Lake Luzerne Regional Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 222, Lake Luzerne, NY 12846. Phone 696-3500. www.lakelu
Recently, I talked to the writing class at Plattsburgh State taught by colleague Dennis Aprill; one student asked how I learn about a new place.
When I arrive at an unfamiliar destination, I roam around and try to get a sense of why a village or city grew up in that particular location. I look for historic markers, seek out libraries and small museums, and try to meet a few people on the street. More often than not, I easily find enough material for a column.
Let's use Lake Luzerne as an example.
The location is beautiful, sandwiched between the Hudson River, close to its confluence with the Sacandaga on one side, and its eponymous lake on the other.
We began our explorations by the river. One first hears the roaring waters of Rockwell Falls then sees the scenic cascade tumble over the narrowest gorge of the entire Hudson.
Historic markers aren't needed to tell us the local economy must have originally centered around water power. However, these do fill in important details.
By the bridge over the Hudson, we learned that the Rockwell Falls Fiber Company built its first mill in 1878. Union Bag and Paper bought the operation in 1892, followed by the New Era Paper Company, which continued until bought out and leveled by New York Power in 1923.
A PRETTY PARK
From the bridge, we looked downstream where swimmers sunbathed on large, flat rocks. Upstream, a few jet skis and kayaks challenged the broad waters above the falls.
We strolled past the Church of Rockwell Falls and the First United Methodist Church, both handsome buildings dating to the 1850s. A beautiful row of homes, several of which are Gothic Revival in style, make an impression along Main Street. Soon we learned about the Wayside Inn and Rockwell House, once major hotels in the town. Both are long gone, though some of their associated cottages remain intact.
One, the Rockwell-Harmon Cottage, serves as a tourist information center and art gallery. There's a very pretty park behind the center. Sited nicely along the Hudson River just upstream from Rockwell Falls, it's the kind of place where you'd like to linger and perhaps read and reflect — that is, if your canine companion believes in such activities.
Another marker informed us the village sits amidst 4,100 acres granted in 1767 to French and Indian War soldiers Edward and Ebenezer Jessup, who stayed long enough to construct lavish homes. During the American Revolution, though, the Jessups and other Loyalists fled to Canada with Gen. Burgoyne. The name Luzerne dates to 1808. It honors the Chevalier de la Luzerne, a Frenchman who aided colonial forces during the Revolution.
Just beyond there's an impressive industrial artifact. A 100-foot brick chimney on a stone foundation stands in silent memory of Garnar Leather Works, once the world's largest manufacturer of book bindings. Stone piers and foundations across the street help give a sense of the size of this factory, which closed in 1909 after four decades of operation.
The Kinnear House Museum occupies an 1880s Victorian mansion on Main Street. Inside, we met Rosemary Schlitt, the first of many gracious local residents who added to our enjoyment of the town. She told us Frances Kinnear was a granddaughter of the tannery owner. An ambulance driver during World War II, Kinnear returned to teach physical education and run a camp on nearby Second Lake. The home was donated as a museum in 1982.
Displays feature the Wayside Inn (there's a register signed by Ulysses S. Grant in 1873) and celebrate Adirondack guide Ira Gray. Several rooms are furnished in period style. An upstairs exhibit deals with local commerce and industry. We noted a quilt made by a local 13-year-old girl in 1845, baskets fashioned by Abenaki weaver Anna Fuller in the late 1800s and an Edison cylinder phonograph. A well-equipped kitchen boasts its share of interesting gadgets. Staff is stumped by a few and urges guests to identify their functions (We were no help.).
Next, we wandered over to Gailey Hill School, a one-room structure that served grades one through six from 1865 until 1937. Never electrified, it depended on natural light and wood heat. A janitor would light a fire in the stove an hour before school started then students would be responsible for keeping up the flame the rest of the day. A lesson plan on Pompeii alerts that "volcanoes can never be trusted." Report cards include notations for "wastes time" and "gives up easily."
FIRST U.S. PAPER MACHINE
Walking along Main Street brought us toward the cascading rapids of Wells Creek. The vibrant stream bisects a beautiful park once filled with industry. Manufacturers Paper Company (later to be amalgamated into International Paper) formerly stood here, as did an iron furnace.
Perhaps the most historically unique artifact in town rests inside the Pulp Museum. Town historian Bea Evens explained the significance. Shortly after processes for making paper from wood pulp were developed in Europe, Albrecht Pagenstecher and his brothers came here to start a mill. They brought two pulping machines from their native Germany then had another one built in Watertown. Thus, this became the first pulp mill in the country using American-made equipment.
The pulp grinder reminded me of a giant Mouli grater. Parcels of wood were pressed against a rotating grinding wheel. Burring tools regulated the quality of the pulp. An adjacent vibrating flat screen would separate usable pulp from larger wood chips. The apparatus may look a bit clumsy, but this represented the beginning of America's paper industry.
More impressive homes, including some converted to bed-and-breakfasts, stand on Lake Avenue. That's also the location of St. Mary's Episcopal Church. The Wayside Inn stands nearby on the grounds of the present-day school.
Back across the Hudson River is the Village of Hadley, with its own array of nice houses. Bow Bridge reigns as a local treasure. Spanning the Sacandaga River, this lenticular truss iron bridge represents one of the last of its kind in the country. Originally built in 1885 to replace a wooden predecessor but closed in 1983, it has recently been restored and re-opened to traffic.
VINTAGE MILK BOTTLES
Breakfast brought us to Fourth Lake Diner, a small place on the outskirts of town with a counter and a handful of tables.
A sign asks that if it's busy, to please be patient. It was. We were. And it was worth it for the filling pancakes and French toast.
For afternoon sustenance, we stopped at Papa's, an ice cream parlor in the center of Lake Luzerne. Filling the front windows is as large a display of vintage milk bottles as you're likely to find. Once inside, beware the size of the "large" sundaes.
There's plenty more to do in Lake Luzerne, and that's even without traveling to the nearby Great Escape. A state campground is especially dedicated to those riding horses. It also offers a nature trail. Numerous other hiking opportunities are close by, including one of our favorites, Hadley Mountain, with its fire tower on top.
Naturally, all kinds of water sports are popular on the area's lakes and rivers. Luzerne is also the launching point for several whitewater rafting trips. Rodeo is alive and well here, too, with weekly events at Painted Pony Ranch.
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