Category Archives: family

At least 2016 can’t happen again.

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Complacency Will Destroy Us

I generally have a policy against wishing away the days, weeks, months, and years, but 2016 is one I won’t be sorry to see go.  Personally, there have been better. While being able to enjoy our first “summer of fun” in some time, having a summer without major construction projects and even sneaking in a vacation, finding new places to bike and paddle, that relaxation was countered by other events.

There were losses in the family, two more empty seats at the Christmas Eve festivity that my mother has put on since somewhere around 1970. It’s more Christmas to me than Christmas itself, particularly now that there are no children in the house, and as the years go on there are just more of us that aren’t there any more. That sense of loss starts to weigh on the soul, and this year it weighed more heavily than in most years.

Family has struggled, too, with health and personal issues causing pain, literal and otherwise, in daughters whose distance I now feel too acutely. Sharing suffering over Skype is something of a miracle, but when we hang up there are still hundreds of miles between us and our children, and the desire to just get in the car and be there is strong (and sometimes that’s what happens).

And then, of course, there’s the whole thing of the country descending into fascism, racism, and some other -isms that I had really thought, when I was growing up in the ‘60s, we’d just be over by now. It seemed like all we needed was time, and eventually the old “set in their ways” people would fall off the conveyor belt into the trash bin of history, and what was left would be a somewhat better world. Instead, we have a huge reactionary element now trying to get back a nation that never existed – it was a construct of the prevailing culture that simply excluded everything that wasn’t it from the official story – while maintaining the myth of American exceptionalism without the messy multi-cultural/immigrant parts of it. So, yes, going into this cowardly old world (because bravery is acceptance of others; this whole reactionary culture is based on fear) in the new year, I’m more than a little concerned. Never been a fan of mob rule, amateur government, or presidents who are proclaimed to be kings. Our nation also used to not be a fan of any of that, but as had always been suspected, all those highly selective constitutional “scholars,” who mostly couldn’t memorize the single amendment they proclaimed the most important, didn’t believe in the document at all. They just believed in leveraging the rule of law against those who do believe in it. And it’s working.

Partly because of all of that, partly because of the ability to be more personally connected through other media, and partly because my other blog, Hoxsie, takes a fair amount of effort, this blog has been mostly silent. I don’t know if it’ll stay that way or not in the coming year. There are things to be said that don’t fit in a Tweet or a Facebook post. There’s a continuity I’d like to maintain with a blog that’s more than a decade old (if not more than a decade full), so I may redouble my efforts here. Or you may get the occasional cryptic photograph.

In any event, if I know you, I wish you the best for the new year. If I don’t know you, I also wish you the same. Be good to other human beings. It’s all we’re here for.

Too Many Boats

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Old dog, new dogSecond year in a row of giving into certain realities with regard to vacation – where we want to be is a long way from here, weather in the Adirondacks is often cruel, we are old and may have spent enough of our lives being wet – and renting a lakeside cottage in the Fulton Chain of Lakes, rather than tenting. Since last year, we’ve had a plan to drive up with an empty kayak rack and go back home with at least one new boat from MountainMan in Old Forge, and to get rid of the monstrously heavy tandem kayak we bought when the kids were little. Just as that plan was being executed, a friend said he’d be selling his super light carbon kayak, which sounded even better to me than some of the boats we’d been researching. With a small side trip to the foothills, we could pick it up on our way north. Long, stiff, and light – I nearly threw it up into the rack. So we went to camp with that and our old faithful tandem canoe, which also isn’t getting any lighter but which we’ve had for 27 years.

Upside of a really efficient touring kayak: it’s really efficient. Downside: the inexperienced kayaker (such as someone who has previously used a wide-open tandem) will quickly become experienced. That means wet. The cockpit is super-tight, so getting in and out requires some special skills, skills that I’m still developing. It’s also super-narrow, which it turns out meant it’s not a good fit for my wife. But once in it . . . paddling is almost zero effort, and control is amazing. So we figured we’d executed the plan for this year: buy one boat, get rid of another, hold onto the two canoes.

Of course, we needed some additional gear, so we ended up at MountainMan anyway, and there got to look over one of the boats we had been planning on looking over. Then we got to sit in it. Then we got to test paddle it. Then we bought another boat, one that much better suits the better half and is still light and quite fast.

For those keeping track, that means we drove up with a wide-ass canoe, and were going back home with that and two more boats. That was asking a lot of my roof rack. Luckily, in one of those weird developments that I never saw coming, we’re now those people whose adult children come to join in on part of the vacation, along with their significant others. That’s delightful, by the way. We had a fire, we paddled together, we watched movies together. But most importantly, one of the daughters conveniently had a kayak rack on her car. So, another side trip on the way home, a borrow of some real estate from my mother to store the canoe for a few weeks, a transfer of one of the new kayaks, and off we went.

So that was this year’s plan – go on vacation, come back with a new boat. By any measure, we overachieved our goal. Along the way, elder daughter became excited/interested in paddling the Adirondack Canoe Classic, and we were probably lucky that the deadline for this year’s event had already passed. By no coincidence, this is an event that has been a goal of mine since the ’80s, and which I’ve never really been in a position to train for or participate in; it’s also one I’ve always had an inkling that I’d love to do with one of my daughters, both of whom have been on the water their entire lives. And now one of them wants to do it. But the level of preparation – make no mistake, this is a serious distance. 90 miles in three days, with 5.25 miles of carry. You carry all your gear (or have a support vehicle meet you at the landings, but it’s all on you). On one of the vacation days, I did a nice eight mile trip (and was only nearly tossed from the boat twice) – so if I could just do four times that distance for three days in a row, I figure I’m all set. I’m scouting training locations now, because that’s a scary commitment.

By the way, first time in years I’ve gotten ready for and gone on vacation without having the old Go-Go’s song “Vacation” get stuck in my head . . . oh, there it is. All is right with the world then.

A Cabin in the Woods, and a Little Family History

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Raquette Falls Trail
(This also appears on my history website, Hoxsie.org.)

After years of good intentions but poor execution, of being somewhat nearby but never quite in the right area, I finally made it to the land of my ancestors last week. It’s a little tucked-away corner of the north central Adirondacks, far from any roads in the 1860s and not terribly close to any now. But at that time, the earliest tourists traveled by water routes from one end of the Adirondacks to the other, following routes set out by Seneca Ray Stoddard, Rev. Murray and other early advocates of wilderness adventure in upstate New York. (Remember that Verplanck Colvin wasn’t engaged to make a map of the region until 1872.) And as they paddled (or were paddled) down the Raquette River and came to the carries around the upper and lower Raquette Falls, their boats and gear were carried around the falls on an oxcart driven by my great great great grandfather, Philander Johnson, and they were fed pancakes and something that was acknowledged as trout when in season by my great great great grandmother, “Mother” Johnson.

It’s not entirely clear when they arrived there, though it’s likely it was any time between 1860 and 1865. It’s not entirely clear why they left Newcomb, where they had been tenant farming for a few years, and where their son William remained for a period of time. It’s not at all clear why they and the related families that they moved around with for a couple of decades didn’t move south even just a few dozen miles to a part of the world with shorter winters and soil that could grow something. Together, Johnsons, Pecks, Grahams and some others moved from northern Vermont to Crown Point, then into inland Essex County, making a stop in Newcomb before heading into deep wilderness to seek their fortune where there was none likely to be found.

