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Adirondack connections

April 29, 2012
By DON WILLIAMS , For The Leader Herald

One happenstance I enjoy when gathering Adirondack tales is a unique or unknown connection, that is, some single bit of vivid information connecting the Adirondack region with the "outside world." It often arises when I find some national story of importance that connected itself to the Adirondacks, in one way or another. Some of our nation's rich and famous got their start in Adirondack country while others became connected in obtuse ways.

I grew up in Giffords Valley (Johnny Cake Hollow) on the Adirondack Trail Byway, Route 30, never knowing the Jell-O connection. Don Woodward from Leroy, N.Y., heir to the Jell-O fortune, had purchased some 15 Giffords Valley farms and put in Woodward Lake, later Winne's Pond, to land airplanes. My hobby of airplanes had led me to collect much of what was written about Amelia Earhart, first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Hence, I came up with the Adirondack connection.

Recently, I read a report that Don Woodward, back in his day, had purchased "Friendship," the Fokker Trimotor airplane in which Amelia Earhart had become the first woman to fly across the ocean. The "Friendship" became the starship of his fleet of airplanes, therefore, in a roundabout way, he connected my airplane interest with the Adirondacks. It gave me another reason to follow the Earhart story.

For years, I re-enacted Joseph Henry at the Joseph Henry Elementary School in Galway. Joseph Henry, a Galway native, went on to become one of America's number one inventors, and the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute. His pioneering work on electricity and communications led to many of our nation's successful inventions. He worked at Albany, Princeton and Washington, D.C., and, sure enough, with a little research, up popped the Adirondack connection.

Irondale, in the Adirondacks, is known as the "Birthplace of the Electric Age." The Penfield Homestead Museum in the Ironville section of Crown Point houses an exact replica of a large electromagnet. The original, now in the Smithsonian, was made by Joseph Henry, who began experimenting with electric current at the Albany Academy in the 1820s. Allen Penfield, ironworks owner, bought the first electromagnet from Henry. It led to the development of the electric motor. The same mine was connected to the Civil War ironclad ship, the Monitor, and the steel cables for the Brooklyn Bridgemore Adirondack connections.

When William West Durant developed his Adirondack lands, he built a special railroad to transport the luggage of vacationers from Raquette Lake to Blue Mountain Lake on the Marion River Carry. It became the world's shortest standard-gauge railroad, 3/4 of a mile long. The Board of Directors consisted of several of the richest men in America, thus giving them an Adirondack connection.

Other "connection stories" come up in Adirondack country. There was NASCAR at Warrensburg, the heavyweight prize fighters at Speculator, Melvil Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System at Lake Placid, Leonard Wells Volk, Abe Lincoln's sculptor at Wells, the Seabiscuit Inn, American Boy Scout beginnings, Teddy Roosevelt becoming President, the Winter Olympics, twice, rustic Adirondack architecture, "Silver Threads Among the Gold," the Munchkins...



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