Fish & Cigars

Hall Store with Cubanola Sign

William H. Hall, merchant and grocer, had an interesting hobby. He caught fish, recorded the date, the fish’s weight and the name of the person to whom he gave the fish in a neatly written journal, today in the collection of the Skaneateles Library Association.

What fascinates me about this photo of Hall’s store on Genesee Street is the Cubanola cigar sign in the window. Cubanola was a brand of the United Cigar Manufacturers and received major advertising support, from tin signs for merchants like W.H. Hall all the way up to painted walls that even today are being rediscovered when adjacent buildings are torn down, such as this sign in Radford, Virginia.

Radford Va

The nearest Cubanola factory was in Kingston, N.Y., where 1,400 employees rolled cigars for the puffing public. Those advocating child labor laws maintained that most of these workers were “boys and girls.” In all, the United Cigar Manufacturers employed 13,000 workers making 400 million cigars a year. But for those who appreciated a locally produced product, there were indeed cigar makers in Skaneateles.

Not Easy to Part With, 1905

“Only Keuka furnishes better fishing than Otisco, and none have lovelier scenery than Skaneateles. We reached its east shore after a drive of eight miles during a thunder-storm, and were picked up by one of the two or three comical steamers that ply that water during the summer. This boat landed us at Glenhaven, on the south end of the lake; but we saw nothing but driving rain, darkness, and angry water.

“At Skaneateles one needs a guide for a day or two, to help locate the best ground for trolling and still-fishing. There are more perch here, a very few rock and black bass, pike and pickerel, and many sunfish and bullheads. We rowed the length of the lake, and then fished a whole day off the end of the dock, each convulsed to see the other anxious to get one more little sunfish or perch. Then we sailed and trolled, getting several fine pickerel; but it was long between hooking them, and the sport was abandoned for bullheading at night.

Glenhaven Inlet

“Note the accompanying picture of the tourist who has been out to scatter bits of raw meat over a certain part of promising ground at the south end of the lake, the cows seeking to avoid the flies, the pickerel-weed and scanty bullrushes, and the fine hillside with its dense woods and sloping fields of grain. The building shown is the Glenhaven hotel, — not at all a bad place for anglers and canoeists.

“And the unique feature of this beauty show was the way the bullheads liked the fresh beef on our hooks, and took it in spite of all the turmoil and uproar around our boat straining at anchor and curveting and bowing. We soon had a dozen of about a pound each, their sharp teeth and trap-like jaws, and their peculiar bark taking us away back to the time when we fished for them together by a night fire on the shore of the pond in southern Michigan.

“’Skin a ‘paout with bilin’ water, ‘n fry ‘im,’ drawled our guide from the hotel, as he took a fresh wad from his tobacco pouch, ‘ ‘n he’s good ‘ni for me. Let me show yer a trick naouw. Jes’ wait till I up with ther anchor.’

“There was strenuous pulling of the boat into the wind, and grunts while he heaved at the heavy stone being lifted from the bottom. It appeared as we drifted away fast toward shore, and was covered with bottom grass and weeds. Then a long, silent pull at the oars, and the veering to one side toward the east shore, the slap! slap! slap! of the waves, the uplifting of a little shower of spray from the port side of the the boat as it came up to a straight point, with her bow into the wind, after the anchor was resting on the gravel of an almost unknown reef twenty-five feet below. Then that guide reached in under the bow and pulled out a surprise, — a tin pail with about twenty minnows brought just for this juncture.

“We caught bass. No matter how many. But let the angler who wants a good time at night with black bass ask C.M. Goodspeed at Edgewater to hand one of his men a dollar and tell him to show where the bass may be taken.

“There is a very serious objection to angling and loafing at Skaneateles lake: It is not easy to part with it, and its memories are apt to grip the heart in longing to return.

“And where do all its fireflies come from? Night after night those shores were without a gleam from them. Yet on July 1 at midnight, the shores for miles were fairly lighted with myriads of their tiny lanterns, actually giving a steady, faint radiance of phosphorescence to the air, — as if snowflakes of fire were tormented in a blizzard. Yet the night was without wind.

“Dick sat by me and smoked and looked for an hour, and growled his regret at leaving as he went back to bed. Whether he was so impressed as I was at the fire show I do not know. He merely laughed as he told me a good-night story of the landlord who had been feeding us on ham and eggs. ‘I asked him for a steak in the morning, and he wanted to know how I could expect him to lend money to a stranger. Confound him!’”

