May 31, 2009 wasn't the first springtime snowfall in the Adirondacks. Carolyn Hickok recalled that on May 19, 1976, it was cold and had begun to rain - "A typical Fish Creek day," as her husband Robert had said - but then the temperature dropped, and the drops turned to snowflakes. There was so much snow, it accumulated. Mr. Hickok was highway superintendent at the time, and actually had to plow.
Carolyn has a gray cat named Fluffy with her fur cut short. Her son had gone to the Tri-Lakes Humane Society three years ago looking for a cat for his son, Gary. "He brought her home but Gary was allergic to her long hair." They liked her so much, though, they gave her to "grandma," who was happy to keep her. Originally, Mrs. Hickok had been against getting another cat after her previous one died at 17 years of age. "I didn't want to lose another kitty, so I said 'no more' - but when I saw her, she was so sweet" One thing Fluffy enjoys is playing in the pine needles, and gets herself covered in sap.
Hickok was born in Utica. When she was three years old, her father took up the position of superintendent in Essex County, so the family moved to Bloomingdale, which was on the edge of his territory. Her parents liked the house and the area so much that Mrs. Hickok didn't travel anywhere during that time except for the 4 years she took classes at Deaconess Hospital in Buffalo. She recalled that the trolley was still running then, and had fun riding it.
In Bloomingdale, Carolyn lived across the street from her future husband. After Robert returned from his employment to Korea, the two became engaged, and were married in early May of 1953, at the Methodist church which was only a short walk from both their houses.
Mrs. Hickok lives alone in Saranac Lake now since her husband passed away 8 years ago. Despite this, she said she likes her house and wants to keep it. Her three children have grandchildren of their own, and all three generations come up to visit often, making her a proud great-grandmother.
Robert was the former owner and boss of the boat livery, but now that job falls to Mrs. Hickok. She said that she wishes her husband were still around, because all of the paperwork is very time consuming, and she prefers to be on "her end" of the livery taking care of the renting and other tasks with more human contact. Interacting with customers is a big source of joy for her, and what she called the biggest reward of her job was the returning customers, or even people who are no longer customers but stop by to chat anyway.
She even goes as far as to say that boys who work for her during the summer are like her "summertime sons."
When asked what her biggest challenge was, she replied "capital improvements," and went on to say that, with a seasonal business, it's hard to keep ahead. Sometimes there are things that you need that are beyond what you can get in excess. However, her motto is, "The next day'll be better. Just keep going."
The Hickoks started their business in 1926, when Robert's parents first set up shop at the campsite at Fish Creek. His father built 99 flat-bottomed wood boats, which he called "the little red boats." They could support tiny motors, but were primarily rowboats. Carolyn noted that nowadays there aren't any more wooden boats at the livery.
The livery used to have a grocery store up front, called the Stockade Trading Post. Since then, the original building was split up and moved onto what is now the cement parking lot. Mr. Hickok originally bought the lot from a man named Harry Blagdon, who owned a considerable amount of land. Where the marina stands, there was a boys' school, and where the Hickoks' house is, there was a dining hall and a lean-to. When Blagdon had a heart-attack, he could no longer operate the school. Gradually, his health deteriorated, so he sold the land in three pieces to the Hickoks in June of 1954. Eventually, they couldn't keep up with all of the lots either, and sold them in turn to some of their longtime customers who loved the area.
The Hickoks also bought a lot from Mr. Vassburg, which was part of the old Saranac Inn. The boathouses there now came from the Inn and were towed up the lake.
Several college groups from Canada came down to the marina and rented dozens of canoes. Mrs. Hickok said that they always gave something to give back to the campsite area because they enjoyed it so much. "This is the people part that's so nice. Some of them still come." Inside the current store, toward the back, there are several old photos and pictures and other knick-knacks, gifts from other customers over the years.
While Hickok showed me photos of her husband and family, she commented, "They never really leave you. They're always here." She and Mr. Hickok were always very close, and whenever she had something new to share, he was the first one to hear it.
Once, the Hickoks went to Maine on vacation and remarked how much they liked it. On their way home, they realized that it was because it had reminded them so much of home, "the trees, the water, not too many people." Until 1985, properties in the Adirondacks were fairly far apart, two miles between neighbors. Then people began selling off their land in smaller lots and building started on the new property.
Hickok fondly recalled some customers who told her that they had spent almost 50 summers here. As for spreading the love of the Adirondacks, she said, "I don't think you have to advertise this area. If it's right for you, you'll find it, and you'll come."