Here to return to
Highways and Byways from the St. Lawrence to Virginia
THE ADIRONDACK WINTER
WHEN I decided to visit the Adirondacks I chose to go to Lake Placid. That particular vicinity has two superlative attractions — it is in the very heart of the “Great North woods” where the mountains lift their giant forms highest; and it is here that John Brown, the apostle of freedom, lies buried on a little farm he once tilled.
March had come, but winter had not loosed its grip, and the earth was wrapped in a coverlet of spotless white, and people driving on the highways jogged about on runners to the cheerful music of sleighbells. The snow softened and rounded every contour of the open country, it hid the roofs of the buildings, and Nature had used it in a recent storm to playfully decorate all the trees.
My first walk began early in the morning when the children were on their way to school. They were sturdy youngsters, and the boys were apt to protect their legs and feet with heavy outer socks and overshoes such as woodsmen wear. “Well,” one of the dwellers in the village by the lake commented, “the little tads need to dress that way, knocking around in the snow as they do.”
I could easily agree with him when later I passed a district schoolhouse that occupied a wayside knoll in an outlying section of the village. The children, while waiting for the final call of the bell in the little cupola, were having a riotous snowballing frolic and were powdered from head to foot. It seemed to be a good-natured tumult, except that the boys were kicking around one of the girl’s rubbers, which the owner, with shrill-voiced protests, was trying to rescue. The schoolhouse had stood there before any church had been built in the region, and John Brown used to attend Sunday services in it.
Somewhat farther on I asked directions to the Brown Farm of a man at work in the highway digging through a drift. He said that the summer road to the farm was not broken out, and I would have to go roundabout by the winding winter road through the woods. While we were talking two men passed us. They had bags on their backs and were headed for some lumber camp. The previous day the town had voted for licence and these men had backed up their views on the subject by such liberal potations that the road was not wide enough for them. One of them, when he came to the drift, lost his footing altogether and had to be helped up out of the snow by his companion.
Presently I went on into the forest of bare-limbed birches and maples mingled with dark spruces and balsams, and when I emerged from the woodland there was the John Brown homestead before me off across a pasture. The group of buildings stood lonely amid the envisioning snows, the last home on a country byway. Beyond was a deep ravine and a little river, and all around the horizon loomed the sober mountain heights. Prominent amid the wooded ranges was Whiteface Mountain, a pyramidal peak whose summit was bare of trees, and white as if capped with eternal snow; and on the opposite horizon was the big dome of Mt. Marcy, also bare and white.
The Brown Farm is the property of the state, and a caretaker occupies the low, rambling, unpainted house. Except for a veranda on two sides, the dwelling is practically as it was when Brown lived in it from 1849 to the time of his fatal raid on Harper’s Ferry. There were no trees about the buildings, and this was the case with nearly all the other scattered farm homes. They were rather frail and uncouth frame structures, wholly exposed to heat and cold and the assaults of the storms.
A few steps from the dwelling of the old Abolitionist was an inclosure protected by a stout iron fence, and here was some shrubbery, a tall flagpole, an enormous rock, and a lowly gray gravestone sheltered from a souvenir-crazy public by a glass-sided box. Near the back door of the house was a great pile of wood, and in the shed a man was sawing the sticks into stove length. He was preparing his fuel supply for the coming twelve months, and behind him rose the compact piles of split wood. For a little while he left his work to show me a small room that had been Brown’s “office,” and which contained in its rude, meagre furnishings a round table, a straight-backed chair, and a cupboard “they claim” Brown had used.
When I left the farm I was tempted to turn aside from the road and follow some footsteps that I thought would guide me across a wooded valley to another road I could see on an opposite hill. The trail meandered through the fields, and then down a steep wooded incline into a swamp. There my unknown guide seemed to have lost all sense of direction, and went zigzagging hither and thither, hurdling over so many fallen trees, that I became discouraged and turned back.
But how beautiful it was in that wild woodland, which the all-enveloping snow had converted into a realm of magic! The dark branches of the evergreens drooped gracefully beneath the fluffy, glistening masses, and every stump and stone and fallen tree-trunk was softly cushioned. A light breeze whispered through the upper boughs and now and then dislodged some of the snow and sent it rustling down; and over all was the deep blue sky, no less marvellously pure in color than the snow itself. I heard a few chickadees softly chattering, and the scream of a jay, but I would hardly have suspected that any other life existed in the quiet woodland, were it not that I saw the handwriting of the wild creatures on the fair page of the snow. There were their tell-tale tracks, and I wondered what pleasure, what business, or what stern need had made them fare forth.