I’m not quite sure when logging started in that particular neck of the woods, whether it had begun when they got there or whether they were entirely reliant on the little bit of tourism that was starting to build. It seems unlikely they could have made a go of it without a nearby lumber camp to serve, and it seems reasonable they may have gone there to feed the lumberjacks and found a profitable niche providing food and lodging to the big city swells.

Today, the closest paved road (well-packed dirt, anyway) is Coreys Road, which takes you to the head of the Raquette Falls trail (marked as the horse trail). It’s about 4.2 miles of pretty easy hiking (though with an amount of up and down) to reach the clearing where Mother Johnson’s stood. Today, there are two structures there – a nice modernish cabin built in 1975, occupied in the season by a ranger with the Department of Environmental Conservation, and an old, hand-hewn barn that could date back to Mother Johnson’s time. If not, at the very least it is known to have been there in 1890, so not long after.

We hiked in on a day with perfect overcast weather that later brightened up. When we got to the clearing, we met the ranger on the site, Gary Valentine, who has been there a dozen years and knew nearly as much about Mother Johnson as I did . . . which is really no surprise as none of this information has come down from family stories. It was only recently that I became certain that Mother (whose name was Lucy Kimball Johnson) was in fact William Johnson’s mother. Mr. Valentine gave us the grand tour of the new cabin on the site, and let us inspect the barn, marveling at the pinned construction with hand-hewn beams, speculating that it certainly could have been put up by Philander. In fact, he thought it likely, since the first thing new settlers had to build was a barn, not a house, as they would have to care for their livestock in order to survive. We can’t be certain, but it certainly makes sense.

We also talked about whether Mother Johnson was buried at Raquette Falls or somewhere else. The author Christine Jerome, in An Adirondack Passage, held that Mother Johnson had asked to be buried at Long Lake. That’s certainly possible, as it was the closest thing to a town nearby, but it’s also questionable as neither she nor any of the other Johnsons lived there. Her daughter Sylvia lived down the river at Hiawatha Lodge; son William had lived in Long Lake once, but had lived much longer at Coreys, and was by the time of her death likely near Westport, back east by Lake Champlain. There is a headstone at Long Lake that originally said “Old Mrs. Johnson,” then was turned upside down and re-inscribed “Mother Johnson.” But an article on her granddaughter Jennie Morehouse, in 1938, said that both Lucy and Philander were buried at the falls, as was Sylvia’s husband, Clark Farmer. In any event, there is no sign of any graves near the falls. There is a grave in the clearing where her lodge stood, but that is that of George Morgan, for whom a later Raquette Falls Lodge was built.


It was remarkable to sit beside the falls and think of how long people had been coming to that place in the midst of the wilderness, how the early Adirondack guides (including Lucy’s son William and then grandsons Charles and George) would have beached their boats above the upper falls and then hiked in to hail Philander with his ox cart, who would have carried the vessels around the falls while the “sports” enjoyed a meal and often slept over for the night. Likely those guides had to bring some of the supplies the Johnsons needed, such as milled flour, but it would appear that “Uncle” kept the guests in something like trout and “mountain lamb.” Even that early, there were hunting and fishing seasons to maintain the populations up. If, in fact, logging was already underway in that area, deer may have been hard to come by whether in season or not. Perhaps they had ice, but probably not. It was a hard, remote life.

Think of what it took to even build a cabin in those woods. The land had to be cleared – at the time Seneca Ray Stoddard took the photo above, it looks like logging may have already occurred as the standing timber is intermittent. If the Johnsons arrived with the logging operations, then a logging crew may have made their lives much easier. If not, “Uncle” had a lot of work to do, along with whoever else from the families may have gone there with them. Once the timber was felled, it had to be shaped into beams using an adze – evidence of that handiwork remains in the old barn on the site.

Mother Johnson's at Raquette Falls.

An enhanced version of a stereograph of Mother Johnson’s at Raquette Falls, taken by famous Adirondack photographer Seneca Ray Stoddard.

This photograph of Mother Johnson’s, held by the New York Public Library, is undated. A guess of the 1870s can’t be too far wrong, as the house is complete and fairly spacious, with what appears to be a fairly lavish extension to the left of what was likely the original cabin on the right.

The construction itself tells a story of progress even in the woods. Besides the barn, which can’t be seen in this view, it seems likely that the first structure built would have been what is now the lower story of the cabin, on the right. It appears to be of squared log construction, and may originally have had a peaked roof but not one as high as the one in this picture. To the left is a little windowed structure with a stovepipe sticking out . . . this could have been a separate smokehouse (possibly a sugaring shack, but given the forest it seems less likely). That structure was sided with rough boards, meaning there was at least a planing mill somewhere near. By the time the spacious second story was added to the original cabin, better wood was available, as it is sided with dimensional boards and the windows are handsomely trimmed. It’s impossible to say whether the windows were assembled nearby from glass imported from elsewhere in the state, or if the sashes were brought in as finished pieces, but those are double-hung touches of civilization, in contrast with the multi-paned fixed window at the end of what we’ll call the smokehouse.

Hand-hewn beam inside the barn at Raquette Falls. This dates to at least 1890.

Hand-hewn beam inside the barn at Raquette Falls. This dates to at least 1890.

As business expanded, and more and more swells from the city needed a place to stay on their passage up the river, the Johnsons must have decided to simply add on to their cabin. When the upper story wasn’t enough, they must have added on that extension to the left, which likely had spacious common space down below and a bunkroom up above. Someone had the wherewithal to make some pretty nice-looking wooden shingles, and it appears that another stove was in use in that part of the house.

The stovepipe shows that at some point the oxen carried a stove in to the cabin . . . but from where? The first railroad into any part of the Adirondacks, built by Durant, only reached North Creek in 1871, a long, long way from Raquette Falls. The Fulton Chain railway, famous as one of the most popular routes, wasn’t completed until 1892. Saranac Lake, down the Raquette River to the north, was reached by the Delaware and Hudson in 1887, and the New York Central in 1892. So clearly, someone hauled that stove the hard way, a long way. The windows appear to be glass, which raises the question of where the glass came from, and whether the windows were crafted somewhere locally with glass from one of New York’s far-off cities, or if they were brought in as completed sashes. The logistics are daunting today, and seem impossible in the 1870s. But there they were.

Standing under the little shingled roof next to the center post is the ample frame of a woman who must be Mother Johnson. To the left, her right, are two men or boys in the shadows. They could be guides, they could be hired hands. Immediately next to Mother Johnson could be a dog. To the right, there are three men. Any of these could be Philander, or they could just be other Adirondack guides or the swells they catered to.

On the way out, we were treated to a ride down the river, an unexpected bonus that made me desperate to get back there with my own boats and paddle the beautiful, slow winding path of the Raquette below the falls. Our guide explained how it had been perfect for logging operations – in the early days, nearly all timber was moved by river, and some rivers were friendlier to it (and the loggers) than others. Today, it is a slow, lovely bit of water with sandy banks surrounded by grassy plains. There are several inviting campsites and lean-tos that are beckoning for a future visit.

