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Log of the Canoe Waban - A Hudson River Adventure!


By Nettie Isabel Hill Brougham


SUNDAY, JULY 22. The Broughams, accompanied by the last suit case full of "duffel," tin lantern, and various articles of value to the commissary department, arrived at the canoe house about eleven A.M. At noon, having stowed away our goods in our good canoe (and wept to see how few these were), we embarked safely and were most enthusiastically sped upon our way by our affectionate brother and sister, who had stationed themselves on the bridge at the subway station, thoughtfully provided with a camera. Arrived at the mouth of Spuyten Duyvil Creek without adventure and with favoring wind against the tide crossed to the Jersey shore and thence passed by disheartening numbers of campers out. With no place observable to pitch our tent, from sheer weariness, we attempted a landing and ran upon a sunken rock. The canoe careened, shook, shivered her timbers, then nobly righted herself and hung, nose on, two feet from the shore. With straining paddles and perspiring noses we pried off and resolved to go in bathing, which H.B.B. did, and for sundry reasons N.I.H.B. did not. Then we became aware that we had no camping permits, from a sign posted by the Secretary of the Interstate Park Commission, but conscious of our deserts and nothing deterred, we again took to the shallow water and faring past innumerable other camping tents we found ourselves at a point nearby opposite Yonkers. There we staked out a squatters claim and proceeded to preempt it, with the following improvements, to wit: N.I.H.B. & H.B.B., one tent, lamely erected (it did not come up to specifications) and plentiful stores, supplies, provisions, etc., also water-proofing (and thereby hangs a tale, for on the first night of our camping experience it rained). Then did we rejoice that we had with us ponchos, rubber blankets, a rain coat and woolen blankets withal wherewith to guard against the moisture that freely penetrated our frail habitation (the sides of the tent cleated down to within six to eight inches of the ground where H.B.B. slept, safely covered by a poncho). N.I.H.B. reposed upon an army cot...... After bath and supper at once to bed and to sleep, amid the murmurs of the drizzling rain, and the song of the festive mosquito.

MONDAY, JULY 23. Awake at five and no colds. Breakfast at 7:30. At 8:45, we launched in the surf; some rain. For a time it seemed to clear; then as we were about to round the forsaken pier, weather became most threatening; looked squally. We put in at the pier, safely through the piles and the surf, and drew our canoe, after partly unloading it, upon the rotten stringers. Fished: no bites. It becoming more threatening and beginning to rain, we experimented putting up the tent, with better success than upon our primal venture. Then a water famine stalked upon the pier. H.B.B. seized the sacred demijohn, donned his discarded shoes and proceeded toward Piermont. In a short time the forsaken N.I.H.B. noticed frantic shoutings and gesticulations from the direction of her vanished lord. He had discovered a portage across the marshland of the pier. We proceeded to Piermont after photographing "Camp Exultation," the duffel bag, suit case, demijohn, tin pail & canoe, having been carried to smooth water on the other side by main strength. Arrived at the Piermont cover, with an interesting boy in charge, we walked to the main post office, mailed some tokens of our continued existence to friends, added somewhat to our stock of provisions in the local grocery, stopped at an ice cream refectory and marched back, bearing an extra pint of "strawberry & vanilla" as a reward to our faithful sentinel. The demijohn was filled this time and our exceeding great thirst allayed..... Again on the broad bosom of the deep, with a freshening breeze we rounded the point at South Nyack and were glad to put into the quiet beach out of the white caps. It was not only an ideal beach but a neglected beach, fronting a neglected estate. Diligent inquiry for the purpose of gaining permission to camp upon it brought out the information that "really nobody owned that place anymore," and that we might make ourselves at home. We did. This was Camp Felicitation. The tent was erected a few feet above the last high water mark in the sand, with the aid and admiring speculation of three small boys, who helped us unload our ship, just in time to escape a drenching rain. Then the sky partially cleared and the sunlight on the water gave promise of a better day on the morrow...... Then the keeper of the neglected estate appeared as H.B.B. was washing the dinner dishes in the "combers," accosted him in friendly terms and graciously gave permission to camp on the beach for a week, or as long as we pleased. Then we fished. We had no fish for breakfast the next morning.... Mr. Lewis - that was the keeper's name - advised us to use worms instead of bacon, and himself made a journey up the estate to find some, but vainly, and he returned bearing some fresh fat pork, which the pampered fish liked no better than the bacon.... We disposed ourselves to slumber, N.I.H.B. to the sweetest dreams, H.B.B. amid the tender attentions of the sand hoppers to a rest of joy not unmixed with sorrow. The witch hazel and insect banishing fluid were freely utilized during the night.

