The only significant change made to the camp since 1947 was to update the wiring. Photographs courtesy of James Holway From the back The back door with Indian totem signs above the entry way The boat house Early 1900s, before the second story was added
Camp Ok-Aiyoka is one of the first camps on Lake Kiwassa, built about 1902. The name is a local Native American term meaning beautiful waters.
From Elma Holway, the present owner of the camp:
This was originally a one story camp with a screened in porch. In the late 1920s or early 30s a second story was added and the porch was added to the first floor by taking down the dividing wall and putting glass doors all across the original porch area of the main building. The side porch was retained as a screened in porch. The furniture and piano in the main room today are the same as are seen in early photos of the interior.
The camp meant everything to my late Mother. It was always her aim to see that the camp remained in the family and in the same "primitive" character that it had when she bought it. She spent many happy hours out at the camp. She swam by the hour, had church group meetings out there and most importantly enjoyed the family dinners for birthdays, summer holidays and for just the opportunity to socialize with friends and family. When she was in the nursing home dying with cancer she expressed her deep concern that she did not know what would happen to the camp. I assured her that I would do everything in my power to keep the camp in the family and available freely to the family and in its present nearly original state. My Mother knew that when I make a promise she could be sure that I will do everything in my power to fulfill it. That is now our greatest concern, to be able to keep the camp in the family, but with an ever increasing tax squeeze and the down turn in the economy, that hope is becoming ever more difficult for us, as it is for the average family all across the country.
What follows is a letter that was written by a Francis M. Harding on June 6, 1970 in response to a request for information about the early history of the area and the camp. Ms. Harding was the daughter of the original builder and owner of the camp. If nothing else, I am sure that you will find the letter to be most informative about how much our lifestyles and human environment has changed over the last hundred and eight years.
You have asked me to tell you about Lake Kiwassa and my early days there. As you undoubtably know, the original name of the lake was Lonesome Pond, a name that apparently was used on early records, as the original surveyor of the Adirondack region, Verplanck Colvin, in his Topographical Report for the period 1874 to 1879 states the he made of map of Lonesome Pond in 1877.
According to Mr. Donaldson’s History of the Adirondacks, the word Kiwassa was said to be the name of an Indian god of love. However, Mr. Donaldson goes on to say that very few of the names given to Adirondack lakes were the ones actually used by the Indians. Anyway, the name stuck, and Lonesome Pond became glamourized into Lake Kiwassa.
Sixty years is a long time to look back over, but when I allow myself to do so, the picture of the lake and of my girlhood summers spent there comes into surprisingly sharp focus, so I will try to bring some of it back on paper for you.
In 1902, the beginning of my association with Lake Kiwassa, the road to it from Saranac Lake was so narrow, hilly and rough that very few people used it. Not far from the lake, an even rougher road branched off to the west. This led to an old abandoned lumber camp on the south side of the lake that had been bought as a speculation by Mr. Ben Hall. This area was later acquired by Mr. W. C. Leonard, who later built two camps on it as rental property.
When my father, William Minshull, built, there were only two camps on the lake, both on the north side, on a rocky bluff. One was owned by a Col. Smith of St. Joseph, Mo., the other by a Maj. Kendall of Cleveland. There was no road around the lake to the camps, so the campers had to go by guideboat from a small dock at the end of the road from the village. There were no gasoline powered boats on the lake then. Groceries were delivered at the dock once a week by Sherrill, the leading village grocer, who apparently considered that once a week was often enough to travel the poor road.
Of course, all the groceries were important, with kerosene near the top in importance. This had to come on time, or we would be without lights, for we had no electricity.
When a delivery was made, the campers across the lake were notified by the blasts from a horn from the dock. A certain number of blasts meant groceries waiting, another number meant that someone wanted to get to the camps. When the wind was blowing from the wrong direction the communication system wasn’t too dependable!
This was the situation when my father bought a campsite a short distance south of the little dock, with a short section of fairly good sand beach. The land was bought, after much persuasion on father’s part from Milo Miller. At the same time, adjacent sites were bought by Mr. Alfred Donaldson, with whom father was associated in the Adirondack National Bank, and by a Mr. Sherwood, who was Mrs. Donaldson's uncle. The three families built at the same time. Our camp was between the Donaldson’s and the Sherwood’s. Just beyond the Donaldson camp a building was erected to serve as a dining room for all three families, with a kitchen and two bedrooms and bath for the help The four buildings were connected by a board walk. Each camp had its own boathouse and boats. We had a guideboat and a small square-sterned boat that could be powered with a portable electric motor operated by a storage battery. Father had two batteries, and would take a dead one to town for recharging at the electric plant while the other was in use. The battery would last for about one trip around the lake, and then had to be recharged.
