Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Latest Thousand Islands Sun article, My love affair with boats published 7-26-16


Friday, May 06, 2016

Original article from The Thousand Islands Sun, April 30, 2016

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Bench ‘o’ Knowledge, no reserved seating

New Blog here. Haven’t time to enter anything yet. Will post TI Sun Article next

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Thousand Islands Sun has graciously published some of my pieces on growing up in Clayton, NY on the St. Lawrence River. With the permission of the publisher I am re publishing them here, mostly as PDF copies of the printed piece, but some as they were originally submitted. There were some minor editorial changes in the latter, but none significant to the story. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Rock Island Light, 2001


My favorite house in Clayton

(Published as "My Youth On the River")
   My Youth On the River (see Ship Grounds at Clayton, NY for photos)

(For some reason I did not make a copy of the printed piece, and there are names missing from this copy of the draft.)

Sunday, March 01, 2015

I submitted this piece to The Thousand Islands Sun, and it was published Feb. 18th, 2015. I hope this reaches an audience of non subscribers

 I've been having fun with Google Maps Street View in Clayton. From age ten to eighteen this house was my home, where I lived with my parents, Robert and Ruth Charles. I loved this house. The Foxes bought it after we moved to Syracuse after Dad retired as principal of Clayton Central School. As far as I know they are still enjoying it.

 After we moved here from our rented home on Beecher Street my mother hired Mr. Wiley to upgrade the kitchen and bathroom, and add a bath and a half so my grandmother could come and live with us. I followed Mr. Wiley around while he did the remodeling my Mom wanted; learned a lot about carpentry from just watching that gentle man. Probably he found me a nuisance, but he never let on.
I counted my paper route money out on my bed in the little bedroom on the first floor, until my grandma moved into it. Then I moved upstairs to the room in the back, facing the railroad tracks.
My favorite house in Clayton

 I Recuperated from chicken pox at eighteen in the room with the little window above the porch; heard Doctor Pilpel tell my Mom I might not recover, my fever was so high. There was a question about the future ability to father children, which turned out all right as Carol and I have two, and five wonderful grandkids. I did miss the CCS Class of 1960 trip to New York City, though.
Bryce Baker and I spent a lot of time in the silver maple tree that preceded the small one pictured on the right by the driveway. A great climbing and sitting tree, it was as big as or bigger than the one on the left, which my Dad planted after a storm took down the one it replaced. He paid me to take out the stump, which was just north (left) of the big one in the picture. The new one was a little smaller than the tree on the right is now.

 I learned from my Dad how to use a double bitted ax, and managed to get the stump out, roots and all, blisters and all. One blade for roots in the dirt, shovel the dirt, pry the root up, chop with sharpest side, rotate, chop with duller side, repeat. Persevere every day for an hour after school for a month and Bob's your uncle, the root comes out!
Just in front of that present day big tree was a seven foot section of iron railroad rail embedded in concrete, with an iron ring at the top. My Dad said it was used to tether horses in the days before cars. I knew there were others like it in town, some fancier but no sturdier, so I had no reason to disbelieve him. He paid me to dig it out also. Bryce and I couldn't break off all of the concrete with Dad's 3 pound sledge; but we got it out, put it my rusty old Radio Flyer wagon and hauled it to the dump (the present site of the skating rink/Lions Club ball field park) where Bruce Ackerman paid us a small sum for the scrap iron. We split the profit 50/50.
I learned to drive my Brother Dick's stick shift Plymouth on Graves St. Back out of the driveway, down the hill to the cheese factory, around their loop drive, back up the hill, and do it again. He made me take my test on it in Watertown. Would not let me take it until I could shift perfectly and crawl up and down the hill in first and reverse without hesitating. I drove nothing but sticks for fifty years afterward except for company cars.

 This is how it looked when we lived there in 1959. If you “drive” up Graves Street on Google, you can't see it now for the trees. Of course, “real time” being today, February 9, 2015, you might not be able to see up the street for other reasons; like snow, as it was the night before this storm in 1959.

 This photo was taken after a major snow and ice storm in 1952. My Mom told us not to leave the neighborhood because power lines were down everywhere. Our neighbor, Bill Lafountain (Mr. Lafountain to me) was a Niagara Mohawk Lineman, supervisor. When it did this sort of thing he was away from home a lot.

In the lower left you can see my Dad's snow covered '49 ford. He parked it that way to be sure it could get out. Of course he didn't need to because we lived less than a block from Clayton Central. I doubt he could have gone very far on those roads anyway, because we did not have snow tires or chains.

 In the center you can see the big silver maple we used to climb. Its branches are bowed almost to the ground. Just to the right in the background you can see the trunk of the smaller (but still large) maple that Dad had to cut down a few years later because of rot and the ice damage in '52. It's the tree whose stump removal paid for my new English bike in 1955.

