November 2, 2011

Sorting papers reveals forgotten stories

SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time

---- — You never know what you're going to find when you clean a closet that hasn't seen a friendly face for years.

This task has taken over my "free" time for the past two weeks. Like Christmas morning, my anticipation is high with each box I open.

Among my "collections," I found a 1975 newspaper clipping about the old Robinson Tavern that stands on the Military Turnpike, now a ghostly icon of previous beauty. When I drive by that tumbling structure, my imagination conjures up pictures of ladies with hoop skirts stepping from stage coaches.

Though a shambles now, it is beautifully framed by lilac bushes in the spring and deep red vine in the fall, subjects of many photographs I have taken over the years.

Written by then-Rouses Point Historian Andrew S. Broadwell, the clipping relates that the original Robinson's Tavern, which stood on the southwest side of the turnpike, was probably built before 1810 by Daniel Robinson and was a log structure. Robinson is thought to have settled in Plattsburgh before 1790.

Broadwell states: "When it was rumored, about 1805, that a road leading northwest from Plattsburgh was to be built to connect Judge William Bailey's settlement at Chateaugay and the iron ore bed at Williamstown, with the lake, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Robinson decided to sell their home at the south end of Margaret Street and locate in this area and operate a tavern."

A 1964 sketch by Patrick Bradley shows that the road passed underneath the second story.

Broadwell also reports that the second tavern, the stone one that stands now, was built in 1823 by Lewis S. Robinson, one of 12 children of Daniel and wife Thankful (Sage) Robinson. The present structure was built on the opposite side of the road due to a change in the surveying lines. In its heyday, imagine the giant fireplaces ablaze with large pots hanging over a roaring fire, the smell of pipe tobacco in the dining room and a chorus of snorers on the coldest of nights.

Another piece of my "collectibles" that caught my eye also caught my heart.

In 1986, I wrote to Mary Hopkins for information on the bookmobile at the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System. She sent me a copy of an annual report written by Bob Harnden, one of the drivers for the "behemoth on wheels." I knew Bob, but I knew another driver better, my father, Artie McGibbon.

I was a senior in high school when Dad started driving the bookmobile. He was the type of person who enjoyed people and people enjoyed him. I don't think he ever had an enemy. He was perfect, as was Bob, for the bookmobile job.

Bob's "report" tells about the people that bookmobile staff met within the three counties. Snowy days, maneuvering North Country hills and valleys, were often rewarded with homemade cookies from patrons. He related holding puppies, a guinea pig and babies while busy mothers looked for that perfect book. Children became adults over the years, graduating from picture books to more serious reading.

Once, when the bookmobile broke down, Bob had to walk back to the last small town to get a tow truck. Meanwhile, librarian Mary Leggett decided to sit on a log on the edge of the woods and read a book. She was quite shaken when the tow truck driver arrived and announced that that was where bears came out of the woods daily.

There are many amusing stories in Bob's report, but what struck me were the facts: In 1986, there were two bookmobiles; Bob had logged 457,300 miles and clocked 40,350 hours of driving; staff shelved more than 203,000 volumes and served nearly 153,000 readers with books, records, slides, films, art prints, sculptures and materials for the blind.

Driving the bookmobile was one of my dad's favorite jobs. He'd be heartbroken to know that recent financial challenges have caused the CEF Library System to cancel the bookmobile service. Kindles (electronic reading pads) are popular, and computers are great, but there's something special about holding a book and turning the page. What a tragic end to such a wonderful part of our rural culture.

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at