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About Adirondack books

June 25, 2011
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Much more history of the Adirondacks and, in particular, the history of this region, is now being preserved because Floyd and Martha Tyler John (Mr. and Mrs.) have moved back to Vermontville.

They have kindly sent me two books, one about the history of the Norman family, featuring Tom C. Norman Sr. and the other, "Adirondack Tall Tales," based on stories published by my friend and Martha's mom, former Enterprise columnist Helen Tyler.

A little background on the John family: Martha (after graduating from Saranac Lake High School) went on to college, met Floyd, married, they had three sons and in the meantime both earned doctorates; Floyd in mathematics from Purdue and Martha in education and psychology from Stanford.

Article Photos

Thomas C. Norman Sr. — A farmer dressed up, outstanding in his field…it may be a subtle reference to that famous Grant Wood painting we have all admired, “American Gothic” of the man (holding the pitchfork), standing with his daughter in front of their little house.
(Photo courtesy of the Norman family)

Together they are finishing a book on Martha's mom and dad, Helen and Albert Tyler, and another book on their own family; Martha published several books while at universities and is completing her mother's last book: "Paul Smith: Born Smart."

Martha and Floyd told me that most of the pictures and stories came from Tom Jr. and his wife Barbara, but Martha did work for Tom Norman on Norman Ridge in the summers.

We share a bond with Martha because, with my brother Charles (Chic), we also worked for Tom when we lived on our farm on the Ridge in the 1930s. The most I remember is pulling pig weed in the huge corn fields. The roots were not deep, the weeds were usually pretty high by the time we started, so it was easy to "extract" them and we would just throw the weeds on the ground between the rows of corn. At the end of the summer, we split the $25 in wages not bad in the '30s.

When the corn is tall and you're a little kid those corn fields are like a huge forest. Sometimes it was better to walk all the way to the end of the row to find the way out, even though it could be further than trying to cut across the field; it was difficult to walk in a straight line in that direction but easy to feel lost.


Norman family history

The "original" Thomas Norman straight from the book:

"Thomas Norman purchased the property in 1853 when he was around 30. His first son, Joshua, was born in 1860 and the second son, Benjamin Franklin (BF) Norman was born in 1866. The two boys probably learned farming by doing chores and helping their father. Their mother, Fanny, died in 1873 when the boys were still fairly young. Joshua died two years later. That left BF as the only surviving male heir.

"Thomas passed away in 1899 and his second wife, Harriet, passed away in 1915. Presumably, BF inherited all the family property."


Thomas C. Norman Sr.

B.J. married Mary Jane Arnold and they had two children, Tom and Fannie. His parents founded the family store in Bloomingdale. The Johns did not find many pictures of Tom growing up in Bloomingdale, but there is one of Tom, Arnie Cohen (who I remember meeting as a kid) and Russ O'Malley.

He met and married Olive Brundage from Bath and they had two children Tom Jr. and Phyliss.

"Thomas Norman Sr. was a much respected person. He was a man of his word, a hard worker, and a caring man who loved his family and all who were associated with him. He knew how to handle a cadre of hired hands. His workers thought of him as a fair person. He could work with people of all ages. There are stories of his recognition of the needs that people had, and his help for them in the resolution of the problems.

After he passed away on May 4, 1983, Tom Jr. received a letter from Tom Jones of Saranac. In that letter, Mr. Jones recalls the opportunities that Tom Sr. gave him, the excellent example that Tom, Sr. set, the many kindnesses and gifts that Tom Sr. gave several young people, especially a trip to the World Series. The letter was just one of many fond remembrances of Tom Sr."


August Becker

There are many of us still around who remember August Becker, who was Tom's potato expert, and here is why he was an expert.

"Augie (as he was called) had come to live at the Norman house when he was looking for work. He was answering an advertisement that he seen in the New York Times in 1926. He was just a young man of 16 or 17 at the time. Most of his family had been killed in a train wreck. He just stayed on and

worked on the Norman farm the rest of his life."

Now here is the punch line:

Mr. Norman sent August to Cornell University for two years to learn about "certified" seed potatoes. It was a good investment by Mr. Norman as he come to depend on August and his expertise in preparing the land for planting, in the rotation of crops and in many other areas in managing the big farm operation run by Tom Norman Sr.

Book reviews are difficult in this small space so hurry down to Fact and Fiction Book Store in Saranac Lake and get a copy of this history of the Norman family and a history of how to grow good potatoes. I'll have to get to the "Tall Tales" book review another time.



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