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“Middle Saranac 1”

A Middle Saranac Lake lean-to look-back collection of memories, artifacts, legends and photos.

Before Bull Rush Bay’s Site 63
There was
“Middle Saranac 1”
Photo hanging inside the NYSDEC lock tender’s cabin between Lower & Middle Saranac Lake.
(Origins unknown. Circa 1950’s I believe)

My thanks to the NYSDEC lock tenders who appreciate my family’s attachment to this place and allowed me to photograph it.

Site 63
Middle Saranac Lake
Bull Rush Bay

     My family first visited Middle Saranac Lake’s site 63 Bull Rush Bay in 1972.  

Middle Saranac Lake
Site 63
Bull Rush Bay
The lean-to I grew up with
Chronicled in my story “Those Cedar Logs”

The photo above depicts the lean-to that was there by that time. It quickly became the cedar log summer home I grew up with. It was slightly weathered by the time we first met, so it clearly had already been there awhile.

     I clearly remember during my earliest visits to Bull Rush Bay there being a long narrow wooden dock jutting out from the left shoreline. It was on the lefthand side as one faced the lean-to, nestled in amongst the cedar trees and shoreline rocks, about halfway into Bull Rush Bay. We used it to keep our boat off the shallow sand beach, a very useful boating resource when the lake’s water levels drop off in midsummer.  

     A lot of folks have disputed my memory, but the dock’s metal anchor post is still visible, wedged between two big shoreline rocks, if one knows where to look.

The old Bull Rush Bay dock anchor
Wedged between shoreline rocks

There was also a dock in the bay out by 1st island at that time.  I could take any folks who dispute me out skin diving and show them the old metal posts. They still lay rusting on the lake’s bottom.

     In addition to the current Bull Rush Bay lean-to, the Martha Reben lean-to (recently replaced), and the lean-to at the far end of Weller Pond, there was also at one time a lean-to at the beachfront coming in from the Ampersand walk-in trail. The clearing and concrete fireplace base are still visible there. My family used to camp at that site. It was a great spot for a working family with kids, with the highway parking lot a quick ten-minute walk away, and the shallow beach at our fingertips. Dad used to walk in from camp to drive to work during the day while we camped.

     It was a perfect set-up. Mom didn’t have to worry about us kids while dad was at work, because the sandy beach water there is so shallow. My brother Ray and I could explore, swim and fish all we wanted, no life jackets required.

    Unfortunately, that lean-to was removed in the early 1980’s.  Camping is prohibited there now. Dad told me it was taken out because it had become a favorite teen keg party place. I graduated from Saranac Lake High School in 1981. I will not comment on any personal knowledge I may or may not have of such events. I’m not sure what the statute of limitations may be, and I’ve already got enough outstanding warrants.

     My family also camped at the Martha Reben lean-to a number of times.  There used to be a tribute plaque to her at that site. I was saddened to hear it disappeared when the lean-to was replaced.

The current Martha Reben Lean-to
Constructed circa Fall, 2020
Martha Reben’s commemorative plaque whereabouts remain unknown.

    Swimming out to “The Rock” at Martha Reben is how I earned my “no life jacket” merit badge from my dad.

(For more of that life event, I invite folks to read my story “Conquering the Rock”.)         

     For the most part though, the last fifty years to be exact, my family has pitched camp at site 63, the Bull Rush Bay lean-to.

Site 63
Bull Rush Bay
Middle Saranac Lake
The lean-to my family grew up with

     When we first camped there, there was no camping reservation system in place.  It was first come first served. Dad would go up after work one afternoon in our boat and put a cooler and a few camp items there to claim the site.

My dad was the NYSDEC Regional Director during that time period. I have also heard told that he might have, on occasion, when he had meetings in Warrensburg or Albany, had a DEC staff member claim the site for him. For those who would cry foul at such a notion I’d say A: “Rank had its privileges” and B: “That was a different era.”  

 To his credit, my father played a key role in instituting the camping reservation system that exists on the Saranac Chain of Lakes today.

     I have many great memories of that place. Far too many to document in one story. To read more of them, I invite folks to read the many other stories I have written, many of which have been published or appeared either in Adirondack Life Magazine, or The Adirondack Almanack. They are all free for the reading here on my blog.

     I crawled under the old Bull Rush Bay lean-to once. It was a pretty tight fit. Aside from mouse droppings and massive spiders, I found an old double headed ax and a two man saw blade. They were both rusty and pitted, but I salvaged them.

Two-man saw blade
Found under the Bull Rush Bay lean-to

     Once I got them cleaned up, I sharpened and re-handled the ax head. Based on the faintly visible brand labels I was able to approximately date it.

