The Whippoorwill Years
Park J. Stoddard and Edwin Wetmore
1903 - 1921
In 1904 my grandfather, Park Jay Stoddard, rented a cottage called Whippoorwill on the east side of Canandaigua Lake about a mile and a half from the south end. Unlike the flat terrain at the north end, the south is bordered by steep hills and is especially scenic. A narrow road along the water's edge runs south from Vine Valley and dead ends at Eastnor, the house just beyond Whippoorwill. The cottages on this stretch are built into the often steep hillside, and from the 1880s well into the next century, much of it was terraced into very productive vineyards.
Whippoorwill in the 1990s
View of the east side of Canandaigua Lake in the early 1900s
Grandfather Stoddard was born in Naples in 1854. His father, Dr. Amos Stoddard (1822 - 1890) was an allopathic doctor, a dentist, an herbalist, a pharmacist, and a storekeeper. His mother, Jane Vinton Stoddard, died in 1871 when she was 42.
After finishing schooling at the old Naples Academy, Park taught school a year at Bristol Springs and a year in the Tozier District. He clerked in stores and at one time made baskets with Robert Porter.
About 1880 he moved to Abilene, Kansas, and with Edward Humphrey from Springwater, New York, operated a successful business, the Abilene Mill and Elevator Co., which supplied flour for the Harvey restaurants along the Union Pacific routes.
On September 18, 1881, Park Stoddard married Emily Pitts whose family had moved to Abilene from Honeoye, New York. Three children were born: Rachel (1884 - 1964), Alice, my mother, (1890 - 1974), and George (1891 - 1946). Then, tragically for the family, Emily died from pneumonia in 1893.
Park asked his sister Alice to come out to run the household, then sent her home when he learned she had shut little Alice in a closet for hours because she had not memorized a Bible verse. Mother said that it didn't bother her much because sister Rachel had stayed with her. From then on, a series of housekeepers and a friend helped look after the children.
When Mother was ten, in 1900, Grandfather brought her back to Naples to live with "Auntie Joe," who was the daughter of his father's second wife's first marriage. Her name, too, was Alice, the same name as his sister and his daughter. To lessen confusion, she was called "Auntie Joe," probably from her husband's name Joseph Bartholomew, a brilliant and mostly self-taught scholar of literature who didn't, however, like children. Mother was away at Starkey Academy beginning in 1905 and later finished high school in Waverly where her sister Rachel taught chemistry. After Mr. Bartholomew died in 1912, Mother lived in a household of old ladies. I remember Auntie Joe as a delightful person, just the way all little old ladies ought to be, the kind clerks in stores adored as soon as they came in -- pure white hair, long skirts, and sweet dispositions.
Back in Abilene, disaster came again for Grandfather when on July, 4, 1901, sparks from a passing train set fire to the mill and it burned down. His roots were in Naples and he began to think of moving back East, and in 1904 he rented Whippoorwill for the summer from Edwin Wetmore, who had built the cottage in 1886 to the south of his own cottage, Oak Ridge. The two men began a long and close association, sharing their enthusiasm for fishing in particular and lake life in general.
Uncle Ed Wetmore's Oak Ridge
Born in Canadice in 1845, Edwin Wetmore had moved with his family to Cohocton when he was 12. Five years later, with the Civil War underway, he ran away with friends to join the Army. His parents intervened and persuaded him to return home but he took off again and this time enlisted as a Private in Co. 1, 161st New York Volunteer Infantry. Through a series of oversights he was never officially mustered in and so served 11 months before he learned that his name was not on the payroll. He left "regular service" and worked for three months in the Provost's office in Baton Rouge and then went home. In 1864, this time with parental consent, he tried again, joining Company G, 189th New York Volunteer Infantry. He was promoted to Corporal in the field and served as a Sergeant until the close of the war. He left a description of those final days:
Our service in Virginia was at times what Teddy Roosevelt would call strenuous, especially chasing General Lee's army and marching twenty to thirty miles in a day and part of the night.
My regiment was supporting a section of the skirmish line when the surrender of Lee's army was announced by a cavalryman on a horse, who approached our brigade general, waving a white towel. Happy? Yes, we were! And 'Yanks and 'Rebs' were soon mixed in a friendly way. A chubby young fellow grasped my hand and, with tears streaming down his face, said. "We-uns are just as glad as you-uns are." They were hungry, and I filled the kid's cap with hard-tack, and the tears streamed again as he told me it was the first white bread he had seen in months.
General Grant did the right thing in feeding them, although we ate raw corn (when we could get it) to pay for it. But the great mistake was over.
We were in the grand parade in Washington, and were discharged at Elmira on May 30, 1865.
After the war Ed went to work in the family store in North Cohocton. For the year 1869 - 1870 he operated a large wheat farm in Kansas, then returned home to stay and in 1883 bought "considerable acreage" on the lake's east shore. He built Oak Ridge the next year and maintained a vineyard on the hill above until he was in his 80's.
