Fred Rice at what is believed to be Martha Reben's cabin on the Saranac River near Bloomingdale. Photograph by Donald Gunn Ross, courtesy of Julie Ross. See note on the Martha Reben page for more information on this photograph. Martha Reben and Fred Rice. Adirondack Daily Enterprise Born: c. 1876

Died: April 1966

Married: Perditta Bliss Riceknown as "Kate," (established by Betsy Tisdale, researcher and writer on Martha Reben)

Grandson: John P. Benson

Fred Rice was a boat builder and guide, who lived at 65 Algonquin Avenue. In 1937, he published a pamphlet, Fifty Years in a Health Resort in which he argued that the rest cure then advocated in Saranac Lake was doing more harm than good; what was needed, he wrote, was exercise in Nature. Frederick W. Rice was his father, and William Marsh Rice was his great uncle.

When he was fifty-five, and failing eyesight was making boat-building difficult, 1 he placed an advertisement seeking a patient to guide into the woods for the "fresh air cure". Mr. Rice was a firm believer in the curative powers of the Adirondack woods air. He argued that TB patients who were spending their days in the village of Saranac Lake resting on cure porches would be better served by getting out in the woods.

Martha Reben and Fred Rice. From Eleanor Stearns Collection

 

Fred Rice did not expect a young and frail woman to answer his ad, but when Martha Reben responded to it, he and his wife Kate agreed that five months of steady work was worth taking. Together Martha and Fred traveled eleven miles by boat, from Lower to Middle Saranac Lake, and on to Weller Pond to camp. Over the course of the next ten years, an enduring friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Rice would be forged. Fred and Martha returned to the woods during the warm season. They went back to Weller Pond, and they also camped on Hungry Bay on Middle Saranac and Pope Bay on Lower Saranac.

“Wind and sunshine upon their bodies are two valuable aids to health that invalids should not leave out of their regimen.”

“Many an invalid whose condition was considered hopeless has been cured by living an outdoor life.”

—From “Fifty Years in a Health Resort” by Fred Rice.

See also Martha Reben, Rice's Point


Watertown Daily Times, April 15, 1966

F. M. Rice, Guideboat Builder, Dies

Fred Rice on Weller Pond, 1933. From Eleanor Stearns Collection

 

Saranac Lake, April 15.— Fred M. Rice, 90, sportsman, conservation expert and lover of wildlife, died Tuesday night after a long illness.

A private funeral was held Thursday night at Fortune funeral home. A memorial service will be held when all relatives can be present.

The body will be taken to Troy for cremation and the ashes will be taken to a remote wilderness section beloved by Mr. Rice.

Friends may make contributions to the memorial fund of the Saranac Lake Free library.

He is survived by a sister, Mrs. Anne Rice Jacobsen, and a brother, Herman Rice, both of Saranac Lake; and five sisters, Mrs. Jane Taylor, Erna Eskerche, Matilda Parquet, Hattie Bone and Frances Rice, all of California.

Mr. Rice was born in Burlington, Vt, March 8, 1876, a son of Fred W. and Harriet Todd Rice. The family came to Saranac Lake when Mr. Rice was two years old. They made the journey by mule team. A boat made by his father topped the load.

Mr. Rice was a professional builder of guide boats in Saranac Lake when Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau was making the community famous as a health resort.

In 1937, Mr. Rice copyrighted a book, "Fifty Years in a Health Resort." He served as a guide to the late authoress, Martha Reben, and his life is eulogized in her books about the Adirondack wilderness. At one time, they worked together on a book called "Saranac Lake Is a Pleasure Resort."


The following is a typed manuscript by Fred Rice, given to Historic Saranac Lake by Natalie Leduc. Although undated, it would appear to have been written in 1952.

THE TIME HAS COME

The old Algonquin Hotel was built in 1884. At this time the lumbering industry was just about finished and the business of catering to sportsmen was taking its place. Those sportsmen brought along their families to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Saranacs. Business was good. At this time visitors could get to the town only by enduring a long ride in a stagecoach, and it was generally believed that when the railroad reached the village the town would quickly become a great pleasure resort.

