About 10 years ago, I was helping friends downsize; they were moving out of a house filled with decades of memories and my job was to fill my car with stuff to be donated and cart it over to the St. James’ Thrift Shop. In the course of emptying closets and sorting, the man of the house came over to me and held up his dog-tags. I knew he had served in World War II, as a Marine, and had seen combat on Guadalcanal in the South Pacific.
“Do you know why these are taped together?” he said.
“So they wouldn’t make noise,” I replied.
“That’s right,” he said. And he told me he’d been a Forward Artillery Observer. From my reading (but certainly not from my own experience), I knew this was a formal title for someone who crawled as close to enemy lines as possible, watched when the artillery opened up, and then radioed back directions and yardage to the artillery men to help them zero in on the target.
“You had to get pretty close to their lines,” I said.
“Oh, I could hear them talking.”
“That must have been pretty scary.”
“Yes, it was.” He paused, and then his eyes kind of lit up, and he added, “but when those rounds came in, it was pretty darned exciting.”
The handwriting is that of Clara Specht. She lived in Hazelhurst, today’s Athenaeum, when its backyard went all the way to the lake. And she loved to send postcards.
“A day or two since, feeling that a short trip to the rural districts would be about as invigorating a remedy as we could imagine for the oppressive heat of a very warm June sun, we concluded to take a trip to Skaneateles. Accordingly we embarked on one of those fine cars for which the New York Central Railroad is so famous, and after a short, but most agreeable ride, found ourselves at the Junction. Disembarking here, we took passage on a vehicle propelled by two equines, which might, by the large stretch of imagination be termed a stage, by which we soon arrived at the renowned precincts of Mottville.
“Thence continuing our peregrinations about three quarters of a mile on foot, we arrived at the new, but extensive paper manufactory of Messrs. Earl, Thayer & Co.* We arrived just in time to see the first sheet run through, in which we considered ourselves as peculiarly fortunate. The manufactory is in a most excellent location, and bids fair to one of the best in the State. It has four engines of the largest kind, and is fully capable of turning out 8,000 pounds a day. The mill is supplied with every modern convenience, and the machinery is of the newest and most approved pattern.
“The water used in the manufacture is taken directly from the beautiful Skaneateles Lake, and as the supply is unfailing, the mill can be run through the entire year without the usual hindrances of ice or scarcity of water. The foreman of the mill, Mr. H. Brady, is a gentleman in every sense of the word, and one who has had large experience in the manufacture of all kinds of paper. Consumers can rest assured that in every instance the paper received will correspond with the sample ordered, and, what is equally important, will be correct in weight and size, which is important to all purchasers.
“After viewing to our satisfaction the machinery of the mill, we proceeded upon invitation of Mr. Earle. one of the proprietors, to indulge in a ride through the village, and, we must say, in all candor, that a more agreeable time we never experienced. We had heard much of the beauties of Skaneateles, but our visit convinces us that they are far underrated.
“Skaneateles, before the breaking out of the rebellion, was a favorite resort for a large number of Southerners during the warm season, but, notwithstanding the absence of these generous-hearted people, the houses still continue to do a thriving business. After a most pleasant and agreeable ride through the precincts of the lovely village, and its pleasant surroundings, we were kindly invited to partake of the generous hospitalities of Mr. Earle.
“We took up our line of march for the City of Salt, most firmly convinced that for natural beauty and scenery, and above all the sociability and genuine good friendship of its inhabitants, the lovely village of Skaneateles will ever hold its own. The pleasant time we experienced on the occasion of our first visit to Skaneateles will not soon be forgotten.”
— Courier and Union (Syracuse), June 10, 1865
* * *
* Earlls, Thayer & Co. converted the Earll & Kellogg distillery, situated on the outlet between Mottville and Willow Glen, into a paper mill in 1864. The Earlls had been distilling since 1802 and were numerous; it was Leonard and Augustus P. Earll who were involved in this particular paper mill. Joel Thayer was the third partner, with three other junior partners.
In his Skaneateles: History of its Earliest Settlement and Reminiscences of Later Times (1902), Edmund Norman Leslie noted, “This was an old distillery transformed, and they have now running four engines and a machine, making 3,000 pounds of printing-paper a day, consuming 6,000 pounds of rags. They employ about forty hands, male and female, and pay about twelve hundred dollars a month.”
In 1875, the mill later became Earlls, Palmer & Co., and in 1878, the Skaneateles Paper Co. The site today, bringing things full circle, is the home of the Last Shot Distillery.
“A tribe of Gipsies passed through our village, Christmas, from the east, and passed up the west side of the lake. The company consisted of sixteen individuals, four apologies for horses, and two dogs. A more squalid set of individuals one hardly ever sees.”
— From the Skaneateles Democrat, reprinted in the Auburn Weekly Union, December 1860
Love the photographer’s bicycle in the center of the photo.
A lovely watercolor by Christy Lemp.