"Uncle Ed" had a sense of humor, and a love of fishing and travel. He wrote a weekly column under the heading "Jacob's Landing" in the Naples Record that documented in a lively style neighborhood comings and goings and the activities of friends and neighbors. "Jacob" was Jake Walters, a farmer whose grape house has been carefully preserved. The stretch of shore Ed wrote about began more or less at Whiskey Point, summer home of the Smiths and their four daughters, and extended south along the east shore past Walter's grape house, Oakridge, Whippoorwill and Eastnor and on to Sunnyside, the Boy Scout camp. His column covered spring through autumn because he usually took off for Florida or California in the colder months—very few of those who lived along the lake stayed over the winter.
In his column of August 10, 1913, Uncle Ed described a typical jaunt. (At this time there were plenty of stretches along the shores where a fishing party could camp without objection.)
On Wednesday, the 6th instant, Park Stoddard, Joe Ruff, Rodney Harris, Perry Borden and Ed. Wetmore ran their trout lines down to Genundawah in time for dinner and had two trout for Ed.'s big frying pan for the dinner. Of course, the 30-year-old black coffee pot was there, too. After a rest, Park and Perry turned back and Joe, Rodney and Ed. ran down to Long Point cove for the night's camp. Three trout and several pike were caught on the afternoon run, Rodney getting a double haul, two trout, the first he had ever landed. The night was pleasantly passed under the boats, and the patter of the rain was not unpleasant. In the morning Joe prospected for trout as far down as Cottage City and, not finding any, it was decided, after dinner on Fisher's beach, to make the night camp at Genundawah. Three trout and several pike were caught in the afternoon, and Rodney returned to Eastnor, while Joe and Ed. slept on Genundawah beach, rolled up in blankets in open air. Friday was too rough for successful fishing, but a beach dinner was enjoyed near the sulphur springs with Mr. and Mrs. Rodney Harris and Miss Alice Stoddard as guests. Park, with the Kansas, hauled the boys home.
The cast of characters included in the beach dinner were Park Stoddard and his daughter Alice and his son-in-law Joe, and Perry Bordon, a Naples lawyer, and the Harrises, friends from Cleveland.
My mother wrote down a story about Perry Borden that she may have heard at such a party. He was trying a case of horse stealing in the County Line Church; the alarm of "Fire" cleared the courtroom. Perry handed the Summons to the culprit with orders to "Chew this paper up and swallow it and get on your horse and get out of here and don't ever come back!"
The Kansas was Grandfather's launch which was on the lake much of the day, fetching milk from across the lake at the Granger farm, giving rides, taking visitors to Canandaigua who had missed the boat, or meeting the Lehigh Valley train at West River Bridge.
Family and friends were constantly coming, staying, going. Socializing involved neighbors such as Mrs. Belle Woodworth, wife of a prosperous Cohocton farmer, whose cottage, Eastnor, was next to Whippoorwill to the south. Her guest book, which has been preserved, records years of relatives and friends and their happy testimonials as to what good times they were having.
There were many young people who joined their elders at nightly beach fires and picnics or went off hiking or canoeing by themselves. In what may have been the first recorded surfboarding venture on the lake, Alice Stoddard and her Naples friend Anna Sutton were towed behind the Kansas on a door fitted with ropes. Anna, a strong swimmer, later saved a friend from drowning and was awarded a Carnegie Medal.
Park Stoddard with his granddaughter, Betsey Bishop
Even after a few people began to appear in automobiles, most visitors arrived by steamboat if they came from the north. If you wanted to be picked up, a signal flag was raised at the nearest dock which had been designated as a stop. The boats, zigzagging up and down the lake, sometimes did not respond and the hapless traveler missed his train. The Kansas was often able to come to the rescue and make the train connection in Canandaigua. In case of heavy fog, "Aunt Cretie" Wetmore, Uncle Ed's wife, had a conch shell at the ready on which she would blow mighty blasts to guide the boat in.
Arrivals could also leave the train at Bloods (later called Atlanta), come by one stage to Naples and by another to Woodville where they were met by boat and ferried across. When Park's daughter Alice attended Starkey Seminary on Seneca Lake, coming home for vacation was an all-day affair. First a train ride from Starkey to Stanley, a seven-hour wait, then another ride to West River Bridge where her father picked her up in the Kansas. Often the trip home was in the dark, the boat moving carefully through the swamp—Alice in the bow with a lantern, watching for snags.
People seemed to have no difficulty dealing with what might seem today to be major inconveniences, especially in providing meals for the endless parade of visitors. Many cottagers had gardens. Diets were top heavy because of the constant supply of fish provided by the eager sportsmen. There was Robeson's store in Vine Valley (still there, its original interior happily preserved) or you could go by lake boat to Canandaigua to shop. Food was kept cool in root cellars.
Days were full of swimming, boating and fishing, often followed by beach suppers and campfires. But sometimes evenings were quiet when cottagers and their guests rocked on screened porches and visited and told stories while their world slipped into summer darkness. Pipes glowed, chairs creaked and the whippoorwills lived up to their name, often calling all night.
