to several lumber camps. As the road would have been long and hilly, they cut the distance in half by traveling over the frozen Saranac Lakes, pulling a sled full of 25 to 30 bushels of potatoes, two or three quarters of beef, a large load of horse hay and eagerly anticipated mail. The trip took eighteen hours.

Loggers also followed frozen lake routes to shorten trips and bring logs out onto the ice where they were dumped and left waiting until spring. When the ice thawed, the timber was floated downriver to the sawmills.

An extraordinary variety of “freight” has been moved across the ice. Some folks still live year-round on road-inaccessible lakeshores or islands. In the winter, they must pull their groceries home using skis, snowshoes or snowmobiles.

Contractors and caretakers take advantage of the frozen lakes to move equipment and materials to road-inaccessible construction and camp sites. There was even an occasion in the early 1920s when rock-loaded sleds were pulled across Lake George by skaters holding sails, the stone used to rebuild the eroded shoreline of Dome Island. To reach remote ice fishing locations, sportsmen cross ice with snowmobiles, ATVs or trucks.

In earlier days the term “freight” included any number of things, not the least of which were houses! That moving buildings across the ice was not so unusual is demonstrated by a real estate advertisement found in the Essex County Republican of 10 September 1915 offering a 141′ long building which “could be moved over the ice to any point on the lake for trifling expense.”

Sometimes overlooked, ice serving as a bridge, has had a major influence on the North Country’s transportation history.

Caperton Tissot is the author of Adirondack Ice, a Cultural and Natural History, published by Snowy Owl Press.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Phil Brown: Skiing Coney Mountain

Old Mountain Phelps cut the first trail up Mount Marcy in 1861. It began between the two Ausable Lakes, ascended Bartlett Ridge, went down into Panther Gorge, and then climbed a slide on the mountain’s southeast face.

Judging from a sketch in Forest and Crag, a history of trail building in the Northeast, Phelps took the shortest route possible from point A to point B. Many early trails in the Adirondacks followed the same pattern, making a beeline for the summit.

The thinking in those days was shorter is better. But trails that are straight and steep often turn into rivulets in spring and over time become badly eroded. Thus, the switchback was born.

A switchback trail zigs and zags up a slope, following the terrain’s natural features. By necessity, such trails are longer than straight trails, but they are easier on the knees and the landscape. In recent years, Adirondack trail builders have adopted the switchback model. The rerouted trail up Baxter Mountain in Keene is one example. Another is the new trail up Coney Mountain south of Tupper Lake.

Coney is a small peak with a panoramic view, a combination that makes it popular throughout the year. The old trail shot straight up the west side of the mountain from Route 30. The new trail, constructed by the Adirondack Mountain Club, starts on the west side but curls around to the north and finally approaches the top from the east. I guess that makes it more of a spiral than a switchback, but the goal is the same: keep the grade easy to minimize erosion. I first hiked the new trail in December for a story that appears in the January/February issue of the Adirondack Explorer. (The story is not available online.)

As I ascended, I kept thinking that this would be a great trail to ski. Not only are the gradients moderate, but the woods are fairly open—always a plus in case you need to pull off to stop or slow down. So I returned to Coney last weekend with my telemark skis. Thanks to the nylon skins affixed to the bottoms, I was able to ascend easily. The trail had been packed down by four snowshoers whom I encountered on their descent. They seemed surprised to see someone on skis. I stopped to chat. Often when I introduce myself on the trail, people recognize my name from the Explorer, but not in this case.

Soon after, I came to the end of the mile-long trail. Although clouds limited the view, the summit was serene and lovely. Snow clung to the bare branches of young trees. Deep powder blanketed most of the summit. Despite the clouds, I could see the southern end of Tupper Lake. Time for the descent. I made a few turns in the powder, then picked my way down a short, steep pitch to a saddle. Next came the best part: a long run down the new trail. Beforehand, I activated the video function on my camera, which was strapped to my chest. Click here to watch the video.

The skiing was a blast. Beware, however, that there is a rocky section of trail that traces the base of the mountain. If skiing, you need to stop before reaching it. If you do, you can shuffle through this stretch without much difficulty as the trail is more or less flat here. I arrived at the trailhead with a renewed appreciation for the principles of modern trail design. As a backcountry skier, I hope to see more switchbacks and spirals. But I also wish trail builders would always keep skiers in mind. Whenever possible, trails should accommodate both skiers and hikers.

