Posted by: cheryljk | February 27, 2008

The importance of fish

Fish mattered.  Of course in those days fish were dinner every Friday night and all of Lent, but it went far beyond religious obligation… fish were important.  Men and children fished.  Oh, yes the occasional woman fished, but none that I remember among the King wives, they happily (well…) cooked the fish their husbands and children caught but the wives were not fishers. 

Because fish mattered, boats mattered, and outboard motors mattered and docks mattered and ponds mattered and water quality mattered.  Fishing was serious business, not social business.  Fishermen usually went out alone or with just one person to fish.  Fishing took time, trolling slowly across the lake or walking along deep inlet on slippery rocks in early Spring.  Or fishing happened early when no one much was awake and there was some time to go to Mud Pond for rainbow or if you were lucky Brook Trout.  In any case the long hours alone on the lake or in the woods meant food for the family.

   Rainbow Trout
 Rainbow Trout

Fish had to be stored in freezers if they weren’t eaten fresh.  Best to flash freeze them and wrap them tighly in waxy freezer paper, dated and labeled for the long winter months when there would be no fishing. 

Men dropped by with fish as gifts, offering a fresh catch, often still to be cleaned.  Often on Friday afternoon, and more often as people aged.  Bullheads were a great gift in the spring when they were still sweet and plentiful.  Later in the season it was mostly trout.  Trout were plentiful and easy to catch, though some people had a taste for other varieties, something I never understood. 

Children caught “perch”  from docks and the beach, these little striped fish would grab a bare hook and hang on tight.  They catch and release and catch again and again often the same perch that they could watch come up to the hook hanging in two feet of water just  off the dock and swim maddeningly close to the hook time and again before taking the tail off the worm or chewing the bits of worm around the hook until they got too greedy and bit and ran, hook in mouth; all this in plain view because the still water was so clear.  These perch taught the patience a fisherman needs.

The gear was simple, the gear could be expensive.  Fancy was not necessary, reliable was important.  Uncle Fil liked to troll a line or two off his boat moving slowly around the point toward Floyd’s camp, staying near the big boulders where fish could hide or when the lake warmed a bit in summer, trolling in the deep water where it was always cold deep down where the big trout went to keep cool enough. 

Lake trout were a real prize though they did not taste as good as a nice 3 lb rainbow trout.  A 1 pounder would feed a person, a three pounder was a prize. 


Round Whitefish

The old men would tell of the “Frostfish” that Dick King wrote about.  These were round lake whitefish, most likely.  They are in the same family as trout, but have small mouths are so are difficult to hook.  They were supposed to taste better than trout but were gone long before my time, though the fish and game people of New York claim they are still there in the lake.  There were salmon too, land locked salmon, native or wild Brook Trout and the occasional Brown Trout.  After the state began stocking there were loads of Rainbow, the most fun of all to catch because they will leap and dance and tease; they’ll hold a hook in their mouth and run until a fisherman is sure they have him then lket the hook drop and fly up out of the water to flash victory over the poor fisherman.  There is nothing like a Rainbow Trout if you ask me.  Grandpa Howard and I used to fish for them at Mud Pond with a boat someone left there.  The boat didn’t leak too much and most days there were fish to be caught.

 Not all the King men were fisherman. Sullivan had no patience for it; Exford was too busy between his job and the Grove; but Howard and Fil made the time to fish.  All the boys, and their sisters too, had fished as children.  The girls had made a small business of cleaning fish for tourists and enjoyed making the money, except for Valeda, who hated cleaning fish with a passion and did what she could to avoid it.  The boys fished with nets, and with set lines, checking to see what came while they worked at other things.

None of this was unusual among the people at Chazy Lake.  The lake was probably overfished by the 1950’s but the state stocked it well.  The popular and aggressive Rainbows pushed out the native trout, the white fish were all eaten up or hiding deep in the lake, the other varieties were plentiful enough that it could be hard to notice the losses, but the old timers did and often commented longingly on old days when there had been (of course) more and better fish.

Someone can tell what they caught in wintertime, by my time there ice fishing was not something my fishing Kings did as much; Uncle Fil had a ice fishing house for a while, others did also around the lake.  They have tales to tell which I can’t.

Men drowned because they were fishing when the lake went wild and big waves caught them before they could make shore.  Storms would come and phones would ring “Is Filly there? He was on the lake.  Did he come over?”  When there was a catastrophic summer storm the boys would go to the homestead almost as if it was still home.  They’d gather and wait or check in with Sullivan.  Even as old men, and gone so much their separate ways, they’d go home in a crisis,.

Posted by: cheryljk | February 22, 2008

The sons of Xavier and Emma stayed near home


 The four brothers lived within shouting distance of each other but they preferred the telephone.  Before the phone company came to Chazy Lake the brothers joined their neighbors and made their own telephone line.

The brothers passed away a number of years ago, their families have moved and the houses belong to others now, but for their lifetimes they lived on their family ground.