The Donaldsons had a regular fair sized electric powered launch, of the type then widely used at Paul Smith's and other resorts. Although the cruising range of the Donaldson’s boat was adequate for trips to the village and to Lower Saranac Lake, by way of the river, the weight of the heavy batteries made the boat sit fairly deep in the river, and therefore highly vulnerable to the rocks and stumps in the shallow spots in both the outlet to the river and in the river itself. I distinctly remember the launch striking a rock on a trip to the Lower Lake. We were pretty well frightened, but luckily the rock was quite flat and we got off safely.
In spite of our remoteness from the village, we all had extremely happy summers at the lake. The three families formed a club called the Sher-Min-Don, we designed a pennant to fly over the camps and on our boats, and we even had our own club stationery. We fished, walked, rowed, and entertained those of our village friends who were brave enough to venture out over the bad road.
One of my regular jobs was picking raspberries at the old lumber camp for mother to use for making ice cream or for some other dessert or just for breakfast. When ice cream was made, my reward was the right to lick the dasher when it was removed from the freezer. Picking berries at the lumber camp was always somewhat of an adventure – and sometimes a bit scary for a girl not yet in her teens, for bears had the same fondness for the raspberries that we had. I never really saw a bear there, but I did see their track and at times my imagination made me pick a little faster than normally. But they were wonderful berries, and well worth the labor of picking and the apprehensions sometimes involved.
In those days, there were quite a lot of wild animals in the area – foxes rabbits, mink on the water front, innumerable squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and the berry-loving bears. There were ducks on the lake, and quite often one or two loons, who’ s long under-water dives and strange cry always intrigued me. There were many partridges, too.
Soon after we moved to the lake in 1902 father conceived the idea of introducing a new member into the local bird group. From the Wyandank Fish and Game Club of Southtown, Long Island, he obtained a dozen Chinese pheasant eggs. The problem of hatching the eggs was solved through the cooperation of of Dr. Trembley, who put them in his small henery back of his house on Church Street in the village.
In due time, about eight little pheasants were taken out to camp and kept in a wire enclosure, where they seemed to thrive. They developed so well that when fall came and we were ready to move into the village, they were released in the nearby woods, to be on their own with the partridges. Father thought that they would adapt themselves to their new environment by the time winter came, but we never saw any of them again, so they all must have died.
It was about this time that an occasional automobile would appear in Saranac Lake. There were one or two Stanley Steamers around, and sometimes an even more frightening Lozier, from Lake Placid, came to town. Workday mornings mother would drive father to town in the one horse buggy, and at four o'clock in the afternoon she would drive in and get him. Every now and then there would be an automobile in town, and that meant mother had better wait a little while before coming for father.
We spent about nine happy summers at the camp — and even went out to it for winter picnics, walking on snowshoes on the lake, and floundering around in the big drifts piled around the building. All these years we were living very closely in touch with nature. Our water supply was a spring on a hillside back of the camp, with the water piped into the houses. Father checked the spring every weekend, for late in the summer it could get a little low. On such inspection trips, my pet lamb always went with father, usually leading the way on the well-worn trail. We had our ice cut winters and put into our little ice-house, where it was usable all the next summer. We had to heat water for bathing and dishwashing on the stoves, but we seldom considered it a hardship — except when we really wanted it in a hurry! For cool weather we had a large stone fireplace in the living room, and small stoves in the bedrooms. It was a sort of deluxe pioneer life — one to which I look back with thankfulness that I was fortunate enough to share it.
It all came to an end in 1911, when my father sold the camp to Mr. Donaldson. For some reason, Mr. Donaldson promptly moved from his camp to ours. Quite a few years later, Mr. Donaldson sold his camp to Harry Swords. By that time other camps had begun to appear on the lake, the road had been greatly improved, and horses no longer reared at the sight of an automobile. For us the pioneer days had ended — and your own life on the lake had begun. How fortunate you are!
Sincerely, Francis M. Harding
My Mother bought the camp in 1948 and today, even though she is gone, the camp still serves as a favored place for family gatherings for both social and aethetic reasons. The photos that follow will give a small indication of why it has such a special place in our hearts and lives.
Camp interior, 1920s or '30s Camp interior, 2010, showing much of the same furniture