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Tales of “Witt” Cook

Everyone has stories to tell.  Here we recall some tales from the pen of Arthur Carr,  one of Ticonderoga’s better known contemporary recorders of history who was a good fellow and faithful member of the Ticonderoga Historical Society for many years.  We share some of his stories as he recorded them in 1962 concerning an unusual man that had been told by two generations of Ticonderoga folks whenever they have been engaged in discussing “The Good Old Times.”  Not impossible Paul Bunyan yarns but the recital of actual events and the participation therein by actual people —

Tales witt cook cover

Original Cover

Perhaps you are one of the countless number who have traveled Route 9N (North) when driving north into the eastern Adirondacks of upper New York State.  If so you have followed the western side of Lake George with occasional vistas of water beauty and continual loveliness of mountain and forest.

As one nears the northern end of this Queen of American Lakes one is sure to notice two similar houses of brick some five hundred feet apart and on opposite sides of the highway.  Between them runs the northern  boundary of Warren County which is thereby the southern line of Essex County and the township of Ticonderoga.

These spacious homes were built about one hundred and forty years ago, reputedly of brick made on the premises by two brothers who were the sons of one of Ticonderoga’s early settlers.  The larger of these homes is the one on the Warren County side of the boundary.  It is now in excellent condition having been restored by it’s present owners and occupants, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Stanley (Dr. James A. Mack).  It was built about 1822.  From near its date of construction until 1892 it was the home of William Cook Jr., who knew no other home as he was but three years of age when it was built by his father.  The property came to him and his good wife upon the death of his parents.

In 1847, when twenty eight years old, William married Caroline Moses the daughter of another pioneer family.  Their children were two, a son and a daughter. They had no grandchildren.

The second of the two brick homes built by the Cook brothers.  Hague -Ticonderoga road looking north, just as one passes the Warren – Essex County line.  Once known as “Ledgewood House.”  Today the home of Mr. & Mrs. Kenneth  Engler.

In common with eighty per cent of the population of 1850 William gained his living from the soil. The cleared land of Friend’s Point and his home place near the County line yielded pasture and crop land, the adjacent forest lumber and fuel.  The conduct of his business would not merit fame above his neighbors.  His memory is preserved because of personal traits and idiosyncrasies.  The tales of his ways and foibles are now folk tales in the country side about Ticonderoga and are the subject of this writing.

Physically, William was a somewhat ponderous person.  Of good height, heavy of body, not paunchy but great of girth.  There are those still among us who, now advanced in years, can remember him being a large man, round of face and somewhat stern of visage.  His voice was commanding, described by one who remembers him as “booming”.  Why he was universally referred to as “Witt” is not known.  Perhaps it was in part to differentiate between the Sr. and the Jr. Williams.  Perhaps it was, like many such cognomens, fastened on him in youth without reason and clung to him thru life.

tale calf cow

A man and his snuff

A man and his snuff

This matter of obedience to his orders seems frequently to have resulted in ridiculous situations especially when Witt was over exposed to alcohol.  One such occurrence was upon a summer day when Riley Palmer was engaged in shingling Witt’s horse barn.  The old shingles had been removed and the new ones were nearly in place when rolling up from the west came one of those violent thunder showers that at times disturb the Lake George country in summer.  This one threatened a heavy downpour and Riley was bending every effort to complete the  covering before the  storm broke and drenched everything.  Now Witt was habituated to the taking of snuff and in its use was inclined to generosity always insisting on companions sharing his snuff.  Arriving on the scene of the shingler struggling to complete the job before the storm arrived Witt had the sudden urge to take a pinch of snuff.  Calling up to Riley on the roof the told him to come down and have a pinch of snuff with him.  Riley desisted calling his attention to the approaching storm with it’s imminent danger of wetting a part of the interior of the horse barn.  The exact language of Witt’s reaction has not been preserved but the essence of it was that Witt was paying Riley and if he wanted him to come down and have snuff with him he had best do it.

Several of the tales that have come down to us illustrate one of Witt’s splendid traits.  Even this was over developed.  This was a sense of honor and strict adherence to his word.   Orlando Rowell of Ti was a buyer of raw furs and hides.  One spring day Witt brought in a calf skin for sale.  He first ascertained what Mr. Rowell was paying for such hides.  This being fifty cents he told the buyer that he might have it at that price.  As he unrolled the skin Witt remarked that one of the men skinned the animal and therefore perhaps there was a hole or two in it.  “In that case,” said Orlando, “I’ll have to deduct ten cents for each hole.”   The hired man had indeed been careless.  So much so that six holes were found.  Witt had agreed to the price and terms.  He therefor left the skin and paid the dime due because of the excess holes.

Tales - apple

One autumn the Cook farm was faced with an over abundance of apples.  A buyer stopped and offered ten cents per bushel for the crop.  The price was low for those times but there were a lot of apples so Witt finally agreed to the bargain.  Although he was later offered twice the price for his apples it is recorded that he stuck to his word and the buyer had the crop for ten cents per bushel.

As he was unfaltering in keeping his word so he expected all with whom he dealt to be.  Perhaps it was the same fall that he sold his crop of apples for ten cents per bushel that he agreed to furnish an unnamed householder in the Lower Village with a bushel of apples for one dollar.  When he delivered the fruit the housewife argued that a dollar was more than the market.  Witt said not a word but picked up the sack of apples and started to depart.  The customer thereupon called to him that she would take the apples even if the price was high.  Witt kept right on with his leaving while over his shoulder went the suggestion that she buy apples where she could get them the cheapest if she did not wish to stand by her bargain.  Nearby was the barber shop of Charles Liberty.  Entering this with the burlap sack of fruit the following conversation between Witt and Charles is told.

“Witt:  Hi Charlie.  Want some apples?

Charles:  Sure Witt but I’m short of money today.

Witt:  Who said anything about money?  I asked if you wanted any apples.

Charles:  Certainly I’d like some apples, but –“

By this time Witt had advanced to a back corner of the little shop, had untied the sack and up ending it in the corner had set apples  to rolling all over the shop.  The apples he gave but not the sack.

TALE - peddleer game