 I had a hand me down fat tired red Schwinn, no gears, Bendix brakes and pretty worn out. I really wanted the black Raleigh 3 speed I saw at Gonseth's bike shop, and this stump removal got it for me as a 13th birthday gift from my parents, paid for out of my savings and my Grandma's contribution. I delivered papers with it as a substitute paper boy out of Merle Daly's smoke shop (I think I covered every route in town) and rode it back and forth to work at McCormic’s for four summers.

 In the background behind the car is the other Grave's house. Ours was the Peter Graves house, built in the late 1800's according to the wooden letters in the concrete front steps. I think the letters are still there, but the wood is long gone. Next door was the Tiffany home. North of our lot was a vacant field, often sown to timothy, to which I was violently allergic in the growing season! Just north of that was the concrete block cheese factory, built about the same time we moved. On hot summer days, if the wind was just right and the tanker hadn't come by yet, you got a pretty good whiff of the whey tank that sat just south of their driveway. Some days you could smell the Limburger cheese they made as well. I never have been able to eat that.

 The photo with the boy petting the cat the cat was taken in the then updated kitchen of the house, with the door to the mudroom in the background. The boy is Bryce Baker, my best friend through school at CCS and long after. Bryce passed away a few years back. I miss him.

 The cat in the picture was Rusty, who lived happily to a ripe old age of 18. Once, when we were about 15, Rusty tangled with a king snake in the yard next door where Mr. Tiffany had a hen house, with a large manure pile next to it, occupied by that snake. We heard Rusty yowling, and when we went to look we found him wrapped in the black coils of the snake, which had to be 5 or 6 feet long. We didn't want to kill the snake as they are good at keeping varmints under control, but it was killing my cat! We got shovels from the back cellar entrance and whacked at its head until it let go. It was one of those times you wanted to have your camera at hand, because people never believed us, but I didn't really have time to run in the house and get mine.

 Another time my brother's friend, Bill Carpenter, came by with his beagle. The dog treed Rusty in that big maple in the photo. Rusty skinned up that tree easily, and sat out on a branch that overhung the driveway. The dog stood under the branch, baying up at the cat enthusiastically. After about 5 minutes of that, the cat calmly dropped the seven feet or so off the branch right onto the beagle's back and hung on with his claws. The dog turned around in circles for a few seconds, and then went ki-yi-ing up the dirt road south of our house for about 200 feet before Rusty calmly jumped off into the grass at the side of the road. Dog never bothered him again.

 That cat had nine lives, I believe. One fall my Dad and I were scything the long grass in the large back yard behind the house and Rusty could be heard meowing strangely on the other side of the cow pasture fence. We went to look and that cat, which was a large yellow orange tiger, had a buck rabbit in his mouth nearly as large as he was!

 He was making the strange noise because he couldn't open his mouth or that rabbit would get away. We made him turn it loose. It was quite a lot worse for the wear, but had gotten a few kicks in with the claws on its powerful hind legs, and probably a few bites. It wasn't long after that Rusty developed skin ulcers, and they became infected. Bryce and I had to put him in a big box and drive him to Watertown to be treated. The vet said we really needed to put him down, as he was too sick to stay with us anymore. I had rarely seen Bryce so sad. We had both grown up with that cat, and we were very silent on the ride home.

Bryce Baker in the middle of icy Graves St., whey tank to his left

 We also had a pure bred collie dog when I was supposed to be old enough to take care of one. We got him at what today would probably be considered a wildcat breeder, but back then they were good, carful folks who loved dogs, and bred them to sell, but only a few at a time. Mike (Prince Michael on the pedigree papers) was a typical pure breed collie; very affectionate and loyal to a fault, but exitable. When I was in high school he started coming to the door by the music room, and patiently waiting for me to come out. If someone let him in he would either come to my homeroom door or go to the office where my Dad was usually to be found. That always meant a quick trip home for me to get him shut in the house until school let out.

 The back door shown in the picture with Bryce Baker petting the cat led to a mud room where boots and outdoor clothes, laundry detergent, snow shovel (in winter) and a big laundry tub were kept. Twice my mother had to give Mike a tomato juice bath after he tangled with a skunk while guarding the back yard at night from such critters. Sometimes he came home covered head to tail in manure smelly mud from the pond next door where the dentists' office is now. He was fond of chasing the cows in that pasture, and we finally had to put him on a cable lead with a wire running from the house to a pole so that he would stop chasing after things. It did not make the stock owner happy to have him chase his cows either!