By a strange coincidence, Dr. Trudeau started his hospital that same year of 1884 with a little cabin. No one, not even the good doctor, himself, suspected what that cabin meant to Saranac Lake. There was no other hospital in the country for tuberculous people, and when the doctor asked a few medical societies to send him their T.B. patients the town was swamped with invalids. The townspeople went into the business of boarding invalids, and the village grew about as fast as houses could be built to shelter them.

Before that there had always been a few invalids in the village but their presence was scarcely noticed. As their numbers increased, however, the pleasure seekers became afraid of them and gradually ceased to come to Saranac Lake. When the hotel keepers saw what was happening to their business not one of them, insofar as I know, ever objected to the place growing as a health resort.

For the sake of brevity, hereinafter in this letter, T.B. doctors, keepers of sanatoriums and all their satellites will be designated as the Health Interests.

It is often said, though not as often as in former years, that the doctors made Saranac Lake what it is today; but the boarding house keepers are equally to blame. Incidentally, persons not connected with the health interests have never felt particularly grateful to the doctors for changing the young pleasure resort into a health resort.

As soon as the health interests became strong enough they set out to prevent any other business being established in town. I recall that a man named Mathews set out to establish a big year-around pleasure resort on Ampersand Bay. He planned to have a separate railroad station west of the New York Central freight station and a separate Post Office. This resort would have greatly benefited Saranac Lake Village.

He found persons who would invest their money in the enterprise; but as an after thought they said they would like a letter from the Chamber of Commerce saying that the resort would be a good thing for Saranac Lake. Mr. Mathews was elated; he did not, however, know about the vicious policy of the Health Interests and that they controlled the Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber held an open meeting in the auditorium of the old town hall which I attended. The room was packed. A spokesman for the Health Interests had the courage to stand up and say, "We object to Saranac Lake's growing in any way except along the line of Trudeau". If he had said that they objected to any business being established in town that would hinder the growth of the place as a health resort his statement would have had the approval of every one in the room. He said, however, exactly what he meant.

The treatment of the rest of the townspeople by the Health interests has been unbelievably mean and selfish. They even set out to hinder the growth of some parts of the village. For example:

Early one spring morning I met an elderly man on Algonquin Avenue. He said, "I am thinking of renting a house out this way."

I replied, "I am glad to know it. But when you find the house that you want don't let any one fool you into not taking it. When you tell the people in the village that you are going to rent out here they will tell you that the mail is not delivered in the wintertime, that the grocer will not deliver your groceries, that the roads are blocked with snow for days at a time, that taxi fares are higher than in the center of town and that it is hard to get a doctor out here."

The man laughed and said, "My doctor has told me all those things already."

I told him that not one of those statements was true, and that he should check up on them. The mailman was even then in sight. I said, "Ask that mailman if he delivers mail out here the year around."

About six months later, when we had become better acquainted, he told me that his business was such that he could not live long in one place, that he had to keep moving from town to town. He said that in all his life he had never before heard of a town in which half the people were doing all they could to ruin the other half. He evidently had a poor opinion of the townspeople.

Several years ago the head of the TB Society at 64 Main Street said that the local society was established for the benefit of the people of Saranac Lake. (The people, in this case, being the Health Interests). In an advertisement they referred to "Our office at 64 Main street". It might be interesting to stop and think about who pays the staff that runs that office.

The office acts as an information bureau for the benefit of the Health Interests who are not interested in the welfare of any one outside their own group. Some years ago I decided to find out just what information they were giving to the public.

I had an out of town acquaintance write to the bureau and ask them if there were any small cottages out near the lake west of the village suitable for an invalid and his small family which could be rented for about thirty dollars a month. Of course, there were a number of such houses which I, myself, knew about.

