"W" Mountain Sparks Much Interest, by Fay Welch

Editors Note:

No greater authority or better interpreter of forest recreation can be found than Fay Welch. He started his outdoor experience as an Adirondack guide and later graduated from the College of Forestry at Syracuse University where he served as a special lecturer in forest recreation for many years. These lectures covered camp counseling, camp directing, camp consulting and on directing outdoor leadership programs. He is the author of over 100 articles and booklets dealing with camping, skiing and other outdoor activities.

In the middle 1920s Fay came to Chateaugay Lake and established Tanager Lodge on Indian Point. At the present time Fay, Mrs. Welch and two sons Jim and Tom make their home at Erieville, New York and in the summer operate Tanager Lodge, an outdoor camps for boys and girls.

A recent letter from Fay Welch to Dr. Sweet

Erieville, NY, 2/8/70

Dear Doc,

When I receive the “Record” I always look at the Rotary news, and the recent notes about the “Caves on W Mountain” are responsible for the following remarks:

Charlie Merrill guided 3 or 4 of us from Tanager Lodge to the vicinity of the so-called Bat’s Caves in the latter ’20s. (I say vicinity because one of us actually located the entrance). The caves are not on W Mountain but are located on a shoulder of Norton’s Peak, about one mile east of the easternmost peak of the W.

With our campers and counselors we (Ted, “Wiggie”, Him or I) have made trips to these caves almost every year since the 1920s — sometimes 2 or 3 trips in a single season. I have only been down in the caves as far as I can walk upright, but some of our staff have slithered around in the mud to a distance of three times the length of a 60 foot rope, or 180 feet. We also discovered a second entrance – only possible for a thin man to get through.

In chapter 45 of Charlie Merrill’s “Old Guides Story”, which appeared in the Malone Evening Telegram in 1930, Charlie tells about his father, Darius Merrill, discovering a cave on W Mountain.

Personally I believe the “Bat’s Caves” we know are the “Caves on W” for several reasons. 1) Charlie Merrill guided us to these caves and never said anything about any other caves. 2) These caves we know are on a high ridge connecting Norton’s Peak and the W – and might be considered as on part of the W range. 3) I have never found any signs of caves on the 3 peaks of the W., which I have climbed repeatedly (3 times one summer), nor have any members of our staff. I have also, on two occasions, walked the ridge from W. past the Bat’s Caves, to Norton’s Peak, and saw no signs of other caves.

From Indian Point I can point out to you a spruce on the ridge that is within a hundred yards of the entrance. My son, Jim, says that from the top of Norton’s you cannot miss seeing the cave entrance. He and some of our older campers marked the trail to the caves from the top of Norton’s with tin can tops painted red last summer.

So much for the facts about these caves. There is also, as you know, a lot of fiction.

Our best to you and Phyllis,

As ever,

Fay

Chateaugay Lake History Project

Several years ago I created a website to share the historical materials about Chateaugay Lake that I’ve gathered and collected. Sources include materials from the scrapbook of my father, John D. Miles [1918-1982]. The earliest newspaper cuttings from his scrapbook dated from before he was before, therefore this project actually began with his grandparents John D. and Settie Blow Miles, with whom he lived with his sister since about the age of 4.

John and Settie must have been very special people: in addition to raising their own 3 children, Bessie, Maurice, and Frank, and a fourth child, Theodore Miles, who was an illegitimate child of John’s, they also brought up 4 of their grandparents: John and Peggy LaPoint Tourville, my dad and his sister Mayfred Miles Otis. That’s a lot of love!

My great-grandparents bought the family farm in 1890 from Millard Bellows. The property originally belonged to Fred Shutts. Shutts built a small house across from Lewis Bellows’ Lakehouse in 1844 [Charles E. Merrill, Old Guide’s Story, p. 67], who sold it to Darius Merrill. Darius and Sarah Merrill moved into their new home in October, 1864. Upon Merrill’s death, the property was passed on to his son-in-law Lee Stone, who married Minnie Merrill, in 1887. The Stones sold the property to Millard Bellows, a fine boatbuilder, who sold it to John and Settie in 1890.

My great-grandfather was a grandson of John D. and Martha Emerson Miles, who were original pioneers that settled at Chateaugay Lake in 1825. He went into business with John Jackson, and operated a gristmill known as the Jackson and Miles Mill. This mill was located on the west bank of the Chateaugay Outlet where the present dam is currently situated. There apparently was a $500 mortgage between Miles and Roswell Weed, an employee that moved to the area from Plattsburgh. John Smith Kirby writes that Weed bought the mill from Jackson in 1830; however, the mortgage (signed by Roswell Weed and Judge Gideon Collins) and deed in the Franklin County courthouse indicate that Miles and Jackson were bought out by Weed in 1826. That’s why Seaver’s History indicates that Weed “took over” the mill. Roswell Weed continued to purchase land along the lakeshore, and added a sawmill.

John D. Miles, the pioneer from New Hampshire, was also known as “Squire Miles”. He served as supervisor for the Town of Chateaugay. He also was a stonecutter who cut millwheels out of granite for the local mills. He cut two millwheels for the Douglas Mill down in Chateaugay. There is also a millwheel down at Hoy’s mill, that I strongly suspect was cut by Miles, despite Ralph Hoy’s claim that the wheel was brought over from Hoy Island in Scotland.

My great-grandfather had a small farm, of perhaps 15 cows. In the winter he cut wood, and in the springtime worked a sugarbush up back on the hill. When I was a kid, the sugar shack was still intact, but today the stove used for boiling sap is all that remains. Bob Reynolds told me that John, who was a “giant”, also worked down at the Chateaugay Lake Forge, operated by the Chateaugay Ore and Iron Company. The COIC abandoned their iron works in 1893.

After my great-grandfather passed away, my dad stayed on the family farm. In 1939 or 1940, my dad bought a brand-new Ford truck. He was hired by Sullivan and used his truck to draw pulpwood on the west side of Chateaugay Lake. No wonder my dad knew the woods like the back of his hands! Later on Dad worked for the Town of Chateaugay with Bob Cook plowing the roads. I have many photos of what it used to look like when the snowbanks were 10 feet high or so. When construction started on the Seaway, Dad started working on heavy equipment, and apparently became good at it. He loved to drive a Caterpillar bulldozer, and also loved to talk about being on a roadjob. He would rattle on endlessly. My dad seemed to know everybody, which always amazed me; later on, I learned that he was a Freemason, so that more or less explains how he knew all these other people.

My dad kept all kinds of records: he maintained numerous clippings from the NYS Conservation magazine, and kept a journal detailing the weather as well as other odd entries. I lost one of the journals, probably the second one, whilst moving from Branson back to Chateaugay Lake, but I have all of the others, and someday will transcribe them to this history.

His scrapbook consisted mainly of historical clippings, as well as items about cousins and neighbors. Because it was so interesting, I began scanning the photos he’d collected as well as transcribing the historical texts, and uploaded a lot of this material to a website in 1998.

That website seems to be rather popular, based on the number of hits it receives. Also, it seems as though everybody and their brother now links to it, including Wikipedia. Therefore, although my site is in need of an overhaul and redesign, because these other people have linked not to my index page, but to subdirectories, something that really isn’t the best idea, I’m now more or less forced to maintain those pages that have links to the various articles.

However, I’ve decided to move the individual articles and photos to a blog format. For one thing, I dislike the ads that are now on the original site. Another reason, is that the blogs offer somewhat of a more open format, but what I really like is the fact that other people can leave comments on the various articles that I post. In this way, I hope that others will read, and perhaps even contribute to our history.