The axe head reads “PLUMB” on one side.

Double Headed “Plumb” axe
Found Under the Bull Rush Bay lean-to

From what I can tell, Plumb axes were manufactured from the early 1900’s until the early 1980’s. I suspect this axe and saw were used to construct either the Bull Rush Bay lean-to they were under, or the one before it, and left behind by its builders.

     I also found under there a single U.S. Wheat Penny. It is dated 1937.

1937 Wheat Cent
Found under the Bull Rush Bay Lean-to

Curiously enough, I once found a similarly dated cent, in a pouch full of coins, buried under the deacon’s log of the now extinct Livingston Point Lean-to near Mount Colden in the high peaks.

Coin Pouch found under the old Livingston Point Lean-to.
Read more on this treasure in:

“High Peaks Treasure at Livingston Pond”

     Now what are the chances, I asked myself, of finding two pennies, under two different lean-to sites, in two different parts of the Adirondacks, both bearing the same 1937 date?  Interestingly enough, that date coincides with the time period of the old depression era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program. My theory is, that CCC crews may have built the original lean-tos, and left pennies there buried under them, as some sort of memento.

     I even floated this theory by Historic Saranac Lake’s curator.

  She agreed that my theory was plausible.     

     Our family has also stumbled upon a number of camp dumps at the Bull Rush Bay lean-to site through the years. My nephew Forrest and his friends found one such dump behind the lean-to near some rocks one day. It was full of old bottles from the 1940’s and ‘50’s, including several Tupper Lake “Frenette Bros.” Coke and Orange Crush Bottles.

1940’s/’50’s bottles
Found behind the old Bull Rush Bay Lean-to

Two of them even ended up in Tupper Lake’s Heritage Museum.

One of the Frenette Bros bottles we found & donated to the Tupper Lake Heritage Museum

     I nosed around that Bull Rush Bay camp dump a bit more and found several old cast iron stove parts as well as an old gravity fed lead pipe water system leading down off the hill towards the lean-to.

Cast Iron Stove pans & parts
Found behind Bull Rush Bay lean-to

     I even found an old hatchet head there near the lean-to.  It reads “KEEN KUTTER Blue Brand” on one side. While I could not attach a specific date to it, The Keen Kutter brand began in the late 1800s. I believe the hatchet is quite vintage. I sharpened and re-handled it up in striped maple. I carry it with me in camp.  Who knows what stories it holds.  It’s one of my prized possessions.

My “Keen Kutter” hatchet
Found near the Bull Rush Bay Lean-to

      There is also our family’s legend of “The Lost Bull Rush Bay Car”. My sister-In-law recalls seeing it, as do other Saranac Lake natives familiar with the Bull Rush Bay lean-to. Apparently, half buried somewhere in the woods between the lean-to and the locks, is an old Model A car chassis, though despite my family’s repeated best efforts, we’ve never been able to find it again.

     I suspect it may actually be, or have been, the remains of a car chassis someone turned into a snow mobile of sorts. What I have found while searching that stretch of woods between the river and the locks, paralleling the river on the left side going downstream, are the remains of what was once clearly a cut trail, and several clearings that I firmly believe once held structures of some sort.

Old cut logs along what was once clearly a trail through the woods
Paralleling the river
Between the locks and Middle Saranac Lake

I suspect there was once a snowmobile trail coming up past the locks to Middle Saranac Lake along that same route.

The boating route to Middle Saranac Lake
Lock tender in action

Its remnants are still visible, for the few folks like me who know where to look.          

     That collection of artifacts, old trails and legends, in conjunction with the header photo to this story, showing an older lean-to version with doors on the sides, lead me to believe that at one point in time, folksmay have actually used that camp year-round, whether as a hunting or logging camp or…

     Who knows!

Maybe even as a hideout for a gang of Adirondack Outlaws.

     After more than half a century of faithful service, the Bull Rush Bay lean-to my family grew up with was replaced, as it had replaced the one that came before it.

The Bull Rush Bay Lean-to my family grew up with

A beautiful new version sits in its footprint, ready to shelter Adirondack camp history, legends and memories for generations to come.

The new Bull Rush Bay Lean-to
Creating Memories
Adirondack Outlaw Camp 2022
I wrote a story about construction of this lean-to titled:
“The Phoenix Rises”

I also sketched it.

My version of “Adirondack Scrimshaw.”
Hand sketched with my father’s hand-me-down jackknife.
On Artist’s Conk


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


(Author’s Endnote: This story appeared in the 6/26/23 online edition of The Adirondack Almanack.)