by Charles Herr
I have spent many hours examining pages of the Lowville Journal Republican from the late 19th and early 20th century, learning about trains, boats and roads.
Quite often, the next column to the right or below my subject described the sudden, unexpected death of a guide, resident or traveler in the Adirondacks, in early days known as the North Woods.
This article is about some of those deaths. My purpose is not to be morbid or to dwell on the tragic, but to tell one more time the story of the deceased, to bring them to our consciousness for a brief moment of meditation for maybe a last time for some, but one more time in honor of families who probably have never forgotten.
The dates refer to the published date, not the date of death.
Nov. 13, 1872. C. S. Sperry, the proprietor of the Buel House in Brown’s Tract, drowned in six feet of water at a lake in the wilderness.
His 10 year old son witnessed his father’s boat capsize in the middle of the lake, then with joy watched him reach the boat and paddle towards shore.
But then he tragically watched his father’s last moments as the chill numbed his weakened body and, slipping, he sank beneath the waters.
The Buel House was not yet known as the popular Forge House and C. S. Sperry was its first proprietor when it opened in May, 1871.
Its owners were J. Milton Buell and George Desbrough.
The boy’s name was Will Sperry who later became a camp builder and steamboat captain on the Fulton Chain and Big Moose Lakes. The scene was Limekiln Lake.
For a detailed, wonderful narrative of the drowning, read Joseph Grady’s “The Story of a Wilderness”.
Oct. 29, 1879. In the Fourth Lake area of the “North Woods”on eagle creek near Fourth Lake, a guide named Fred Hess was out with his dogs hunting deer.
He spotted men’s boots, looked inside and found the bones of a foot.
He reported this to the region’s notable guide Jack Sheppard who examined the area accompanied by Clinton L. Merriam, a U.S. Congressman and his noted physician son C. Hart Merriam, biologist and later a founder of the National Geographic Society.
Near the boots they found the remainder of the skeleton.
Nearby they also found a well preserved silk hat, a purse with gold and silver coins, two padlocks with keys tied together, a blackening shoe brush and a razor.
The three determined death had not been recent.
Rep. Merriam later reported that roots had grown into and over the clothing, moss covered his partly decayed clothing and all of the coins found in the purse were dated 1853.
He felt that the position of the body indicated a fatal fall but it was also an indication of insanity that the deceased had carried no woods gear.