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Posts Tagged ‘St. Regis Falls’

When we were driving back from my great-nephew’s birthday yesterday, Cheri mentioned something that a friend had told her earlier this week.  It was a minor incident, one of no great consequence, that happened locally.  Neither of us had heard anything about it nor had we seen it in our local newspaper.

I said that it was the type of thing that you would have seen in local newspapers of the past but which no longer appeared in the new reality of print journalism.  Our local newspaper, the Elmira Star Gazette, which was the first newspaper that Frank Gannett operated on the way to building his news empire, has evolved over the years from an informative, vital chronicle of the local area to  a much leaner, less informative leg of a group of local  newspapers that is more regional in coverage, sharing reporters and coverage.   As a result, there are  fewer reporters covering much greater areas with less space to fill on the pages of each paper.  Local coverage consists of a page or two, at best.

Gone are the little details that newspapers of the past provided, the minutiae of day to day life in a locality that gave the reader a true feel of the newspaper’s area of coverage.  Less coverage of small incidents, minor arrests, social gatherings, small local events, etc.  The type of things that give an area’s readers a sense of definition of what they are as a community.

That’s a lot to lose.

My fear, which is beyond nostalgic longings for a return to some idealized past, is that the generations of the future will actually have a harder time trying to put together the day to day life of any specific area because of the loss of this minutiae  that was in the past always gathered in one convenient source, the newspaper.  For instance, as I’ve written before, I didn’t know much, practically nothing, about my great-grandfather’s life in the Adirondacks in the late 19th and early 20th century.  But by reading the old newspapers of that time and locality ( St. Regis Falls) I was able to get a very good an detailed idea of how that area’s inhabitants lived their lives, their social  and family networks and how they operated and interacted as a community.  It seemed like every little detail was chronicled in some way that I would never be able to find in today’s papers.

It gave depth and detail to a time and place that is a distant point in the past.

With the loss of the newspaper’s effective local coverage, I don’t know if the same could be said today, even with all the awesome sources of information available to us.  There is an enormous amount of data, given all the new technology such as the internet, out there but it’s not unified and day to day in one specific area.

Maybe I shouldn’t care about this.  Who does?  And maybe I’m just plain wrong.  Maybe it will be easier in the future to pull all the data together and get an idea of how specific people lived in specific localities.  I just feel there is a loss here that goes beyond the purely nostalgic, especially when examining the historic anthropology of a given area.

I think a small part of our cultural voice and identity will fade away…

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I wrote the other day about doing some genealogy about my great-grandfather, Gilbert Perry, and how interesting it has been in reconnecting with an ancestor about who I knew so little about.  One of the great pleasures has been reading the old newspapers from the late 1800’s that are available online via  the Northern New York Library System.  I am constantly fascinated in browsing the ads and notices of the times, seeing how day to day life changed and evolved.

This ad for a balloon ascension with Professor Squire, a la The Wizard of Oz, at the Franklin County Fair in Malone, NY appeared in the September 2, 1872 edition of the Malone Palladium.  It was on the front page alongside accounts from the Republican convention of that year where Ulysses S. Grant was nominated for the presidency as well as death notices, ads for pianos (they were selling Steinways up there!) and dry goods.  Ads looking for tin peddlers, a furniture dealer selling metal burial caskets, a lumber dealer, carriage painters and a mail order ad for a tea dealer on Wall Street in NYC.  There was a list of  rules of behavior that would be enforced at the Fair.  No drinking or betting on the trotters.

It was all pretty interesting, a glimpse into that time, but the part that caught my eye was near the top of the page, just under the death notices.  It was a Notice of Liberation where my great-great grandfather, Francis Perry, was giving Gilbert Perry, my great-grandfather, the remainder of his minority, giving him freedom from furhter financial obligations to his father.  Gilbert was free to transact business as he saw fit.

It was at this point that Gilbert formed his first crew and headed into the North woods with his first contract to deliver logs.  He was just 18 years old.  He continued to be a logger for the next 60 years, only stopping a few years before his death at age 81.  My Aunt Norma has recollections of visiting his farm in St. Regis Falls when she was small girl in the early 1930’s.  She said there were big log sleds scattered all around, the type pulled by teams of horses.  He was throwback even then to an earlier time before big tractors and chainsaws.

So in this little piece in this little newspaper from the north I see the beginning of my great-grandfather’s world, one that led to my grandmother’s much different world and to my father’s even more different world to my world which would probably seem incomprehensible to a man so at home in the woods.  Or maybe not…

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Logging near Forestport, NYThis is a scene from the Adirondack Mountains of New York near the town of Forestport, taken in the 1890’s.   There’s a possibility this is one of my great-grandfather’s crews.  I don’t really know.  Never knew much about  the man as I was growing up, didn’t even know his full name.  My family had little link to the past, few photos and very little oral history.  So little was known of our ancestors and their lives. Thanks to the access to old records and newspapers that is now available via the internet I have been able to find out much that would have been otherwise lost to our family.

For example, the great-grandfather I mentioned above was known to have ran a lumber camp in the Adirondacks, supposedly in the north near St. Regis Falls, where my father’s mother ( who died in 1979) was born and raised.  That was about the extent of our knowledge of the man.  I knew his last name was Perry and he ran a lumber camp.

A couple of years back, I did a quick Google search with what little info I had and much to my surprise an entry appeared.  There was a Gilbert Perry listed in a book from 1895 profiling the citizens of Oneida County, NY, in the southern part of the Adirondacks.  That didn’t seem to jive with what I knew but when I read the article it stated he was from St. Regis Falls and maintained a farm there as well.  His children were listed and I recognized one name as being a sister of my grandmother, who was not listed as she wasn’t yet born.

It was a thrill to finally find something on an ancestor, something that gave their life form.  I learned that he was a hard-working, ambitious entrepreneur who ran a number of lumbering enterprises as well as a couple of retail stores and his farms.  He was considered one of the pioneers of Adirondack logging, having several camps and crews of men numbering in the hundreds along with 50 or more teams of horses.  At the time, he was signed to bring in the largest contract of lumber in the Adirondacks.

After that I started doing more research and a whole new world  opened up to me when I came across the digitized newspapers from that time and region.  Local newspapers at that time were a true mirror of the area and people they covered, giving many details on their everyday lives and their travels.  I was able to piece together a full picture of the life my grandmother’s family lived in St. Regis Falls and Forestport.  I was even able to come across a full account of my grandmother’s wedding to my grandfather, something my dad and his siblings had never heard or seen.  It gave my memories of my grandmother a new depth.

I was even able to find numerous mentions of his lumber camps, including an account of a normal day in the camp, in a number of books outlining the history of the Adirondacks along with many stories of the men who worked for him.  One was a character named Atwell Martin, called the Hermit of North Creek, who is recalled in many stories and tall tales, including one where Paul Bunyan, having heard the tales of Martin’s exploits, traveled east to visit him.  They got along famously at first but ultimately ended up in a fight where trees were upended and used as clubs and the great Paul Bunyan ends up slain.  His body was buried in the headwaters of the Black River, the dam at North Lake.

I am still doing research but it’s an interesting and different world I keep uncovering, filled with great exploits and hard lives in a harsh environment.  It’s just been a thrill to find a link to a past of some sort…

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