TUESDAY, JULY 24. This morning we awoke to the tune of a grey east wind. The sky was overcast and the waves mountain high. After due deliberation we decided that it was the better part of valor to remain in Camp Felicitation for a day. A visit from Mr. Lewis, his boy and a dog brought out the camera friend.... We passed the day comfortably reading and fishing, looking weather-wise. No fish were caught, as usual. Plenty of nibbles. H.B.B. journeyed to Nyack, returned laden with delicacies, bathing shoes & newspapers.... In the evening we fished more with new bait and the same extraordinary success. H.B.B. a sadder and wiser man after his experience of last night, had devoted his leisure during the day to the perfection of a scheme to circumvent the sandhoppers, the same being a jelly-roll combination of blanket, poncho and his own person, was put into operation this evening, and thus fortified he slept sweetly and the fragrance of mosquito banisher hovered refreshingly over all.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 25. Stayed in camp and vegetated in the morning, as the wind was not right for embarkation...... In the afternoon obtained some valuable directions from ex-Senator Lexow's son with respect to camping places to Poughkeepsie and above. We made a trip to the ruined habitation, formerly a fine residence, occupying the neglected space where we were then camping, and the water becoming calm enough for a short voyage, we bade farewell to Mr. Lewis and his sons with dishes of ice cream and many thanks.... Then we set out for the first place indicated by young Mr. Lexow as a convenient habitation for the night. This was an abandoned dynamite shack on the rocky shore of Hook Mountain, some distance from actual blasting operations, and in this we spent the night comfortably without erecting a tent. The shack was an eerie, desolate place and we tiptoed about it with some dread of awaking the explosive ghosts that doubtless inhabited the place. This was Camp Dynamite.

THURSDAY, JULY 26. Apparently our lives were blasted by the night's experience for this day we landed at Sing Sing. The trip to Ossining was for the purpose of acquiring stocks of provisions, added conveniences, etc. This was our first mail station. While N.I.H.B. watched the canoe, H.B.B. climbed the hill, bringing her back a letter and sundry other articles.... From Ossining the passage across Haverstraw Bay to Stony Pt., the scene of General Anthony Wayne's mad but successful adventure, was compassed in smooth seas and with exceeding great sunburn. Stony Point is the government reservation and the keeper thereof who is bound by inflexible rules officially refused to permit us to camp. Personally he had no objection, neither had we. We evaded his official visit to the landing and remained.

FRIDAY, JULY 27. We spent last night rolled up in our blankets under the stars and the dew. Rubber blankets and ponchos kept out the dampness. We rose at 4:45, after a refreshing eight hours sleep. (? - N.I.H.B.) Off for Peekskill at 7:45. A flannel night gown, bandages for sunburned areas and the purchase of "all the news that's fit to print" tells the tale of shopping at Peekskill, as well as in some particulars, progress of our camping experience. Arrived at Ft. Montgomery; we entered Popolopen Creek at whose mouth we put up in an empty workshop which boys on shore declare is haunted. This was Haunted Camp. It is directly opposite "Anthony's Nose."

