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Wagon trip to Lake Placid — 1908

September 15, 2012
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

As so often happens, one column spawns another. In late August there was a story in this space telling about camping at Fourth Lake in 1870. It was from a diary written by fresh-out-of-high-school student Abel Edward Blackmar, grandfather of Polly Ohman of Lake Clear. The detail in his story was remarkable, especially about getting into the Adirondacks.

Now, Ken White, a staff member at the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, has given me a letter, covering 22 small pages, written by his grandfather William, to his father in 1908 when he was age 13 and a camper at Camp Dudley outside of Westport. The letter is dated Aug. 16, 1908, written in a fine, clear hand. Camp Dudley was founded in 1885 by Sumner F. Dudley and is the oldest continually running boys camp in the U.S.

Here is an attempt on my part to do justice to this great tale in this limited space, so with that fine disclaimer, let us begin the journey.

Article Photos

Observe the prose and penmanship.


Dear Father;

"I thought you would like to hear of my trip through the Adirondacks. Early Monday morning, about 6 o'clock, Mr. Cummings aroused us from our deep sleep and said it was time for us to get ready.

"Among our camping outfit was a large frying pan, four pails, tin cups and spoons and small saucers. Our provisions consisted of bacon, crackers, bread and butter, salt and pepper, sugar, condensed milk, clam-chowder, oatmeal, peaches, cocoa and chicken soup.

"Can't you just about feel what a good time you are going to have with this kind of outfit? Well, the wagons came and we tumbled in, trying to see which would have to sit in the middle, as there were three in a seat, and every one wanted to sit on the outside. Each wagon [the letter does not reveal how many wagons were involved] consisted of three seats, three in a seat and was drawn by a team of horses.

"We left camp about eight o'clock, stopped in Westport and then headed our course towards Elizabethtown. To pass the time away we sang some songs and cracked jokes. Just before entering Elizabethtown we passed Raven Hill, which has an altitude of 1,967 ft. We reached Elizabethtown about 10:30 and stopped and had some refreshing soda water, and bought some crackers.

"We continued our journey east for about 11 miles when we came to the road leading north to Keene Center. Occasionally we passed little brooks and quenched our thirst and watered the horses.


Arriving in Keene


"We continued on our way, the road winding itself through dense forests and through valleys. We arrived in Keene Center about 2 o'clock and dined at the Owl's Head, and had a fine meal. After having rested the horses and sending some postals we started out again and kept due north in the direction of Upper Jay.

"We enjoyed the scenery very much, especially when riding through a valley and surrounded on all sides by mountains, whose lofty peaks seemed to penetrate the blue sky. After passing through Upper Jay we thought we had better make camp. We came upon a respectable looking farm and were given a night's lodging in their barn.

"After having eaten we enjoyed the scenery and fine air. At last darkness crept over us and it was thought that we had better retire as we had to have an early start to make Lake Placid by tomorrow for lunch.

"At last the dawn broke, we had our clothes on pretty quick, had our breakfast and started on our second days journey. Our road now headed straight for Lake Placid. Our first point of interest today was a flume we came to, a flume is a sort of ravine which the water rushes through from down the mountainside. At last we came to High Falls Chasm.

"Now and then we would pass a country school house. For a type of a country school house, it is surrounded by a rail fence, made of wood and the building itself consists of a rude structure with a bell suspended from a rope enclosed in a little wooden steeple. Along the journey we would get out and pick some berries, and have some fun.


Arriving in Lake Placid


"At last we arrived in Lake Placid and had lunch at the American House. We took a walk around town visiting Mirror Lake and Lake Placid. At one of the docks we stopped and took the lake steamer 'Doris' and embarked for a sail around the lake. The distance around the lake covered twelve miles. After getting back to the wagon we drove about 2 1/2 miles south of Lake Placid and stopped at John Brown's grave."


The trip home


Young Mr. White tells about taking the "back road," now state Route 73, with parts so narrow the wagons hardly would fit on the road. Passing the Cascade Lakes he wrote "on both sides of us could be seen the remains of a terrible forest fire, which had devastated hundreds of acres of forest land, and all that could be seen is the barren mountain sides with the skeleton trees looking like so many telegraph poles. This forest fire was about four years ago and I was told the smoke was dense that it could be seen in New York City and the rocks were so hot that nobody could go along the road for a few days."

He finished the letter telling about stopping at St. Hubert's, climbing a mountain, then on to Elizabethtown and dining at the "Glenwood" and then the rest of the journey home arriving about 5 o'clock.




William White ended up a law professor at Pace University - and the aforementioned Abel Edward Blackmar was later the Chief Justice of the Brooklyn Division of the Federal Supreme Court . See what camping in the Adirondacks can do for one?



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