STORIES OF OUR ADIRONDACKS
Wallace Bruce's "The Hudson, Three Centuries of History, Romance and Invention" published in 1881.
Wallace Bruce, born 1844, Columbia County, NY, attended prep-school at the Hudson River Institute, Claverack, New York, then entered Yale, graduating in 1867, gaining admittance to the New York bar in 1869. He toured Europe in 1870, he was in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1871, Back in America, he married, had two sons, a daughter. He soon embarked on a successful literary and lecturing career, obtaining newspaper and magazine concessions from the Hudson River Day Line boats for many years, and writing tour guides for the rivers of New York. He published 13 books between 1873 and 1913, sometimes under the penname Thursty Mcquill, on such diverse topics as his travels to Yosemite and the lives of the poet Robert Burns and Washington Irving.
Bruce was for many years a book reviewer for the Chicago Times and a poet of national prominence. He was appointed United States Consul at Edinburgh, Scotland serving until 1893. He was directly responsible for the only Civil War memorial outside of America, erected in the Old Carlton Cemetery in Edinburgh. The memorial is a sculpture of a crouching freed slave extending his hand in gratitude towards a standing Abraham Lincoln. He died after a stroke at his Florida home in January of 1914.
What follows is an excerpt from his book "The Hudson, Three Centuries of History, Romance and Invention" first published in 1881, we are taking today from the Centennial edition of 1907.
Part III - The Upper Hudson
SOURCE OF THE HUDSON.
In our journey from Albany to Plattsburgh, we have indicated various routes to the Adirondacks: By way of Saratoga and North Creek to Blue Mountain Lake following the course of the Hudson which might therefor be called "The Hudson Gateway;" via Lake George, Westport, and Elizabethtown, suited for carriage and pedestrian trips, and via Plattsburgh, which might be termed "The Northern Portal." In addition to these it has been my lot to make several trips up the valley of the Sacandaga to Lake Pleasant and Indian Lake, and via Schroon Lake to Sanford and Lake Henderson-and four times to ascend the mountain trail of Tahawas to the tiny rills and fountains of the Hudson, but one trip abides in memory distinct and unrivalled, which may be of service to those who wish to visit in fact or fancy the head waters of the Hudson.
The Tahawas Club - We took the cars one bright August morning from Plattsburgh to Ausable Forks, a distance of twenty miles, hired a team to Beede's, some thirty miles distant from the "Forks;" took dinner at Keene, and pursued our route up the beautiful valley of the Ausable.
From this point we visited Roaring-Brook Falls, some four hundred feet high, a very beautiful waterfall in the evening twilight. The next morning we started, bright and early, for the Ausable Ponds. Four miles brought us to the Lower Ausable. The historic guide, "old Phelps," rowed us across the lower lake, pointing out, from our slowly moving and heavily laden scow, "Indian Head" on the left, and the "Devil's Pulpit" on the right, lifted about eight hundred feet above the level of the lake. "Phelps" remarked with quaint humor, that he was frequently likened to his Satanic Majesty, as he often took clergymen "up thar." The rocky walls of this lake rise from one thousand to fifteen hundred feet high, in many places almost perpendicular. A large eagle soared above the cliffs, and circled in the air above us, which we took as a good omen of our journey.
That feed thee rise among the storied rocks
Where Freedom built her battle-tower.
After reaching the southern portion of the lake, a trail of a mile and a quarter leads to the Upper Ausable-the gem of the Adirondacks. This lake, over two thousand feet above the tide, is surrounded on all sides by lofty mountains. Our camp was on the eastern shore, and I can never forget the sunset view, as rosy tints lit up old Skylight, the Haystack and the Gothics; nor can I ever forget the evening songs from a camp-fire across the lake, or the "bear story" told by Phelps, a tale never really finished, but made classic and immortal by Stoddard, in his spicy and reliable handbook to the North Woods.
The next morning we rowed across the lake and took the Bartlett trail, ascending Haystack, some five thousand feet high, just to get an appetite for dinner; our guide encouraging us on the way by saying that there never had been more than twenty people before "on that air peak." In fact, there was no trail, and in some places it was so steep that we were compelled to go up on all fours; or as Scott puts it more elegantly in the "Lady of the Lake":
"The foot was fain
Assistance from the hand to gain."