 It's funny to drive by on a well paved street, past the dentists' office and the fire house, right on up to East Line Road. Back when we lived there the paved road ended about 70 feet south of our driveway. It was rutted and big sharp rocks stood up in the holes that could cut your tires, or flatten bike tires if you hit them.

 The Calumet fire team used to come roaring up the street to the hydrant across from our house and practice hooking hoses to it. Carol and I lived at French Creek Marina for a few years back in the early part of this century, and could hear the roaring of engines as they did a much more sophisticated version of that, and still do today.
I often wish I could live in Clayton in the summer (I don’t know if I could ever take the winters there now!) but it is not possible. We do love to visit though, and even though Carol was born in Rochester she, through force of habit since I keep taking her back, has grown to love it there as well. But never in the winter! We love to see the pictures in the Thousand Island Sun, but that's as close as we want to get to a River winter!

Joel Charles,
Cumming, Georgia, 2015

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Castle That Disappeared.

A few years back, while we were visiting an old friend from high school (Clayton Central, Class of 60), she happened to show us a framed photo of Calumet Castle. Since it is one of my favorite memories, we had an interesting discussion about the origin of the photo. I believe she found it in a flea market, and the lady who was selling it asked her if she knew the history of the photo, or at least the castle depicted in it.

Of course she did, and informed them that she had grown up on the St. Lawrence, and was not only very familiar with its history, but had grown up accompanying her father on fishing trips, many of which took place right under the castle itself when it still stood.. It appeared that the photo had the tower in the wrong place, and I remarked that I thought it was a mirror image, or a photographic reversal of the original post card. We discussed this and many other things "River Rats" would be interested in, and Carol and I left for our home in Arizona shortly afterward.

We have since moved to Georgia, and still travel to the 1000 Islands as often as possible. My wife was born in Rochester, but has no ties to the city anymore, and we actually spent five summers living in Clayton, where I grew up. I have kept in touch with my friend, Carolyn for many years, and we are looking forward to seeing her and other old friends this summer. In the course of discussing that, and the various painting projects I have been working on in the last year, Carolyn became curious about the photo. This generated a series of emails, and has resulted in some interesting research, mostly on her part. She has an extensive collection of Calumet history, and decided to get them out and examine them. To quote the first email:

         "I removed the Calumet Castle picture from its frame and (Scanned it). I was able to flip it to reflect what the original postcard looked like. I also played a little bit with the sharpness and color. These photos are labeled Calumet Castle Right and Calumet Castle enhanced.   The original photo without the matte is 6 1/2" X 10". I also took photos of the original and you can see the matte.  these are a little crisper and show a little more detail of the castle granite structure.

Carolyn's Postcard Photo

           I suspect that the castle front steps faced more downriver towards the Bridge.  If that is true, it would explain why the Water Tower was on the right in the original post card.   However, if the castle faced more to the Village dock in Rotary park, it would seem more normal for those of us who viewed it from there, for the Water Tower to be on the left.  I suppose if there was a site map of the origin of the castle to the island itself, it would clarify this theory.

          At any rate.  you can add these photos to your collection of "castles on the St. Lawrence" for a possible future project. If you would like, I can bring the original to Clayton in June  ..."

Well she indeed did more research, and this was the result:

         "I am a dog with a bone!!!!!  I just spent the last hour, searching for the Rex Ennis book on C.G. Emery that I couldn't find yesterday!!!!!  In it is the attached scanned copy of an aerial photo of the ;island with the castle still intact.  Considering the orientation of the castle steps, my framed picture is indeed WRONG!!!!  The tower IS on the RIGHT!!!!! and the West Wing would have been on the Left!  I found a satellite image of the island and the footprint of the castle is visible, with the placement of the front steps pointing directly at the down bound end of the little long island that was probably once a shoal, That angle points the castle orientation directly to the pointed end of Washington Island.  All are attached.  Mystery solved!!!! "

Well, part of it anyway. I wrote back, saying:

         "You indeed are a research tiger! With these I only have one mystery to solve. The only thing that isn't clear is the area over the door. Balcony? White slash is  .  .  .  what? I may be able to work that out when I see it again. Also, I might have a sat photo that will shed some light on the orientation.

         My memories of the castle are fuzzy, as I rarely saw it complete up close. We fished on the little flower garden island’s lee side (downriver from the castle, about where they launch fireworks from now) and because our boat was not large, and my Dad was careful of the water he was in, we always approached his fishing spot from downbound, heading back upstream and drifting to different spots. Thus our closest view was of the downbound side, which afforded us with a great view of what was to me at the time, a mysterious harbor below the castle, with a tall tower to our right as we looked upbound. In fact, the tower was across the harbor, west of the castle. If you looked at it from Clayton it appeared to be on the same side of the island. It’s not. There may have actually been no connection between the main island and the point on which the tower sits. I don’t know. I think they may have been two separate islands, or close at one time. Maybe they still are, connected by a bridge or causeway. Don’t know. I’d love the chance to walk it and find out! I have not been on the island since I was ten, when my brother and a friend of his took me there.