SATURDAY, JULY 28. The ghosts squeaked and gibbered in the chimney-place the night through, but not so seriously to disturb our slumbers. A nest of chimney swallows were responsible for the ghostly sounds, which were quieted to some extent after the matutinal distribution of food by the other birds.... After the wounds produced by Phoebus' arrows were bandaged by the natural nurse of the family, we set forth anew upon our imitation of Hendrick Hudson; breakfast and forage of course preceded our departure.... Six miles beyond Haunted Camp is the U.S. Military Academy. We touched at West Point long enough to obtain souvenir cards and to marvel at the scarcity of postage stamps in Uncle Sam's barracks. Thence we proceeded to Camp Constitution, named after the island directly beyond West Point, on whose southerly beach we pitched our tent. Here the chain was stretched across the river during the Revolution to prevent the British ships from navigating beyond the fort.... Soon after our arrival a fellow and a dog appeared in order to find out in the interest of his mistress, Miss Warner of "The Wide, Wide World" fame, what manner of people we were. Miss Warner had been so annoyed by campers out that her strict interdiction of them regardless of previous conditions of race, color or servitude, was only softened by the discretion of her Negro servant, whose palm was both kindly and open.... In the evening we listened to a refreshing military concert which the wind wafted from West Point; it being, we suppose the Saturday evening time of relaxation. Miss Warner, by the way, was fairy godmother and Sunday school teacher to the cadets, according to her servant's story.

SUNDAY, JULY 29. This day we were saved from the perils of a sudden squall, just above Balmville, which is 2 miles above Newburg and 16 above Camp Constitution..... The night there was spent fighting mosquitoes as we had in-cautiously set our tent toward the wind which bore them up the river. Much "mosquito banisher" was wasted in the effort to relieve our singing and stinging pains. Moreover, the tent was on sloping ground and we found ourselves constantly falling into our feet as we fell asleep. Experience gained a large credit balance which was supplemented during this afternoon by a storm.... We left Camp Constitution at 8:30 in the morning, with the mountains above West Point veiled in curling mist.... Crossing the river at Cold Spring we pursued our way with a steadily freshening breeze to Cornwall, where we hoped to get supplies. Disappointed, we proceeded to Newburg where the Sunday laws are not so rigidly set against the grocery lid being off of a Sunday morning. H.B.B. rattled the door of a pious grocer returning from church and was not turned away breadless. N.I.H.B. meanwhile was reposing beneath the roof of a friendly boat house entertained by a gentleman of possibly Irish extraction, who was connected with the Newburgh Yacht Club and the fire department.... Being advised that good camping ground might be sought and found a short distance up the river, and the tide's turning, having somewhat flattened the white caps in the center of the river, we proceeded cautiously along shore with a strong breeze astern. Proceeding in this way we were about turning the point above Balmville when within a few minutes a squall broke and found us barely ashore on a favorable beach when the surface of the river was lashed into rollers. The wind blew a gale by the time we had transferred part of our baggage to a flagman's station just beyond on the railroad, having left the bulk of the canoe's contents shielded by the canoe turned bottom-up out of reach of the waves. Then the rain came in sheets, while the jovial French flagman (he had served at this station 23 years, he told us) regaled us with stories that were diverting and edifying, until the conversation turned to his adventures with tramps. Then it was N.I.H.B. shrank with a sense of proximity to possible tramps while spending a night near by an actual railroad.... The Frenchman obligingly transferred a newly loaded revolver to H.B.B.'s hip pocket by way of reassurance, meanwhile protesting that the danger could be merely speculative as his duty of watching up and down the track all night with our tent close by his window was sufficient to keep off these errant gentlemen.... At N.I.H.B.'s suggestion, the revolver was retransferred to the pocket of the watcher upon the ground that H.B.B. would be slumbering blissfully most of the night. Then we pitched our tent in time to avoid another short shower and composed our spirits after the perils of the day.