 

A mere 32 years ago

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CJ Lee wedding stairs 3.jpgWe’re not good at remembering our own anniversary. This post probably wouldn’t pop up today if I hadn’t remembered to schedule it a few weeks ago. Doesn’t mean I love her any less. We were married in our apartment in Syracuse by Judge Bersani (not because we knew him, but because he was the one who was willing to show up). I’m not sure what the vows were. I wore a freshly bought suit that her mother basted the hems on the night before (oh yes, and my favorite red leather skinny tie). She wore a dress she made herself. Some of our guests were uninvited, some of our invited guests couldn’t be there; we may have squeezed 20 people into the apartment. Our parents showered us with some of the things we needed to transition from college students to married people, such as an upholstered couch instead of plastic-webbed lawn chairs. After the ceremony, we went out to dinner at a simple restaurant we liked on the west side.

Our agreement was to do it ringless, for three reasons: 1) neither one of us cared a whit about diamonds and gold (still don’t), 2) we were children of the ’60s/’70s, and 3) we had zero money. At the last minute, my father apparently decided that wouldn’t do and sent out an inexpensive ring, so I was obligated to break that agreement and present her with a ring. Years later, at a time when we thought the marriage would probably take, we bought matching rings that we wear today.

When I hear of people spending $40,000 on a wedding, it makes me insane. If that were money I wouldn’t even miss, I still couldn’t spend it on a party. If people put half the focus on their marriages that they put on their weddings, the divorce rate would be very different. Focus on the marriage, not the wedding.

Lee and CJ Presidential Plaza 1984 3245770406_95617402b6_oJust look at her. I’d marry the heck out of that.

Homecoming

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with_uncle_sam_11143245_10206844610698892_9041931255766773157_o.jpgWell, that was a weekend. Oy. For starters, the whole thing was driven by an event that isn’t even possible: our oldest daughter, who was only recently a tiny pookie-bear hugging a stuffed caterpillar, suddenly up and graduated from college. Not just any college, but RPI; not just any degree, but nuclear flaming engineering. Cum laude. She’s just amazing. So, not possible, and yet it happened.

Started the weekend at the Pig Pit, because honestly, I’m having a little trouble with what they call pulled pork around here, and there’s nothing like the Pig Pit. Next day, lunch with old friends, a tradition going back to when I left state service and we had to find a place off the beaten path to get together and reminisce about the glory days of regulating automobiles and cleaning up anthrax. Then, a visit to my mom. Then, one of the most beautiful Troy Nights Out ever, followed by ice cream at Mac’s in Watervliet. There’s no better ice cream in the Capital District.

Saturday, bright and super early, commencement. At RPI, they like to make sure the engineers go outside once in their college careers, so commencement is held outside, and man, was there sun. The hot was fine, but the sun, that was intense. The speakers were quite good; I particularly liked the message of David Rubinstein, who went up against the currently dominant trend of “I’ve got mine, Jack” in telling graduates “you are obligated as a member of society to give back your good fortune.” And the headliner, Admiral Michelle Howard, was not only incredibly impressive, she was funny and inspiring. And as we waited for Hannah to cross the stage, I was able to keep the tears to a minimum.

Then, dinner with her friends and family at the Charlton Tavern, which I hadn’t visited in years (and which was the perfect venue for a small gathering). As if that weren’t enough . . . oh, no, that was enough. What a day.

Sunday morning, up bright and early again, to visit the most magical place on earth: a U-Haul store on the last day of the month, in order to help her move. I believe every U-Haul in the tri-state area was in Troy that day. Opposite of sun that day, it poured rain, which always makes moving more fun, but we got it done, had lunch at Spillin’ the Beans, and headed back down to the Keystone State.

Unfortunately, what should have been a 5 hour drive, maximum, was turned into more than 7.5 hours thanks to torrential downpours and insane flooding pretty much everywhere we turned in New Jersey. After spending an hour crawling through dangerously deep puddles complete with waves, we gave up on travel, got off the highway, and were lucky enough to find the perfect diner to wait it out before we got back on the slow road to home. There was some tiredness at the end of that drive, which was an experience worse than any blizzard I’ve ever driven through.

Quite the homecoming weekend!

Mother Johnson

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Mother_Johnson's_at_Raquette_Falls,_by_Stoddard,_Seneca_Ray,_1844-1917_,_1844-1917.pngWhile we’re on a little bit of family history, here’s a bit more: my great great great grandmother was “Mother Johnson,” famed supplier of pancakes to the likes of Rev. W.H.H. Murray and Seneca Ray Stoddard. Along with husband Philander Johnson, she ran a lodge on the Raquette River at Raquette Falls starting in the 1860s; it was a popular stopping-off point for local guides and their big-city swells who were just then making wilderness a destination. This stereophotograph by Stoddard likely shows Mother Johnson next to the center post.

She was born about 1812 as Lucy Kimbol (or Kimball – spelling was loose in those days). She married Philander Johnson, who was about five years older, and they lived in Moriah in eastern Essex County. They moved to Crown Point, where other parts of the Johnson family and other related families resided, and then went inland to Newcomb some time before 1855. They appear to have had at least two children, and possibly four. One was William K. Johnson, whose Civil War service was mentioned yesterday. Then, sometime around or after 1860, they moved deeper into the wilderness, to Raquette Falls in what was then Brandon in Franklin County; now it’s part of Harrietstown.

We don’t know exactly when Lucy Kimbol Johnson, my great great great grandmother, became the “Mother” Johnson of Adirondack fame, known for her pancakes and her hospitality in the middle of what was then some pretty remote wilderness at Raquette Falls; some reports say 1860, some say after the Civil War. We don’t know why her husband Philander isn’t mentioned by name in any of the accounts of her lodge, inn, or house, however it might be described, though he is mentioned as “Uncle” Johnson. We don’t get much of a description of what she provided other than pancakes and fish that may have been trout, and and we know that Uncle did some boat dragging and portaged luggage with oxen. But her place on the Raquette River was considered a must-visit by several of the writers who made the Adirondacks famous, including Edwin R. Wallace, Rev. William Henry Harrison Murray, and Seneca Ray Stoddard. It was Murray who first mentioned her and apparently started a stream of visitors to her house.