         The harbor is behind this ridge (see arrow 1 in photo below), with tower on the west side of the harbor. Most of the other structures around it were probably built later than this photo. Looking at it from Clayton, it appeared to be to the right (northwest or downriver) of the castle, which is why I felt that your postcard photo was a mirror image. Also, the trees filled in, and have since been removed on the Clayton side. The star down near the water's edge in the photo is, I believe, where the summer flower garden is seen now.

         A second arrow points at the “front” of the castle which clearly would have looked like it was facing Clayton, with the larger porch and white stairs. There is a legend that says Mrs. Emory wanted the village fathers to either move all the buildings back from the waterfront or remodel them all to get rid of the porches and other protuberances seen from the river side, spoiling her view. Don’t know how true that is, though. In the black and white photo I have drawn an annotated arrow showing that the “front” of the castle is not the face shown in the photo, but rather the side with the smaller porch  (arrow #3 in the color photo)
         In the black and white photo I have drawn an annotated arrow showing that the “front” of the castle is not the face shown in the photo, but rather the “smaller” porch on the side (arrow #3 in the color photo). The west wing the author refers to is at the “back” of the castle, with two small turrets. I believe this may have contained the ballroom, but memory is fuzzy. I only saw inside it once, and I was 10.... There is a 3rd, smaller, porch back there along what would be the south wall. I would love to do a painting of this side as well, but here there are ownership/copywrite issues with the photo.

         I was never really sure, until you sent me these, of what it looked like whole. The black and white photo is the side from which my Mom, Dad and I approached the fire after rounding the end of Wolfe Island, returning from a fishing trip in Canada. Flames were shooting hundreds of feet in the air, and the wind was blowing the smoke north and east, I believe. Even if they had had the “Last Chance” and a couple of other fireboats on hand, there would have been no hope of saving the structure, It was an inferno, fully involved, as my fireman friends say."

         Strange thing is, I remember it most vividly as a ruin being blasted down, with the last thing remaining being this grand porch, like the grin on the Cheshire Cat, as the rest of the ruin disappeared. It took a couple of weeks to get it down, with regular “thud” and “boom” noises coming to us seconds after the puff of dust and smoke from the blasting. I used to sit for hours watching through my Granddad’s high powered military binoculars, making it look close enough to touch. I hear and see that in my mind every time we sit by the river and look at the island. Many of the people sitting around me seemed to think the place would come down like a house of cards with the blasting. It was, after all, a mere burned out shell. Well it was pretty well built for a shell! All of the combustible material was gone, and the iron/steel beams were melted to slag in the ruins, but it didn’t go away easily. Granite castles don’t die easily!

          Thanks for all the photos. Ruining the surprise here, but after I finish the Antique Boat Museum piece I am just starting, I’m going to paint this."

And paint it I did. The way I paint is to put on canvas what I see in a photo and from memory. Since this was to be a painting of a picture postcard from the early 20th century, I had little detail (see photo above) to work with since the postcard had so accurately depicted it, but without that fine detail you would get in a modern photo. Thus the painting is not greatly detailed when it comes to leaves and finer points of the castle's exterior woodwork, trees and features of the landscaping. Only the positioning of the card and the proportions were available, and that's what I painted. I been told (by no less an art critic than my wife, who has been very helpful in my earlier works with effective criticism and help with detail) that the painting lacks detail, and looks "unfinished."

So it does, and so it will remain. It is a painting of a postcard, not of reality, as the real thing and "real" photos of it are hard to obtain. I don't intend to change it, and if it remains unsold, it will remain on our wall as a reminder of my youth, and a glorious opportunity missed by the village of Clayton, despite the efforts and desire of Mr. Vincent Dee to see it as a future attraction. It is my belief that Vince's later tireless and successful efforts to kindle interest in refurbishing Boldt Castle were grounded in his earlier wish to see Calumet made into what Boldt lately has become. I wish he had succeeded in as grand a way with Calumet. Imagine the view of this magnificent castle from the grand new hotel that occupies the old Frink site. What an attraction if would have been!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

If you like water, water features, and just an all around nice place to visit and patronize the gift ship, you'll love this place. We like to just go there and walk the paths, look at the koi ponds, falls, and flowers. It changes with the seasons, so it never gets old. We'd love to be better supporters of this local business (Atlanta Metro area) but our HOA rules would not allow a koi pond, I fear, nor would our finances!

Check it out here: