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Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 20, 1984

Mountain of broken dreams?


Iron was his trade! Gold was his dream! Edward Dobbins, a sinewy, rawboned blacksmith knew he was on Calvin Brown's property when his eye caught the glint of a shiny substance issuing from a rock crevice on Mount Pisgah.

Dobbins lived in the village. He had arrived in Saranac Lake as an iron worker with the advent of the Chateaugay narrow-gauge railroad. His talents with anvil and forge prompted him to open a blacksmith shop on Broadway where he had no problem making a good living.

But the glitter of gold was his undoing. Dobbins, well versed in property law, promptly staked a claim on the Pisgah spot and filed the proper notification of his action with the authorities in Albany.

The claim, of course, was legal. Persons were permitted to lay claim to mineral rights on certain private properties without holding title.

Having gone through all the preliminaries he set about the laborious and physically tiring process of drilling through rock by hand.

He hoped to find a "pay streak" below the surface, and he put in long hours at the mine spending his strength in fruitless pursuit of the ageless dream . . . unlimited wealth for the taking.

Dobbins couldn't find time for his blacksmith business and sold it. He purchased a hotel just above the Broadway firehouse and called it The Dobbins House. He was absent from the hotel most of the time and that business went downhill rapidly as he redoubled efforts to strike a vein of gold that would end his financial problems.

Dobbins finally gave up the mining operation in disgust, sick in mind and heart over his failure after blasting a hole in the rock to a depth of 15 feet and several feet square. A ladder was the means of descent.

All he had gained in return for his herculean efforts was a miniscule amount of ore which assayed at a dollar and a half a ton.

To the calamitous end he maintained that gold in paying quantities could be extracted from the Pisgah mine if the shaft were only sunk deep enough.

Having exhausted both funds and credit, he sold the hotel to James Collins who conducted a dry-goods store in the building. It was later purchased by the plumbing firm of Miller and Davidson.

In the mid-1920's the only remaining evidence of Dobbins Folly as it was then called, was the sunken shaft. The carefully squared entrance was gradually eaten away by erosion and the bottom of the shaft was flooded with water to a depth of several feet.

A miniature slag heap marked the sloping borders of the extinct mine. Hikers and curiosity seekers extracted souvenir nuggets called "fool's gold" from the slag heap for many years after the mine operation folded.

But a final chapter was recorded before the mine had entirely lost its identity. In the 1900's when several motion picture companies were finding the Adirondack scenery equivalent to the Canadian wilderness, many film studios utilized the surrounding terrain in shooting outdoor melodramas so highly esteemed at the box office.

On October 1, 1915 an advance Vitagraph film company under the direction of S. Rankin Drew, a leading producer of the day arrived in Saranac Lake. The group checked in at the St. Regis Hotel with 14 players and technicians including his lead cameraman, Arthur T. Quinn.

They were to film key footage for "The Hunted Woman," an Oliver Curwood wilderness spectacular. The men in the crew spent several autumn days on nearby mountains and islands. The cliffs near the top of Mount Pisgah in back of Trudeau were selected for several scenes.

When they stumbled across Dobbins' old gold mine, the script was altered to include a scene with the star, Virginia Pierson, falling into the mine.

The shaft was cleared of gravel and a lateral opening made on a level with the base of the shaft to release the water and provide camera access to closeups of the trapped woman.

It was the last hurrah for Dobbins' Folly. Erosion eventually obliterated the original mine configuration. The cliff itself is of a peculiar rust color and the slag tailings are hardly more than rotten rock.

The top of Pisgah is heavily laden with quartz deposits which is an indicator of mineral wealth in many mountain ranges of the west.

Perhaps Ed Dobbins' dream of gold on Pisgah lies locked in the bowels of the mine ledges where he sweat, swore and went broke in the agony of failure.

And to many who occasionally walk to the mine from the ski tow only a few hundred yards away, Dobbins Folly should be restored and kept sacrosanct as a historical memento of Saranac Lake's early and vibrantly colorful days.

If Pisgah has a future let this be a part of it!