Their homes are marked on the map above.  S is Sullivan, the youngest, living in the homestead with it’s big gracious house and beautiful old barn.  F is Filmore the eldest, living in a cute cottage he built where he raised his family; later, around 1960, he sold his house to the Stewart family (Mrs. Stewart taught English at Lyon Mountain High School) and built a new house overlooking the lake and closer to his two cottages, docks and boats.  This is the house marked F1, from here fishing was much easier than from the earlier home.

Howard’s two houses are marked with H.  He lived in one and either rented the other or had one of his children living there.  There were two garages near the house; his own and the town garage, near the road, convenient placement for his office as Road Commissioner for the Town of Dannemora.  He also had a shed, and a chicken coop which don’t show on this map and of course the all important outhouse, just a long walk from the house in the woods.  Of course he had an indoor toilet, but he enjoyed having the outhouse for old time’s sake, I think.  Like his brother Fil, Howard had two cottages on the lakeshore.

Exford, the third of the four boys, lived across the road in the house marked E.  His house was near the road, but he had property down to the lake, a large chunk of land, with a nice beach (when properly filled with sand) and a restaurant, bar and dance hall called the Grove which was a popular place to eat, have big parties and go dancing on a warm summer night.

The house marked JK came later; it belonged to James King, Exford’s oldest son.

There are 5 cottages marked on the map along Seine Bay to the West of the Grove.  The two westmost cottages belonged to Filmore; the middle cottage was not a cottage at all but a modern ranch home on the lake… it belonged to Donald and Margaret Breyette, cousin to the King brothers.  Just East of the Breyette summer home Howard had two cottages with docks and boats, the big camp and the little camp on a small lot that originally adjoined brother Exford’s land until Exford sold a small piece to the Stewart Family shortly after they moved into the enclave.

Most or all of this land was purchased from their father Xavier who in turn bought it from the mining company when he settled at the lake.  The little King Enclave was somewhat separated from the rest of the houses along 374 by the lay of the land and had the feel of a little hamlet in and of itself, both from the geography and the long time presence of the brothers.

This U.S. Geological Survey map is from surveys done about 1964.

From Richard King

This view of Seine Bay is fairly close to the view from the bottom of the map above and dates to approximately the same time.  In the picture below you can see Fil’s two cottages, beyond them is the Breyette house and just visible is Howard’s big camp; beyond that and not really visible is Howard’s little camp, the Stewart lot and the beach of the Grove, as they are laid out on the map above. 

Richard’s picture cropped for cottages

Thanks to Richard King for the pictures.

From Don picture date Oct 2007 View from U. Fil’s across Seine Bay

This view from Donald King (taken 2007) shows the view from Uncle Fil’s cottages looking across Seine Bay at Lyon Mountain.  Thanks to Don for the picture.

Posted by: cheryljk | February 22, 2008

Exford King House


This picture was taken about 1946 or 47.  All four of Xavier’s sons lived within shouting distance of each other on this stretch of road.

The view is from the driveway in front of Exford’s brother Howard’s home, just out of view on the right is the house where Filmore King lived.  The King homestead is located between Fil’s home and Howard’s.  At the time this picture was taken the youngest brother Sullivan lived in the homestead.  Exford’s son James lived just to the left of the lower left hand corner of this picture.

Posted by: cheryljk | February 18, 2008

1869 Map of Chazy Lake

1869 Map of chazy Lake

Posted by: cheryljk | February 17, 2008

Seine Bay on Chazy Lake

This is how the Seine Bay looks today.  There are two little streams that run into the lake to make this bay.  The name comes from the nets the fisherman used to use to catch fish.  Of course netting fish is illegal today, but once this lake positively teemed with fish, including some pretty little silver-colored fish that people  would cook up; whole fitting a host of them into one big cast iron frying pan and crisping them nicely for a Friday dinner.

For much of the Twentieth Century people mined ice from this bay, clear clean ice from the fresh clear water.  Although the bay froze almost to the sand and boulder covered bottom, water flowed under the ice in the springfed streambeds entering the bay, one from Lyon Mountain and the other from Mud Pond.  These underice rivulets made fishing almost a year round possibility.  There was a beautiful mound of sand just up the hill slightly from this bay, which was a source of sand for many a beach ’round the lake.  For years the sand moved from its ancient resting place to cover stones and boulders on the lake shore softening the waters edge for the bare feet of swimmers brave enough to enter the lakes frigid waters, for Chazy Lake was never warm, even on the hottest days of summer.  While the mound was being moved small birds by the flock drilled holes into its high walls making nests to fill with fledglings which would learn how to fly and catch some of the endless mosquitoes down by the lakeshore or the insects of the hayfield on the flat acreage near the mound. 

Whether that old mound was an artifact of the huge glaciers which scoured deep lines into the hard rock pluton that underlay the valley, or the remanent of of some ancient Indian dwellers no one will ever know.  The sandy pile was gone long before our nation concerned itself with such things, in any case the needs of the valley dwellers trumped such airy concerns over a pile of dirt.  Yet when the pile was gone some felt the loss.

