Warren County Historical Society Presents …

The Digital Version “REWIND”

August 15, 2017

 

 

 

The following article originally appeared in the ‘Saratogian’ and we thank Paul Post for allowing us to reprint it here.

 

Man Recall Summers at the Lake

By PAUL POST

 

Travis Dike holds a photo of President Benjamin Harrison getting into a boat on

Moreau Lake. Dikes family were the original owners of the property where the state

park is now.  The original family home was at Moreau Lake, then known as Fernwood Lake.

 

MOREAU — Eighty eight-year-old Travis Dike still has plenty of goals in life. The most important is to spend a week camping at his favorite childhood destination — Moreau Lake State Park.

     When he was growing up in the 1920s and 30s, the site was owned by his grandfather — George W. MacAdam — a wealthy New York attorney who bought up parcels around the lake starting in the late 1800s. MacAdam’s guests included the likes of President Benjamin Harrison, who took a well-chronicled fishing trip there, reported by the old New York World newspaper.

     For Dike, who was raised on Manhattan’s West Side, the place — back then it was called Fernwood Lake — was a magical summer retreat, holding all the adventures a young boy could want: fishing, swimming, hiking, boating.

 

     “We’d come up when school got out and stay all summer, until September,” he said. “Everyone was required to learn how to swim, and be able to swim across the lake. Then they could trust you in the water. As I look back on it, was it really right for one family to have this huge place all to themselves?”

 

     In 1939, after Dike’s grandfather died, Willard J. Grande of Saratoga Springs purchased the lake and surrounding property for $35,000. In 1962, Grande sold it to the state for almost 10 times that amount and several years later it was opened to the public as a park — now one of the busiest campgrounds in the entire state system.

 

     “I want to rent this cabin next summer for a week,” Dike said. “If you know how to make that happen, let me know.”  The newly-renovated cabin, opposite the boat launch at the south end of the lake, is perhaps the only remaining structure from his childhood days. In fact, the entire landscape is considerably different.

 

     “The lake is actually much smaller than it was then,” Dike said. “They hit some kind of underground fissure and the water went down when they built the Northway.”

     The large, family house stood on a rise overlooking the east shore. A set of wooden stairs led down the bank to a gazebo at water’s edge. A short distance away there was also a boathouse.

     The most striking change is the scenery itself. Most of the area surrounding the house was completely cleared. Today it’s dense woods, a haven for campers.

“To drive up here from New York took 10 or 11 hours because you had to go through all these towns,” Dike recalled. “We always stopped at the Wilton General Store. The guy sold everything. We’d come up from New York and my grandfather would stock up. Glens Falls was seven miles away, Saratoga about 15.”

 

     Now, the park’s main entrance is on Old Saratoga Road, which used to be Route 9. When Dike was young, the main entrance to their home was off the present-day Mountain Road.

 

     There were numerous cabins around the lake and several ice houses, where huge blocks of ice harvested in winter were kept for use during the summer. For Dike, his brothers, sisters and cousins it was a perfect playground, a place to escape the heat long before the arrival of air conditioning or even fans.

 

     “We used to go in there and play,” he said. “It was dark and it was cool. We didn’t have any electricity. Outside the house there was a large tank for water, 20 feet in diameter. The lake water was pure. That’s what we used for drinking. It was pumped up the hill with a gasoline engine.”

 

     One of Dike’s fondest memories is a set of lion statutes that stood outside the house.

 

     “My brother and I used to sit on them and have races. He was bigger so he’d always win,” he said, laughing.

     Today, the lions are located at Chez Pierre Restaurant on Route 9.

 

     After his grandfather’s passing, the property became too much for the family to take care of. Dike’s aunt even contacted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt about having the federal government buy it. During the Great Depression, however, there wasn’t much money in the budget, so the property changed hands privately to Grande, who would rent cabins in summer.

 

     Jim Comstock of Wilton said his parents would spend time there each summer from 1953, when he was 2 years old, until 1961.

     “What I remember most was the complete freedom to swim or boat anywhere, anytime I chose, no crowds, no whistles, no noise except tree frogs that put us to sleep at night with a Montovani record my parents played,” he said. “My fondest recollections are catching baby bullheads in my hands and trolling with night crawlers on spinners at the south end of the lake. At age 10, I would fish alone, holding two poles with my toes in the early morning before breakfast, catching largemouth bass and pickerel with occasional sunfish and perch. At times I would bring fins and mask to dive after and catch plentiful painted turtles in my hands, chasing them into the weeds on the bottom. For some, it might have seemed like there was nothing to do. For me there weren’t enough hours in the day,” said Comstock.

 

     The other day, Dike made his first trip back to the lake in about 30 years. While things look a bit different, he’s pleased with the outcome — that people can still enjoy the setting, and that it hasn’t succumbed to modern development.

     “They’ve done a good job,” he said.

Reach Paul Post at ppost@saratogian.com or|583-8729, ext. 218.

 

 

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