W.H.H. Murray wrote a book titled “Adventures in the Wilderness: Camp-life in the Adirondacks,” published in 1869. This was one of the earliest guidebooks for city folks looking to get away to the wilderness, and in it Murray provides every particular of how to get there, including where to make rail connections and which hotels to write to in order to make arrangements. It was all very complicated, and the roads were very bad at the time. Hardly anyone lived in this region, which was of course part of the attraction; those few who did ran hotels or worked as guides. There’s hardly a prominent innkeeper or guide in the Saranac/Raquette region that this family isn’t connected to in one way or another. This is what Murray wrote about Mother Johnson’s in his listing of hotels:

“Mother Johnson’s.” – This is a “half-way house.” It is at the lower end of the carry, below Long Lake. Never pass it without dropping in. Here it is that you find such pancakes as are rarely met with. Here, in a log-house, hospitality can be found such as might shame many a city mansion. Never shall I forget the meal that John and I ate one night at that pine table. We broke camp at 8 A.M., and reached Mother Johnson’s at 11.45 P.M., having eaten nothing but a hasty lunch on the way. Stumbling up to the door amid a chorus of noises, such as only a kennel of hounds can send forth, we aroused the venerable couple, and at 1 A.M. sat down to a meal whose quantity and quality are worthy of tradition. Now, most housekeepers would have grumbled at being summoned to entertain travellers at such an unseasonable hour. Not so with Mother Johnson. Bless her soul, how her fat, good-natured face glowed with delight as she saw us empty those dishes! How her countenance shone and side shook with laughter as she passed the smoking, russet-colored cakes from her griddle to our only half-emptied plates. For some time it was a close race, and victory trembled in the balance; but at last John and I surrendered, and, dropping our knives and forks, and shoving back our chairs, we cried, in the language of another on the eve of a direr conflict, “Hold, enough!” and the good old lady, still happy and radiant, laid down her ladle and retired from her benevolent labor to her slumbers. Never go by Mother Johnson’s without tasting her pancakes, and, when you leave, leave her with an extra dollar.

So we have a mention of Mother Johnson and even of her husband, whose name is given in none of these accounts. Seneca Ray Stoddard, in his “The Adirondacks: Illustrated” from 1874, also mentions Mother Johnson:

Mother Johnson’s is on the Raquette, seven miles above Stony Creek. All admirers of the Rev. W.H.H. Murray, and readers of his romantic and perilous adventures in the Adirondacks, will remember his struggle with the pancakes, and Mother Johnson is the one who had the honor of providing them. We reached the house at noon, and the good-natured old lady got up a splendid dinner for us; venison that had (contrary to the usual dish set before us) a juiciness and actual taste to it. Then she had a fine fish on the table.

“What kind of fish is that, Mrs. Johnson,” I inquired.

“Well,” said she, “they don’t have no name after the 15th of September. They are a good deal like trout, but it’s against the law to catch trout after the fifteenth, you know.”

Mother Johnson moved here with her husband in 1870, and they pick up a good many dollars during the season from travelers, who seldom pass without getting at least one meal. Boats are dragged over the [Raquette Falls] carry nearly two miles in extent, and a very rough road at that, on an ox sled, at a cost of $1.50. A few rods above the house is Raquette Falls, laying claim to the honor of being Mr. Murray’s “Phantom Falls.” The actual fall here is probably not over twelve or fifteen feet. Mother Johnson entertains a very exalted opinion of Mr. Murray, with good reason, too, as his Adirondack book first turned the tide of travel past her door, and was the means of converting her pancakes (we had some) into greenbacks; and although she may subscribe heartily to the belief that “man was created a little lower than the angels,” it is no more than natural that she should make an exception in the case of the Nimrodish divine alluded to [meaning Murray].”

Stoddard also writes a fanciful, outlandish, absurd history of the Battle of Plattsburgh (citing for instance that the attacking squadron, under Commodore Columbus, included the Santa Maria Smitha and the Mayflower) in which he namechecks Mother Johnson, 19th century style:

Soon other reinforcements began to arrive. Fred Averill’s dragoons came in Harper & Tuft’s four-horse coaches. Kellogg advanced from Long Lake, and Martin came Moodily over from Tuppers. Old Mountain Phelps slid down into the enemy, creating a panic in the commissary department; while Mother Johnson turned such a fierce fire of hot pancakes toward them that they fell back in confusion, and when Bill Nye arrived with his mounted Amazons, they fled totally routed seeing which, the attacking fleet withdrew, badly riddled, the commodore’s ship to discover America, the Mayflower only floating long enough to land its commander on Plymouth Rock, where he climbed into the gubernatorial chair and remained there until he was translated in a chariot of fire – which way the historian fails to state.

Mother Johnson's house at Raquette Falls.pngEdwin R. Wallace’s “Descriptive Guide to the Adirondacks,” 1876, says that Mother Johnson died in January 1875, “but the house will probably be continued as a hotel,” and provides us with a drawing of the house which appears to be taken from a photograph by Seneca Ray Stoddard.

His text must have been written before his appendix, for the text says,

“At Raquette Falls, ‘Mother Johnson’s famous pancakes’ may be procured, and ‘Uncle’ Johnson may be employed to transport baggage over the portage with his oxen, for which he charges $1.50 per load. The house is a sort of blocked log concern, pleasantly overlooking the river. The falls, ¼ mile distant, are very pretty and romantic, and are entitled to all the notice they receive. . . A “blazed” line extending 3 m westerly from “Hotel de Johnson,” terminates at Folingsby’s [sic] Pond, to which the water distance is 12½ m.”

By the way, meals at Mother Johnson’s were listed by Wallace as being 50 cents, or $1.50 for the day, $7.00 per week. By comparison, the nearby Dukett & Farmers’s lodge at Spectacle Ponds (where Lucy Johnson’s daughter Sylvia likely lived) charged 50 cents, $2.00 for the day, or $12.00 for the week, the same rate as Corey’s near Upper Saranac Lake. At this time, train fare from New York City to one of the Adirondack stations cost from $5 to $8. At the time, a blacksmith might have earned $18 a week (for 60 hours), a laborer somewhat less than $10. So these provisions were not on the cheap side, but all food probably had to be brought in from Newcomb and likely well beyond, so the cost was likely very high.

Christopher Angus, in his “The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty: Wilderness Guide,” says that:

Predating even these hearty timbermen was a woman by the name of Lucy Johnson. A former lumber camp cook from Newcomb, Mother Johnson, as she was called, took up residence at Raquette Falls around 1860 with her husband, Philander. Even at this early date, the secluded spot was a natural location for the distribution of supplies to lumbermen working high on the slopes of the Seward Range.

Mother Johnson remained at the site for many years as a revered cook and innkeeper, and her legendary pancakes were immortalized in Adirondack Murray’s book. After her death during the winter of 1875, a hermit by the name of Harney snowshoed ten miles to Hiawatha Lodge [which her daughter and son-in-law Sylvia and Clark Farmer owned] to arrange for a coffin for her burial. She was supposedly buried at the foot of the cascade, but there is no sign of her grave. Christine Jerome, author of An Adirondack Passage: The Cruise of the Canoe “Sairy Gamp, notes that a marker bearing the name Lucy Johnson stands among other stones of the same era in the Long Lake Cemetery. The tradition Mother Johnson began of providing lodging at Raquette Falls continued for nearly half a century beyond her death.

Hiawatha House was Dukett’s place on Stony Creek Ponds. Harney the hermit was Harney Frenia, who was listed as living with Philander Johnson in 1875. The Duketts were the house next door, though next door may have been about seven miles down the Raquette and some ponds away. Christine Jerome, in recounting the adventures of George Washington Sears, better known as the Adirondack writer Nessmuk, says that at places like Mother Johnson’s, out-of-season deer was identified on the menu as “mountain lamb.” This is certainly taking liberties, as it is extremely unlikely Mother Johnson’s had a menu.

