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Baldwin’s Overland

Wanders still, we have threaded the silvery pathway of the Horican, (Lake George) and are drifting idly toward the gray old ruins of the forest stronghold, venerable in its departed grandeur, crowned with the wild legends and historical associations that cluster around its crumbling battlements and telling its story of loves and hates, of hopes and fears, of the glittering pomp’s of warfare, of booming cannon and the rolling drum, of glad paeans of victory, the solemn dirge, of death. Of earthly plans, of ambitions wild, of the arrogant assumption of puny man, and the love of forgiving Nature, who tenderly covers over the scars and hides the ruined hopes under a mantle of living green.

The trip overland from Lake George to Lake Champlain cannot, strictly speaking, be called a green spot in the memory, for my recollection of the place is that it almost always rains, or has just been doing so, in which case the spots are a decided clay color; but they who fail to take it in are, to say the least, unfortunate, and miss one of the finest features of a trip to Ticonderoga, for there are more recollections piled into the hour occupied in crossing that days spent elsewhere.

Five great box-like stages, one baggage wagon, twenty-two horses and six drivers waited for us at the foot of Lake George, as the little steamer came to rest against the dock, and we passed out over the plank to the clay-bespattered platform, where stood the driver-in- chief, with always a pleasant word or a happy retort at his tongue’s end, and a fund of information at the disposal of any who might take the trouble to ask for it; a genial, obliging, gentlemanly man; the joy of seekers after knowledge[ the terror of those who know too much, and the admiration of unprotected females, who, blessed with a multitude of years and bundles, have been robbed and execrated everywhere else in consequence thereof; one who transports his passengers with safety and wit, and actually seems to think them possessed of privileges which a stage driver is bound to respect. In short, it is (William) “Baldwin,” and that tells it all, for everybody knows him.

Ruins of Fort Ticonderoga

“Mr. Baldwin, I presume, “ said a young man, with a smart air, approaching the veteran. “At you service, sir,” “My name is Smith.” “Ah! Your fame has preceded you, sir; you are spoken of at some length in the city directory. Hope you are feeling well.” “Quite so, thank you. May I venture to inquire how the animals are getting along?” “Certainly; quite naturally. They are doing very well, considering the depth of the mud. I have been very fortunate so far, sir; never have lost an animal yet, although they often get in out of sight, in which case we take their bearings, and raise them at our leisure.” “I do not refer to your horses,” said the young man, with a quizzical look at the great, red stage, and coming to the point at once: “But do you know, sir, that you and your caravan remind me of (P.T.) Barnum with his cages of wonderful wild animals.” “Can’t see the least resemblance, my dear sir,” said Baldwin; “for Barnum carries his animals.” Inside, while mine usually ride on top. Climb up. If you please.”

After we were fairly under way a gentleman asked Mr. Baldwin if he was any relation to the Baldwin apple. “Yes, sir: we are first cousins.” “Ah! I am delighted to know it. I’m Mr. Pippin.” “Proud to make your acquaintance, sir,” said the Baldwin; “happy to know that we both belong to the same great family; but I have noticed, I am sorry to say, that pippins, while outwardly fair to behold, are usually rotten at the core.” Pippin was dried apples for the rest of the journey.

Immediately after the close of the late unpleasantness at the south (Civil War) the country was full of shoulder-straps and bullion, and almost every little hamlet boasted it’s General – a Brigadier at least. One day, at Ticonderoga, one of these titled gentlemen might have been, and was, seen taking possession of a top seat on one of the Baldwin’s stages, considerably elevated, spiritually as well as bodily, and evidently anxious to match his wit against that of the noted joker. He opened the engagement by inquiring if (General ) Phil Sheridan (Union – Civil War) had not passed that way in his recent trip through the country, and was told that he had. “Well,” said he, “how was the General at the time? He’s rather given to the demi, isn’t he?” “Do you mean demi-john?” “Yes!” “Well, I don’t know, but he may be,” said Mr. Baldwin, “it’s a common affliction among my military passengers.” “Come, come!” said the General, producing a pocket-flask, and offering it, evidently feeling that his opponent’s remarks were rather pointed, “take a drink, and let’s call it square.” “No sir!” said he, “I do not use the stuff; I propose to live without it, and die with my wits about me.” “Very good, if a man can’t stand it, he’d better not try. You are a good man; a moral man; and a re-markably good-looking man, I must confess; but, say, how is it, does it take a re-markably good-looking man to make a stage-driver?” “Yes, sir!” said the remarkably good-looking man, evidently on his mettle, “It takes a man for a stage-driver, but any thing under heaven will do for a General, now-a-days!”