In 1908 a fire cleared the mountains of trees and even their thin blanket of soil, revealing the glacial dumps of gravel, house size boulders and the beautiful iron rich stone on which the ice had carved its directional graffiti.  The farm children cleared the fields of rocks and boulders each spring as they welled up from underneath the sandy land which had been the shores of the much larger glacial lake of the past and piled them in neat walls to mark the boundary between land which could be cultivated for crops and that which was only suitable for grazing and berrying and the picking of beautiful striped violets in myriad colors each spring, just the right size for small hands to bring home to mothers, aunts, and grandmothers to be put in a teacup for a few hours of graceful beauty before their delicate being faded. 

Behind those stone walls the forest grew back, early on it was softwood, poplar and the iconic white birch of the mountains so prized once by Indians for canoes; now peeled by hands to show children miniture canoes with seats made of twig.  A faded relic of the past glory of such trees.  Here and there some maples or oak withstood the fire, and Howard King as a young man planted apple trees around in the woods so that they would grow and drop apples on the ground to feed the deer that everyone loved so to hunt and eat.  They were great for hungry hunters too, to stop and grab a ripe, if scaly, apple from a tree on an afternoon in the woods.  Howard said that before the second growth got so big the apples had been better, but once the hardwoods overtopped them they were starved for sunlight and were better for deer than men.

Philmore, Howard, Exford and even their baby brother Sullivan, who was born the year of the fire, wandered the barren hillsides and loved to touch the land.  Howard, more than any of them was drawn to the wild with or without its mantle of trees.  He loved the bare rock because it revealed the bare skin of the valley, a basin of solid rock, an ancient pluton, laced through with veins of magnatite so big and so prevalent that in places the needle on a compass would spin and true north was better found by the stars than by such a needle.  With their cousins and friends the King boys learned the land, they learned the names of the trees that sprout after a fire, and those that follow soon after and those that bring the forest to a climax.  They marked trails to their favorite trout ponds where the native fish went to spawn and which in spring filled with tiny troutlings that could be scooped up illegally and cooked for breakfast just an hour after they were caught as the sun rose.  They marked trails to places where deer would congregate and left apples, apple trees, and blocks of salt.  These places were death traps for the deer, but they had no idea of what await them in hunting season.  They found bee trees and honeybees and brought bee keepers to capture them, relocating the hive in a civilized box from which the industrious creatures could easily reach the gardens and fruit trees to bring in a late summer harvest.

They walked with their cows over the rocky hillside to the old pond bottoms that had eutrified and become rich bottomland, perfect for rich grazing that gives a milk fit for butter.  They were trail blazers on the farmland, and each reached out to the larger world as do all boys to leave trails of their lives.

Seine Bay was a stop on an old Indian trail that passed through the valley that slopes from Mud Pond after rising up from the Canadian Plain of the St. Lawrence in the North.  That trail went on along the lakeshore, following the old sand of the old lakeshore to Russia and Redford south of Lyon Mountain.  It was along this naturally gentle rise through this mountain valley that the trains came to Lyon Mountain, offloading ladies and gentlemen to take the air at the lake before continuing on with a rougher load of cargo and passengers for the mining town at Lyon Mountain.

Seine Bay and the nearby Northwestern shore of the lake became the territory of the sons of Xavier King.  But the lake is long and down at the other end, the road to Ellenburg follows the waters that entered at Seine Bay as they leave the lake on their way to Lake Champlain where they will slip through marshy land into Canada and the St. Lawrence.  At the dam where the Great Chazy trickles out of the lake the sister of Xavier’s grandmother settled with her husband and built a beautiful house with an unparalled view of the massive Lyon Mountain.  Further East, and before Wilfred’s road a straight old road runs due north to Ellenburg and then northwest to Churubusco where Xavier and Wilfred’s mother was born or a person can turn right and go east to the town of Moores where Xavier and Wilfred’s father Seraphim, came as a young Canadian in 1840 to become a pioneer in the North Country.

Past where this road joins what is now 374 there is another road, called Wilfred King Road, which turns off to the right and runs across the highlands above the South side of the lake, below Johnson Mountain, and it at the end of this road that Xavier’s youngest brother set up his territory and filled it with the homes of his sons and daughters.

Chazy Lake was settled late for an Eastern land, the Adirondacks are a hard place to live.  The mountains are high enough to be cold and wet, even if they are no match for the mountains of the west, but more importantly the soil is thin and the growing season is short and only the hardiest of pioneers would venture to such a place.  But in this place they could flourish and live life has their parents had, and their children could live as they had and even their grandchildren could go on with many of the same day to day routines, though horses changed to tractors and sleighs to snowmobiles. 

They came here to be free to live as they had always lived, not so much seeking political freedom as seeking personal freedom.

And they found it, and they were happy.