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Sunday Rock captures the essence of the region

January 30, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

The roar emanating from the railroad tracks in my backyard sounded like a runaway locomotive. I peered out the window to see tree branches sailing by as tall pines bowed with the stiff winds.

Foul weather, coming from the southeast, brought with it the first major thaw of the winter. And on it's winds, gusting in excess of 25 mph, it delivered nearly two inches of rain in horizontal fashion.

Worst yet for those who cherish winter sports was the threat that the 50-degree temperatures and heavy rains would obliterate the season's considerable snowpack.

By midmorning, the trees in my backyard were dropping like goose poop in a public park and patches of green grass were sprouting up on the nearby golf course.

Later, I surveyed the damage and found three poplar trees and a large white pine snapped off at the trunk while an assortment of scattered tree limbs littered the driveway. Fortunately, with prospects of fresh snow on the horizon,the snowpack will likely recover.

However, backcountry travelers should be prepared to confront a fresh collection of scattered timber, downed trees and other debris covering the trails.

Runoff from the storm's wrath will also make stream crossings sketchy for a while and rising waters will likely weaken the lake ice, especially near the inlets and outlets.

Despite such factors, there's no reason to remain indoors. Cooler temperatures and falling snow will soon restore the landscape and offer a new escape. Get out and enjoy!

Sunday Rock

Due to the region's often inhospitable weather, the chronic lack of economic opportunity and a seemingly innate and irrepressible stubbornness evident among the local population, I've often been told that, "Adirondackers must have rocks in their heads." On certain occasions, it's been difficult to argue the claim.

However, in a sleepy little town on the northern border of the Adirondacks, an entire community has had a rock on their mind for a very long time.It's known locally as the Sunday Rock.

The huge glacial erratic was deposited eons ago along the side of Route 56 in South Colton. It was there before Native Americans passed by on a trail they used to travel these woods.

It's a special rock that symbolizes the cornerstone of a caring community that has rallied to save it twice. The townrescued the monument when the march of civilization threatened to destroy it in the name of progress in 1925 and, then again, in 1965.

I was just a youngster when I first heard of the fabled rock. It's story was told by Ennis Fessette, an old French Canadian woodsman andtrapper who spent off seasons in Elizabethtown working on his "Adirondack haircut."

Ennis was a hero to many local kids. He taught us how to "tickle trout" in the small streams, to shoot frogs with bow and arrow and to collect crawdads with just a baseball cap and a stick. He could craft slingshots out of a bicycle inner tube and a branch. For a bunch of 12-year-old boys, it simply didn't get any better than that.

He told us about Sunday Rock in what would best be described today as a philosophical lecture on the principles of woodsmanship. Although I didn't fully appreciate the concept until much later in life, it's apractice that I continue to this day.

In one short sentence, Ennis captured the essence of why we take to the woods.

"I don't wear no watch in the woods," he explained. "Cuz time don't matter no more if you're tramping south of the Sunday Rock."

Sunday Rock, located on the divide between the farmlands of the St. Lawrence River valley and the "Great South Woods" of the Adirondacks beyond, is more than a simple natural landmark.

For over a century, the Rock has served to separate a vast forested wilderness from the rest of the world. Over time, it has evolved to signify that unique state of mind that typically overtakes travelers as they pass by.

Sunday Rock represents a period in time when life was easier andthe stresses and burdens of civilization were left behind.

According to local accounts, "In the distant past, saluting the rock became a kind of joyful ritual to be observed. Elders might uncork a bottle at it and children could cut up without fear of a scolding. Hunters and fishermen had the feeling of eager anticipation as the cares of everyday life were left behind. In passing, travelers felt a sense of arrival as they crossed to the wooded side of the divide."

It is a sensation often described by those who still manage to travel into wild, remote country. In some manner, at one time or another, we have all found a personal Sunday Rock. That unique landmark that serves to transport our soul to another world.

In 1925, as automobiles replaced buckboards as the primary means of transportation, the old rock stood directly in the path of the proposed State Highway 56, a modern, concrete road.

An effort to rescue the rock from dynamiting was soon launched by Doctor C.H. Leete of Potsdam, who formed The Sunday Rock Association.

In short order, over $260 was raised, with contributions from 210 members representing seven states, the District of Columbia, the Canal Zone and Canada.

In the course of nine and a half days, a crew of men and a team of horses assembled the timbers and jackworks necessary to move the rock at a cost of $216.27.

Remaining funds in the account were later used to publish a booklet entitled "Sunday Rock, Its History and the Story of Its Preservation."

The publication states that, "In those days, it was said that beyond the rock there was no Sunday. Camp life went on from day to day with no change. It was all one glorious holiday when Tuesday might just as well have been Saturday, and Thursday and Wednesday could change places, and Friday might begin the week for all anybody knew or cared.

"The rivers, the brooks, the ponds, the mountains and the trees, the fleet deer, the rushing trout, the wild cat and the black bear ruled supreme. It was their land, and there was no Sunday. The road past the rock also served as the way in for scores of loggers and for them, here the rough and tumble fellowship of the winter camp began. Thus the big rock began to be called Sunday Rock. By whom, nobody knows but the reason is evident."

The rock had to be moved again in 1965 when increasing vehicular traffic necessitated a widening of the roadway.

Mr. George Swift, Town Supervisor at the time, organized the effort and the Sunday Rock was moved to its current location in a small park less than a stone's throw from it's original location.

A small plaque attached to the rock reads, "Sunday Rock, Preserved by the Sunday Rock Association. 1925." Another smaller sign next to the rock adds, "The woods are better."

A Local Landmark Preserved

In December 2009, officials at the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation notified the town that the proposal to include Sunday Rock on the State Registry of Historic Places had been accepted. A similar application for national recognition is pending, according to South Colton resident Sally Thomas, who has worked on the project.

Thomas explained that, "It (the nomination proposal) has already passed through New York State's Register of Historic Places so it's almost automatic that it will be accepted on the national level. We've been told so verbally and we expect an official letter any day now.

"It would be so nice, I was brought up to appreciate the history of the rock," she continued. "And my mother always stressed the significance and importance of Sunday Rock to this community."

Community efforts to preserve Sunday Rock have even been recognized in a Ripley's Believe It or Not newspaper panel in the past.

But the true benefactors of their efforts will be found among the generations yet to come, who will continue to pass this way and learn of the charms, serenity and beauty that still remain to be found in the Great South Woods beyond Sunday Rock.



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