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Camping in the Adirondacks, 1870

August 24, 2012
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Another Adirondack historical document is in hand from my friends, Bengt and Polly Ohman of Lake Clear.

Polly's grandfather, Abel Edward Blackmar, was a lawyer who became Judge Blackmar, Chief Justice of the Brooklyn Division of the Federal Supreme Court. Polly's brother was the late Dr. A. Edward Blackmar owner and director (from the 1940's) of Camp Forestcraft on Upper Saranac Lake.

After graduating from high school in 1870 Abel Blackmar accompanied his family on a camping trip to Fourth Lake on the Fulton Chain in the Adirondacks. Reading and writing was a big part of camp life and Abel kept a detailed, by the day, and almost by the hour, diary of the trip.

It is too bad that space allows only short takes, with no continuity from those copious notes; but I am sure the descriptions of the travel, the fishing and the punkies will be of interest to those of us who have spent some time in the woods.


The road less traveled

Monday, July 18 - "In entering the Adirondack wilderness or the North Woods there are two principal routes, one by way of Keeseville to the Saranac Lakes, the other by way of Utica- Boonville. The former is chosen by many on account of the bad condition of the road to Boonville but the road having been improved somewhat, we decided to try the latter route."

Tuesday, July 19 - "This morning at eight we packed our baggage on a buckboard, spring seated wagon, got on ourselves and started for the wild woods. The first twelve miles is very good wagoning and we accomplished it with ease, arriving at Moose River about noon, where we took dinner. The next eleven and a half miles is nothing but a bridle path through the woods.

"Although the wagon had two sets of springs, I found it much harder and more tiresome to sit in the seat than to walk. Never before had I the slightest idea over what a rough road a wagon could be drawn. Most of the stumps seemed to be cut of just short enough to let the wagons pass over without strikingand the stones! It seemed as if the boulders had been drawn onto the road, so thick were they in some places. If that is the improved road, I pity those who traversed the original one."


A few bug bites

Wednesday, July 20 - "Nix Lake is where Old Arnold drowned himself after the murder; and there we found the names of the coroners and the boots which were cut from his feet, and the boat from which he drowned himself."

"Last night I had my first taste of the disagreeables of wood life. It was a warm night, I left the window opened and kicked off the bed clothes. I awakened with such an awful itching about my legs, arms, and head I felt impelled to spring from the bed and do a war dance but my father slept on the front side of the bed. My friend's experience was about the same, but for want of room, had been put to bed with a fat man from Washington. At first he said he slept on the floor because it was cooler there and the punkies almost ate him up but after he got in bed behind the fat man he never got another bite but the fleshy individual was covered with bites. Next day I heard one of the party say they brought the fat man along only for punkie bait."


A hearty breakfast

Wednesday, July 27 - "I reached camp just in time to partake of a bountiful breakfast. Speaking of our food, I would here say that we fare like princes. We have breadstuff, pancakes, shortcakes and when we have time, to get berries, bread, home made, and Johnny cake; also, fish fried and broiled, pork, and for dessert huckleberries. For seasoning, butter, sugar and maple syrup, besides gravey. Our fish are excellent, the lake trout and salmon are to my taste the richest and best fish in the world, far surpassing the far-famed speckled or brook trout.

"The guides up here are Jacks of all Trades. They have to be, besides great fishers and hunters, good cooks and seamsters, besides possessing other qualities too numerous to mention."


Getting used to the woods

Sunday, Aug. 7 - "Almost a repetition of the other Sabbaths, spent in reading, bathing, sleeping and eating. Anna did not feel very well today, but we got her in a sweat when she went to bed, and promises to do better."

Friday, Aug. 12 - "The longer I stay in the woods, the more I like it. It is like getting used to living in a new place. I am gradually getting acquainted with all the guides and find them all, without exception, pleasant good fellows. Am learning the way of the wood, so now I feel quite at home, but we expect to leave next Wednesday and have so much preparations."

"Today I went to Buell's or the Forge to get some butter, also, partly to get exercise. It is a good 12 miles row, but now I am getting equal to almost any amount of rowing, and mind 12 miles less than I did two when I first came."



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