June 1996

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The Lake!!!


Grace Forster Russ

Chapter 1

Ganundawah—A Tradition

For me, the lake began at Ganundawah, that beautiful point on Canandaigua Lake at the foot of Bare Hill. The point and the lake were as much a part of me as were my parents and the farm where we lived. It was there that memories of the lake first imbedded themselves in my soul. In its time, Ganundawah's ownership was unique. I have been told that since the 1860s, the point was owned, not by one individual but by a group. This ownership allowed several families to develop their diverse traditions, each adding to the personality and lore of the point. My personal knowledge of that state of ownership goes to 1921, when according to its minutes, the "Ganundawah Club" was formed, or re-formed, and a group of owners revived a dormant communal ownership. From that year onward until the property was sold in the late 1980's, the summer was apportioned more or less as I have described.

Chapter 2

Beecher B. Washburn

My grandparents lived in Rushville, a small town east of Ganundawah. Across the street from them lived two bachelor brothers, Dudley and Beecher B. Washburn. I barely remember Dudley, except that he encouraged me to try over and over to put both my feet behind my head, while I sat on their small, carpet-covered, straw-stuffed hassock. This piece of information is significant only in that it points up how insignificant Dudley was to me, though the acrobatics were serious business, and so, I suppose, was Dudley's observation of them.

Beecher, now, was a different story. He was an ardent fisherman, and loved fishing and the lake more than any other aspect of his provincial life. He was one of the members of the Ganundawah Club. He somehow induced my mother to go to the lake during his alloted time and cook and keep house for him while he fished. It was not Mama's idea of a fun time. I hope that she was paid for her services, though I doubt it.

In the era of my childhood, keeping house at Ganundawah was more hard work than adventure, especially for my mother. Mama harbored some vivid memories of childhood drudgery. They must have colored her thinking concerning the primitive housekeeping facilities at Ganundawah. The cottage offered little in modern convenience, even by 1920 standards. In that respect, it differed little from any other summer place.

Beecher's habits governed much of Mama's schedule during that brief era of Ganundawah vacations. Beecher arose early in order to fish early, and he liked to eat before he fished. Mama, of course, fixed his breakfast and packed his lunch, or cooked lunch later, if he was fishing nearby. We three toddlers must have presented a real challenge, and undoubtedly demanded as much attention as Beecher did. I'm sure we warranted much more watching.

Of course, there were always the extra guests who came and went, and it always seemed that more came than went. Ganundawah provided many beds, and its population was often enlarged to fill them. This was so no matter whose share was being used or what decade was being lived. Everyone pitched in to help, but Mama owned the responsibility for us during Beecher's time there, and it was almost constant work. Later, she wasted little nostalgia on the Beecher era.

Beecher, however, reveled in the vacation. His ten days at Ganundawah only whetted his appetite, and he coveted more time to fish. So it was that he acquired some 300 feet of lake frontage about a quarter of a mile down the lake. There he would create his own summer place. Beecher had money and desire, but he had no knowledge or skill at building. What he did have was an uncanny ability to con someone else into doing the work that made his dreams into reality. Daddy had knowledge and skill, and Beecher had something Daddy lacked. He had the wherewithal to build. They reached an agreement. Daddy was to create a point with sufficient land to build a cottage, then build the cottage. Once more, they roped my mother in. She was to take her family to the new cottage and keep house for Beecher all summer in return for the family's vacation. The rest of the agreement with Beecher stipulated that the property would become my parents' when Beecher died. It was that stipulation which clinched the deal as far as Daddy was concerned. He saw that his family would eventually be the winners, though Mama's imagination had difficulty in stretching that far into the future.

I believe the cottage was completed in 1926, when I was four years old. I have a dim memory of being there once while my father was building, and of the first time we arrived there after it was completed. I even have a nebulous recollection of our staying there with Beecher. Dudley had died sometime during the construction.

Mostly from Mom's telling of it, do I know that Beecher acted the dog in the manger. He insisted on moving all the gear and paraphernalia of summer residence from the new cottage to Ganundawah during his time-share there. Mama was, pardon the pun, not a happy camper, but she had little say in the matter, and went along with the inevitable.

This arrangement lasted for a very short time, Then, Beecher suffered a heart attack and died, his realization of his dream of his own cottage cut short. Whoever grieved at his passing, my mother was undoubtedly not among the principals. Beecher was true to his word and left the cottage and his share in Ganundawah to my father. For those who thought my family fell into the inheritance without earning it, and there were some, I can only say, "That's all you know!"

Chapter 3


With the help of two willow trees, whose roots held some shale in place, Daddy created enough dry land to build a cottage. The beach-building was ongoing. Willow roots were not sufficient to hold much shale against the power of wind and ice, especially when wind and ice break-up came together.

I suppose you would call the moving of shale from bank to water-line a form of strip mining, and pretty much hand mining, at that. Daddy and whatever Huck Finn he could muster, dug the shale out of the bank by hand, tranferred it to a wheelbarrow, wheeled it to the water's edge, and dumped it in or beside the water. Occasionally, a stick of dynamite loosened a large chunk of obstinate ledge. More often a pickax broke up the soft bank enough to allow the hand shovel to dig into the loose shale.

