By: Jennifer Tufano
Welcome back! Or rather the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society is happy to be back in the Lake Placid News sharing Town and Village history from yester-year and yesterday. Through the decades, dedicated and loyal members of our organization wrote articles and insights in a way that brought history alive and into your home. Loyal followers of Laura Viscome and Mary MacKenzie will remember well the wit and charm used to illuminate significant incidents, events, and people of our time and of a time long past.
Our new monthly feature will share details of some of those same subjects including historical events both timely and seasonal, current events, and individual profiles. In addition, due to the culmination of our Cornerstone Project, one which involved cataloguing every object, archive, and photograph in our collection, we look forward to showcasing particular collections items as well.
The history of Lake Placid and North Elba is yours whether your roots date back generations or this is your first Lake Placid Newspaper because circumstances just recently landed you in this special place. Either way, we hope to make this column a little something for everyone. To that end, we invite comments, feedback and article ideas via email, on our Facebook page, or give us a call. Let us know what you think.
To commemorate this newly revived endeavor, let’s first take a step back in time to where it all began which was with the Bennet family. Remember them? If not, sit back and revel in events which took place over 200 years ago which made this area what it is today. Excerpts below are taken from Mary MacKenzie’s WIRD radio interviews back in May 1985:
‘The first settlers of the area were Elijah and Rebecca Bennet, who came here in the spring of 1800. It was just after the Revolution and the peace treaty with England, and New England farmers were just swarming across Lake Champlain to the wilds of Northern New York, which was then the western frontier of America.
Elijah Bennet, however, in 1800 was an old man by the standards of that day. He was 46 and his second wife, Rebecca, was 36. After the war and sustaining an injury in the Battle of Bunker Hill which rendered his left arm useless, he moved to Orwell, Vermont and married Rebecca. In 1800, they sold all their land, and early in the spring of that year, with the ponds and lakes still locked in ice, they came across Lake Champlain, bound for what is now Lake Placid. The state of New York has put its Adirondack lands up for sale and there was a rush into the area by those who has what was then called “New York fever.”
Rebecca and Elijah came alone. Apparently Elijah’s children by his first marriage were all grown and married. The Bennets settled near our Lower Mill Pond and cleared their land for farming. Elijah was also a blacksmith and probably plied his trade here when other settlers arrived.
By 1810 the Bennets had seven children, all born at Lake Placid. Considering that they had no children born to them in 8 years in Vermont, we can only say it must have been the mountain air.
Elijah died here in 1830 and was almost certainly buried in Lake Placid but no gravestone for him has been found. He died in wintertime and was probably buried near his house. His entire family then returned to Vermont.
It is interesting to note that Mirror Lake was once called Bennet’s Pond, for Elijah Bennet. It was known as such for 75 years until it was rechristened Mirror Lake in the 1870s.
There was no way of knowing, of course, exactly what the town of North Elba looked like when the first settlers moved in from 1800-1810. Unfortunately, no diaries or journals have been found from those early years. But there are plenty of hints and indications in old surveys and from other historical sources.
For some reason, people tend to envision our primeval forests as dark and gloomy and forbidding, with towering pine trees and dismal spruce swamps. This was certainly not true of the northern Adirondacks. It was actually a vast antique hardwood forest, predominately maple, beech, ash, birch, and elm, with a few stands of pine and other evergreens.
It was very wild country and the animal population was quite different from what we have today. There were plenty of moose, wolves, and panthers, all of which became extinct in the Adirondacks long before 1900 – although there are some who say there are still panthers in the wildest, most remote regions of North Elba. In fact, the Mohawk Indians had a large summer village here for many years, coming up from the Mohawk Valley to harvest beaver because everybody in Europe wanted a beaver hat. The Indian village was long gone by 1800 but there were still a few lone Indians wandering the woods who occasionally drifted into North Elba.
Strangely enough, the first settlement here in North Elba was called ‘the Plains of Abraham’ or sometimes ‘Keene Plains’, or just ‘the Plains.’ This conjures up a vision of flat prairie land which could not have been the case. But we must remember that this first colony was located on the great tableland just south of Lake Placid village. There were many beaver meadows there and in any event by 1810 most of the forest had been cut down.
After all, which of us would not like to go back in time and see our town as it was 200 years ago? The delights of exploration would be very great.’
Join us next month for the 2nd installment of Mary MacKenzie’s WIRD radio spot.