No More Ghost Towns
By Carol W. LaGrasse
The Cody Place sits on a grassy hill overlooking the valley known as West Stony Creek, with forested mountains in every direction. The affectionately maintained historic cabin is a welcome sight when a traveler on the road below enters the clearing. But the state is scheduled to eradicate all traces of the building after a forty-year lease on life runs out on December 31, 2014.
In the region where West Stony Creek is located in the forest of western Warren County in northern New York, many of the old reads, plus a few little settlements, have gradually faded into nature as the state acquired land there for the Adirondack Forest Preserve beginning in the early twentieth century. A similar fate awaits the Cody Place.
The land where the Cody Place is located went through a number of changes in title as the years passed, and finally came into the hands of the Blue Spruce Valley Land Company, which was the last private owner of the property. On November 27, 1974, the land company, which is located today at the Lake George Steamboat Company, sold two large parcels totaling 337.18 acres to the state for a total of $135,000, reserving for a limited time "right to use and occupy" a four-acre parcel within the 240.07-acre larger parcel of the two deeded parcels.
The little parcel is known as the Cody Place after the name of the man who has leased the parcel, which is where the cabin is located. This lease-holder of many years is John Cody of Lake George, who has lived there much of the time all these decades, relishing the beauty and peace as well as hosting many gatherings of his wide circle of friends.
The beloved two-story cabin with its comfortable porch is the last remaining building in the area of the historic Barber Place in West Stony Creek. Strung along a few miles of isolated road through West Stony Creek was once a loose cluster of small farms where families worked the valley and gentle hillsides during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The well-crafted log building is located in the town of Thurman just three miles north of the border of the town of Stony Creek. In fact, the only way to drive to the place that is confusingly named West Stony Creek is over a narrow unpaved road from the actual town of Stony Creek.
When my husband Peter and I, with our friend Susan Allen, drove the resilient pickup truck to West Stony Creek after this year's mud season was finally over, we were fortunate to have no difficulties, considering that cell service is non-existent in most of this part of Warren County. After passing the town line and entering Thurman, the traveler faces the ironic situation that the road is a good distance from any other roads in Thurman, as well as the Town of Thurman Highway Department. As a result, the road is so erratically maintained that the three miles north from the Stony Creek line are memorable not only for the beautiful views, but for the constant jarring and erratic navigating around the ruts and protruding rocks.
As the clear afternoon drew late, we were rewarded with the site of a peaceful clearing nestled in the mountains. A cabin crafted of squared-off logs sat snugly in a clump of old pines on top of the grassy hill to our right. After a short walk up the windswept hill, we soon enjoyed the sweeping view from the cabin across the field to the forested mountains.
But the half hour trip to reach West Stony Creek that short distance from the town line gave a hint of the winter isolation back when my elderly friend Jessie Osterhout was young. A few years before she died, Jessie told me that at the end of one winter, during which she had never left the community, she resolved to relieve her loneliness by hiking to the main road in Stony Creek, where there is a place known as Knowlhurst with a flourishing little Baptist church to this day. But it was still mud season, and she turned back, exhausted. Her tale left a sense of the grit and perseverance that the families must have exerted to build and keep their little settlement.
Today, from the sunny pasture in front of the Cody cabin, the view seems as though it will always be there. Down the road in the valley ahead are two more hunting club camps that were once homesteads of West Stony Creek at the location called Fullers: the S. L. Hunting Club and, at the very end of the road, the Dog and Pup Club. These are located on the only remaining privately owned land in West Stony Creek.
In addition to the farmhouses, barns, and other buildings, the isolated community of West Stony Creek once boasted a general store at the Barber Place, which the late William Liebl of Stony Creek once told me was known as the trading post. Bill seemed to still love the Barber Place, where he and his wife Patty hosted snowmobilers at their camp during the sixties, renting from my old friends Marge and Jack Baker. Marge and Jack ran a hunting camp there into the seventies.
It was Bill who first told me that the land on which the general store and the rest of the buildings in the Barber Place were located was acquired by the State of New York to add to the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Typical of its policy in West Stony Creek, about a week after the sale, the state piled up all the buildings, including the house and trading post, and burned them, Bill told me vividly about seven years ago. Only the Cody Place was spared. The forest would grow up and cover the traces of the once tight-knit settlement.
Somewhere on the original homestead property that includes the Cody Place lie the foundations of the structures in the community known as the Barber Place in earlier times. The locations of the gravestones and remains of the houses and other buildings are known to few. The state purged the traces of all that the men and women did to make a homestead, raise their children, and spend their entire lives producing the sustenance for their needs from food to fuel to shelter. This is typical of the State of New York. Even their gravesites are not memorialized, although state law requires that cemeteries be kept open and with good access roads.
The state has not even erected a historic plaque to commemorate the West Stony Creek that was. The Cody Place sits atop the sweeping pasture as a sentinel on behalf of the people who made their homes there or later came to camp and hunt at the Barber Place.
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