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Looking at lakes’ past

Author hopes book will start conversations about area’s future

January 2, 2011
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

Carol Parenzan Smalley hopes her new book, to be titled "Around Caroga Lake, Canada Lake and Pine Lake," will be a conversation starter around campfires for people visiting the lakes this summer.

The Johnstown resident said she hopes those conversations will turn from the area's past and focus on its future.

"[The area] has so much potential," Smalley said.

Article Photos

Carol Parenzan Smalley of Johnstown points to an old sign for Sherman’s at Caroga Lake in the Johnstown Public Library on Monday.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor

Smalley, 50, moved to Johnstown 12 years ago from Hershey, Pa. Since then, she said, she has become a regular visitor to Pine Lake.

In June, while sitting at the lake one day, she realized she had never seen a pictorial history book focusing on Caroga Lake, Canada Lake and Pine Lake. It seemed like the sort of topic that would interest many people, she said.

"A lot of people who spend time up at these lakes have no idea of the history around them," Smalley said.

She contacted Arcadia Publishing, which has published numerous history books that have focused on locations in Fulton and Montgomery counties.

Smalley, who has written about 25 books, proposed the idea for the book in July. It was accepted as part of the company's Images of America series.

According to Arcadia Publishing's website,, the company is best known for its Images of America series.

"With more than [200] vintage black-and-white photographs, each title celebrates a town or region, bringing to life the people, places, and events that define the community," the website said.

Smalley knew she would have to work quickly to meet her deadline in December.

"I had to scramble to get [the summer residents] before they left," she said.

Smalley said many summer residents proved to be very generous, with their time and their possessions.

As an example, she said, at one point she contacted a couple by e-mail who had headed to France for the winter. Despite having never met her, Smalley said, the couple told her who to contact to get a key to enter their lake house so she could get some photos.

"The trust they showed was incredible," Smalley said.

However, Smalley said, she was able to get a balance in the book between summer and year-round residents.

At one point, for example, she was able to speak with a Canada Lake resident whose father had the first snowmobile on that lake in the 1930s. It was a homemade contraption, made from a wrecked motorcycle and hand-crafted parts.

"I found many interesting items," Smalley said. "There is so much family history here, and interesting stories about the area."

She found fascinating stories about the competition years ago between Sherman's in Caroga Lake and Pine Lake Park. If Sherman's had a band with 10 members in it, she said, Pine Lake Park would get a band with 11 members.

Looking at old newspaper articles, she learned back in the 1960s the North-South Skirmish Association did Civil War re-enactments at Pine Lake that drew thousands of people. They even fired cannons at the events, which is why there are cannonballs at the bottom of Pine Lake.

Smalley was able to speak with a former chauffeur for a member of the Schine family, who saw Elvis Presley and U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy visiting the influential family at the lakes.

"There's fascinating history here," Smalley said.

Fulton County historian Peter Betz was among the people who provided her with help. Betz helped Smalley identify the location of some photos, and fact-checking some of her material.

Wally?Hart, president of the Fulton?County Regional?Chamber of Commerce & Industry, provided Smalley with help finding people who had unpublished photographs.

Hart said the history of the lakes is a selling point for tourists.

"People are very interested in the history of the lakes," he said.

Hart said old photographs can show people why groups, such as the Adirondack Park Agency, were established to protect the environment of the area.

He said in some of the old pictures he has seen, some of the areas around the lakes were devoid of trees. Such photos provide a powerful reminder of how and why the area has developed along its own path.

Another author also provided her with some help, despite having died in 2005.

Famed environmentalist and Adirondack author Barbara McMartin, a native of Johnstown, wrote a book titled "Caroga, an Adirondack Town Recalls its Past."

Smalley said McMartin had the book, which contains many photos that looked useful, willed to the town. In August, Smalley sought and was granted permission by the Caroga Town Board to use information from McMartin's book in her own work.

"They said it could only help to promote Caroga," she said.

Smalley has been posting "teasing tidbits" at her website - - which people will be able to find answers to in the book.

Some of the "tidbits" have asked "whats's a skippy?" and "In the Stewart's Landing area, what unusual method did locals use to bathe during the warm-weather months?"

Smalley said with her background as a marketing consultant, among other jobs, she wanted a way to keep people interested and engaged in the project.

However, she said she hopes the book will inspire people to talk about what they see as the future of the area around the three lakes.

Smalley said the area is at a crossroads in its history, with a population that is aging and relatively isolated. She hopes the book will get people, while looking at the past, to start talking about what the future will be.

"I don't think you'll see another Sherman's or Pine Lake Park up there," she said. "But I don't know what the next step is."

Hart said the area offers lots of opportunities for people.

He noted the regions around all of the lakes are unique, offering a variety of paths for interested developers to take. Though what that development will be is unknown.

"I think there will be development," Hart said. "These are beautiful places with breathtaking scenery."

"Around Caroga Lake, Canada Lake and Pine Lake" will be available in June.

Smalley will conduct programs in the area where she will discuss the process of creating the book.

For more information, visit her website at



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