I did not go directly back to the village but continued to ramble on the country roads. Once I passed a cemetery. It was on the bleak shoulder of a hill at some remove from the nearest habitation, and in it was a woman with a muff pressed against her face crying in a heart-broken way over a new-made grave. Roundabout was the vast white world and the big serene mountains, and overhead the majestic cerulean dome of the sky — nature so steadfast and unpitying contrasted with that dark, whimpering human figure bowed with grief, helpless, crushed!
Farther on I came across a man who was filling a pail from a dipping-place in a wayside stream. Many of the farm folk depend on such a source for their household water-supply. The man informed me that I was on the old military road which was laid out westerly from Lake Champlain through the Adirondacks. “When they were making it,” he said, “they did n’t turn out for anything. They sighted from one hill to another and made a pretty middlin’ straight road. But a good deal of it has been abandoned now.”
I mentioned that I had been to the John Brown Farm, and he said he had a picture of Brown that he would show me if I would go to the house with him.
He led the way through a decrepit gate, and escorted me into the sitting-room, where I sat down by the stove. There was a rag carpet on the floor, and, conspicuous on the walls, were ghastly, enlarged photographs in ponderous frames. My host was smoking a pipe, and he continued to wear his hat — a faded, band-less affair with the crown full of holes like a pepper box. We were soon joined by his mother, a thin, elderly woman, who wore spectacles and earrings.
“Here is the picture of John Brown,” the man said, “and I want you to see this other picture of a hen and rooster that I own. A feller took that picture with a little hand camera. Well, sir, he ketched ‘em just right. They was on a dung hill, and the rooster was crowing. One of the storekeepers in the village is goin’ to have the photograph enlarged to put in his window. Ain’t that rooster natural as life now?
“Did the man over on the farm take the cover off the gravestone for you?”
“No,” I replied, “probably it is frozen down.”
“That don’t matter,” my host commented. “He’d ‘a’ worked like the old Harry to get it up if you’d given him a quarter. The stone would have been all gone long ago if they did n’t keep it protected. If you had a piece off it as big as the end of your thumb you could sell it for a good price.
Among the mountains
“How’d you like to have that caretaker’s job? He ought to be able to make money hand over fist. He don’t have to pay out for taxes, or repairs, or nawthin’, and he can sell the crops, and he gits a good deal of small coin from the visitors. He has a good chance.”
“I’m seventy-seven years old,” the woman observed, “and I can remember when the Browns drove in their cattle at the time they came here.”
“When I was a young feller goin’ to school,” the man said, “I was at a neighbor’s one day, and they had an ox there that they told me had belonged to John Brown. He was about the biggest ox I ever see. My gosh! he looked like a mountain beside of me.”
“I was often over to John Brown’s house when he lived there,” the woman said. “‘Twa’n’t but a few steps from where I lived. But the most I remember about his looks was the way his hair was brushed straight up from his forehead. He had a great bushy beard when he died, but I think he grew that for a disguise. Earlier he was a smooth-faced man. The family would walk to church at the schoolhouse. We did n’t think we’d got to ride every time we went anywhere in them days. I s’pose it was a mile and a half. The youngest child was a babe the last part of the time the Browns lived here, and Watson Brown would come to church carrying the babe in his arms. Watson is the one they claimed had his bones wired together. Let me see — when did they bring those bodies here? It was the summer Mary Bush died, and that was more than twenty years ago. You know two of John Brown’s sons was killed at Harper’s Ferry — Oliver and Watson.
Well, they say a doctor who wanted a skeleton got hold of Watson’s body, and when the bones was sent home to be buried on the old farm they was wired together. That’s what I’ve always heard.
“But you can’t tell for certain what to believe and what not. Once I was out on the piazza with my big spinning-wheel twisting yarn, and some city people stopped to see me work. They’d been over to the John Brown Farm, and pretty soon they sot down on the edge of the piazza and begun to tell about this and that thing at the farm which had belonged to John Brown. Well, John Brown never see any of them things. But when people tell a story long enough it gets to be a fact.”