Jerome also writes that:

Although she had asked to be buried in Long Lake, her request had to be deferred in the face of January realities: a frozen river, thigh-high snowdrifts, and miles of forest in every direction. The burial itself proved difficult enough. Harney had to snowshoe ten miles to find someone who could make a coffin, and then several miles farther to get the lumber. In the meantime a shallow grave was hacked out of the frozen earth on a knoll behind the inn. There was no real ceremony; besides the family only three mourners were present. The plan was to move her remains in the spring, when the river opened.

A mystery attends the final disposition of Lucy Johnson’s remains. Some historians believe she still lies beneath her knoll, but there is no trace of her grave at the falls. There is, however, a marker in the Long Lake cemetery bearing her name, and it stands among other stones dating back to her era. (Her headstone is a curious affair. On one end of the small slab someone chiseled “Old Mrs. Johnson” and then thought better of it, turned it upside down, and chiseled “Mother Johnson.” The original inscription is still visible at the grass line.) A married daughter [likely Sylvia Farmer] ran the place for a while, and for the next forty-odd years a succession of other innkeepers came and went, although the house continued to be known as Johnson’s.

Jerome goes on to say it became a residence after WWI, owned by a New York City lawyer named George Morgan, who died in 1944 and was buried on a knoll nearby; and that the final inhabitant was Charles Bryan, former president of the Pullman railroad car company After his death the state acquired the land.

A Sept. 12, 1973 newspaper article in the Tupper Lake Free Press Herald tells the story a little differently. It recounts a fire that destroyed the Raquette Falls lodge, which had been built on the site of Mother Johnson’s. It said that Charles DeLancett of Tupper Lake built a lodge there in 1910, which burned and was replaced by a new lodge by George Morgan, who died there in 1944. The article says that Philander and Lucy A. Johnson came in from Newcomb “shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War and built a crude log house in a clearing off the river, below the falls. There they catered to the needs of the passing sportsmen, trappers and loggers for food and shelter and there, on January 27, 1875, ‘Mother’ Johnson died. To get boards for a coffin it was necessary for Harney, a hired hand who had driven the oxen to haul boats around the carry for the Johnsons, to hike down river to Indian Carry and on out to Bartlett’s, between Upper and Middle Saranac Lake. ‘Mother’ Johnson was buried on the knoll behind the original log cabin, where a bronze plaque set in a rock now marks her resting place. Philander Johnson gave up his lonely wilderness hostelry soon after his wife’s death, leaving the area in 1876.”

In addition to all these remembrances from now-famous writers, we do have a small bit of remembrance from a family member. Sylvia Johnson Farmer’s daughter, Jennie Farmer Morehouse, wrote to the Tupper Lake Free Press in 1938. The paper incorporated her letter into a general remembrance of Mother Johnson:

The reason for this item lies in a letter received at the Free Press from a direct descendant of that grand old character – Mrs. Jennie Morehouse of Indian Lake, great-granddaughter [incorrect: she was the granddaughter] of Mother Johnson. Mrs. Morehouse is 63 years of age, and she recalls many a colorful incident from her childhood at Axton. Her father, she says, shot several panthers in that sector in the early days. His grave, and those of her grandfather and grandmother, are at Raquette Falls, where stands the old Johnson barn – more than 80 years old, and put together, in pioneer fashion, with wooden pegs instead of nails. Nails were a rare and expensive commodity in the North Woods in the middle of the 19th century.

“My father’s name was Clark Farmer; my mother was Sylvia M. Johnson,” Mrs. Morehouse writes. “I was born at Axton. I had two cousins, Charley and George Johnson, who lived there 40 years ago – yes – 50. I wonder if the Johnson boys, or men, who go to Raquette Lodge would by any chance be Charley Johnson’s sons, or grandsons? George had no children. Charley’s oldest boy was named Leroy. I don’t recall the others; I was only 19, or around that, at the time.”

“I am 63 years old now, and my one desire is to see again the place where I spent my childhood,” Mrs. Morehouse writes. “That is why I am writing this letter. I want to take a trip to that dear old spot, and drop a line through between [sic] the logs of the old bridge where we used to cross the river on our way to Axton. I used to catch trout there with twine for fishline and a bent pin for a hook! I am wondering just how to get there – as we used to in the old days, by rowboat from Stony Creek, above Axton, or if there is a road so I can go by car. Please let me know if I should go in on the Wawbeek trail.”

With the passage of the half-century or more since Mrs. Morehouse lived there, it has become considerably easier to reach the old Johnson homesite near Raquette Falls, which lays claim to being the original “Phantom Falls” in the Rev. Murray’s exciting yarn. Today Mrs. Morehouse can travel by automobile from Indian Lake through Tupper Lake to Coreys – Axton, in her youth. A letter to George Morgan, proprietor of Raquette Falls Lodge, will undoubtedly result in arrangement to meet her near the Stony Creek bridge, and the remainder of the trip, about seven miles, must still be made by boat.

For the information of those of our readers who, like ourselves, arrived in the Adirondacks in a day when good highways and automobiles have replaced the guide-boat as a means of “getting places,” we can offer a little information about “Mother Johnson.” She moved, with her husband, to Raquette Falls in [illegible – 1860?]. Travel from Long Lake to Tupper was all by boat in those days, and it fell to Mother Johnson’s lot to feed the travelers, who invariably turned to her door while their boats were being dragged by ox-sled over the rough road around Raquette Falls carry. Mother Johnson became known far and wide for her pancakes, and many a man whose name was well-known throughout the country gratefully sampled her wares.

Mother Johnson died on January 27, 1875, after a short illness. Stoddard, in his volume “The Adirondacks,” printed in 1875, notes that “at the request of her husband, she was buried on a little knoll back of the house . . . the snow was so deep at the time as to make the way almost impassable, and but three, besides the family, were present at the time; but with their aid the body was laid away, with no ceremony save the sad good bye of those who loved her.”

Thanks to Jennie Morehouse’s letter, we have further confirmation that all these Johnsons were related; until uncovering a Civil War record wherein William directly named his parents, it was all hearsay and happenstance. The Charley and George she refers to as her cousins were Lucy’s grandchildren, William’s boys. They, too, became Adirondack guides. Charley did have a son named Leroy (or Lee Roy), and also had sons named Eugene, Guy and Jesse. Guy was my father’s father, so we get a little closer to the current generations.

After Lucy’s death in 1880, Philander was living in Brandon very close to Charles and George Johnson, his grandsons (through William); his daughter Sylvia Farmer was living with him. He was also very close to John and Nancy Dukett, who ran a lodge at Corey’s, at the Indian Carry. Nancy was from the Graham family, which Philander’s son William married into. Nearly everyone in this part of the woods was related in some way; not too surprising considering how few people there were in that area.

So, uncharacteristically for the time, we know very little about Philander but at least a bit more about his wife Lucy. It appears that they had son William K. in 1830, and daughter Sylvia (Farmer) around 1836, in Moriah. There also appear to have been children named Betsy (1844) and Henry (1847); I haven’t done more to track the later children down, though Wallace (1876) mentions a Raquette River guide by the name of H.D. Johnson who could be reached through the Potsdam Post Office.