It soon became obvious that the willow roots needed help beyond mere shale. So it was that Daddy got more work than he had bargained for. Before, during and after the cottage construction, a rock breakwater was created, eventually taking more effort than the actual cottage construction had. Building and rebuilding the breakwater and maintaining the fill behind it became constant, ongoing battles, year after year after year.

Daddy built a scow, a rectangular boat, with a flat bottom and one seat in

the middle for an oarsman and one at one end for operating an outboard motor. It was not a thing of beauty, but would hold a formidable number of rocks, gathered—by hand—from up and down the shore. Eventually, by using the hauled-in rocks, a sizeable breakwater emerged. Some of it was quite solidly held in place with the help of concrete. All of it was moved and constructed by you-know-who by you-know-what method.

I have noted that the scow was used to haul rocks for the breakwater, but I didn't mention the original reason for its creation. Had it not been for the scow, the cottage could never have been built. Another thing I did not mention is that water was the only highway to Beecher's Point. A drive could have zigged and zagged down from the road some half mile above the point to about 200 feet from the shore. From there down, however, the drop was too much of a cliff to build anything but steps. Additionally, Mr. Montegue, the owner of the field, had no desire to grant a right of way to Beecher's property line.

Ganundawah had a road, or what passed for one. The road ended there, but Beecher's share in the point gave him the privilege of using it as far as it went. As to how lumber and other building materials reached Ganundawah, I have no memory nor knowledge. I was very young then, and did not have the curiosity to ask later, when those who knew were still there to tell me. The lumber yard may have delivered some, and borrowed vehicles of whatever sort brought the rest. At any rate, they arrived.

Once the materials had reached Ganundawah, the scow took over, that is, after they had been loaded by hand, or lashed together and tied to the back of the scow for towing. Then every stick of lumber, every nail, screw, tool, window pane, pail of paint, dock boards, every tiny scrap of whatever went into a summer home was either hauled or towed by the scow.

Interspersed with the beach project and making a living, Daddy built the cottage. I don't know what other help he had except that my "Uncles" Ross and Howard Cayward were major contributors. It was a well-built structure, two stories high, with five bedrooms upstairs, a wraparound front porch and a small utility porch off the kitchen.

As cottages went then, it was reasonably comfortable and commanded a gorgeous view of the lake.

By today's standards, we would call it primitive, but, compared to our farmhouse, it fared well in some respects. The kitchen was smaller, since it had no wood range nor eating table. The cupboards opened on both the kitchen and dining room sides. The oil stove sported a portable oven, heated by two burners, and "controlled" by adjusting the burner flame and checking an oven thermometer. This stove was not only more modern than a wood range, but was deemed far safer and was certainly much cooler.

Taking a bath in the lake required much less preparation than using washtubs in the farm kitchen. It was, depending on the weather, sometimes far cooler. If done after dark or early in the morning, it was also more private. For kids, it was a lot more fun.

After those things, I suppose the farm offered as much or more convenience. We had electricity on the farm, and a radio and a telephone. We also had a washing machine and running water, even hot water from the side-arm heater beside the wood range. Then too, the farmhouse was designed for year-round living and had central heating, hardwood floors and, of course, plastered walls, painted or papered. It was, in all ways, a home. The cottage, though homey, was of course, just a cottage. The studs and crossbraces on both the partitions and walls of the cottage were exposed. This seemed like an asset to children, for the little "shelves" were handy for all sorts of treasures. The upstairs partitions ended at six feet or so, with a two-by-four header at the top. Thus, daring youngsters could make one kerosene lamp do for two bedrooms, if no parents were upstairs. Of course it wasn't safe.

There were no clothes closets, but whatever garments required a hanger were easily hung on hooks screwed into the studs. As I remember it, nothing on the interior was painted, though everything was painted on the outside, including, annually, the porch floors and steps. The lack of inside paint seemed okay to me, for all the lumber was new, unlike Ganundawah, whose walls and floors were grey and splintery. I supposed ours would eventually look the same.

Just as the materials for building were brought in by the scow, so were the furnishing for the cottage. Getting them there must have been a horrendous job, for most of the furniture was oak, the most abundant second-hand furniture of the day.

There were oak dressers, beds, chairs, and an oak dining table that extended forever. There were a Morris chair, iron beds and oak beds, a porch glider, a gasoline-primed oil stove, rocking chairs, dining chairs, a "lounge," odd tables, and, of course a potty-chair. The scow, Daddy, and whomever was pressed into service got them there and put them in place. Well, the scow's job ended once things got on land. Daddy's and the "whomevers'" did not.

1996, Grace Forster Russ
The Lake!!! is a 137 page soft cover book available for $8.00 plus $2.00 postage and handling from P.O. Box 88, Ellenburg Depot, NY 12395.
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