“I’ll tell you, my friend,” the man said with emphasis, “there’s more daubed on to John Brown’s history than a little. It’s something like the old man’s cider barrel. He said it was the same old cider barrel, but he’d had to repair it from time to time till there wa’n’t nawthin left of the original barrel but the bunghole.
“You’d be surprised how many people visit that farm in the summer. If I could have a cent apiece for those that go there — gracious! I’d be rich. It’s a sort of craze. There’s some persons just as animated over that grave as over a gold mine.
“Here, I want you to look at this grub hoe. You can see that it is old-fashioned, and was made by a blacksmith. I found it over on the John Brown Farm.
We were having a big conflagration, and I was then fighting fire. I was using a common shovel, and this hoe was about a foot down in the ground. I was glad to get it — golly, yes! and I put a club into it, and dug dirt to fight the fire with. I ‘spose, because I found it on John Brown’s farm, I might say it was his’n — sure it was! Then just a little corner of it would be worth as much as ten dollars for a souvenir.
“That was an awful fire we had. It was in 1908, and a very dry time. They were having fires all over the country. Fires begun in the Adirondacks ‘long about the middle of summer. We could n’t breathe nawthin’ but smoke for a while. Once the fire was right up here back of us in the woods. That was a little closter than we wanted it to be. It was so near we did n’t dare sleep nights. Why, we reckoned our place was a goner and we kep’ barrels and tubs, and such like, full of water ready all around the barn. But the wind happened to favor us. At night we could see the fires burning on the mountains in every direction. They had a darn nice little time with the fire on that mountain you can see from the window over to the northward. There was lots of downstuff, and though the mountain is three miles away we could hear the fire roaring like the noise of a high wind. It cleaned off the hull mountain and left nawthin’ but the bare rocks and a few charred tree trunks.
“That’s the worst fire we’ve ever had, but I expect there’s goin’ to be just as big in the future, the way they’re fixin’ things. You know the state has some great forest reserves here, and the laws are very strict about the timber, and the officials are quick to prosecute and fine trespassers. There’s considerable chewin’ about it, and somebody is goin’ to burn the state forest out of revenge. It’s gettin’ so a poor man don’t have any chance. They put his nose down on the grindstone and make him turn the handle. You’ve got to have a licence to carry a gun, and it’s ‘gainst the law to keep a dog unless he’s tagged and registered. Most of the year I can’t, ‘cordin’ to law, go right out there in the yard and rake up a mess of chips and burn ‘em. I could this time of year, but what’s the use? The chips would n’t burn. One of our neighbors piled up some stumps in the middle of a ploughed field and burned ‘em. They fined him twenty-five dollars. Would n’t that make you crusty?
“The state has put men on the mountain tops to watch for fires in the dry part of the year. Telephone lines connect the lookout stations with the villages, so as soon as a fire starts we know where it is and get right out to fight it. But they take these college pups just graduated for the fire patrol. Why can’t some of us local men have the job? It’s a snap; for they’re paid seventy-five or eighty dollars a month. That money would come in pretty handy for some of us here. You can’t hardly make a livin’ farmin’. The climate is too cold to raise corn or to ripen potatoes, and the biggest share of the men go to the woods in winter. That’s where I’d be if it wa’n’t for mother. But there’s just her ‘n me, and she don’t like to stay alone. Besides, somebody had to do the chores.”
Getting a pail of water
“We been havin’ very mild weather for the time of year,” the woman said. “I never saw such a winter, old as I am. We’ve had very few zero nights, and only a little snow. I can remember winters when the snow was so deep you could n’t see a fence nowhere.”
“Yes,” the man added, “this road here used to have a high zigzag rail fence along it to keep cattle in the pastures. Stakes was drove at every angle, and there’s been so much snow you could n’t see none of them stakes. When I was young it was mostly forest here, and the snow did n’t drift much, but now, by gol! the trees along the roads have been cut off, and the wind gets a chance to stir the snow around.”
“We used to travel a good deal on horseback,” the woman said. “My folks lived in Keene, over the mountain, and my Uncle Lon lived here. You could n’t hardly drive a wagon over the mountain road the stones were so high. Uncle Lon liked to have me come and visit at his house and help take care of the children. At the time I made my first visit I was so small I had to stand up on a little chair to wash the dishes, and uncle fetched me on horseback in his arms. When I grew larger I’d ride on the horse behind him. Like enough I’d stay three or four months. I went to school some, but people wa’n’t very particular then whether the children got any education or not.”