Incidentally, when I returned to my car, I found a note from the snowshoers: “Nice article about Coney. We enjoyed it.”

Photo by Phil Brown: Coney Mountain’s summit.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Lafayette Spaulding:
Old Time North Country Music on Broadway

Ol’ time, foot-stompin’ fiddle music is a North Country staple, rooted in times past when people made their own fun. Its heyday was principally from the mid-1800s to the 1940s, finally giving way in the post-war years to the automobile and widespread availability of electricity. Sources of entertainment changed, but before that, the tradition of barn dances and the like was strong across the Adirondacks.

For the past seventy years or so, that tradition has been preserved by a number of outstanding musicians. Back in the 1950s and 60s, when some of the old tunes were rolled out, it brought back memories of Crown Point’s Lafayette Spaulding. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Theater: The Life of Local Fugitive Slave Lavinia Bell

One hundred and fifty years ago, few knew about Lavinia Bell, a fugitive from slavery who trekked from a Texas plantation to Rouses Point, New York, in search of freedom in Canada. Now, for the first time, her experiences will be presented to the public in “Never Give Up: The Story of Lavinia Bell,” reenacted by Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux at Plattsburgh State University’s Krinovitz Recital Hall. The presentation will begin at 7:00 PM on February 11, 2011. The event is free and open to the public.

Ms. Thibodeaux’s visit to Plattsburgh in February will be her first to the North Country. She has already earned national acclaim for her sensitive depictions of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. The North Country location of the premiere of Mrs. Bell’s story, in the region where her vision was at last realized, is as fitting as are the sponsoring organizations: the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, Plattsburgh State University, and Clinton Community College.

Ms. Thibodeaux will also offer performance workshops for university and college students during her stay in Plattsburgh. On February 12, she will cross into Canada
where, under the sponsorship of the Negro Community Center in Montreal, she will
introduce Mrs. Bell to a waiting audience.

To see Ms. Thibodeaux portray Harriet Tubman visit You Tube.

To learn more about this event, contact Don Papson at NCUGRHA@aol.com or
(518) 561-0277.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Lake George Winter Carnival Celebrates 50th Year

By the light of a full moon, Bob Heunemann pushed a broom across the ice to prepare a track for the speed skaters who would race on Lake George the next day.
As secretary of the Lake George Chamber of Commerce, such labors might have seemed to some to lie outside his job description. But the occasion was a special one. Lake George was to host its first winter carnival in more than thirty years, and the skaters would be among the best in the country.

The spirit that animated Bob Heunemann fifty years ago continues to this day. Through years of unpredictable weather, fickle sponsors and changes in leadership, the Lake George Winter Carnival has endured and grown. Whenever it appeared as though it might be canceled for lack of interest, someone has stepped forward to give it new life.

This year, the Lake George Winter Carnival will honor all those volunteers who have helped make the carnival a success over the past fifty years.

“The volunteers know that the winter carnival brings visitors to the area at a time of year when the lights wouldn’t be on otherwise,” said Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais. “They also know that events like the Winter Carnival draw residents from their homes and provide opportunities to work as well as have some fun together, making ours a stronger community, one more unified and better able to address the challenges ahead.”

The salute to the volunteers will take place at the Carnival’s annual dinner, to be held at the Georgian on January 28. Music will be provided by Bobby Dick and the Sundowners.

The carnival itself will kick off on Feb. 5 with celebrations in Shepard Park and a Gold Anniversary parade down Canada Street.

This year’s Winter Carnival builds upon fifty years of events.

The speed skaters whom the Chamber brought to Lake George were the International Silver Skates, Olympic contenders and team members from the U.S. and Canada. But local skaters also participated. Winners included Joanne Stafford and Nancy Earl.

Prominently featured in 1963 were Jerri Farley and Howard Bissell, a figure skating act that, according to local papers, “has won plaudits throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia, where they gave a command performance for King Saud of Saudi Arabia.”

Carnival celebrity Charlie “Papa Bear” Albert’s predecessor was a veterinarian from Westport, NY, Dr. Robert Lopez. He was the founder and sole member of the Adirondack Polar Bear Club.

Harness racing was held under the auspices of the Lake George Horse Racing Association. Jack Arehart had reintroduced the event to the area in 1960, when he sponsored races on the Hudson near his Thousand Acres resort. But Lake George had a history of harness racing that dated back to 1915. By the 1930s, the village was a capital of the sport, with purses of sufficient size to attract racers from throughout the country. Hotels and restaurants capitalized on the events, but so did homeowners, who built barns to stable the horses. Some can still recall a horse named George Washington who collapsed and died on George Washington’s birthday.

We not only had a horse racing association, we had the Adirondack Ice Yachting Association. Comprised of six Yankee and three Skeeter class boats, they raced along the lake at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. A few of these still survive, and when the lake is sheeted in black ice, you can see them whipping across the lake.

The Polar Ice Cap Golf Tournament, so named by Albany Times-Union columnist Barney Fowler, made its debut in 1968. By its second year, when Mickey Sinto of Frontier Village defeated 150 competitors, the event was attracting national publicity. A few years later, Bill Dow drew international attention when he established a world’s record by driving a golf ball 865 yards down the lake.

In 1983, Gene Mundell designed a vehicle that could be attached to skis and propelled across the ice. That was the first outhouse race.

“The criteria was very specific; the vehicles had to be real outhouses,” recalled Nancy Nichols, whose restaurant, Mario’s, defeated Lanfear’s restaurant that year.

Over the years, new events have been created and some older ones retired.

This year’s Winter Carnival features a combination of both the old and the new. Events will be held every weekend in February in Shepard Park.

A complete schedule of Winter Carnival events is available online.

Photos: Yankee class Ice boats, speed skaters, hot rods, Bill Dow sets a record. Photos by Walt Grishkot

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Monday, January 24, 2011

Lost Ski Areas of the Adirondacks

Jeremy Davis is founder of the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (NELSAP) and author of two books on that subject. Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Davis about NELSAP, his books and lost ski areas of the Adirondacks.

Jeff: So, just what is a “lost” ski area?

Jeremy: It’s a ski area that once offered lift-served, organized skiing, but is now abandoned and closed for good. For NELSAP’s purposes it had to have a lift – it could be a simple rope tow or multiple chairlifts, but it had to have a lift. The size of the area or number of lifts isn’t important.

Jeff: And what is NELSAP?

Jeremy: NELSAP is the New England Lost Ski Areas Project, which I founded in 1998 in order to document and preserve the history of ski areas in New York, New England and elsewhere that are no longer in operation.

Jeff: What was the inspiration behind your founding of NELSAP?

Jeremy: As a kid, not long after I had first learned to ski, we took a family trip to North Conway, New Hampshire. On the way up I saw this mountain called Mount Whittier that had closed down about five or six years earlier, and it made me wonder what had happened. At the time it was still pretty visible, but now it’s almost completely grown in. A short while later, on another family trip to Jackson, New Hampshire, we saw another lost area from the top of Black Mountain, called Tyrol. Seeing those two abandoned areas sparked my curiosity and made me want to learn more about them, but there weren’t any resources back then. After that, whenever we took family ski trips, if we saw an old area on a road map that we knew wasn’t open, I’d drag my parents there to check it out. They were really supportive about that and found it fun. Gradually I collected more and more information – postcards, brochures and trail maps, old ski books. Then, while I was in college, I decided to put what I had on the web. That was October of 1998. Gradually, more and more people began to see it and they would send me more information. The thing that really catapulted the website was a Boston Globe article in December of 2000 on the front page of the New England section of the Sunday paper. By 7am I had more hits than I had gotten in a year. The traffic shut down the site and overloaded my email. The AP picked up the Globe story and it ran in what seemed like every New England newspaper over the next few weeks. The project just mushroomed from there. What we have up on the site now is just a fraction of all the information that we’ve collected over the years. It’s a lifetime of work.

Jeff: You’ve got nearly 700 lost ski areas listed on the website now, 19 of them are lost Adirondack ski areas.

Jeremy: Right, in fact those 19 areas are just the start. I think the real number is probably between 50 and 60 areas within the Adirondacks. We’re always looking for more information. If we can get to the owners, or the people who ran the ski school or managed the areas, that kind of primary source information is invaluable.

Jeff: Are there any lost Adirondack areas that you’re particularly interested in, areas that you’re looking for more information on?

Jeremy: Paleface, near Jay, is one. Paleface was run like a dude ranch, an all-inclusive resort with lodging, a bar and restaurant, indoor pool, and skiing. There was a double chair, a T-bar, and a dozen trails with 750 feet of vertical. It operated from 1961 until the early 1980s, and had been re-named Bassett Mountain near the end. Mount Whitney, also near Whiteface, is another one we’d like to gather more information about. And there are lots of other Adirondack areas that we have to research.

Jeff: What factors led to these ski area closures? Were there any factors that were particular to the Adirondacks?

Jeremy: Well, you have the same factors that caused ski areas all over the Northeast to close down: insurance and snowmaking costs, the gasoline shortages in the ‘70s, bad snow years, competition and changing skier preferences. But there are some interesting cases in the Adirondacks: Harvey Mountain is a good example.

Jeff: What happened there?

Jeremy: Harvey Mountain was a classic, family-owned ski area on Barton Mines Road in North River, just a few miles up the road from state-run Gore. It had a T-bar, 400 feet of vertical, and operated from 1962 to 1977. It was a great alternative to Gore. But they weren’t allowed to have a sign advertising the mountain on Route 28 at the bottom of Barton Mines Road. They got around that by paying somebody to park a truck with a sign for Harvey Mountain each day at the turnoff for Gore, but eventually regulation and competition from Gore caused the ski area to shut down.

Jeff: It seems like there’s a good number of lost Adirondack ski areas that have been re-born: Hickory outside of Warrensburg, Oak Mountain near Speculator, Big Tupper. Is that unusual?

Jeremy: It is pretty unusual for a lost area to re-open, and there’s a unique, interesting story behind each one of those. Besides those three that you mentioned, several towns have their own rope tows that are still open: Indian Lake, Long Lake, Chestertown, Newcomb, Schroon Lake. A lot of people don’t realize those areas exist and are completely free. There’s also Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake, which is municipally operated and very affordable. You’ve also got places like Willard, West Mountain, Titus Mountain (near Malone) and McCauley Mountain (Old Forge) that still have that local, more intimate feel. So we’re really lucky in the Adirondacks to have these smaller areas that can introduce people to the sport and be an affordable alternative to the big areas. Hopefully the number of ski areas has stabilized, and short of some economic catastrophe, we won’t lose any more.

Jeff: Will there be a Lost Ski Areas of the Adirondacks book, similar to the books you’ve authored for the White Mountains and Southern Vermont regions?

Jeremy: Eventually there will be. I don’t know what region we’ll do next, but the series will probably continue with a new book every two years or so until we’ve covered all of New York and New England. That will be eight books in total, so that’s a lot of work.

Readers who may have information to share with NELSAP are encouraged to visit NELSAP’s website or contact Jeremy Davis at nelsap@yahoo.com. Reader input has been a critical part of NELSAP’s success over the years.

Photos: Top: Spring skiing at Harvey Mountain (courtesy Ann Butler and NELSAP). Middle: Paleface Mountain (courtesy NELSAP). Bottom: Davis at Gilbert’s Hill outside Woodstock, VT, site of the first lift-served skiing in the United States (courtesy Jeremy Davis).

Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.


Monday, January 24, 2011

North County Rock Eaters? Not Exactly

Just over a year ago, the North Country (specifically, Plattsburgh) was mentioned on Saturday Night Live to the great dismay of some, though it was hilarious to others (including me). In a skit, New York Governor David Paterson (Fred Armisen) tells how he’ll spend the remainder of his term: Here’s an excerpt: “Well, I’m going to do a farewell tour of upstate New York—hellholes like Plattsburgh and Peekskill. … I’m going to give those rock-eaters something to cheer about. Those freaks love me up there.”

The rock-eater comment was highlighted by the media, leading to all kinds of feedback, some of it very funny. Plattsburgh’s Mayor Donald Kasprzak weighed in with a video reply, as did Keeseville’s Speedy Arnold with a musical tribute. It was all in fun (laughing at yourself always is), but some folks up north and in Poughkeepsie were upset, feeling we were unfairly portrayed. And I have the proof to back them up. » Continue Reading.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Elkanah Watson:
Canal Promoter, County Fairs Founder, Bolton Landowner

According to the late Gardner Finley, a historian of Bolton Landing, one of the earliest landowners in town was Elkanah Watson. Watson, Finley wrote in a pamphlet commemorating the 175th anniversary of Bolton’s founding, purchased a portion of the property owned by his friend and business partner Jeremiah Van Rensselaer in 1800. He built a sawmill on Huddle Brook (which, well into the 19th century, was known as Watson’s Mill Brook) and, in fact, owned much of the land around Huddle Bay.