MONDAY, JULY 30. A heavy drenching rain, amounting to a cloudburst took place during the night. H.B.B. awoke bathed in what he supposed to be perspiration but which proved to be a water soaked condition of his blanket to which the water had risen in a puddle above the waterproof blanket & poncho. N.I.H.B. on her army cot was not similarly afflicted and no colds resulted from the night's experience.... During the night the owner of the summer boarding house upon the hill went on a spree down the side of his estate, landing in the railroad gutter, whence he was fished out by our kindly watchman, Mr. Meillou, and deposited to "sleep it out" in the coal shed.... In the morning at 6 o'clock Mr. Meillou was relieved from duty and left us with cordial parting salutations. The day was fair up to one-thirty but the wind continuing fresh from the south we decided not to put back to Newburgh. Then a shower came up, which flattened the waves. It being about two in the afternoon, there was still time to paddle to Constitution Island and we accordingly packed up and started. Our first stop was at the Newburgh Yacht Club landing, where H.B.B. started out for groceries, while N.I.H.B. was being entertained on the front veranda of the yacht club by some exceedingly gentlemanly fellows (Messrs. Campbell, Moore, & Smith). They showed us through the club house which was most commodiously arranged. A narrow green canoe was pointed to as McCloskey's, a young fellow who was drowned yesterday while returning from a camping trip with another boy. He had been so ill-advised as to fasten to a tow in rough weather and in casting off in sight of home (not far from where we were camping) the canoe was swallowed up by the force of the waves and the suction caused by the scows. His companion was rescued but McCloskey was allowed to drown within easy reach of the last barge.... Our way from the Newburgh Yacht Club was uneventful except for a strong opposition of wind & tide until we approached the Storm King Mountain, opposite Dutchess Landing. A long black cloud, narrow, with the sun shining on either side, trailed across the sky to the north, back of our canoe, but it grew and spiraled toward us, except for its horizontal position not dissimilar to the cloud which Aladdin struck from the lamp, unwrapping an angry djinnee. Its convolutions were black with fringes of dirty grey promising much wind, and we were in the middle of the bay approaching the point where the river narrowed to the Storm King & Polopel Island. The nearest shore was to the left, Dutchess Landing. We gained it. The huge spiral had swept below us and hovered over the Storm King, when we were enveloped with mist and rain. We had our ponchos on and held to the canoe which was rocking along the shore planks of the Landing. Then the wind freshened and it seemed as if the cloud were coming back upon us. In a pouring torrent of rain H.B.B. ripped the contents from the canoe and deposited them, covered with the rubber blanket, on a sand heap nearby. We then drew in the canoe and had it nicely turned bottom upward when the rain suddenly ceased and the sun smiled out. The rain had counteracted the effect of the wind; the water was smooth when we again launched our small ship and lading and pulled down past the Storm King.... But the sun had set. We landed in the dark on little Stony Point, whose soil was so rocky that no tent stakes could be driven. By the lantern's light we prepared a frugal meal and then arranging the canoe as a shield against the army cot, made up our beds for the night; H.B.B. partly in the canoe by the side of the cot and the top of the tent drawn over us both so as to rest on the upper edge of the canoe across the cot. Wrapped in our blankets and ponchos we spent a comfortable night beneath a starlit and moonlit sky. The river steamboats with their searchlights passed up the river without annoying us.