“That’s so,” the man corroborated, “the parents would send a boy to school, and if he went, all right, and if he did n’t go, all right. I’ve started for school and never see it that day. Maybe I’d come down to your house, and you’d have a boy, and the two of us would go off playing. I never went to school much any way, by gracious! Father had inflammatory rheumatism and wa’n’t sost he could do anything. I had to begin workin’ pretty young. Soon as I could pick up a pan of chips I was at it. But the children are obleeged to go to school now, and if a boy stays away the truant officer is at his heels, and when he finds the boy fishin’ or something he says, ‘What in thunder are you doin’ here?’ and sends him back to his books.
“Children at twelve years old now know more than a man grown did under the old style. But they don’t study at school. They just recite, and then bring their books home and spend all the evenin’ writin’ out their lessons for the next day. They know more, and yet they ain’t as hardy as they used to be. It’s as the Bible says — ‘People grow weaker as they grow wiser.’
“When I was a boy we had three months’ school in winter, and the same in summer, in charge of common deestrict school teachers who never’d had much schoolin’ themselves. They boarded round and stayed at the houses of the folks who sent children — three nights a term for each scholar. Some of us lived two or three miles from the schoolhouse, and if the snow come deep the man who lived farthest off on a road would probably take his ox team and break out a track and pick up the scholars along.
“Well, what changes have taken place since I was a boy! Gosh! who’d ever think I’d live to see a wagon goin’ rippity slash through the street with no horse hitched to it; or a bicycle goin’ along without havin’ to pump it! And there’s trolley cars. Golly! I could n’t understand ‘em at all until I went out of the mountains and saw ‘em.
“Fifty years ago this country was pretty much primeval forest, with families startin’ in here and there to clear up a chunk of land. They’d chop down the trees and pile ‘em up and burn ‘em. Then they’d put in potatoes, turnips, or oats, and as soon as they could they’d stock the ground down in among the stumps to raise some hay for their cattle. You’d understand what it means to start a home in the wilderness if you’d drove a single A drag as much as I have on new land where it’s nawthin’ but ketch and twitch and jerk around all the time.
“After a while the city people began to come in here for the huntin’ and fishin’. There was no accommodation for them except at the little farmhouses, and perhaps the farmers did n’t have any room to spare. But those fellers would n’t take ‘No’ for an answer. If they could n’t get a chance to sleep on one of the cord bedsteads they’d sleep on the floor, or in the barn — anywhere. And they were men with money, mind you — lots of it. They don’t rough it that way now. Why, even the fellers they hire to drive ‘em around got to have on gloves, and a b’iled shirt, and a plug hat; and you can’t tell the drivers from the city men.
“We had bears and wolves here, when I was a small kid, and this was a wild country. Good Lord! I’ve seen deer playin’ down here on the plains like a mess of calves. Deer are naturally tame, and a good deal like the sheep specie. You’d see one of ‘em or hear a fawn blat, you know, and you’d take your gun and go out and knock it down in no time. But now they’ve been so frightened they keep way back in the big woods; and yet the law won’t let you kill nawthin’ but bucks and only two of them in a season. ‘The trouble is there’s too many hunters, and all kinds of game is gettin’ scarce.”
“Uncle Lon killed lots of deer,” the woman observed. “He could go out and shoot one anytime. I know we’d just got up one mornin’ and his wife said, ‘We ain’t got no meat.’ “
“He went to the door and looked down on the meadow, and there he see four deer feedin’. ‘Now don’t make no noise,’ he says, and he crep’ down a little ways and shot one of the deer, and we had venison for breakfast.
“I always liked this country. I went away to live once, but I was glad to git back. It seems more like home to me here than any other place. But the timber’s gittin’ less and less, and the region don’t look like it used to look.”
“This used to be a great country for fishin’,” the man affirmed. “Why, right out in the little brook that you see in the holler you could ketch trout that would weigh over a pound. You did n’t have to travel a lifetime to get a mess of fish. No, sir! you could fish down that brook twenty rods and git all you could eat — more’n you could git fishin’ twenty miles now. What I call sport is all gone. Oh, gol! there ain’t nawthin’ now, my friend. They’ve cut down the big forests, the fire has got in here, and the brooks and streams are dryin’ up. I don’t see what people come up here for. Still, it’s a healthy climate, and the air is fine for consumptives. Saranac Lake is a great resort for lungers, but they knock the summer business and are not allowed at the Lake Placid hotels.
