By ROBERT STANYON
Special to the Express
SPECULATOR - 'The Quiet Years' were a time predating things we take for granted today. It was a time when you could step outside your door and experience a silence of great intensity, a time without electricity, radio, TV, automobiles, trucks, or airplanes.
My grandmother, Minnie Patterson Stanyon, wrote of her experiences in those early years in Newton's Corners, later Speculator, in her book, "The Quiet Years" (published 1965 and 1994). In the 1940s and 1950s I remember her as a large woman, quite elderly, with white hair and wearing print dresses with an apron and white oxford shoes.
In the later years, with her eyesight and hearing failing, she would exercise each day, weather permitting, by rocking in a rocking chair on her front porch next to Grace Methodist Church. Those who knew her might stop by to chat.
She was outgoing and a storyteller in that old tradition that was necessary before mass media, when entertainment was often just sitting around in the evening making conversation. She later wrote those stories down for us, her grandchildren, although we remember her telling them when the inclination came to her.
She was born 140 years ago in a log cabin in Osceola, N.Y. June 29, 1873, the youngest of four children, two of whom had not survived. A brother, age 4, and a sister, age 2, had died before Minnie was born after eating poisonous plant "seeds" they found in a field near the cabin.
Living was primitive by today's standards but accepted as quite usual in her day. There was a bedroom on the ground floor of the cabin, which also had a central room and kitchen.
Upstairs was a loft containing two large rooms where the children slept. Cord beds were covered with a ticking stuffed with oat or buckwheat straw and sometimes cornhusks, with a featherbed mattress laying over it. This bedding was stirred and shaken each day to fluff it up for sleeping that night.
Drinking water was carried from a spring some distance from the cabin, lighting was provided by candle or oil lamp, and a large wood stove provided heat. Cooking was done on a wood stove with an elevated oven.
They kept two milk cows and chickens for their subsistence table. Entry to the cabin was through a woodshed, which also contained a separate room for milk processing.
The shed became a dining room in warm weather -- well away from the hot stove. The red schoolhouse was a quarter of a mile away over fields frozen in winter and mucky during thaws and in the spring. Minnie often traveled to school by snowshoe.
TO NEWTON'S CORNERS
Minnie's older brother, Elmer Patterson, went to Newton's Corners, now Speculator, in 1885 at age 26 in search of spruce gum to pick, process and sell to factories in New England that made chewing gum.
He did pretty well and managed to purchase the Clark Satterlee property in Newton's Corners, which included a house at the corners next to what is now Zeiser's Oak Mt. Inn on State Route 30, and 63 acres of land. Elmer sent for his parents, William and Eliza, and 15-year-old Minnie, who all arrived in town in July 1888.
Clark Satterlee, the previous owner of the property, stayed on as a border for the remaining three years of his life. There was a roof over their heads and food, although simple fare, on the table.
THE WELL GOES DRY
That first summer was a dry one and the well failed, so Minnie had to walk a quarter of a mile to fetch water from a spring at the foot of Holmes Hill (now Sturges Mountain). She learned needlecraft, like most girls, and attended classes at the village school.
Sander's "Fifth Reader" provided lengthy written passages the children had to memorize; they learned the 'three Rs' and the proper way to diagram a sentence. My grandmother could recite from memory long passages from the "Fifth Reader" throughout her life.
She also earned 5 cents a pound for cleaning spruce gum collected by brother Elmer. He later sold it for about 60 cents a pound, but a nickel still counted for something in the 1880s.
BECAME A TEACHER
Children, according to Minnie, were expected, during adolescence, to assume responsibility for earning a living for the family group. Minnie began teaching at age 17 at the Page Street school, where her first class consisted of 11 students aged 5 to 14 all in one room.
They were a nice group and remained loyal to their teacher throughout their lifetimes.
Later she taught a term at Indian Lake and learned at the end of the term that they had no funds to pay her. She waited five months for a subscription to be taken to settle up. There was no state aid or budget accountability then; the community had to take direct responsibility for the cost of educating their children.
MARRIAGE & CHILDREN
She met her future husband, William Stanyon, in 1893 while teaching at the West River School in Wells. They were married in 1894 and moved into a new house and livery in Wells that William built for them.
Minnie and William raised four children but had two other boys who did not survive more than a few days after birth. Their single stone marker in the Wells Cemetery reads, "Babies, Sons of Wm & Minnie Stanyon, born April 3, 1896, died April 3, 1896; born May 7, 1897, died May 9, 1897."
The death of a child is a terrible thing to bear, and William and Minnie felt these losses dearly, but in the late 19th century it was a risk of parenthood that was always present. They persevered and their next four children thrived to adulthood.
They sent three of them to college. Mildred Stanyon Colvin, the youngest, marveled how they managed that, as she finished college during the Great Depression.
Sadly, the oldest boy, Dwight, was killed in a hunting accident north of Speculator in 1926, causing great grief for all who knew and loved him.
The house that William built was moved during the 1940s, when the road through Wells was straightened. It still stands next to the Seabiscuit Inn.
The small memorial park in lower Wells with the rock sculpture by John Van Alstine stands in what was their front yard.
BACK TO SPECULATOR
William and Minnie purchased the Patterson home and property in Speculator from Elmer in 1900 and William built two other houses that they rented to summer tourists. The main one still standing is the house next to Grace United Methodist Church, where they lived after William's retirement. That house was finished in 1912.
Minnie, who had asthma, found the air quality superior in Speculator so the family spent summers there and winters in Wells. Until World War II, they would rent whichever houses they could for the summer and stayed in whichever house was vacant.
One summer everything was rented out, and Mildred recalled the family living in a tent behind the Satterlee House on Stanyon Park Drive.
One advantage to living in Speculator was the opportunity to enjoy the same pastimes the tourists enjoyed. The family kept a rowboat on the lake and Minnie liked to row across and back for the pleasure of it.
In August, Minnie would load the children into the rowboat and go across the lake to harvest blueberries, and in September head down the Sacandaga to harvest the cranberries growing between the lake and the Upper Bay. They would time it so William could pick them up at the public beach at the end of the day.
Once each summer the entire family would go on an overnight camping trip, pitch a tent, and enjoy being together in the woods. It was Minnie's task to organize and provision the outing and William took charge of the campsite setup. The children assisted both parents.
THE GENERAL STORE
For many years they kept a general store at the southern end of town in Wells. It was a good location near the Hosley and van Arnum hardwood mill.
Cash was always appreciated but barter was not uncommon; credit was not obtained with a card but through trust. Merchants generally knew every family and sometimes had to help a neighbor out.
Logging and lumbering were major contributors to the economy, and the entire town underwent great hardship in 1917 when the hardwood mill burned to the ground. It was later reorganized as the Adirondack Lumber Company and a new mill was built at the same location, but many local citizens and businesses had suffered.
Living in Adirondack communities was always a delicate balance between survival and entrepreneurial spirit, which still holds true today.
LIFE WAS HARD WORK
Cooking three meals a day for a family of hungry children was a time consuming job without modern appliances, but for Minnie that was a large part of her life. She had one day off, Sunday, when William prepared and cooked Sunday dinner for the family.
Church services were in the morning and evening with the dinner in between. Laundry took two full days of intense labor, requiring both parents to work the manual washing machine and wringer and then air dry, iron and fold the clothing.
When I think of the elderly woman I recall as a child I can still see her as the organizer for the family, the one who managed life so that all could live in harmony. She ran a tight ship and was fortunate to maintain her sense of humor and sharp mind nearly until the end, when she died at the age of 90.