Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Adirondacks

As I prepare to make another pilgrimage out east to visit my family, I find myself reflecting on my ancestry.  I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.  I also come from a family of outdoorsmen.  My maternal grandfather was an avid hunter and fisherman and one of my paternal great great grandfathers (via my paternal grandmother), Darius Merrill, settled and founded the village of Merrill near Chateaugay, NY and ran a resort, The Merrill House.  Darius son, Charles, chronicled the life and adventures of his father and family in serial form in The Malone Telegram in the 1930s.  My grandmother cut and saved her Uncle's clippings which my parents still have.  In 1974 an abridged version of The Old Guide's Story (as the compiler at the time was unable to locate all of the chapters of the story from when it was originally published in serial form) was compiled and published in hardcover book form.  A few years ago I was approached by a historian looking to re-publish The Old Guide's Story in its entirety (apparently from my parents clippings and from other sources the new compiler was able to find the whole story).  He'd found some of my Internet inquiries of my Merrill ancestors and asked if I had any old photos or documents he could borrow and scan to include in the re-printing.  I put him in touch with my parents who actually did/do have photos and documents.

from L to R: Watson (g grandfather), Darius (gg grandfather), Shep, Minnie (standing behind Shep) Sarah Wallbridge Merrill (gg grandmother), & Charles Merrill

While it's probably little surprise that I never knew my great great grandfather, Darius. I also never knew my great grandfather, Watson. My great-grandparents died within months of each other in 1918 (my great-grandmother, Frankie, in May of that year-- Watson in August). The story my grandmother (who was only 15 when her parents died) used to tell was that her father had died of a broken heart after losing the only woman he had ever loved a few months before. After his younger brother, Shep, had sold the Merrill House in 1908. Watson had taken to farming and ended his days as a guide and hotelier.

Watson Merrill

Sadly in more recent research I've learned that my great grandmother, Frankie Davis, lost her own mother when she was only 9 years old. My great great grandmother, Adeline Kent Davis, died in February 1874 at age 29 from what I'm assuming were complications in childbirth.  My great grandmother, Frankie, had a younger brother, Ada, who was born on January 27, 1874.  Ada died in infancy at 13 days old-- the same day as his mother, Adeline.  Adeline's own parents Silas & Naomi (Lewis) Kent were some of the original settlers of Ellenburg, NY.
Frankie & Watson

Switching over to my mother's side of the family.  My grandparents bought a home on a decent sized plot of land within the Adirondack State Park prior to starting a family.  In the early years of Prohibition my grandfather would make his own hooch (see also "courage lubricant", moonshine, etc.) deep in the woods of their property.  He also kept a sugar shack for making Maple syrup from the Maple trees on his property.  My grandfather died when I was only about 7.  I do remember sitting in his lap as a young boy.  I remember every morning for breakfast he'd have eggs & bacon before heading into the woods for the day.  But oddly enough what I remember most about him was his smell.  He smelled of the great outdoors (in a good way) and I still remember that his chair retained that "great outdoors" fragrance of his years after he passed away.  My grandmother used to tell me that she didn't mind him making his hooch in the woods during Prohibition for his own personal consumption.  She was however adamantly against him selling his "Adirondack Ale" to others as she didn't feel that it was worth the risk or threat of possible incarceration.  My mother was born a couple years after Prohibition ended, her younger sister Marilyn a couple of years after her, and then her youngest sister about 5 years after Marilyn.  Sadly Marilyn died of Cancer at age 2 when my mom was only 4 years old.  My grandmother taught in a one room schoolhouse in the mountains.  In one room she taught children in grades 1-8.  After completing 8 years of matriculation in the mountains the students then had to venture into town for their final 4 years at Franklin Academy.  By the time I was in school a new high school had been built and the building that had housed the high school had been converted to a Middle School (grades 6-8).

I left that area for college when I was 18.  I did move back for a few months here & there in the first few years since then but I left the area for good in March 2000.  Since then my return trips have been limited to a few visits.  But on those visits I feel that outdoorsman in me start to creep out again.  From the moment I breathe in the mountain air and drink in the beautiful scenery it's as if a switch flips.  They say you can't go home again, and they're right... But I'd counter that even long after you've moved away "home" stays with you.  It may lie dormant much of the time, but it's always "there."  And while "home" never fully comes back to me on these visits, enough of it comes to the surface to remind me of how much of me my background is still there and how much of "the 'dacks" is still in my blood.


Tender Heart Bear said...

I do have a question is the new book coming out?

To me reading this is like going back and reading the little house book again the farmer boy book. I bet that Almanzo was friends with someone in your family.

It is great someone wants to write the story about your family again. When it comes out I would just love to read the book. Please let me know when it comes out.

You are right about going back home. You can always go back there and it will always be with you in your heart. That is one thing no one can ever take away from you. I hope you have a great time when you go and visit your family!♥

Perplexio said...

The newer version was released in 2006. Unfortunately it's hardcover only and costs $49.95. My parents have a copy but I've not picked up a copy for myself

The older version (from 1973) I believe still can be found used via Alibris.

I shared some emails with the guy who was responsible for getting the book re-published. He was/is a local history buff. I believe he either had a copy of or had come across a copy of the 1973 version and learned of the history of the book and discovered parts were missing from when it had been initially published in serial form. Because the 1973 version had been out of print for so long and was so hard to find he took it upon himself to change that.

The book is so expensive because it's published by a small local publisher in Northern NY state. They don't do the volume of business of the bigger publishers so they have to charge more for the book to still turn a profit. The re-issue of the book is higher quality than the 1973 printing. The pages are glossy and it's more like a "coffee table book" than the original was.

One of my cousins so enjoys that part of our shared family history that he ended up buying a summer camp on the same lake that the Merrill House was located on before it was destroyed by a fire. His wife summers there and he flies in for a few weeks every year as his work schedule allows.

Susan as Herself said...

I have little balsam pillows in every room of my condo to remind me of the smell of home. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. And I refuse to eat anything but REAL maple syrup.

SK said...

I visited the Adirondacks for the first time in 2007 and really enjoyed my mini vacation. It was pretty warm the day we chose to go the top of White Face mountain and not knowing much about it I wasn't prepared. I was freezing halfway up and bought a jacket at the gift shop that kept me warm was we made it to the top. The views were breathtaking. I'd like to go back one day!
Hope you are enjoying your trip back home.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Very cool that you know so much about your family. Love the photos! Have a great time in the Adirondacks!

Tender Heart Bear said...

That is one book I really want to read. You know how I like to read about the past. Just reading your blog got me into wanting to read the book. I just wonder if I can find it at the library! I am going to look there and see if I can find it. I will let you know!