TUESDAY, JULY 31. We started at 8 o'clock for Haunted Camp, stopping at Cold Spring for supplies and at West Point to take a picture, and arriving opposite Anthony's Nose at 11 o'clock. We found the ghosts alive and peeping and spread our wet blankets & clothing outside the haunted palace to dry. N.I.H.B. washed some towels and bathed, while H.B.B. dug worms and fished (usual luck).... H.B.B. in the evening succeeded in getting some milk at the farmhouse above Haunted Camp, the first milk tasted by the family since the beginning of the cruise.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 1. Our German neighbor, with whom and his numerous family we had made friends and whose spring water we drank, called this morning before we embarked to take a picture of the canoe & its occupants. The sun was clouded, a time exposure was deemed necessary, so we remained on the float with the canoe loaded while the German anchored his flat bottomed boat by thrusting his oars into the creek bed, and then planted a stepladder in the water on which the camera firmly rested.... The picture taken, we set out for Stony Point and as much further down the river as the weather would allow. At Stony Point the wind chopped the water up so that we decided to stay there for the day making our way to South Nyack the following morning.... This decision was revised when the water soon after flattened out again but we paddled only something over four miles when opposite Haverstraw the river roughened again and we made harbor for the day finally at a sandy beach just below the town. It continued cloudy throughout the day with a few drops of rain in the evening.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 2. This morning dawned with rain and an east wind. The grey river seemed to forbid further passage, save to indomitable souls, although N.I.H.B. declares that an infant in arms might have paddled down the nine miles to South Nyack & Camp Felicitation, which we paddled in a blithering rain but smooth water. It was H.B.B.'s inspired idea that while the waves would be few or none during the rain, if we waited until it cleared the wind would change and keep us there still longer on account of rough water.... We therefore carefully wrapped our dry apparel in the poncho and emerged, H.B.B. in his bathing suit, N.I.H.B. in a choice combination garment effect, covered by a raincoat, tore down the tent and packed our goods in the canoe, carefully covered with a rubber blanket, while the rains descended. Then bidding goodbye to our kind neighbors, we paddled down athwart the wind and with the tide, past Rockland Lake Landing, past Camp Dynamite, past Hook Mountain, past Nyack to Camp Felicitation - nine miles under a wet sky and upon a placid sea.... As we landed the wind began to whoop it up; the rain ceased. At present the weather indicates clearing.... The tent erected and a hot luncheon disposed of H.B.B. purveyed to Nyack for the mail, which had been forwarded from various points up the river, and for fruit and provisions. During his absence young Lexow's companion called and chatted pleasantly with N.I.H.B.... Here an accident happened to the light paddle - not so seriously as it might have been had the paddle broken forty miles further up the river.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 3. The day dawned dark, dreary and dismal. Rain fell heavily most of the night and as we awoke hit us before we could dodge. The only relieving element in the situation was the fact that the river was smooth. We therefore repeated the experiment of yesterday. We took down the wet tent, rolled in a separate bundle the damper blankets and clothing, packed the canoe and started in the rain for the long projecting end of the Piermont pier. The pier must be fully a mile long, extending nearly half way across the Tappan Zee. Paddling to its end we had a pretty stiff breeze in our faces which made heavy work of it.... Once at the end of the pier an expanse of smooth water lay before us to the other side of the Tappan Zee and we resolved to cross there in order to gain the lee shore. This was accomplished without incident, save one exciting one. Just as we had entered the steamboat channel on the further side, we discerned through the mist down the river the big steamboat "Albany" plowing her way directly toward us. At the same time the fog up the river revealed the vast outlines of the "Mary Powell" looming portentous on the same line with the "Albany," and a frail shell of a canoe between! To retreat was probably to come into the path of the "Mary Powell" as she sheered to the right in passing the "Albany." We endeavored therefore to cross the course of the "Albany," hoping in some way to avoid her rollers and gain the shore. But with our efforts redoubled we finally foresaw that to continue was to bring us up under the bow of the steamboat and there be shattered like an egg shell! We turned. The two marine monsters dashed on, and like Jason and his sailors between the crashing rocks we awaited the coming catastrophe. But by great good fortune a tug boat with her tow lay near us, and in order to avoid this tow the "Mary Powell" passed clear on the other side while we were avoiding the immediate rollers of the "Albany." As she passed we rocked up and down on the huge waves and paddled on to safety.... The way to Spuyten Duyvil was through the smoothest, glassiest water, broken here and there by a few gusts or drops of water, and we paddled with the tide past Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Yonkers, Mt. St. Vincent and Riverdale, the remaining part of the fourteen miles from Camp Felicitation to the mouth of Spuyten Duyvil Creek.... There remained half a mile to the canoe house, which occupied over half an hour against a strong, outgoing tide. We ended our cruise after five hours of paddling on this day, and had luncheon in the Algonquin Club House....

Thus endeth the first cruise of the Canoe Waban.