Cars began to appear more often on the narrow lane that passed for a road from Vine Valley. A Boy Scout camp was established on the point just south of Whippoorwill and Eastnor. Although the road came to a dead end at Eastnor, visitors were often indignant when they discovered (in spite of signs) that they couldn't drive to the camp. Grandfather Stoddard kept a pull-you-out rig at the ready because vehicles sometimes ended up in the lake as drivers tried to turn around. To this day a current, popular map shows the road going on through, but over the years land owners have continued to block any move to connect with the road to Sunnyside. As a result there is a feeling of timelessness on this stretch of the shore and because many of the cottagers have declined to destroy the old cottages in favor of large suburban houses, appearances have remained almost the same for 100 years.
In 1915 Stoddard painted white a very large rock on the shoreline just south of Whippoorwill and Eastnor where the steep hillside came close to the water's edge. It was probably meant to mark a particularly good fishing spot. It is still white in 2002, although a few times over the years it has been pink and yellow, to the indignation of traditionalists who soon restored the proper color, sometimes quietly, in darkness.
Summers passed. World War I raged on the other side of the Atlantic but didn't spoil the serenity recorded in the weekly column, although the battles must have been on peoples' minds. We talk about the "Good Old Days" but sometimes wonder if they are a pleasant illusion. I do believe that the seasons recorded by Uncle Ed and my grandfather were indeed good and happy. Edwin Wetmore obviously enjoyed writing his column for the Record and Park Stoddard kept his journal faithfully, but it is doubtful if either realized that they were recording the social history of a place and time. Uncle Ed's adventurous spirit kept him youthful until his death at 91 in 1936. In later years, Park lived with his step-sister, Mrs. Alice Bartholomew in Naples and he spent time at his cottage, Kanahoma, near the head of Canandaigua Lake. On March 23, 1935, as was his common practice he took his lunch and went to his cottage to spend the day. When he failed to arrive home at 5:30 o'clock, his sister, Mrs. Bartholomew telephoned Mrs. Mary Stape who lived near Kanahoma. She investigated and found the body of Mr. Stoddard in his favorite chair in the cottage. Apparently, after doing a few odd jobs about the premises, he had sat down to read, and had fallen asleep. His hand, with a finger between the leaves, still gripped his book, Why Lincoln Laughed.
He had written in his journal until the day before he died at eighty years; his entries reveal a bouyant and receptive outlook and an undiminished love of the natural world.
The Start of the Season at Whippoorwill, 1906
May 16. Well, it seemed good to wake up and look out the window at the lake. I got a good breakfast of oatmeal, toast, cookies and coffee, then over across for a load.
May 17. I have had a good time all day. This forenoon I spent putting things away and getting settled. I helped Ed at painting the cottage. Wind came from the west and the lake roughed up into high waves…The Whippoorwills sang just at daybreak this morning.
May 20. Worked at the woodpile most of the forenoon and painted on the north side lattice about an hour. Alice did up work and went off on the hill for flowers.
May 21. The morning was beautiful. The sun shone in the kitchen door nice and warm and we soon had a good breakfast out of the way and work done up and out on the lake we went and started for Oregon. (fishing)
May 27. I came here Monday night about 2 weeks ago and the leaves were just starting. Now they are all out and the hills and whole country look green. The whippoorwills are out in force tonight. One bird close to the house whistled 80 times without a rest. Then 28, then 16, then so many that I stopped counting.
May 28. …The air was clear and lake smooth this evening and the sound of the Bristol Springs Church bell coming over the water was sweet music. I have no idea of the tone of the bell heard close by but from this distance it's certainly very mellow and sweet, more so seeming than any bell I ever heard. This morning early I had a close look at a fine rabbit who came under the big hickory tree while I was getting a pail of water. He was not afraid and tasted of a bit of several kinds of grass and went hopping along as if he owned the place.
May 29. Someone said, "What do you do there all the time?" This morning, soon as the work was done I commenced painting without a letup until 10 o'clock. Then I got dinner and cleaned up and over to Ed's for an hour and I dug burdocks and dug out walks until 5:30, stopping during the time to put in windows which I had removed for painting. After supper I dug in the garden until dark. Now at 8:10 p.m. I sit down to rest for the first time today. Had not Fritz Miller come over for a paper about dark, I should have passed the day without being near enough to a human being to speak to him and I have not been lonesome for a minute.
May 31. Arose at 3:50 and was on the lake at 4 a.m. after trout. While I failed in getting a strike, I had the enjoyment of the early morning, and all its wondrous awakening. The old hill fairly hummed with the song of birds…From the first glint of sunlight on the west hill to full sunrise was a beautiful unfolding of the morning.
June 20. Hoed both gardens in the forenoon and saved some radish seed. Radishes are perfect for the table now. I picked a small pail full of cherries before dinner. About 2 p.m. Rachel [Alice's sister] and I started to West River. We were 40 minutes from our dock to the bridge, 13˝ minutes to the mouth of the creek.
June 30. After supper we went out on the lake and when we came home we had a bonfire and a quiet time down on the beach.
© 2002, Beth B. Flory