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Some more history

September 26, 2008
By Howard Riley,

I don't believe there were ever so many people with so much knowledge of the history of Saranac Lake gathered in one room together than were at the great Guggenheim Camp during Historic Saranac Lake's History Day on Sept. 6.

That is a sort of paraphrasing of a story about President John Kennedy when he hosted a group of Pulitzer Prize winners at the White House and said that he believed that they were the brightest, most talented group ever gathered at the White House - except when President Jefferson dined alone.

A lot to comprehend

Article Photos

Could not find a picture from History Day but here is an historic picture of Broadway being paved with bricks in 1904. One big machine and 20 or more workers are shown in front of what is now Jreck Subs in the Masonic Building at 70 Broadway.
(Photo courtesy of Hugh D. McGill Copyright 2008)

There was so much information and too little time to take it all in - all of you who spend a part of your life volunteering know how much work went into that event behind the scenes. All the worker bees have been mentioned in a letter to the editor but I must single out Liz and Ralph Bennett, caretakers of the property, who were not obligated to do anything but never stopped working.

When Historic Saranac Lake set out to do the first ever History Day, I don't believe that Executive Director Mary Hotaling and her board of directors ever envisioned the success it became. More than 200 people, coming and going, were jostling for position in that huge room at the camp.

Believe me, I am not complaining. I wanted time to read all the displays (or story boards) and listen to all the speakers and, of course, talk to all the interesting people who came, residents, people from around the region and visitors from afar.

The great display, were too many to list, but some included Knollwood, the Algonquin, Martin's Hotel, The Ampersand Golf Course, Pinehurst, horse racing on the ice by Caperton Tissot, Don Duso's map of the state camps by name and location as they existed in 1961, and a beautiful guideboat built and displayed by Joseph Spadaro.

However, just as the room would fill up with people reading the story boards, others would start to fill in the chairs waiting for the next speaker.

So I am hoping that History Day can be repeated with all of the story boards intact along with some new ones and that maybe it can be held in the historic Harrietstown town hall with its big, beautiful auditorium on a Saturday and Sunday in September. Browsers can read and visit and do everything everyone did this year only with more time and space - except the boat rides which would have to be by canoe down the Saranac River behind the Town Hall.

Martha Reben

Betsy Tisdale gave a great presentation as an authority on the life and works of Adirondack author Martha Reben.

It was especially interesting to me and Nat LeDuc because we were probably the only two in the place who knew Martha or at least had met her. I am lucky enough to have an autographed copy of her book, "A Sharing of Joy," in which she tells a lot about her animal friends. She had a duck named Mr. Dooley who, she says, lived to be age 10.

The first summer out of high school, I and my friend Herb Davis got a chauffeur's license with picture ID and all. We graduated in June (1948) at age 17 and turned 18 the next month, qualifying us for the fancy driver's license. Can you imagine, at that age, getting a job driving taxi - new cars to drive, busy all day and all night, sleeping in the taxi stand, eating in the diner and a pocketful of money?

So one day I get a call for a fare on Lake Street; a woman comes out to the car carrying a bag, gets in the back seat and directs me to Dr. Bouton's veterinarian's office on Dorsey Street. (Dr. Mike Pond, Dr. Bouton's grandson, got a big kick out of something I said about his grandfather in an earlier column. I knew him as an adult, but I also remember him coming to the farm in Ray Brook when I was a kid. He was a no-nonsense guy who probably liked the animals he treated better than their owners - but he was a respected vet and very likable under that gruff exterior.)

Anyway, at that age, I didn't pay much attention to anything except my own daily life. It turns out that the fare was Martha Reben and in that bag was her duck, Mr. Dooley. When he let out a quack as we came down Lake Street (no LaPan Highway yet) it scared the bejasus out of me nearly causing the demise of a village lamppost. I waited to give her and Mr. Dooley a ride back home and later took them once more to the vet's. All I remember about her was that she was quiet and polite.

Can't wait for the next History Day by Historic Saranac Lake whether it's next year or the year after, it is off to a great start.



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