If Mr. Finley’s account of the early landowners is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt it, Bolton has a link with one of the most interesting men ever to have settled in the North Country. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Studley Hill Road: The Waterloo of All Cars

There are many well known automobile testing sites—Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats and Colorado’s Pikes Peak come to mind—and some lesser knowns, like Michigan’s Packard Proving Grounds, built in the 1920s. Dozens of official and unofficial testing grounds have been used, and by now, you’ve probably guessed it. Yep … the Adirondacks once had their very own.

While it didn’t have a national profile, Franklin County’s Studley Hill was widely reputed as the most difficult road in the north—unevenly surfaced, extremely steep, and with several sharp curves. Because hill-climbing ability was primary in determining a car’s quality, events and competitions became important to manufacturers and very popular with the public.

Studley Hill is historically significant for many reasons, but the most unusual is the irresistible challenge it presented to some of the top car manufacturers of the early 20th century.

Well, the lure actually was resistible for a while, and for one good reason: fear of failure. Salesmen wished to brag that their product could achieve wonderful things that other cars couldn’t, but it was best to first try Studley on the sly. If you didn’t conquer the hill, you didn’t talk much about it. That made for a lot of quiet car salesmen in the North Country.

The automobile was still a new-fangled contraption that few people could afford, and folks traveling south from Malone on the Duane Road occasionally provided great amusement to those living on or near the hill. Some motored there for the challenge, and others came on joy rides, but from 1910 to around 1920, no one made it up Studley Hill’s steep northern slope. Only horse- or oxen-drawn vehicles could pull it off.

Tradition so often gives way to technology, and that’s what finally happened. Improvements in performance led to the inevitable, and in July, 1920, Studebaker dealer J. Franklin Sharp of Ogdensburg officially became the first to make the climb in an automobile. The real trick was to do it while keeping the car in high gear for the entire run.

It was said that Packards had climbed Studley in the past, and that may have been true. Prohibition had been in effect for nearly a year, and the Packard was a favorite of bootleggers. The Duane Road was a route they commonly used.

Sharp’s feat was easily achieved, but was not without drama. As one reporter put it, “The eyes of the motor world between Utica and the St. Lawrence River were turned this afternoon toward Studley Hill, the steepest grade in the northern country.” This was considered the first official test drive at Studley Hill, and looking at a map of the wilds south of Malone, one might argue that getting 159 people to such a remote location was the biggest accomplishment of the day.

The wagering (men will make a game out of anything and then bet on it) was described as heavy. On the very first attempt, Sharp’s Studebaker Big Six (named for its six cylinders) sped across the flat road to a running start of 55 mph. As quickly as it began the steep ascent, the speedometer plunged. All the while, spectators cheered wildly. Difficult curves slowed the car, but after about a mile, it crested the hill. The car’s lowest speed was said to have been 15 mph.

With Melville Corbett (Sharp’s garage foreman) behind the wheel, the trip was made in high gear four more times, carrying passengers that included Syracuse Post-Standard writers based in Malone and Saranac Lake.

Meanwhile, Frank Sharp wasn’t finished for the day, deciding to attempt the hill in a lighter model, the Studebaker Special Six. Much to the surprise of himself and everyone else, the car climbed ably to the top. It was a great endorsement of the Studebaker brand for dealers across the North Country when headline stories later told the tale.

Just as hiking down a mountain can sometimes be as difficult as climbing up, descending Studley Hill offered its own unique challenges. Many accidents there involving cars or horse-drawn vehicles prompted some unusual signage. Drivers approaching the steep descent to the north were cautioned by roadside warnings, the first of which offered the standard Drive Slow. A second suggested the harrowing drop that awaited: Keep Your Head.

A third and very large sign was unofficially posted by someone with a wonderful sense of humor. And who would dare question its effectiveness? In large, hand-written, red lettering, it said simply, Prepare to Meet Thy God.

In 1921 there were two successful assaults on the hill. A huge touring car, the Paige Lakewood 6-66 (11 feet distance between the centers of the front and rear tires) accomplished the feat to great fanfare. (A Paige had won at Pikes Peak the previous year.)

Paige representatives from Malone and Rochester were on hand, proud to point out that, unlike the climb by Studebaker in 1920, their car did it without aerodynamics—the top and the windshield were up, and two passengers occupied the back seat. The wind drag and extra weight (the car alone weighed 3,500 lbs.) were handled on several successful attempts.

