End of an era

“The Bakers did not see much of their famous tenant, Robert Louis Stevenson. Mrs. Baker recalls mainly a gentleman who smoked many cigarettes, burning some famous scars in her mantelpiece, and a few infamous holes in her sheets. Mr. Baker saw more of him, as he built the fires and brought the mail, but these ministrations did not yield any vivid impress of contact with greatness. The one thing that raised Stevenson above the level of other men in his landlord’s eyes was his ability to skate. Moody Pond, a near-by lake, was used for the purpose; and Mr. Baker went along to sweep off the snow…He did not mind performing before Mr. Baker and the latter asserts that Stevenson was the best amateur skater he had ever seen …”

“A History of the Adirondacks,” A.L. Donaldson

For the regional historian Alfred Donaldson, Andrew Baker was a subject of interest as a member of one of the prominent pioneering families and as a mine of information about Robert Louis Stevenson, celebrity resident in Saranac Lake in the winter of 1887-88. Donaldson commited a whole chapter to RLS in his book.

Born in Keeseville in 1841, Andrew was 11 when his father moved his family “Up the River” to his brand new tavern on the banks of the Saranac River. He had three older sisters: Narcissa, Julia and Emma. Now Narcissa had married Ensine Miller, grandson of Captain Pliny Miller, the pioneer who first built the dam at the south end of Main Street and subsequent sawmill.

Ensine Miller is worth dwelling upon if you are a local history buff. A previous article in this series told how Captain Pliny Miller’s family became the real estate tycoons of a young Saranac Lake. When Col. Milote Baker bought the eastern half of Lot. No. 11 in 1852, it was his son-in-law, Ensine, who bought the other half. Then Ensine built himself a house on the west side of the river opposite “Baker’s Tavern.” Both structures were next to the first bridge to the settlement from present day Route 3. Today we call it the Pine Street bridge, at least the fourth of its kind. It was built there to bypass the impassable swamp on the river’s west side that was to become Bloomingdale Avenue, only after Miller filled it all in at his own expense.

Mrs. Narcissa Baker Miller and her husband Ensine owned large tracts of land, including the Highland Park area at the base of Mt. Pisgah. The happy couple had three children–Marshall, Catherine and Helen. Maybe you live on one of the streets named after them. Too bad for Narcissa that she died young in 1862, only to be replaced by her sister, Julia, who had no children. As for Ensine, continues Donaldson, “He is generally acknowledged to have been a man of great public spirit, and to have contributed much to the upbuilding of the community in which he lived. He was generous to a fault and was loved as much for his deeds of kindness, as he was respected for his sterling traits of character … Ensine opened the second store in the community, in a little shack near the southeast abutment of the Baker (Pine Street) Bridge. The first had been started by his father-in-law, Colonel Baker, just across the river (at Triangle Park).”

Ensine Miller died in 1877, leaving everything in the capable hands of his second wife. Julia succumbed to her generosity by giving property away as the needs of the village grew, e.g. Highland Park (Park Avenue and Baker Street). Circle and Depot streets, even the site for the once upon a time New York Central Railroad station. For 17 years, Julia served as superintendent of the Adirondack Cottage Sanitorium (later Trudeau Sanitorium). She died in 1913, age 80.

“Ensine’s youngest brother, Milo Bushnell Miller, who outlived him many years, became the most prosperous and largest holder of real estate in the community. He was born in 1846. He enlisted when the Civil War broke out and did not return to Saranac Lake until 1865.”

The question is seldom asked. Where was Milo’s cousin by marriage, Andrew Jackson Baker, during the Civil War? He did not enlist like cousin Milo and people suspect that politics were involved. A document allegedly “copied from Biographical Review, Essex and Clinton Counties, N.Y. 1896” says that Andrew was “A democrat in political affiliation, Mr. Baker stands well with his party, and has served as Supervisor and Justice of the Peace some twelve years. He belongs to one fraternal organization, the A.F. and A.M.–ranking as Master Mason. With his wife and family he attends the (St. Luke’s) Episcopal church. Mr. and Mrs. Baker still call home the pleasant and commodious cottage in which they began domestic life.”

Democrat is the operative term. Like father, like son, they say. Donaldson writes of Col. Milote Baker that “he was a ‘copperhead’ Democrat, when the name implied the most rabid tendencies. Nor was he isolated thereby when he moved to the Adirondacks, as the following story will show.

“One night the stage brought a New York gentleman to the hotel, who carried with him a brand new and very expensive fishing outfit. ‘Colonel,’ he said, ‘this stuff is worth several hundred dollars. I want you to put it in a safe place for the night.’

“The next morning on stepping outside, the guest found his treasures just where he had left them the night before. He sought out the proprietor and remonstrated with some heat. ‘By Godfrey, sir!’ exclaimed the colonel, using his favorite observation, ‘b Godfrey, sir, your things are as safe there as in the Bank of England. There’s not a Republican within ten miles of here!'”

Col. Milote Baker hated Lincoln and would have been able to afford the $300 federal ransom to keep his only son out of Lincoln’s “Army of the Potomac.” Andrew Baker doesn’t seem as venomous a Democrat as Donaldson’s version of his father, but he probably cast a vote for Lincoln’s opponent in the 1864 election, Maj. Gen. McClellan, U.S. Army, retired. If Andrew Baker had gone son against father in good Civil War fashion, and joined Lincoln’s army in spite of his father, he might not have come home (alive) like cousin Milo, in which case you would not be reading this.

Andrew’s third sister, Emma, was said to be a beautiful and intelligent girl who conversed on an equal footing with Ralph Waldo Emerson and the other philosophers who stayed at Baker’s Tavern before going into their “Philosopher’s Camp.” Though far removed from civilization, the inn was handsomely furnished and thanks to mail order catalogues, Emma Baker dressed in the fashion prevailing in the big east coast cities.

To Emma goes the distinction of owning the first piano to bring some culture, European style, into these ancient mountains. It was a gift on her sixteenth birthday from her father and was sent by rail from Boston to Burlington, Vermont. From there it was carefully taken across a frozen Lake Champlain and finally arrived at the inn by sleigh. Julia Baker donated it to the Adirondack (Trudeau) Sanatorium c. 1900.

When Emma died in 1929 the newspaper ran a headline: “LAST OF CLAN DIES, BUT PEAK CARRIES NAME–MEMORY OF COLONEL BAKER AND INN KEPT ALIVE THRU MOUNTAIN–The last of the famous Baker family, after whom Mt. Baker was named, passed away last week with the death of Mrs. Emma B. Hall, daughter of the late Col. Milote Baker. And with her passes the memory of Baker’s Tavern, the famous old hostelry over which Colonel Baker presided, with baronial splendor, when Saranac Lake was known as a sportsman’s paradise and before it was even thought of as a health center. It was of such a place that Mrs. Hall often spoke, of the time when a beautiful field of wild roses grew on the banks of the Saranac River filled with lillies and trout.”

Today this idyllic scene has changed. The once picturesque solitude of the “Hunter’s Home” with green pastures beyond and in front the lazy Saranac River is gone. However, part of the Baker’s legacy continues as long as the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage survives.


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