Where’s William (Johnson)?

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93rd_infantry_company_C_august_1863_03841u.pngThis is Company C of the 93rd New York Infantry in Bealeton, Virginia, in August 1863. The 93rd was also known as the Washington County regiment and the Morgan Rifles. According to Phisterer’s New York in the War of the Rebellion, the regiment was organized at Albany by Col. John S. Crocker on Feb. 1, 1862, joining several companies recruited by Major Benjamin C. Butler. Company A was recruited primarily at Chester. Company B (Hobart’s Company, the 2d United States Sharpshooters) primarily came from Albany. Company C was recruited at Minerva, in Essex County. Company D was from North Hamden, and E at Cortland Village. Company F came from Fort Edward, G from Cambridge,  H from Bolton and I from Argyle, giving the regiment its Washington County appellation. The final company, K, was recruited at Troy.

Among the members of Company C, enlisted at Minerva, was my great great grandfather, William Kimbol Johnson. His parents were Philander and Lucy Johnson, the “Mother Johnson” made famous by “Adirondack” Murray. William was a relatively old 31 when he enlisted; he had farmed for a while, but appears to have moved with a number of related families into the wilderness of Franklin County, near what is now called Coreys, where he served as a guide. His sons, Charles and George, also became guides. William enlisted as a sergeant in the 93rd; something unspecified happened and he was returned to ranks. He re-enlisted in 1863 and was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness. On discharge, he does not appear to have returned to his family. It’s unclear what happened, but his wife married hotelkeeper Jesse Corey, and he appears to have settled near the Hudson and started a new family.

It would have been nice if he had still been a sergeant when this picture was taken, because the stripes would have narrowed it down some. For reasons unknown, he was returned to ranks on March 4, 1863, and didn’t move back up until after he re-enlisted that December; he became a corporal in Feb. 1864, and eventually returned to sergeant. It’s possible this is the only photograph he ever appeared in (assuming he’s there at all). I’ve always held out hope that somewhere I would find photographs of his sons, the Adirondack guides; Seneca Ray Stoddard did photograph Mother Johnson, so it’s possible photos of the rest of the family exist somewhere.

William K. Johnson enlisted in Co. C, 93rd Regiment, N.Y. Infantry on Sept. 28, 1861 in Minerva, NY, a town in southern Essex County. He was enlisted by Captain Dennis E. Barnes for a term of three years. At the time of enlistment, William was 32 years old. He was 5 feet, 5 inches tall, had a dark complexion, blue eyes, and brown hair. He listed his occupation as “laborer,” though in other military papers he listed “farmer.”

He was mustered in to Company C, 93rd Regiment, New York Infantry (also listed as 93rd NY Volunteers, and commonly known as “The Morgan Rifles”). He mustered in Nov. 20, 1861, and on Dec. 10 was appointed fourth sergeant (presumably a sergeant, the fourth grade. Below this were corporal (fifth grade) and private first class (sixth grade); above it were staff sergeant (third grade), first sergeant or technical sergeant (second grade), or master sergeant (first grade). Company C was also known as Captain Barnes’ Company, Butler’s Battalion, and Sharp Shooters. Butler was Lt. Col. Benjamin C. Butler.

The 93rd was organized at Albany, New York from October, 1861 to January, 1862 under Col. John S. Crocker, a lawyer from Cambridge in Washington County who had served in the State Legislature and was a friend of Governor Edward Morgan. Companies were organized by where they were recruited, which was geographically wide: Chester, Albany, Minerva, North Hamden, Cortland, Fort Edward, Cambridge, Boston, Argyle and Troy. Entering service as a Colonel, Crocker named his regiment the Morgan Rifles, in honor of the Revolutionary War rifle corps. The regiment was assigned to the Army of the Potomac, and was the headquarters guard of the army under McClellan, Hooker, Meade, and Burnside. Crocker took part in every battle of the Army of the Potomac, was captured in 1862 but traded for a Confederate officer, was wounded three times at the Battle of the Wilderness, and at Spotsylvania Court House.

The 93rd left New York March 7, 1862. While the Regiment mostly saw duty around White House Landing, Virginia, a major Union supply depot, in the summer of 1862, William Johnson was apparently detached for recruiting duty on August 9. It is not known where he went for that duty, but he was back with his unit in the fall. He was reported as absent, sick at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, southeast of Richmond, “since Aug 13” 1862; whether this was associated with his time on recruitment detachment is not clear. He was reported sick at Independence Hill, presumed to be a Virginia location, just a few weeks later, Sept. 7. He appears to have gone through the winter of 1862-63 without incident, but something unknown happened in March 1863, because on March 16 he is marked as “reduced to the ranks.” There is no further mention of the cause for this reduction in rank to private.

Through 1863, the 93rd saw significant action, including the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Battle of Gettysburg, and duty on the line of the Rapahannock. William seems to have passed through all this without injury or incident. In October he was noted as due a $100 bounty for having completed two years of service. As the Union struggled to increase the size of its armies, a general order had been issued in June 1863 authorizing a force to be known as “Veteran Volunteers.” This allowed current enlistees to close out their current obligations, re-enlist for a three-year period, and receive one month’s advance pay ($13), and a bounty and premium totaling $402, to be paid in installments. The total first installment was $40. (In that year, a skilled laborer might make an average of $1.75 per day; a journeyman mechanic might make $400 per year. Even unskilled laborers might make $1.00 per day, when there was work. Still, the inducement must have looked attractive to William Johnson, for on December 19, 1863, at Brandy Station, Virginia, he was mustered out and “discharged by virtue of reenlistment as a veteran volunteer.” He was mustered back in on the next day. He received an instant bounty of $60, advance pay of $13 and a premium of $2, and was, like other veteran volunteers, “to have a furlough of at least thirty days in their states before expiration of original term.” He was given a medical examination, found free from “all bodily defects and mental infirmity,” and inspected by Lt. Waters W. Braman, recruiting officer of the 93rd. It appears that the Regiment Veteran Corps returned home for January 1864 under the command of Col. John S. Crocker. They spent time in Albany and then in New York City on their way back to Brandy Station, but it is not clear if soldiers were allowed or able to return to their distant homes across New York State.

He was mustered back in as a private, still in Company C of the 93rd, on February 19, 1864 he was appointed corporal (“per R.O. [regimental order] 22 of Feb. 19. 64”). It was noted that he had due to him the second installment of his bounty as a veteran volunteer, $50.

In May of 1864, the 93rd was engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness of Spotsylvania, a tangle of rough terrain in central Virginia that was the first battle of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s overland campaign. On the first day of the battle, May 5, William K. Johnson was shot through the thigh.

Lt. Bramhall of Company E wrote a letter to his brother on May 10, which was printed in the New York Tribune on May 20. In it he describes the Battle of the Wilderness, and describes an unnamed corporal who could very well be William Johnson. “One instance I would mention, I saw a corporal in the ranks of my company wounded in the leg, while in the act of loading his gun; he deliberately aimed his piece and fired, exclaiming ‘Take that,’ he then turned and said ‘Lieutenant, I am wounded and can do no more.’ He went to the field hospital and had his wound dressed, and soon after came back to the line, saying, ‘I must have another pop at the rascals.’ That corporal must be promoted.”

