By Michael StrasserApril 26, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 26, 2019) -- "Having more fun than a barrel of monkeys," said Lyle E. Bylow with a big smile, while climbing back onto the bus.
Bylow was among roughly 60 community members who attended the Fort Drum History of Industry Tour on April 24, a sprawling tour of sites throughout the post's training grounds and nearby locales that had once supported several thriving industries in the North Country.
For many of the attendees who grew up in this area, the tour was both nostalgic and educational. For Bylow, it was also entertaining, as he took every opportunity to chat with staff members and reminisce with other guests.
"I like to look the old country over when I can - I've hunted every inch of Fort Drum," he said. "I enjoy just driving around the old roads. So, yeah, this time someone else gets to do the driving."
Bylow, who turns 87 next month, said that his mind was filled with memories of the "old days" the night before the tour. He shared a lot of them with fellow visitors and the tour guides from the Fort Drum Natural Resources and Cultural Resources staff.
Heather Wagner, who manages the Cultural Resources education and outreach program, said that it is the exchange of stories that makes the day worthwhile.
"What's really special about these tours is that I get to hear from everybody about their history and their family's history and why Fort Drum, historically, is significant in their lives," she said.
Wagner was particularly interested in sharing some of her own stories when the tour stopped at Deferiet, where her family had once lived and worked. The village was once home to the most modern paper mill in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century. By 1922, the village was company-owned with 1,500 residents living in homes and apartments owned by St. Regis Paper Company.
"Even the fire department was paid for by the company, which made sense because paper and the processes to make paper are pretty flammable," Wagner said.
The mill closed its business in 2004 and was demolished in 2011.
When the tour stopped at Conservation Pond, what was once known as Buck Creek Area Park, Cliff Gates and other visitors shared memories of this local treasure.
"I learned how to swim right here," Gates said. "At that time, the bus from Carthage through the Boys and Girls Club would take people out here. There weren't any trees like there are now. This was a softball field, a playground and parking area."
Wagner said that the Army Corps of Engineers had built the park, which included a bathhouse and a band pavilion close to the beach.
"We didn't know much about this until two years ago when a lady had shown us her scrapbook that had articles dedicating this area to the community," she said.
But what Gates really came to see was another new stop on the tour. Gates had once hunted and snowmobiled in the former village of Alpina, one of five National Register of Historic Places located at Fort Drum.
"Up there, the deer were twice as big," he said. "And then, on the other end of post, that's where we'd get our dandelions, berries and apples - you name it."
Upon exiting the bus, Gates immediately went to higher ground as others carefully crossed a slightly shaky floating bridge over Indian Pond. He wanted to get his bearings, because it had been 30 years since he had last been in the area.
He used to know all of the roads and to whose farms they would lead. Now, new gravel roads and other construction formed a different landscape than how he remembered it.
"I'm a little disillusioned," he said. "I didn't take any pictures, because I want to remember it as I had when I was a kid. When I get back home, I'll get into the photos of Sterlingville and North Wilma because that's how I remember it."
Wagner explained that the reason Cultural Resources staff teamed with Natural Resources staff on this tour is because the development of industries is connected closely with the environment.
"The industries of northern New York depended on exploiting the natural resources in the area," she said. "There's a reason why humans occupied the land, and that's because they saw what it could produce. These were such great natural resources long before we started mining, farming or before we put in saw mills, and it continues to be that way today, thanks to the Natural Resources team here."
The Natural Resources guides informed visitors about their forest management program and various recreational opportunities available to community members - from hunting and fishing to bird watching and berry picking.
The tour also featured stops at Slocum's Mills - a 200-year-old site where the remnants of a saw mill and grist mill still exist - and Quarry Pond, the original home of the Crystal Cave, which had been reconstructed as the Sterlingbush Calcite Cave on display in the New York State Museum in Albany for nearly 70 years.
Martin Schrodt has been on several Fort Drum history tours before, and he said that it never gets dull.
"They keep adding something different to each one, so even today I could learn something new that I didn't know a year ago," he said.