Six months later, an Olds Four climbed the grade in high gear. Successful tries were often touted by the manufacturer as some type of “first.” The Olds people said theirs was the first “closed car carrying three passengers” to climb the hill in high gear.

In 1922, a Durant Touring Car climbed Studley, “ … the steepest and worst hill in the Adirondacks, and considerably harder to climb than the famous Spruce Hill at Elizabethtown on account of the abrupt incline and many turns.” Four men made the trip in what was claimed as the first ascent in high gear at all times under certain conditions (four passengers and much wind).

The driver claimed he was going so fast at the third curve, he was forced to brake hard. The car lost most of its momentum but still completed the run. Again, the story was used in newspapers to advertise the wonders of the Durant.

Technological changes led to even more impressive feats. In April, 1924, a Flint Six (made in Flint, Michigan by a Durant subsidiary) tackled what one writer called “the Waterloo of all cars.” This time there would be no running start. With the car parked at the base of the hill, high gear was engaged, and remained so throughout the climb. Despite sections of tire-sucking mud and slippery snow, the Flint crested Studley Hill without dropping below 15 mph.

Besides the sense of achievement, one other award awaited at the top—a view of the flats to the east, ringed by mountains and featuring several streams leading into the Salmon River. Among those waterways near the base of Studley Hill is Hatch Brook, one of my all-time favorite canoe trips. It twists and winds through the valley for miles, and I paddle upstream until the shores actually brush against both sides of the canoe. The next time I go, I’ll be thinking back to those days of the automobile hill climbs, but content with plenty of peace and quiet.

Photo Top: A Studebaker Big Six.

Photo Middle: Advertisement for Frank Sharp’s Studebaker dealership.

Photo Bottom: The Packard Proving Ground (1925), which did have a hill climb, but nothing the likes of which Studley Hill provided.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Historic Saranac Lake Receives NEH Preservation Grant

Historic Saranac Lake (HSL) was recently awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation Assistance Grant. The grant will support the services of a professional consultant and the purchase of storage materials for the HSL collection.

Eileen Corcoran, of Vergennes Vermont, will conduct a general preservation assessment and to help draft a long-range plan for the care of the HSL collection. She will also provide on site training to staff in methods and materials for the storage of collections, best practices for cataloging collections, and proper methods for the arrangement and description of archival collections.

Historic Saranac Lake houses a collection of letters and manuscripts, photographs and objects pertaining to the early scientific research of tuberculosis and care of TB patients in Saranac Lake, as well as a variety of items relating to the architecture and general history of the community. A number of these items are rare survivors of the many, many examples that once existed, such as an inspection certificate, or a record of patient treatments. They tell the story of a community of healing.

The Historic Saranac Lake collection is used for exhibitions, educational programs and by researchers. Historic Saranac Lake currently maintains two exhibitions at the Saranac Laboratory Museum. The main laboratory space is a model of a very early science lab. Visitors explore and gain an appreciation for the history of science by observing artifacts and letters on display such as early microscopes and laboratory equipment, early scientific journals and photographs of important men in the history of science.

An alcove in the laboratory has been arranged as an exhibit on patient care, another important facet of Saranac Lake’s TB history. Items from the collection are displayed such as a cure chair, photos of cure cottages, letters from patients, sputum cups, a pneumothorax machine for collapsing the lung, and items made by patients in occupational therapy. Visitors gain an understanding of the patient experience taking the fresh air cure in Saranac Lake.

The main floor meeting space contains another exhibition, “The Great War, WWI in Saranac Lake.” This exhibit includes letters from local soldiers, medals, photos, and a complete WWI uniform and supplies such as a gas mask and mess kit. The exhibit interprets this important time period in history and how it impacted Saranac Lake.

Historic Saranac Lake is a not-for-profit architectural preservation organization that captures and presents local history from their center at the Saranac Laboratory Museum. Founded in 1980, Historic Saranac Lake offers professional knowledge and experience to the public in support of Historic Preservation, architectural and historical research and education. HSL operates the Saranac Laboratory Museum and an online museum of local history at hsl.wikispot.org.

NEH is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. Preservation Assistance Grants help small and mid-sized institutions—such as libraries, museums, historical societies, archival repositories, cultural organizations, town and county records offices, and colleges and universities—improve their ability to preserve and care for their humanities collections.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Whitehall Movie: The Girl on the Barge

As a follow-up to last week’s piece on the late Mary Barber (Aunt Mary), below is the story of the movie that was filmed long ago on the barge canal in Whitehall. It was researched and written by my partner, Jill McKee, and is now part of an exhibit in Whitehall’s Skenesborough Museum.