William’s captain, Dennis Barnes, a corporal and three privates from Company C were killed; William was one of 27 wounded (as was Lt. Bramhall). He was apparently moved to the United States General Hospital at Fairfax Seminary (Alexandria), Virginia, where on May 17 he was granted a furlough:

The bearer hereof, W.K. Johnson 93rd a Corpl of Captain DE Barnes C Company of the 93 Regiment of NY aged 34 years, 5 feet 5 inches high, Dark complexion, gray eyes, Brown hair, and by profession a Farmer; born in the state of N.Y., and enlisted at Albany in the state of N.Y., on the 28 day of Sept eighteen hundred and sixty one, to serve for the period of 3 years, is hereby permitted to go to Crown Point, in the County of Essex, State of N.Y., he having received a FURLOUGH from the fourth [?] day of May, to the 16th day of June, 1864, at which period he will rejoin his Company or Regiment at Fairfax Semmary [sic], Va or wherever it then may be, or be considered a deserter.

Subsistence has been furnished to said Wm. K. Johnson, to the 16th day of May 1864, inclusive.

Given under my hand, at U.S.A. Gen’l Hospl. Fairfax Sem’y, Va., this 17th day of May, 1864.

[signed] Daniel P. Smith, Surg., U.S. Vols., Commanding the Hosp’l.

It is not known with whom he would have stayed in Crown Point; by all accounts his wife and family were still in Brandon. Three of his wife’s brothers were in Crown Point then, working as boatmen (and probably fishing guides) at the hotel of Nathan Ingalls. It’s certainly possible William joined his brothers in law for a convalescent period, and Crown Point was much easier to reach then than the distant wilderness of the Rustic Lodge. (There were no Johnsons listed in Crown Point in 1860, though there were some in Ticonderoga, Westport and some other locations around Essex County.) In any event, his shot through the thigh had not healed when it was time for him to return to the regiment, and he saw George Page, M.D. of Crown Point, who wrote the following “Med. Art. for Ex. of Furlo” [sic]:

Crown Point June 15, 1864. I have this day examined William K. Johnson Co C. 93d Regt. N.Y. St. Vol. and find that he has a gun shot wound through the thigh. The wound is discharging profusely. He is improving but is not able to travel with safety and will not be for thirty days at least from the date of this.

The regimental records show that Corporal Johnson returned from his medical furlough on July 27, 1864, when the regiment was in the First Battle of Deep Bottom (Henrico County, Virginia). It is not clear if he would have been stationed with his company at that time, and he was carried on the regimental records as “absent wounded” until Sept. 17, 1864.  but he recovered and was able to avoid further injury during a series of engagements throughout the end of 1864 that made up the Siege of Petersburg. He was noted as having served at Poplar Spring Church (Peebles Farm) on Oct. 2, and at Boydton Plank Road on Oct. 27-28, 1864. He was on sick report for no noted cause on Nov. 9 and 10, and again Nov. 22 and 23, and he is noted as being owed the third and fourth installments of his bounty, a total of $100, in December. On January 10, 1865, he was promoted to sergeant, back to the rank he had lost for unknown cause near two years before. The next spring finally brought the Fall of Petersburg, on April 2, 1865, the day William received his second wound, this one characterized as “slight.” After the Fall of Petersburg came the pursuit of Gen. Lee until his surrender, April 9, at Appomattox Court House.

From Appomattox, the 93rd marched to Burkesville, Virginia, arriving April 13 and remaining there until beginning the march to Washington D.C. on May 2. They arrived in D.C. on May 15, and were part of the Grand Review, May 23. The 93rd was mustered out on June 29, 1865. During the course of the war, the 93rd lost 6 officers and 120 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded, and 2 officers and 130 enlisted men were lost to disease, for a total loss of 258 men.

William K. Johnson was mustered out as a sergeant. He had been last paid through Dec. 31, 1864. He was still due $190 in bounty money, and owed the U.S. $6.71; that amount is not explained. He also owed a debt of $17.00 to “G.C. Parmeter, Butler,” for an unknown reason. (I find no “Parmeter” in the regimental roster, though Butler was the Lt. Col.)

Where he went from there is a mystery. He may have returned home to Martha and their sons, by then aged 11 and 9. He may have returned to Crown Point and whomever he had stayed with there during his convalescence. Or perhaps he moved to Westport, nearby on Lake Champlain. By 1870, he and Martha were no longer together. She and her younger son George were living with Jesse Corey and his children Charles, Lem, and Charlotte, presumably working the farm and the Rustic Lodge. Martha was Jesse Corey’s third wife, and he had six children by the previous wives. Although Martha was only in her thirties when they joined (Jesse was around 60), they had no children together. Sometime before 1880, Martha’s brother Charles moved to Brandon, living as a boarder with Martha’s son George, already a noted Adirondack guide, and working as a boatman. Martha’s mother, Harriet, had also come to the area by then, and Martha’s sister, Nancy Dukett, was there with her family as well. Martha and Jesse lived together until his death in 1896. Perhaps after Jesse’s death she had had enough of living in the wilderness, for she and her stepson Charles, a hunter’s guide and Civil War veteran who had not married, had moved to North Elba by 1900, where he was farming. At some time before 1910 they moved to Keene. There she lived until her death in May 1911, at age 77.

That leaves the question of what happened to William. A special census was undertaken in 1890 for “Surviving Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, and Widows, etc.” In that census, William K. Johnson, clearly the same William as shown by his enlistment dates, rank, and more, is listed as living in Schroon River, town of North Hudson, New York. He is listed as suffering from the disability of “chronic rheumatism”; under marks is the note “Gun Shot Wound Re enlisted.” This record notes that he served 3 years, 9 months, and 1 day. Looking at the pension records, it appears that he had filed for an invalid pension on Sept. 18, 1877. On May 25, 1896, a widow’s pension was applied for — by Mary A. Johnson.

Where did William go after the war? Whether he returned home to Coreys is not known, but his convalescence in Crown Point would suggest that he had some reason to be on the eastern side of Essex County. All that is known is that in June 1870, William has taken up residence in Westport, a small community 18 miles up Lake Champlain from Crown Point. He has a wife, Mary, a one-year-old son named Fred, and a 5 month old son named John. He is working as a blacksmith and has a personal estate worth $100. By 1880, the family was recorded as living in Elizabethtown; they appear to have been on a stretch of road now known as Megsville Road, well out of the village of Elizabethtown, and it’s possible that they had been there before, as this location is right on the border between Elizabethtown and Westport.  (The section was also known as Jonas Morgan’s Patent). He was working as a carpenter; Fred, now 12, and John, now 10, were attending school, which was nearby. They lived next to Orin Taylor, who was a cooper, and not far from land marked as belonging to the Kingdom Iron Ore Company of Lake Champlain. It’s entirely possible the local residents of this out-of-the-way corner of Essex County hoped that iron would bring the prosperity it had brought to other reaches of the county, particularly Mineville and Jay, but the 1300 acres of undeveloped mining land accredited to Kingdom were part of a sophisticated stock fraud, and were tied up in a lengthy court action that wasn’t resolved before the 1890s.  By then whatever opportunity was there had been missed. William and Mary were named, along with a great number of their neighbors, in a foreclosure action brought by a Susan Demmon on November 17, 1883, with an auction scheduled for January 5, 1884. The foreclosure included much of what was described as lot number six in Jonas Morgan’s Patent of 4800 acres lying in Westport and Elizabethtown.

