The Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society wanted to send out a huge welcome to all our summer visitors and guests. We're lucky to have so many people come to our region to enjoy both relaxation and adventure.
For many residents and visitors alike, the history of our town and village may be clear, fuzzy or non-existent. This month, I called on Beverley Pratt Reid, a native of Lake Placid and presently the Historian for the Village of Lake Placid and the Town of North Elba. She was appointed to the position more than 10 years ago on the recommendation of past Historian, Mary MacKenzie.
Why can Bev call herself a native? It's because her family came to North Elba in 1867. Her great-grandfather, grandfather, father and cousin were all elected to the position of Superintendent of Highway for a period of more than 100 years.
The mill dam and sawmill
The following is an excerpt from a talk Bev gave to the Lake Placid Garden Club in 2001 and 2001 on how our town and village came to exist.
"In 1809, we were first known by the name Elba. North had to be added due to the fact that there was an Elba in Genesee County. We are located in the townships 11 and 12 of the Old Military Track and were originally part of the town of Keene. In 1850, Elba was separated from the town of Keene and became the town of North Elba with a supervisor by the name of John Thompson. However, the area on Route 73 and the John Brown farm was known as 'The Plains of Abraham.' In 1870, after Annie Newman purchased what is now known as the Uihlein Farm, that area was known as Newman.
"As people began to settle around what was then called 'Bennet's Pond,' now Mirror Lake, the area was known as Lake Placid and became an incorporated village in 1900.
"Prior to the early pioneers in 1809, the first residents of the Adirondacks were Iroquois and Mohawk Indians. There is proof that they had summer camps out in the area once called the Plains of Abraham. In later years, as the residents were plowing the fields, they found Indian arrowheads and other relics. It is believed, however, that come winter, they went farther south.
"The first white settler came to Lake Placid in 1800 over the road known as Old Mountain Road. This road still exists and is presently in the middle of a disagreement between the state and the snowmobilers. They both claim exclusive rights. Later, the road ran along the Cascade Lake and was known as Old Military Turnpike. This is the road on which most of our settlers travelled.
"These first settlers were Elijah Bennet (of Bennet's Pond) and his wife Rebecca. They came from Vermont. Elijah had fought in the Revolutionary War and was severely handicapped with a badly injured left arm. The Bennets and their seven children settled on land which is presently part of the upper golf course of the Lake Placid Club property.
"A quote from the past historian notes: 'The Bennets were not long alone in their mountain home. From 1800 to 1810, the clop of horses and oxen hoof was a familiar sound on Old Mountain Road and on to Old Military Road. The families took one look at the marvelous mountains, woods and waters and settled in. The dull thwack of the axes sounded in the forests as the farmers cleared their land. And later the spank of the water wheel and squeal of bellows as the Elba Iron Works rose on the Chubb River, lending the settlement its name.
"We wonder exactly what they did see as they came into the area. We might tend to think of North Elba when the first settlers came as a dark, mysterious, primeval forest. It must have been a beautiful forest, but there was in fact very little white pine that is so dominant today. Predominant trees were hemlock, beech, maple and spruce. There were great open beaver meadows, for the beaver were very numerous in those days and dammed every little river, brook and rill that flowed in the town. This was very fortunate for the early colonists for the beaver meadows provided good grazing for sheep, goats and cattle until they could clear their land.'
"Between 1800 and 1815, a few hundred people had moved into the area and built quite a community including a grist mill, churches, schools and an iron works. In 1816, North Elba was shocked by the 'year without a summer' and the weather took a horrible change. January through April the weather was just beautiful, even balmy, but then May arrived and the cold weather with frost delaying the spring planting. Blizzards arrived every month during June, July and August. There was a loss of all crops and the people were driven out by the threat of starvation. With the arrival of spring, 1917 there were no seed potatoes or other crops for planting.
"Most of the farmers were forced to move farther west which left only ten families brave enough to stick it out. A family by the name of Osgood was one of those. Squire Osgood 'seized the moment' and acquired all the abandoned fields for his own sheep and cattle. He also owned the first inn and tavern.
"During the next twenty years the area was like a ghost town with a few brave souls moving west again."
Please join us next month when we continue Bev's history of Lake Placid story. To be sure, we are a ghost town no more.