In 1929, Universal Pictures released a film called The Girl on the Barge. The movie was about Erie McCadden, the illiterate daughter of a crusty, alcoholic barge captain. Erie falls in love with Fogarty, the pilot of the tugboat that is towing her father’s barge from New York to Buffalo on the Erie Canal. Captain McCadden is not at all pleased when he discovers the romance, and his anger is escalated further by the fact that Fogarty is teaching Erie to read.

Happily, in the end the captain comes to his senses, likely due in no small part to Fogarty’s rescuing of McCadden’s barge when it is accidently set adrift. Erie marries her love and the two present McCadden with a grandson.

The Erie Canal proved too difficult a setting for the Universal production department to create on or near the studio’s lot. However, the Erie Canal itself was not deemed suitable either. At least that was the opinion of the movie’s director, Edward Sloman, who came to New York State with two veteran cameramen, Jack Voshell and Jackson Rose, to find the right filming location.

Such location trips were rare at that time in the movie industry, but Universal was willing to invest the added time and money necessary to film the movie in the correct setting. After scouting the entire modern, commercialized Erie Barge Canal from Albany to Buffalo, Sloman felt it would not be believable to audiences. “They would swear we faked it in California,” he said.

Enter a contractor from Waterford, NY, named John E. Matton. He believed the Champlain Canal was just what Universal was looking for. After seeing it, Sloman agreed and chose Whitehall as the filming location.

In May, 1928, Sloman and rest of the film’s cast and crew set up their headquarters at Glens Falls and took up temporary residence at the Queensbury Hotel in order to begin making the movie. The silent era was giving way to “talkies,” and The Girl on the Barge was a hybrid between the two—a silent film with talking sequences.

The film’s cast was made up of some notable stars. The title role of Erie was played by Sally O’Neil, who had found stardom in 1925 when she appeared along with Constance Bennett and Joan Crawford in Sally, Irene, and Mary. Erie’s father, the barge captain, was played by Jean Hersholt, who appeared in 140 films from 1906–1955, and served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1945–1949.

Malcolm MacGregor (or McGregor), who appeared in over 50 films during his career, played Erie’s love interest, Fogarty. Erie’s sister, Superior McCadden, was played by Nancy Kelly, whose career spanned from the 1920s to the 1970s, during which time she received nominations for an Emmy and an Oscar, and also won a Tony Award. Both Ms. Kelly and Mr. Hersholt have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The movie’s director, Edward Sloman, was no slouch either. He directed nearly 100 films and acted in over 30, with some producing and writing thrown in for good measure. The story on which the movie was based was originally written by Rupert Hughes for Cosmopolitan magazine. Mr. Hughes was a prolific writer who saw more than 50 of his stories and plays made into movies.

The entire episode apparently caused quite a stir in the Whitehall/Glens Falls area. Several Whitehall residents took part in various scenes in the movie, and a humorous incident at the Queensbury Hotel was reported in the Syracuse Herald on June 11, 1928.

It seems that Mr. Hersholt arrived at the hotel after a day of filming. He was still dressed as his drunken barge captain character and asked for his room number without giving his name. The desk clerk not so politely informed Mr. Hersholt that the hotel was filled with “those motion picture people,” and there were no rooms available. In order to gain access to his room, Mr. Hersholt had to call upon director Edward Sloman to vouch for him.

Universal had a three-tiered rating system for its motion picture productions at the time Girl on the Barge was filmed. Low-budget flicks were dubbed Red Feather, and mainstream productions were labeled as Bluebird. Girl on the Barge was categorized as one of Universal’s most prestigious films, called Jewel. Jewel productions were expected to draw the highest ticket sales.

The movie was released on February 3, 1929. Various newspaper ads and articles have been found showing the movie still playing in theatres around the country into the following fall. The movie also received many favorable reviews. The Chronicle Telegram of Elyria, Ohio, complimented the “realistic and picturesque scenes” of “the barge canals of Upper New York State” (May 20, 1929).

The New York Times reviewer, Mordaunt Hall, raved about Mr. Hersholt’s make-up and costume, and stated, “The scenes are admirably pictured.” The Sheboygan Press of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, called the film “an exceptional picture,” and went on to report, “The picture actually was photographed along the picturesque Champlain Ship Canal in Upper New York State.”