Perhaps the failure of the area to boom, and the resultant foreclosure, is the reason William took his family away, to the area of North Hudson and Schroon River, two communities so close together, by Adirondack standards, as to be nearly indistinguishable. It was in Schroon River that he was noted, in 1890, as suffering from chronic rheumatism. The family was still altogether in 1892, in North Hudson. William and John were described as farmers, and Fred as a “pedler.”  In 1894, William performed service for the Town of North Hudson that was described as “setting with board,” for which he was paid $12.50. (Most such payments were for ballot or highway services and fire fighting, so that nature of his activity is unclear; he is the only person for which that activity is described.) It is likely that William finished his life here, for on May 25, 1896, Mary applied for a Civil War widow’s pension. He was 66.

O the things you will do!

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212 Hall StreetIn terms of things that need doing, life has reached a maximum. With all the events that come with the end of a school year anyway, add all the things that come with senior year. With all the family events that normally come around this time of year, add in a couple more special events. Work has been insanely busy, and then there’s the small matter of buying a house, picking up stakes and moving.

If you’ve never experienced a “hot” real estate market (and if you’ve only lived in the Capital District, you have not), let me explain what it’s like. A house that you might like comes on the market. Five minutes later, you get a note from your realtor asking if you want to see it that day; if you see it and like it and decide to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars based on a 10-minute review and some shaky iPhone pictures, then you’d better be prepared to make an offer that night, because the sellers are reviewing the offers first thing in the morning. If you need some extra time, well, you can just look elsewhere. If you want to make the sale contingent on selling your own house, well, perhaps something along the lines of a garden shed would suit you better. And those 27 perfectly acceptable houses taunting you on Zillow? They’re all under contract. You need to wait for something else to be listed, and don’t get far from your phone.

So that’s what it is, just a whirlwind. Found a place that I desperately loved (and could afford) on Monday, scrambled to put in an offer (while also paying attention to an important meeting, mind you) on Tuesday, got beat out by a cash offer on Wednesday. (By the way, anyone with cash is suspect, in my mind, and should be thoroughly investigated.) Had all day Wednesday to experience the mixture of let-down and relief, got the same call on Thursday, checked out a place that didn’t quite work but that we loved anyway, and had to put in a bid Friday night for a Saturday decision.

And while we’re doing all that, we have to fit in the final (final!) dance recital, prom, a string of honors events, the graduation itself, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Oh, yeah: work. Lots and lots of work.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that we’ll be giving up a lot, in terms of both space and personal history (not to mention the fact we largely rebuilt this house ourselves), we’re both very excited about the chance to move on. If we’re going to be empty nesters, why not be empty nesters in a gorgeous little community that people seem to love living in, within steps of a nicely vibrant downtown?

And as a special snub to the Capital District, I’ll note that no matter what house we end up with in our new town, the Wegman’s will be about four miles away.

The Farewell Tour

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Autumn 2013 049aSo weird to say this. I never really set out to make Albany (actually, Albany semi-adjacent) my home. It just happened. Grew up in Scotia, lived 11 or so years in Syracuse, landed a job in Albany, and 24 years went by. We bought our house in the Grönen Bosch in 1991, reared our kids here, were very happy here, but with our younger one finishing high school, we were thinking about a move somewhere else in the area. The job situation was unstable at best, and suddenly an opportunity arose to become much more stable and remove myself from the vagaries of political winds. But after years of dismissing offers to move to NYC and Boston out of hand, we suddenly found ourselves deciding to move to Philadelphia. Western suburbs, most likely. Valley Forge-ish; I hear the winters are delightful.

Just like our last big move, we’re not going to do it all at once. I will act as scout and ensure the area is free of both Indians and Quakers before finding a new homestead and moving my spouse; both children will be safely esconced in pricey Eastern colleges by then, and unable to prevent us from tossing their precious comic books and Matchbox collections. If they had such things.

As a result, I’m on a bit of a weird farewell tour, driving and biking to places and realizing it may be the last time I get to see them for some time. I’m probably not going to be able to climb up to Dutch Church again before I go, and our recent visit to the mummies was probably the last time I’ll see the Albany Institute for a bit. While I’m glad to see progress being made, I’m a bit miffed that the Black Bridge, the key to biking to Cohoes without having to try to cross a six-lane highway where the lights won’t change for bicycles, is finally open now that I will almost never need it. (And actually, I’ve used it three times so far this week, just out of spite.) I had the sense that these may be my last visits to the Waterford visitors center, where I like to rest my legs and sometimes talk to the boat people. I even visited my father’s grave, a location that doesn’t carry much emotional weight with me, and realized it may be a while before I’m back. Other things are done without a chance for farewell: ice skating at the Plaza after work, for instance. The lesson in all this, of course, is to take your chances while you can, because something may change and you’ll never have the chance again.

It’s a weird thing to have to prepare to become unattached to a place, when not only you and your children but your parents and generations of ancestors have had some connection to it. My family in Albany and Schenectady goes back to the Norman for whom they named the kill, and even though I don’t come from the kind of family where that kind of history was handed down, that sense of place resonates deeply with me, and I’m oddly emotionally connected to the history of this area.

But perhaps even weirder is that I feel perfectly prepared to become attached to a new place. Quite where that will be, we don’t know yet, but living in this age of the internet, it’s amazing what a sense of place you can get without leaving your wifi connection. Between Twitter feeds and StreetView, the world is a very small place indeed.

So all this will go on. This blog may become a little more frequent, if only to make “winter in Valley Forge” jokes, because the uncertainty that has been hanging over me for a very long time now is gone, and I feel more free to write about what’s going on in my life. Hoxsie! will continue — obviously I can’t stop writing about the Capital District’s amazing history just because I won’t be here anymore. It may become a tad less reliable as the actual work piles up, but be assured it will continue.

But here is the truth of nostalgia. We don’t feel it for who we were, but who we weren’t. We feel it for all the possibilities that were open to us, but that we didn’t take.

     — Welcome to Night Vale

Surviving the weekend

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Couldn't move if the house were on fireThis weekend, I spackled, sanded, stained, grouted and painted. I cleaned all the windows on my cars and Rain-x’d them thoroughly for the fall rains. I rode my bike about 65 miles over two days, fairly casual rides with one really annoying flat. I took a couple hundred photographs (oh, for the limiting days of film), and even got around to processing a few of them. I looked at some art with my wife over in the Stockade. I talked to some strangers about bike jerseys and photo lamination. I talked to my mom about pretty much everything. I tried to get ice cream at Mac’s, but they weren’t open for the day yet when I rode by. I got groceries for the week. I made pickles. I watched “Spy Kids” and several episodes of “Angel” with my daughter.

And come Monday morning, I wonder why I’m exhausted.