Long Lake Historical Society Shares Stories
October 27, 2011, by Abbie Verner
At the October meeting of the Long Lake Historical Society, Harold (Bunny) Austin and Tom Bissell were the guest speakers. Tom started off on the topic of why people came to Long Lake. He remarked that most early settlers came from western New England such as Vermont and western Massachusetts. In the 1830s there was a shortage of land and the land was “wearing” out from years of farming in those areas.
The early settlers were lured by advertisements extolling the virtues of moving to the Adirondacks where they would find fertile ground and fields of wheat waving in the gentle breezes. . . a slight exaggeration. In the early years they had some success with farming as the land in the Adirondacks had been solidly tree-covered and undisturbed. Fertility was shortlived, however, as the soil was poor, sandy and hardpan under the thin cover of fertile soil. Not to mention that these early settlers had to contend with tree stumps and rocks. Tom stated that although one could buy land for as little as a $1 an acres, it cost $10 to clear it.
Long Lake was the most isolated community in New York State. Roads were non-existent, the nearest post office was 40 miles away and the nearest grocery store 60 miles away. One of the members present remarked that it was much like it is today. In the winter the nearest grocery store is apx 22 miles away, but we still have our post office for the present.
By the 1840s people drifted away. Morehouse, a town in Hamilton County had a population of 150, but by 1840 only 10 residents remained.
The mine at Tahawus started c. 1826. Unlike the modern mine founded in 1941, there was not much opportunity for employment for Long Lakers as the route to Newcomb was primitive at best. Robert Shaw did work at the mine when his family faced an economic crisis He mostly stayed at the mine as it was a difficult journey to undertake on a daily basis. This first mine lasted until 1857, when the Panic of 1857 hit. Economy in the northeast took a nose dive.
Even though a blast furnace had just been installed in 1854, demand ceased.
Long Lakers continued to rely on farming for their livelihood. David Keller had the largest farm of 58 acres and was quite successful. He had farmed before coming to Long Lake so he had an advantage over his neighbors.
Meanwhile, back in 1813, the Schroon River opened to log driving, soon the Hudson opened and lumbering reached North Creek. It wasn’t until the 1880s that lumbering came to Long Lake. Along with lumbering came an increase in the population of the town. By 1910 there were 1000 people in Long Lake. Because Long Lake relied on the Raquette River, our logs went north and not to Glens Falls. Prices in the north were lower than those in the south so Blue Mountain Lakers and Raquette Lakers and Indian Lakers had an advantage over us as they could send their logs down to Glens Falls. Eventually, the railroad reached Long Lake West and logs would now be shipped south.
In 1869, Rev. W.H.H. Murray wrote Adventures in the Wilderness, which extolled the Adirondacks as a paradise for hunting, fishing, boating, scenic views, etc. thus beginning the tourist industry which still exists today. Tourists came. They hired guides, so farmers became guides. They required accommodations so hotels were built. The heyday of the grand Victorian hotels ended in the depression of the late 20s and 1930s. Sagamore Hotel 1888.
Tom ended his economic history of Long Lake here of Long Lake here and Bunny Austin kicked in with stories of the old days in Long Lake.
He started with a tale about the snack bar. Chris Wallace was cooking, the restaurant was full, an out-of-town lady at the counter was gazing out over the frozen lake. She turned to Chris and asked in a thoughtful way, “what happens to all this ice on the lake in the summer?” Chris replied without a pause, “it sinks to the bottom.”
Next Bunny talked about cutting ice down at Hackett’s Camp Riverdale with George Cole, Ed Hamner, Bill Boone. At the time he was courting Evelyn, his wife, and missed seeing her while they were down the lake. There were no roads from Hacketts to the town. Bunny asked the boss, if he could take off after work at 4:30, walk to town on the frozen lake, see Evelyn and return by breakfast the next morning. His boss agreed so Bunny took off. He ran 100 paces on the frozen lake, walked 100 steps and pretty soon he reached Round Island where he found a grebe in distress. It was stuck trapped by ice and it would surely die so Bunny stopped and gently worked his hands under the birds breast and patiently worked the bird free and tucked her in his jacket and continued on his way. Looking ahead towards the Lagerquist camp, he could see a figure moving across the lake towards the camp. He appeared weighted down and was moving slowly. Bunny called out, thinking maybe he needed help, but the figure stopped briefly looked towards Bunny and turned and picking up the pace of his progress hustled to the shore and disappeared into the woods. By this time the bird in his jacket started to wiggle around so when Bunny opened his jacket the bird took off in a hurry flying who knows where. Bunny just kept on going and reached town visited with Evelyn and then returned back down the lake (about 10 miles) for breakfast.
Years later, Bunny learned that the mysterious figure on the lake was Joker Houghton Sr.. He thought Bunny was a conservation officer who was after him. Joker’s loaded down packbasket was chock full of venison which is why he hustled himself out of sight into the woods.