“You ought to ‘a’ been here last week to our carnival. It was a two days’ affair, and we kep’ things busy all the time. We had shows, marchin’ and drillin’, horseracin’, slidin’, and skatin’; and it was all got up by just us folks here, and we chipped in so as to have some little purses for prizes. If we’re goin’ to have any fun here in the mountains we got to provide it ourselves. The men would git onto their double sleds and go down the toboggan slides clear across the lake, three quarters of a mile. Oh, my lord! they went so fast they had to lean against each other way over forward to keep on.
“You’d ‘a’ laughed to see the skatin’ races. One of the skaters was a young feller named Hennessy — Jim Hennessy’s son. He’s only sixteen, and small and slim.
Good land! his leg ain’t as big as my wrist, and that’s the truth if I don’t ever speak again. You’d say the wind would blow him over, he’s so slender. But he took the prize in the boy’s class, and then he entered the men’s class in competition with some great big fellers from the hotels. It was surprisin’ what energy there was in that kid. He dropped right behind the fastest one of the men skaters and trailed him. I wanted to have a little fun, and I said to some of the hotel fellers standin’ lookin’ on, ‘Here’s ten dollars that the blue-shirted feller wins.’
“But they did n’t dare to take me up. It was a two mile course, and when they neared the end Hennessy made a spurt and came in ahead. ‘What do you think of my little Irishman now?’ I says. Oh, wa’n’t the hotel men sick!
“One evenin’ of the carnival the folks dressed up in fancy costumes. They rigged up in every darned thing you could think of to disguise ‘em. They was dressed in all kinds of shapes — as old farmers, Indians, niggers, and everything. Oh! ‘twas lovely. Two of the girls fixed up as angels, wings and all, and they was dandy. You could n’t tell who they was — even their own mothers did n’t know ‘em.”
It was evening when I returned to the village, and the sun had set, and all the landscape was in shadow except the mountain summits. The higher ridges had been glazed by an ice storm, and while their bases were a dusky purple the sunlight lingered on the frosty heights imparting a soft ethereal glow that was quite Alpine in its effect.
I had been advised to call on Byron Brewster, if I wanted information about John Brown. “You get Byron wound up and you’ll hear something,” my adviser declared.
So I called on him. “John Brown came here,” he said, “when this was new country, but he bought a farm where a house had been built and some of the woods cleared off. The nearest village was two miles west at Saranac Lake, where there was a little store and possibly a dozen houses. We were connected with the outside world by a stage line that had its eastern terminus on Lake Champlain. The driver made a trip once a week, and he went on horseback usually. When he took a wagon it was an old-fashioned buckboard.
“One of the Abolitionist leaders owned a great tract of Adirondack land, and they planned to settle colonies of free negroes on it. Brown brought some of the colored people here, but they could n’t stand so cold a climate, and they did n’t stay long.
“Brown’s oldest son, Oliver, married my sister, and the little room that is called Brown’s office was their bedroom. Brown never had any use for an office in the house, for he never was to home only a few days at a time. He was busy travelling around freeing the slaves, a little squad at a time. I know because I lived in his family for several years. My folks had ten children — the families was all large here then — and if a kid could be disposed of so he earned his own living, so much the better. Captain John Brown was a noble man, and he had a saint for a woman — one of the finest this world ever had. They were very poor and could just barely get along; and I remember this — I never shall forget it — when Brown was talking with the family about their hardships he told ‘em it was always darkest just before the dawn. He was sure God would take care of them. Oh! yes, I tell you he believed in the Almighty as much as any man who ever lived. All of his family were in sympathy with him, and were ready to risk their lives in the cause of freedom. My sister went down to where he and his followers lived in a farmhouse near Harper’s Ferry and kep’ house for ‘em while they was gettin’ ready to capture the arsenal.”
One evening I dropped in at a village store where several teamsters were lounging on counters and boxes visiting and smoking. They were talking about the logs they had been drawing and other forest topics. It seemed that the villagers drew most of the logs from the woods to the mills or the streamsides, and that the lumberjacks in the camps were as a rule immigrants “from all over the world,” with Canadian French, “Polocks,” and Italians predominant.
