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Fran Yardley: a woman with a story to tell

July 13, 2011
By RANDY?LEWIS - Special to the Enterprise , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

You may have seen her in Pendragon Theatre's "The Imaginary Invalid" as Beline, or as Ana in "The Clean House.

Fran Yardley is an actress living in the Adirondacks, often seen performing in Pendragon plays.

Others may know her storytelling shows at community events like First Night. Her smile and warm kindness are legendary in her continuing role as a program leader for retreats for Creative Healing Connections, the nonprofit organization she spent 13 years leading as executive director.

Article Photos

Fran Yardley, center, poses with her daughters Gwyn, left, and Shana at Bartlett Carry this year.
(Photo provided)

Yardley discovered her future home while a student at the University of Colorado. A young man she was dating named Jay Yardley was showing a film on the kitchen wall of a mountain cabin. The film was about the place in the Adirondacks that had been in his family for generations, Bartlett Carry. What stuck in her mind was footage of film taken of someone going down a long dirt road with huge pine trees towering on both sides, and a sense of quiet forest beauty.

Jay would become her first husband. The piece of land 11 miles west of Saranac Lake would become their home. That long dirt road would become their driveway.


Fact Box

Bartlett Carry is one of the oldest settled places in the Adirondacks. Prior to the building of roads in this area, most of the backwoods travel was done by water. In order to get from Upper to Middle Saranac Lake by canoe or guideboat, you had to take your boats out of the water and carry them around a set of rapids. These places were called carries and were integral in those early explorations of this part of the Adirondacks.

The "traffic" at this spot led Virgil Bartlett to build a sportsmen's lodge, right at the place where the boats came out of the water, in 1854. His lodge invited visitors to stay comfortably and be fed their meals while "roughing it" in the wilderness. Staying at Bartlett's evoked loyalty, and their guests returned year after year.

Over the years, different groups of people sustained the tradition begun by Bartlett after his widow sold the property five years after her husband's death. New owners formed clubs and joint ownership of properties on his original site. Buildings burned and were rebuilt, but the people kept coming back year after year. Rules of governance and usage of the lodges were established with the first new group of owners, the Saranac Club.

Back in the beginning

In 1968, Fran and Jay moved to Bartlett Carry. "Jay's great-grandfather first came here in 1903," Fran said. "Jay and I both wanted to live lives which honored the wilderness and traditions born of living a rustic life. So we came and stayed in a caretaker's cabin. There was no electricity for the first two-and-a-half years. We had a kerosene fridge, a kerosene heater in the basement with an open grate to the first floor, and a gas stove. We went down to the lake once a day to crank up a generator to pump water uphill, so we even had indoor plumbing."

Jay had inherited this Adirondack land that included the old Bartlett Carry Club, the remnants of which were in ongoing decay. For 10 years, it had been uncared for, with 12 houses, a main lodge, at least five boathouses, a recreation hall and an ice house.

"All together, I think we had about 36 buildings. Our dream was to come up here, renovate it, and run it as a summer resort," Fran said. "We got up here on October 25, and on November 2, the snow fell. I never saw the ground again until the next April. Jay assessed the buildings and decided what needed to be taken down and what could be repaired. I inventoried the contents of all the buildings. And then I got to work making the place look good. For example, I made curtains using a treadle sewing machine, since we had no power. We just renovated and renovated, a full- time job for both of us. Even in the winter, we'd be doing this work every day. It was truly a labor of love.

"We opened the first three lodges in 1971 and continued renovations until 1978. Gwyn (their first daughter) came along in August of 1969. After the inventory, it all was really kind of fun. We emptied out all the buildings. Anything made of fabric was too musty to re-use, so I learned to sew upholstery for all those cushions."

The Yardleys made daily decisions about details for the improvement of their resort. Yardley hired a team of workers: a chief carpenter, Everett Richards, Jim Knapp as the plumber and Jay Law as the electrician, whose work created updated, comfortable lodges, some with as many as five bathrooms, some bathrooms with fireplaces in them.

The Bartlett Carry Club officially reopened in 1972.


Land use

"There was a lot more to the property than the club," Fran said. "We had an active sand and gravel operation. And we had a logging operation. What we tried to do was have the property work for us and bring us an income. We had a forester from Long Lake, Chris Thompson, who led our selective-cut logging over the thousand acres. We also made maple syrup. Frank Dorchak was in charge of the sugarhouse and Jay and I would go from tree to tree gathering sap ... we made 80 gallons of syrup per year.

"We also ran a Christmas tree operation. There was a golf course at the old Club but the only thing that was left when we got here was the open land. We cleared it up and planted six acres of Christmas trees in the early '70s. That was 6000 trees. I'd say it took about eight to 10 years to go from a second year seedling that we planted to a marketable Christmas tree. Jay got sick in 1978, just as we began thinking about marketing the trees."

They ran the new Bartlett Carry Club successfully for 13 years, half of the time while Jay fought cancer. Thinking ahead, they decided to sell the property, preserving what they had spent their years building. They sold the property as a cooperative, respecting its historical roots.

"A lot was going on in my life in 1984 and 1985," Fran said. "Part of the property sold before Jay died, and the other parts after. I stayed on as manager for a year during the transition, which kept me busy after he died. Shana and Gwyn were still here with me, they were 11 and 15, so I was not totally alone. Having the girls with me was a gift. You've got to get up every morning. You have children to feed and get off to school. They give life a sense of routine, and their company was a blessing."


Actor and storyteller

The club, however, was not Fran's entire life. Fran was eager to return to acting. Majoring in drama in college, she had had the acting bug her entire life. Rejoining the world of acting while building, renovating, and running the club, and parenting two young children, was a challenge. She loved it. "It was great to be back, but practices were at night, it was always a long drive, and I wasn't here at home. It was fun, but also frustrating."

"So one day my neighbor Janet Decker said to me, 'Have you ever thought about storytelling?' I had never heard of the field, and she said she would put an article about it in my mailbox. To try storytelling, I went to one of the local schools to volunteer ... And it's been my life ever since." Fran is now a nationally respected healing arts storyteller and this summer was the keynote speaker at the New England Healing Story Conference.

After Jay died, Fran raised Gwyn and Shana as a single mom. When Shana was a senior in high school, Fran met director Burdette Parks when she was asked to step in to understudy for an actress in a play at Pendragon. After several rehearsals, Parks asked her out, and their relationship developed.

Parks and Yardley wrote a play together called "Intersextions" about the relationships between men and women over the ages, highlighting an "imaginary" couple: the man as a director and the woman as the actress he directed. Burdette and Fran hit the road performing the play, traveling in Burdette's van, which he had renovated to be a home on wheels. He fit into her life perfectly. Today they live at Bartlett Carry and will celebrate their 20th anniversary this summer.


Capturing history

Fran is writing a book about the history of the Bartlett Carry Club that honors those who, over the decades, have felt the draw of the natural beauty of the place she calls home.

"There is a solace, a sense of quietude, a sense of peace about this place. I love it here," Fran said.

Her children now bring their own children back to Bartlett Carry to play in the sun, just as the girls, and their father before them, did when they were young.

Fran Yardley has invested a good part of her years in helping preserve the history of this spot between Middle and Upper Saranac lakes. Her family's own history is interwoven with the waves on the shore, the call of the loons and the memory of old buildings and hammering nails. If you're lucky, someday you'll get to read this story with her byline stamped underneath. She has led an artful life caring for a place in history, caring for others and learning to care for herself ... in Bartlett Carry, in the heart of the Adirondacks.



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