June 1994

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Keuka Cottage Boy


Robert V. Anderson

Part I

Part II

Our cottage was a long way from the Newport, Rhode Island conception of a cottage, but some division line between cottages and residents probably existed. The traditional play characters of the city slicker and country hick still lingered in peoples' minds. It tended to defensive relationships, that only time could mellow. Of course having been born to, not of, Hammondsport put me in a slightly different category.

Dad made an annual visit, taking me as I aged, to see Miss Bailey as she sat enthroned at the switchboard on the second floor, operating the office Dad had made, from which she had a good view of what went on in the Square. She always took time to say how I had grown.

A great change was ready to happen on Lake Keuka; the outboard motor appeared. The older gas-powered boats had one or two-cylinder inboard engines—you might know whose boat was near by the sound of the one or two "lunger." When I was rowing along the shore, I felt a certain amount of envy for those who whizzed about in Chris Crafts.

There were other signs: The Mary Bell was towed to Penn Yan end of the lake to be broken up, closing an era of public-carrier lake transportation. The last steamboat on the lake was a pile driver. Dad was one of its last customers, for an offshore post to which to tie his boat. The next year the pile driver did not run; Dad's pile didn't last long either. We were present for the spring ice break-up. The ice began to move from south to north and pushed the pile over. Then the post would spring back through the ice only to be ridden down again. This happened repeatedly and when the ice was finally gone the post was permanently bent. It lasted only a few years.

As I grew older, I became acquainted with Hammondsport people who performed services. Doc Green and his foot-powered dental drill made a terrifying impact. Bob Bailey was on the other end of the desirable scale. He brought ice to local iceboxes before mechanical refrigeration was available for home kitchens. When we came for a short warm-weather stay we stopped at his ice plant to have a chunk placed in a dishpan on our car's bumper. With luck most of it did not melt before being transferred to the cottage icebox. Ice tongs were an important hand tool in those times.

If we stayed for awhile we would put out an ice card on a bush along the road to notify Bob that we needed ice when he came around on his delivery days. Bob was a helpful, good-natured giant in my eyes. Once my grandfather and I were struggling to move a large rock four feet square and six inches thick to a place in front of our kitchen door. Bob picked up a crowbar and pushed the rock into place and then went on to deliver more ice.

Automobiles made door-to-door delivery possible. The oil man brought kerosene in a tank on a truck, and a baker made the rounds, too. I think his name was Whele. He was about twenty and liked to jolly his customers including my grandmother who must have been about sixty-five then. She seemed to be flattered. I came along to the truck expecting a cookie which I got. Then came grandfather who filled and lit his pipe and then enveloped us all in a cloud of smoke. I backed off with my cookie and the baker cut short his sales pitch.

A popular convenience at Hammondsport was the "frozen" well located on the lake front near the end of the stream. It was much esteemed for a cold drink on a hot day. However, the flood of 1935 wanned it up and the fish hatchery water from a flowing well was then used for drinking.

When that flood happened there was a warehouse that the water went through from end to end, floating whiskey barrels into the lake. Scavenger boats picked them up to the envy of others not so lucky. Some of the barrels leaked and were diluted, they all held a ferment made from the last squeezing of grapes called, "Texas Cowboy Whiskey."

I was almost a man. People spoke of a possible Second World War. In Hammondsport the Civil War soldier monument still stood in the center of the intersection, and people grumbled that it was a traffic hazard. Our Pilgrim-made cedar rowboat was good as ever, but I had less interest in the lake, and I no longer fished for perch.

Part I
© 1994, Robert V. Anderson
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