I asked how soon the Adirondack forests were likely to be exhausted.
“Well,” one of the men responded, “twenty years ago a pulp mill was built here, and they claimed then that five years would do the forest up, and our good timber would be all gone; but we are getting out just as much now as ever, and there’s lots left.
A load of logs on Lake Placid
“There ain’t much big pine left on the mountains,” the storekeeper remarked. “The biggest pine I’ve seen lately was one the flood brought down on the meadow last spring. It was an old walloper, and sound as a nut. Some one up above had used it for a footbridge. The sawed lumber from it sold for seventy-five dollars.”
“Look at the fine timber back here on the state land,” one of the teamsters said. “There’s not only the growing trees, but millions of feet of dead trees where the fires have run through that are still good saw timber and pulp wood. Those dead trees ought to be got out instead of bein’ allowed to lay there rottin’ doin’ no good to nobody. But the state won’t hardly let you cut a whipstalk on its land, and if you take off a tree — even a dead one — you’re fined twenty-five dollars.”
“Well,” the storekeeper said, “if people were given a chance to take the dead timber it would n’t be long before they’d get in the green timber. They will sneak it off in spite of everything. They just hog it. There’s houses right here in this town built out of timber stole from the state.”
“The fire has got more timber than the lumberjacks have here in the Adirondacks,” one of the teamsters asserted.
“Yes,” the storekeeper agreed, “in 1908 there was one piece of fire over twelve miles long. I went through to Utica on the train and saw fire every few minutes, either in the grass or the woods, the whole distance. At the same time there was fire every gol darn inch of the way from here to Loon Lake. For weeks we could n’t see the mountains the smoke was so thick. Lots of the summer people dug out. They were afraid of their lives. I used to work all the week in the store and go out Sundays to fight fire. We could n’t make much headway. It was the same as if a man tried to bail out the ocean — pretty near. The fire would break across the paths we made to stop it, and we could only keep narrowing it up a little. It burnt till we had a snowstorm the week before election. Fighting forest fires that year cost this town ten thousand dollars.
“Another bad year was 1902. We had windy days then when the fire went faster’n a man could run, and flashed right up to the top of the green balsams. Some of our bad fires are started by the city men. They get a drink or two into ‘em and then don’t know nothin’ and are careless about their campfires.”
“Well, sir, we had a saucy little fight year before last,” a teamster remarked. “There’d been a thunderstorm, with a little spurt of rain, and the lightning started a blaze in some dry timber. It burnt over thirty or forty acres before we got it under control, and then we had to keep men watching it for a week because it had worked down into the duff. That duff was fifteen inches or so thick, and the fire kept smouldering in it and every little while would break out.
“I worked for Rockefeller most of that season. You know he has a big estate down below here a ways. There used to be farmhouses — yes, and villages on it, but he bought the owners all out, or froze ‘em out. One feller was determined not to sell, and as a sample of how things was made uncomfortable for him I heard tell that two men came to his house once and made him a present of some venison. They had hardly gone when the game warden dropped in and arrested him for havin’ venison in his house. All such tricks was worked on him, and he spent every cent he was worth fighting lawsuits. People wa’n’t allowed to fish on the property, and the women wa’n’t allowed to pick berries on it. A good deal of hard feeling was stirred up, and Rockefeller would scoot from the train to his house, and pull the curtains down, ‘fraid they’d shoot him. Oh! he was awful scairt.”
The storekeeper had picked up a bunch of keys from his desk and he jingled them suggestively and was buttoning up his coat. It was evident that he intended to close up, and the conclave got off the boxes and counters and straggled out of the door.
One day I walked far up on the frostbound Lake Placid. There were three roads on the ice running along parallel only a few feet apart. The central road was a driveway, and the other two were merely ploughed out trails to catch the drifting snow. By and by I met a load of logs, and the driver stopped to speak with me. He had started out from the village at six o’clock that morning, driven some eight miles to a logging camp at the far end of the lake, and now was returning. On his big, broad sled were twenty-five logs, thirteen feet long, making a load that weighed about six tons. It seemed a wonder that a single pair of horses could draw it.