The view from the summit well repaid the toil. We saw Slide Mountain, near by to the north, and Whiteface far beyond, perhaps twenty-five miles distant; northeast, the Gothics; east, Saw-teeth, Mt. Colvin, Mt. Dix, and the lakes of the Ausable. To the southeast, Skylight; northwest, Tahawas, still foolishly styled on some of our maps, Mt. Marcy. The descent of Haystack was as easy as Virgil's famous "Descensus Averni." We went down in just twenty minutes. The one that reached the bottom first simply possessed better adaptation for rolling.
Eagles still claim the loftiest heights: from there
They scan with solemn eyes the scenes below-
The river and the hills which shall endure
While man's frail generations come and go.
E. A. Lente.
One mile from the foot of Haystack brought us to Panther Gorge Camp, appropriately named, one of the wildest spots in the Adirondacks. We remained there that night and slept soundly, although a dozen of us were packed so closely in one small camp that no individual could turn over without disarranging the whole mass. Caliban and Trinculo were not more neighborly, and Sebastian, even sober, would have been fully justified in taking us for "a rare monster" with twenty legs.
The next morning we ascended Tahawas, but saw nothing save whirling clouds on its summit. Twice since then we have had better fortune, and looked down from this mountain peak, five thousand three hundred and forty-four feet above the sea, upon the loveliest mountain landscape that the sun ever shone upon. We went down the western slope of Tahawas, through a driving rain, to Camp Colden, where, with clothes hung up to dry, we looked like a party of New Zealanders preparing dinner, hungry enough, too, to make an orthodox meal of each other. The next day the weather cleared up, and we made a trip of two miles over a rough mountain trail to Lake Avalanche, whose rocky and precipitous walls form a fit christening bowl, or baptistery-font for the infant Hudson.
Returning to Camp Colden and resuming our western march, two miles brought us to Calamity Pond, where a lone monument marks the spot of David Henderson's death, by the accidental discharge of a pistol. Five miles from this point brought us to the "Deserted Village," or the Upper Adirondack Iron Works, with houses and furnaces abandoned, and rapidly falling into decay. Here we found a cheery fireside and cordial welcome.
All the sad story of forest and flower,
All the red glory of sunsetting hour,
Comes till I seem to lie lapped in bright dreams
Lulled by the lullaby murmur of streams.
Had I time to picture this level, grass-grown street, with ten or fifteen square box-looking houses, windowless, empty and desolate; a school-house with its long vacation of twenty-three years; a bank with heavy shutters and ponderous locks, whose floor, Time, the universal burglar, had undermined; two large furnaces with great rusty wheels, whose occupation was gone forever; a thousand tons of charcoal, untouched for a quarter of a century; thousands of bricks waiting for a builder; a real haunted house, whose flapping clap-boards contain more spirits than the Black Forests of Germany-a village so utterly desolate, that it has not even the vestige of a graveyard-if I could picture to you this village, as it appeared to me that weird midnight, lying so quiet,
"under the light of the solemn moon,"
you would realize as I did then, that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and that Goldsmith in his "Deserted Village" had not overdrawn the description of desolate Auburn.
By special request, we were permitted to sleep that night in the Haunted House and no doubt listened to the first crackling that the old fire-place had known for years. Many bedsteads in the old building were still standing, so we only needed bedding from the hotel to make us comfortable. As we went to sleep we expressed a wish to be interviewed in the still hours of the night by any ghosts or spirits who might happen to like our company; but the spirits must have been absent on a visit that evening, for we slept undisturbed until the old bell, suspended in a tree, rang out the cheery notes of "trout and pickerel." We understand that the Haunted House from that night lost its old-time reputation, and is now frequently brought into requisition as an "Annex," whenever the hotel or "Club House," as it is now called, happens to be full. The "Deserted Village" is rich in natural beauty. Lakes Henderson and Sanford are near at hand, and the lovely Preston Ponds are only five miles distant.
Stately and awful was the form of Tahawas, the old
scarred warrior king of the mountains, and yet it owns
pines that sing like the sea, brooks that warble like the
robin, and flowers that scent the air like the orange-blossoms
Alfred B. Street.