Fran and I decide to visit Tom Bissell. Tom has lived at Endion all his life, although he was not born in Long Lake. This rankles him since native Long Lakers deny that he is a true native Long Laker because he wasn’t born in the town. Everyone in town knows Tom. He was once Town Supervisor and was known for his amusing periodic updates on town affairs. He is a very bright fellow having been educated at private schools and graduated Cornell University. Tom doesn’t “suffer fools” as the saying goes. Fran and I always find him gracious and full of knowledge about the town.
On a warm summer day we check in on him. He has reached the venerable ripe old age of 92.
Tom is the one who encouraged me to build my first guideboat. When he found I was interested in building this uniquely Adirondack wooden row boat he invited me to learn from him all that he knew. He had taken a course on building guideboats from Carl Hathaway of Saranac Lake and had built several of them. I sat next to him while he went through a scrap book he had made on building guideboats. It was of immeasurable help when I confronted the task of building my own. The “how to” of building these boats was always passed down from father to son or uncle to nephew. Adirondackers weren’t much for writing things down. So this was an extremely rare opportunity to learn this generations-old craft.
Tom showed us one of his miniature guideboats that he had built.
This miniature guideboat is about 3 feet long. Tom has built two of them. Everything is to scale including the tacks and other hardware. This was a monumental undertaking. Building a full-size guideboat is difficult enough; building a miniature one seems next to impossible to me.
Tom told us that Senator Platt of Connecticut was one of the first to own a camp on Long Lake. This would have been in the mid-1800’s. When his camp was sold there was an auction of some of the contents. Tom bought a guideboat for $60. He believes it is one of the first built by Caleb Chase of Newcomb. Tom restored it and named it Kenneth Durant after the author of the classic book The Adirondack Guideboat co-authored with his wife Helen. Here is a photo of it.
Tom served for a year in the army artillery during the Korean War. He claimed that it caused him some deafness. There was a particularly large artillery piece that could send a projectile 18 miles. When it was fired the noise was ear splitting. It was that gun that he said rendered him deaf.
Getting back to Endion, Tom said that the hotel didn’t open until July 1st because of the black flies. Black flies are indeed a scourge in the North Country. They are relentless in their attacks and their bite raises a welt that can last for a week.
The hotel was three stories tall but quite narrow. Guests were also encouraged to stay in cottages that were built in a large field adjacent to the hotel. They were served three meals a day and were left to find things to do on their own.
A barn housed six cows that supplied milk for the kitchen. A extensive garden provided vegetables for the complex.
Tom told us a sad story. His mother always attended mass every Sunday. One Sunday in mid-February Tom’s father, Talbot, planned to drive his mother to church. Endion road was somewhat improved from earlier days but still nearly impassable in winter time. There is one particularly long hill on the road as one begins the journey into town. At that time there was a large mound in the middle of the hill that had to be negotiated. Snow was falling and the road became too slippery to climb without chains. Tom’s father backed down from where he had begun to lose traction so that he could put the chains on. At that point he collapsed. Tom’s mother ran over a mile back to get Tom’s help. Tom ran back to the car from the house only to find that his father had expired. A week later Tom was enrolled in a private school in New York City through the generosity of a benefactor.
Next time; Endion today.