Bear Swamp. - The Mirage. - Its Lakes. - The Old Dutchman Barhydt .


"Darken'd by their native scenes

Create wild images and phantoms dire,

Strange as their hills, and gloomy as their storms."


OWING, probably, to a peculiar condition of the atmosphere at certain times, Bear Swamp has long been subject to mirages - as perfect as those which mock the traveller on the African deserts - and which have often deceived even old residents. The late Dr. R.L. Allen once, when driving through the swamp, observed what appeared to be a large-sized sheet of water apparently a few rods distant from the road. Wondering that he had never had his attention attracted to it before, he got down and walked to the spot - only to see that the water was merely an optical illusion. Again, in 1843, as a party of gentlemen and ladies were driving homeward through the swamp in the evening (among whom were the late Rev. Francis Wayland and the author), they plainly saw, in the middle of the swamp, half a mile in their rear, and, of course, in a direction opposite to the village, a large building with rows of windows brilliantly illuminated. The entire company left the vehicle, and for a long time watched the strange and singular appearance - an appearance seemingly bordering on the supernatural, since they had just come over the road where the spectre house now stood, and all who were familiar with the country knew of no such house or and dwelling, indeed, in that direction.

The next day it was found that passengers coming up in the cars from Ballston, at the same hour in the evening, had also witnessed this phenomenon - conclusively proving that even if our party had all had their imaginations psychologically affected - which is more improbable than the converse - others, miles away, could not have been under the same influence. The explanation undoubtedly was, that the apparition of the illuminated building was simply a reflection of a refraction on the clouds of one of the hotels at the springs. {Of a similar character, doubtless, was the appearance of the ship (related by Cotton Mather) sailing in the air at night - which was witnessed by many hundreds of people on the Connecticut coast, near Guilford, in 1720. The ship, which was recognized as one that had left port several days previously, after sailing in the heavens for an hour, was observed to be on fire - and this appearance lasted until the last mast had fallen, and she had burned to the water's edge. This ship was never heard of again .} Other dwellers in the swamp have related to me experiences of a similar character, though not so marked as the two I have mentioned.

Lying on the southern edge of Bear Swamp, and partially draining it, are three bodies of water, which deserve particular mention before closing this chapter. These are "LAKE LONELY," "ROUND POND," and "BARHYDT'S LAKE."

LAKE LONELY was originally called by the early settlers "Owl Pond," on account of the immense quantity of owls which, in the early settlement of the country were wont to gather around its shores, and make night still more dismal by their hootings. Though much smaller than Lake Saratoga, it nevertheless possesses features of interest to the tourist. On the eastern shore, steep declivities rise up from the water's edge, covered with tangled ferns and hemlocks, some of which, the growth of centuries, rise above their fellows, till their tops, resembling so many spires, seem lost in the clouds. Standing upon the eastern bank, and looking northward, the eye, sweeping beyond the smooth, motionless sheet of water, takes in all of the most southerly hills of the Adirondack region, darkly wooded to their topmost elevation. Away to the north are plainly visible various detached peaks - "Potash Kettle," near Luzerne, among the rest - whose outlines are clearly defined against the ethereal blue of the higher altitudes. In the rainy seasons very considerable torrents pour down the sides of these precipitous banks, tumbling through the deep ravines and glens into the lake, and in some places forming cascades of considerable magnitude.

One of these glens, on the eastern bank of the lake, nearly opposite Charley Moon's (formerly Abel's) "Lake House," forms an echo almost as distinct and powerful as the celebrated one in the ruined bastion of the old French fortress at Crown Point. If a gun is discharged at this point the effect is wonderfully fine. For a moment after the sound departs from the place there is nearly a dead silence. Then suddenly the echo is heard, seemingly from a great distance to the south, whence it comes back in separate and distinct reverberations, as if leaping from glen to glen, louder and yet louder still, until, directly opposite, the full volume of sound is returned back in all its compass and power. There was, in 1840, a bridal party enjoying the first week of the honeymoon at the "Lake House" - then kept by Loomis. It chanced that the happy couple, with their attendants, were on the bank of the Little Lake, drinking in the prospect, and "seeing all there was to be seen." Of course a gun had to be fired off for the effect of the echo. But, as it chanced, very imprudently, just as the last round of the dying echo left the ear, some malicious wag audibly rehearsed the following scrap of advice in doggerel metre:

"A wife , like echo , should be true,

To speak when she is spoken to;

But not, like echo , still be heard

Contending for the final word."