We mount to the top of the hill, where we must bid adieu to the silvery waters, and a lovely scene of sloping hillside, valley and mountain, opens up before us. The down the road we go to the corner, where, turning to cross the bridge, above the falls, we pause a moment and look around. Here the waters of the lake that have moved sluggishly along between their low banks begin to ripple and gurgle as if they heard the music, and were hurrying gleefully onward to join in the glad anthem of the sounding waters below, and passing under the bridge, rest a moment in their course, then, flashing and foaming, plunge downward, in a succession of leaps, until they rest under the cloud of spray at the bottom. Now, signing through the meadows, dancing over the stones, sweeping around to the right, they go, every hurrying, never resting, until they gather for their final leap over the outcropping ledges at the lower falls that separates the mass of water into threads of shining silver and myriads of glittering pearls.

Baldwin Dock – Lake George – Warehouses

Here is one of the best mill privileges in the world, furnished with a uniform supply of water, through drouth or flood, from the never failing reservoir above, making a descent of over two hundred feet in going a little more than a mile, while large vessels can be brought up to the very foot of the lower falls, and laid against the mills from which to receive their cargoes.

Minnie Ha Ha – #1

At one time quite a village existed here, rejoicing in the name of Alexandria, but the land was owned by an Englishman, who refused to sell without exacting onerous terms, such as a reservation of all ores, minerals, etc., to himself and heirs for all time to come, which has kept it comparatively unoccupied. Once, a good many years ago, men came to look at the falls, with intent to build, but, not considering the title good, they went to Lowell (Mass.) and commenced the erection of these immense factories which have made the place what it is; and thus Ticonderoga lost its chance of ranking among cities where Lowell does to-day. Within a year or two, however, a company from that city has erected a cotton factory at the foot of the (upper) falls, which will give employment to nearly two hundred operatives, which state of affairs causes great joy tin the breast of the young men thereabout, and Alexandria (early settlement at the northern end Lake George – Ticonderoga) of looking up once more.

Old Mills – “A” Dam – Lake George outlet

Toward the north, down where the waters of the lake, circling around, are joined by those of Trout Brook from the valley on the west, the gallant Lord (George Augustus) Howe – the life and actual leader of (General Abercrombie’s unfortunate expedition of 1758 – was killed. He is described as having been the very personification of boldness and enterprise; having but few equals physically, and perfectly at home whether in the halls of royalty or among the sturdy colonists – the life of every movement with which he was connected – and seeing, not the dress or grade, social or military, but the man, whether robed in royal purple or clothed in homespun. He had conceived a great liking for (Robert) Rogers, admired him for his daring and skill as a woodsman, and often joined him on his expeditions to master the mysteries of bush fighting, and match himself against the wily red men in their native forests.

“C” Dam – looking south toward Alexandria – foreground – Trout Brook flows from R just below this dam.

A letter written by one who accompanied the expedition states that Lord (Howe was with (Israel) Putnam, at the head of the rangers, pressing through the thick forest toward Ticonderoga, when they came suddenly upon a detachment of 300 French, who, in attempting to retreat to the fort, had lost their way. “Keep back, my lord,” said Putnam, as they advanced toward the enemy; “you are the idol and soul of the army, while my life is worth but little.” “Putnam,” was Howe’s answer, “ your life is as dear to you as mine is to me. I am determined to go.” At the first fire Lord Howe fell, and the whole English army was thrown into confusion, the regulars pressing back on those behind in a way that, for a time, threatened a complete rout. The rangers, taking refuge behind trees, fought on after the Indian fashion, until the main body rallied and returned to the charge, this time sweeping the French before them with great slaughter, killing one-third of their number and taking about one hundred and fifty prisoners. The death of Howe seemed to paralyze the men for a time, who, confused and disheartened by their loss, returned to the landing or bivouacked on the field led until the next day, when they advanced upon the French lines.

Crossing the bridge we proceed on our way, and, soon turning again toward the north, commence descending the long hill that leads down to the village of Ticonderoga.

Baldwin Stages at Central House – circa 1874

Many admire the surrounding country, but no one goes into ecstasies over the roads. We are not, apparently, educated up to it; but if the lamented Captain Jack could come here when the clay has hardened into rock, and gaze down into the yawing depths of the cavernous ruts, his bones would leap for joy, thinking that they were once more among the lava beds of the Modoc country. Then, when it has been raining, and the rock softens, all idols have feet of clay, and it does not require such a wonderful stretch of faith to believe that you are actually made of the dust of the earth, for there is indisputable proof all over you.