Photo Top: Movie Poster now on exhibit in the Whitehall Museum.

Photo Middle: Sally O’Neil and Malcolm MacGregor in a scene near the canal.

Photo Bottom: Movie advertisement in the Ticonderoga Sentinel, 1929.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010 Most Read Adirondack Almanack Stories

Here is our list of the Adirondack Almanack‘s ten most popular stories of 2010.

The Return of the Black Flies (Ellen Rathbone)
It’s fitting that this year’s most read story was written by Ellen Rathbone, one of the Almanack‘s most popular contributors in 2010. With the state’s economic problems resulting in the closure of the Newcomb Visitor Interpretative Center, Ellen lost her job and we lost her regular contributions on natural history and the environment. In this gem from March, Ellen reminds us that the black flies are much more than a nuisance.

The Cougar Question: Have You Seen One? (Phil Brown)
There is perhaps no wildlife question in the Adirondacks that raises so much ire as the question of whether or not there are mountain lions (a.k.a. cougars, pumas, panthers, catamounts) in the Adirondacks. When Phil Brown asked the age old question in August, he stirred the pot one more time. Other big mountain lion stories this year included a hoax, Phil’s own encounter stories, and even a story from 2005 which still tops the charts.

Adirondack Conditions Report (Edited by John Warren)
Although not strictly a typical Almanack post per se, the weekly conditions report’s enormous popularity guarantees a spot on this year’s list of most popular stories. The report owes a great debt of thanks to all the folks around the region whose work I rely on. Special thanks to the DEC’s David Winchell, Tony Goodwin, Tom Wemett, the folks at Adirondack Rock and River Guide Service, the USGS, NOAA and the National Weather Service, and everyone who out there who writes about conditions in their area.

Dannemora Notes: The Clinton Prison (John Warren)
Some of the most popular posts of all time here at the Almanack are about the history of the Adirondack region. In fact, the history category is the currently the 13th most clicked-on page of all time. The single biggest story each month remains a piece I wrote in January 2008 about Gaslight Village. This year is continuing proof that Adirondack history is a big draw, as my short post about Dannemora Prison drew an astonishing number of readers.

A Long Standstill Over Paddlers’ Rights (Phil Brown)
Phil Brown’s regular weekly posts raise important questions about the Adirondack Park and how we use it. Among the issues that loomed the largest this year was the navigation rights of paddlers. Phil wrote controversial pieces about the Beaver River, the West Branch of the St. Regis, and for all his effort, found himself headed to court.

Famous Jerks of the Adirondacks (Mary Thill)
When I thought I was clever by coming up with the 10 Most Influential People in Adirondack History, Mary Thill put me to shame by listing the all-time top Adirondack jerks. Mary has been on hiatus from the Almanack for most of this year while she works on other projects, but her wit, wisdom, and insight into all things Adirondack remains.

Siamese Ponds: The New Botheration Pond Trail (Alan Wechsler)
Alan Wechsler’s regular forays into the outdoors are something even the most active Adirondackers envy. Not a week goes by when he’s not biking, hiking, skiing, climbing, or thinking and writing about getting outside. When he wrote about the new eight-mile Botheration Pond Loop, a route that circles around the Balm of Gilead Mountain and several lesser hills in the 114,000-acre Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area, Alan grabbed the interest of readers.

A Short History of the Moose River Plains (John Warren)
It’s been a big year for the Moose River Plains. road closures, new trails and bridges, and some reclassification brought Adirondackers out in big numbers to learn more about the plains, and to chime in on how it should be managed.

The Death of Climber Dennis Murphy (Phil Brown)
The death of Dennis Murphy at Upper Washbowl Cliff in Keene Valley was tragic. Dennis worked at Eastern Mountain Sports in Lake Placid and was a regular at local climbing hot-spots. This post by Phil Brown, written just a week after they had a lengthy talk about climbing gear and soloing Chapel Pond Slab, struck a nerve with readers. Two other stories of danger and disaster this year also ranked high: Ian Measeck’s first hand account of surviving an avalanche while skiing Wright Peak, and the High Peaks disappearance of Wesley Wamsganz.

Commentary: The Cast of ‘Opposing Smart Development (John Warren)
Commentaries are always popular at the Almanack, and my own short piece on those who have traditionally opposed smart development in the Adirondacks raised not just a few hackles, but also the readership numbers.

You can also check out the top stories of 2009, 2007, 2006.



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