Up to the year 1858 this sheet of water was known by the name of the "Little Lake," at which time, however, during a picnic on its banks, Judge James B. McKean (the late Chief-Justice of Utah), proposed the name of "Lake Lonely," which it has ever since retained.

Between Lake Lonely and Barhydt's Lake (formerly Dr. Russel H. Child's) there lies a long waste of low land, thickly overgrown with patches of evergreens, and which is, perhaps, the only portion of Bear Swamp that yet retains its primitive condition. It is a cold and cheerless section of the county - so much so that the owls, it is said, have been known to weep on flying over this region. I do not vouch for this fact, however; but I am free to declare that Barhydt made a sad mistake in robbing it from the moose, deer, and the beaver. Here some quite rare varieties of swamp flowers are to be found, which are quite the envy of the botanist - the water bean, the ladies' slipper or chid, the Indian moccasin, a fern called the adder's tongue, and the Lobelia Cardinalis , commonly called the "Indian Eye Bright" - the latter fully as fine as any on the banks of the Bloody Pond, near Lake George.

In the centre of this waste -

"Tangled with fern and intricate with thorn,"

directly west of Lake Lonely, and, perhaps, one-third of the distance to Barhydt's, is a small circular pond. Surrounded by dense woods, and situated in a marsh whose approach defies any but practised woodmen, it is almost inaccessible, and but little known even to the dwellers in its immediate vicinity. The pond itself is a clear, black, and deep tarn, and was formerly a great resort for the young of the preceding generation.

BARHYDT'S LAKE was formerly - between 1820-1835 - a great resort, having on its banks a public-house, kept by Mynheer Barhydt, an old Dutch settler, and the same one whose wife's adventure with the panther, {According to Chapter 13, it was a bear - BC.} have been before narrated. It was, until within a few years, part of a fine preserve of Dr. Russel H. Childs. This tarn is called a "lake" by courtesy, though it lacks only in size the beauties of Lakes Saratoga and Lonely. Sunk as deep into the earth as the firs shoot above it, it is surrounded by a wilderness of straight columnar pine shafts, which branch out at the top like round tables "spread for a banquet in the clouds." As late as 1835 it was filled with trout, though even then the shrewd old Dutchman foresaw the future scarcity of this fish. In the summer of that year a correspondent of the Commercial Advertiser writes: "At Barhydt's the sportsman is obliged to throw all the trout he may take back into their native element again, and pay by the hour for the privilege besides. He may, however, retain enough for his own dinner, provided he allows it to be cooked there and pays pretty well for that into the bargain."

Jacobus Barhydt, who died in 1844, and is buried in the old Whitford graveyard - a mile south-east of the village - was, in many respects, a singular and original character. With all his astuteness, however, he sometimes overreached himself, as the following will show. When Joseph Bonaparte, ex-King of Spain, was at Saratoga as the guest of Henry Walton, he offered Barhydt $20,000 for his place. Astounded at such a sum, Barhydt refused it - remarking that he "did not know whether Bonaparte was a fool or a knave." The old Dutchman could not conceive that the picturesqueness of his place had tempted the offer, and suspected some sinister design. "If it's worth that to you," he said, in closing the conversation, "it's worth that to me." {Joseph Bonaparte failing to buy in Saratoga, afterwards bought a beautiful place at Bordentown, N.J., on the Delaware River.}

In 1839, N.P. Willis visited Barhydt Lake, and gave the following graphic description of the old Dutchman Barhydt:

"The old man sat under his Dutch stoop smoking his pipe, and suffered us to tie our ponies to his fence without stirring, and, in answer to our enquiries if there was a boat on the lake, simply nodded an assent, and pointed to the water's edge. Whether the indifference to strangers is innocence merely, or whether Herr Barhydt does not choose to be considered an innkeeper, no one is enough in his secrets to divine. He will give you a dram or cook you a dinner of trout, and seems not only indifferent whether you like his fish or his liquor, but quite as indifferent whether or what you pay him. In his way Herr Barhydt is kind and courteous.

"We descended to the lake, and after rowing about we returned to partake of the old Dutchman's hospitality, and have a little conversation with him. Among other things, we asked him if he was aware that he had been put into a book?

"I'se hearn tell on't," said he; "a Mr. Wilkins or Watkins has writ something about me, but I don't know why. I never did him no harm as I know on !"



Transcribed from the original text and html prepared by Bill Carr, last updated 2/8/00.

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