Clay to the right of them; Clay to the left of the, Front, back and top of ‘em. Slippery and squashy.

Sticky doesn’t half express the agony – it meets you half way every time; it works steadily up your legs; it clings to your boots, building out at the sides, piling up and rolling over on top, in front, behind – every way. Occasionally, when you are exerting yourself to lift a foot, it will break off in great masses so unexpectedly that you nearly go over on the other side; then load up again, and increasing in size and weight until in general appearance and style of handling (if a person may be properly said to handle his feet) they resemble those of the agile elephant, and you cease to wonder that flies walk fearlessly on the ceiling, if the suction on their pedal extremities is any thing like that of ours in Ticonderoga clay. Great masses revolve ponderously over on the wheels; the coaches are painted, striped and varnished with it, the drivers are covered, and the horses look like clay models of that noble beast.

Graphite Mill – Lower Falls

The stages halted in a cluster when part way down the hill, and looking around to see the cause of the stoppage we beheld a Websterian form (some suggested that it was more (Henry) Clay than (Daniel) Webster – from the knees down) mounted on rostral pile of stones, and thus the orator spake:

“Ladies and gentlemen, you will see, if you please , on your left, a great natural curiosity – an oak and elm growing from one stump, you can see by the bark and by the leaves that there is no mistake about it; it is truly a g-r-e-a-t n-a-t-u-r-a-l c-u-r-i-o-s-t-y; and what God has joined together let not man put asunder; drive on your horses.” “Hold on!” shouted a confident young blood, who saw a chance of turning the laugh on the renowned joker. “Woa! Woa! What’s up?” With a majestic wave of the hand, in imitation of the speaker who had preceded him, he said: “You will behold, if you please, on the right, another g-r-e-a-t n-a-t-u-r-al c-u-r-i-o-s-i-t-y; a juvenile specimen of the bovine race –“ “Young man,” said Baldwin, sternly “that’s a calf. No great curiosity to any one who has seen you. Drive on, George.”

This curious tree spoken of has a smooth, round body, which, a little above the surface, separates into two distinct species, as stated by Mr. Baldwin, who, on being asked how he accounted for the phenomenon, allowed that it was “because it grew on good union soil.”

“Ruins! ruins! Let us roam,” said a gentleman who seemed to be afflicted with a defective vision and a poetic temperament. “Fit emblem of the poor, weak mortals who here strove for fame, and now forgotten lie in unknown graves; while Time, the great leveler, passes, and the mighty walls of Ticonderoga crumble away into the dust; — and, I say, driver, can you show us the underground passage that we hear so much talk about?’ “Yes, sir, when we get there; I should be very happy. This is not the ruins, however, but the thriving little village of Ticonderoga. A little dirty, I must admit, owning to the conditions of the roads, but a pretty little village, indeed, when it gets washed up.” The village has a thrifty look; contains about 1,500 inhabitants, three or four churches, schools, an academy, woolen factory – noted for producing a remarkably good quality of cloth – two hotels, several stores, black lead mill, etc; soil very productive and roads – characteristic.

We pass through village, across the bridge, turn toward the right, descent a steep little pitch to the flat below, and circling around to the other side climb the hill, halting at intervals that the painting horses may get breath for a fresh pull at the heavy stages. Glancing backward we see the lovely little village, its white houses a church spires gleaming through the dark green foliage of oaks, shut in by mountains that come down round about on every side; the divided falls flashing and foaming white, with a fore ground of waving grasses and lily-pads; while through the reedy flat comes the stream, wingding gently onward to where it mingles with the waters of Champlain, under the gray walls of Ticonderoga. Arriving at the top of the hill we find a broad plateau, along which, in south-easterly direction, we, and entering a field through a gate, which is opened by a muddy little boy, are upon the bloody battle ground in front of the old French lines.

This article about “the model stage man” ~~  William Baldwin~~  has been excerpted and edited rom a 1873 edition of “Ticonderoga” as published by S. R. Stoddard.  The Ticonderoga Historical Society is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Lake George Transportation Co., and the age of steam boating in this region.

We would enjoy seeing you at the Hancock House – we have new exhibits and displays.

Steam boat Exhibit – Harmon Gallery

7/13/17 – wgd

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