I had gone as far as I cared to go up the wide lonely expanse of the lake, and the teamster invited me to ride with him back to the town. So I clambered up beside him on the ponderous load. As we went along the ice snapped and cracked beneath us, but it was eighteen inches thick and perfectly safe. Log drawing had begun when the ice was half that thickness, but they did not venture to carry as heavy loads. Disasters occasionally occur; and yet, whether it is the load, or the horses, or both that break through, the results are seldom serious. The previous winter, however, two horses had drowned. They broke through thin ice, and though dragged out again and again the ice gave way beneath their weight. Curiously enough, the ice is safest on warm days. Then it is elastic, but in very cold weather it is brittle, and is contracting and cracking. Sometimes a load will drive onto a small section surrounded by fresh cracks, and down it goes. Usually the ice is burdened with so much snow that water oozes up through the cracks and makes the road slushy and rough.
One would think that such thick ice would linger a long time in the spring, but the teamster affirmed that when they got a warm south wind the ice disappeared in about two days. He said it sank in the lake.
There were hills to go down when we reached the village, and I got off on the verge of the first steep pitch. The driver protested that there was no danger, but when I saw the big load go swerving down the icy incline with the horses pushed into a trot in spite of their backward bracing, a smashup seemed easily possible.
On the day that I left the mountains it was snowing, and the storm-swept open country, and the stumplands, and the fire-wrecked woods looked dreary enough. The wind blew, and the falling flakes filled the air with a wild flurry, and the loose new snow sifted along on the hard older snow in a drifting smother. It was “a rough day out,” but there was serenity in the snow-adorned forest that had escaped the fires. There the woodland aisles were delicately atmospheric and more fairy-like than ever.
NOTES. — The Adirondacks are the most popular summer and hunting resort in the state. They stretch from near Canada almost to the Mohawk River, a distance of 120 miles; and from Lake Champlain about 80 miles westerly. The loftiest peak is Mt. Marcy, which attains a height of 5,345 feet. It has several rivals that are not much lower. Nearly the entire mountain region, or Adirondack Wilderness as it is called, is densely covered with forest, and lumbering is carried on extensively. Great quantities of spruce, hemlock, and other timber are annually floated down to the Hudson and the St. Lawrence. The region contains more than 1,000 lakes varying in size from a few acres to 20 square miles. One of these, “Tear of the Clouds,” is over 4,000 feet above the sea level, and is the source of the Hudson. Among the wild creatures to be found in the district are catamounts, bears, deer, otters, badgers, eagles, and loons. The lakes and streams are well stocked with trout. Flies and mosquitoes are troublesome in June and July.
The most frequented regions are those of Saranac and St. Regis Lakes, Lake Placid, and Keene Valley, all of which contain numerous hotels and summer camps. The hotels are generally comfortable, and some are luxurious. Guides and canoes can be secured at all the chief resorts.
The principal gateways to the mountains are Utica and Saratoga on the south, Westport, Port Kent, and Plattsburg on the east, and Malone on the north. Much of the region is accessible to automobiles, and it has become a favorite touring ground for motorists. The roads are for the most part dirt, and some of them are very good, but others are rough and winding, and there are places where sand or clay are encountered.
The region east of the Adirondacks abounds in scenic and historic attraction, and a most attractive trip can be made from Saratoga to Plattsburg, 127 miles. There is a good dirt or macadam road nearly all the way. Saratoga itself is interesting as one of the oldest and most frequented of our watering-places. Among the popular drives in the vicinity is that to the top of Mt. McGregor, 1,200 feet high. The distance is 10 miles. The cottage in which General Grant died in 1885 is located on the summit. East of Saratoga, 12 miles, near Schuylerville was fought, in October, 1777, the battle which resulted in the surrender of the British army under General Burgoyne.
An island in the Hudson River at Glens Falls, 19 miles north of Saratoga is the scene of some of the most famous incidents in Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans.” At 28 miles on this route is Lake George. Fort William Henry once stood on the shore here, and there was much fighting in the region during the French and Indian wars. The lake is 33 miles long and 3 miles wide. Wooded mountains flank it on both sides, and islands to the number of 220 dot its surface. The road follows the west shore of the lake, and presently reaches the borders of Lake Champlain near old Fort Ticonderoga, recently restored. Farther north it passes the ruined fortifications at Crown Point. Near Keesville on this route is the Ausable Chasm, where the Ausable River flows through a rocky gorge 100 to 175 feet deep and only 20 to 40 feet wide. This is considered the most wonderful piece of Nature’s work of its kind east of the Rocky Mountains. Waterfalls and rapids add to its charm.