— From “Being a Boy Again” by L.F. Brown in Shooting and Fishing, November 30, 1905

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The “C.M. Goodspeed” mentioned had a camp at Five Mile Point, “Edgewater Park,” and loved to fish. He was best known as a ginseng tycoon. He built a number of houses on East Genesee Street and our Goodspeed Place, once his garden, is named for him.

The author of this piece, Levant Frederick Brown (1850-1915), was a prolific writer of articles on nature, fishing and camping, and poetry on the same subjects, for magazines such as Travel, Western Field, Forest and Stream, Recreation, Rod and Gun and Outdoor Life.


— From The Four-Track News, March 1906

Utopia, 1902

“The seeker for summer rest and recuperation will find the Utopia of his dreams in the lake region of central New York. Among these delightful ‘inland seas’ are seven beautiful lakes, ranging from ten to forty miles in length, with innumerable smaller, though no less attractive, bodies where boating, fishing and, in many cases, hunting, invite the summer sojourner.

“Among these lakes none is more beautiful than Skaneateles, which lies southwest of Syracuse, on the Auburn road. Its hilly, wooded banks are wonderfully picturesque and there is not a foot of its sixteen miles that is not beautiful and enchanting. It is an ideal spot for boating, and its dancing waters are dotted with countless white sails during the season, and until long after the appearance of ‘the orange tints that gild the greenest boughs.'”

— Photograph and text from “Woodland Paths and Waterways” in The Four-Track News, July 1902

The Sea Serpent

I have read and written about a deer, a pig and a cow seen swimming in the lake, and have actually watched a beaver swim north towards the outlet, but the following creature was a first for me:

On Sunday, July 25, 1937, Mr. & Mrs. Thomas M. Walker were fishing in Skaneateles Lake, about 500 feet offshore, near Mandana, when they saw, approaching their boat, something strange. At first, they thought it might be a sea serpent… or a large snake. But as it drew closer, they realized it was an exhausted woodchuck, headed straight for their boat in obvious hope of rescue.

Mr. Walker reached out with his fish net and hauled the creature onboard; it made no objection, and reclined quietly in the bottom of the boat, catching its breath, recuperating. But then, in the words of the reporter for the Auburn Citizen-Advertiser, “it suddenly manifested a disposition, still in the meshes of the landing net, for liberty pronto.”

While Mrs. Walker held the net over the stern of the boat, and the frantic woodchuck clawed and bit in an effort to escape, Mr. Walker manned the oars and pulled mightily for the shore, where witnesses had gathered, drawn by the sounds of the struggle. Upon landfall, the woodchuck fought his way clear of the net and bolted into the woods, leaving the Walkers to explain the ruckus to the bystanders, and then resume their quiet afternoon’s fishing.

Our Limpid Waters

Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of the United States, writes of his childhood and the remarkable clarity of Skaneateles Lake, circa 1810:

“My father then left the town, and removed into what was then Sempronius (now Niles), in the same county. Here he took a perpetual lease of a small farm of about one hundred and thirty acres, wholly uncultivated, and covered with heavy timber. He built a small log house and commenced clearing the land; and it was at this place and in these pursuits that I first knew anything of life.

“That farm is about one mile west of Skaneateles Lake, ten miles from its outlet, and about one mile east of a little hamlet called Newhope.

“I had, like most boys, a great passion for hunting and fishing, but my father was very unwilling to indulge it. He used to tell me that no man ever prospered who spent much of his time in hunting and fishing; and that those employments were only fit for Indians, or white men no better than they. Consequently, I had no gun, and could only enjoy the sport of shooting when I could borrow of a neighbor.

“Nevertheless, when I had any spare time I used to go down to the lake, and fish and bathe in its limpid waters. It was indeed one of the clearest and most beautiful lakes which I have ever seen. The canoe seemed suspended in mid-air, and the fish could be seen at great depths.”

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Written at the request of the Buffalo Historical Society in 1871, these memories were published as “Millard Fillmore’s Youth: Narrative of His Early Years” in Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society, Millard Fillmore Papers, in 1907. Fillmore served as U.S. President from 1850 until 1853, assuming the office upon the death of Zachary Taylor.

This photo of Fillmore is by Mathew B. Brady, circa 1855-1865, from the collection of the Library of Congress; the postcard of New Hope and Carpenter’s Point shown above is by an unknown photographer.