The bureau replied that there were some houses out near the lake; but there were, however, apartments in the village which could be rented for as little as fifteen dollars a month. They advised the supposed invalid to be sure to call on them before renting anywhere. The locality which the man inquired about was one of those boycotted by the Health Interests.

About this time I ran a blind advertisement in the local paper saying that the advertiser wanted to get in communication with an invalid who wanted to go into an environment in which he would most likely show a decided improvement within a week. The reader was told to address his letter to box X in care of the Adirondack Enterprise. Evidently the office of the Health Interests was informed at once that it was I who was doing the advertising, in spite or the fact that this was not to be made public.

The paper was hardly on the street before a woman in the information bureau called me on the telephone to tell me that she was an invalid who had just come to town and that she wanted to know all about the new environment. The fact that she knew whom to call was enough to let me know that she was not acting in good faith and I told her nothing.

Another out-of-town acquaintance wrote to the bureau about two months later and said that he had heard of the advertisement and asked them to send him my address.

The bureau waited some weeks before answering the letter and then wrote that they were unable to find out who had published the advertisement. They did not want any one to come to Saranac Lake to be cured in any way that was not profitable to themselves.

About twenty-five years ago business was poor in Saranac Lake. The outlook, however, was good. The government was going to build a big federal Hospital in the village for its ex-service men who had tuberculosis and the townspeople were looking forward to a new period of prosperity.

To the shocked amazement of the community one of our local T. B. specialists went to Washington as a committee of one to inform the government that these doctors did not want the hospital built in Saranac Lake.

Now, the Health Interests would not allow the town to grow as a health resort! This was a cruel blow to the town and why it was given I do not know.

The feeling in the village against these doctors was bitter. One prominent professional man and another who was one of our most prominent merchants told me that a few good deaths would do the village a lot of good; and another of our most prominent business people said that these doctors ought to be shot, and meant it.

This was the second big enterprise that would have come to the village without cost to the taxpayers that the Health Interests kept away from Saranac Lake. Their doing so was the culmination of a long series of wrongs done to the community and beneath the surface the town simmered.

One would think that by now the business men of the town would have decided that the Health Interests had ruled the town long enough and would have taken over control of the village. But, although they were angry enough to chew nails, so to speak, they never publicly expressed their disapproval of the betrayal of the village.

I believe that having the village manager form of government originated with the Health Interests. Under this plan the voters and taxpayers lost any direct control of village affairs so that money could be appropriated for any purpose without the taxpayer's consent. Now all the Health Interests had to do to get what they wanted was to control the village board.

The Health Interests called a meeting in the town hall and packed the room with their members. A few speeches were made to the effect that the rest of the community should cooperate with the Health Interests to get the village board to appropriate a sum of money to advertise the place as a health resort.

I was tactless enough at the time to suggest that the Health Interests cooperate with the other residents of the village to enhance the prosperity of the community as a whole. But this was, from the point of view of the Health Interests, a preposterous suggestion and unworthy of discussion. If I remember rightly, the village board appropriated five thousand dollars to advertise the village as a health resort.

Part of the money WAS spent to send a representative of the town to call on the heads of big corporations to get them to send their employees who contracted T.B. to this village. Wherever our representative went he was told practically the same thing; that the village was notorious for the way it treated its patients and that they would not think of sending invalids to Saranac Lake.

At the end of a year the Health Interests again went before the village board and reported that the advertising had resulted in (if I remember rightly) six invalids coming here. (It seems probable that some of the six would have come without any extra advertising.

They then asked for another appropriation. The result of the previous advertising being negligible, their request was not granted.

Recently the Health Interests held a meeting in which they voted to ask for another appropriation to advertise the village as a health resort. It is possible that this new advertising will be worth-while but I doubt it.

***

For the past fifty years, or more, Saranac Lake has needed a newspaper; and by a newspaper, I mean a paper the editor of which is broad-minded enough to see the town as a whole and to be interested in the welfare of all the people in the community. It is known that a community that has only one source of income is in a precarious situation; if the source fails, the community fails. As far back as I can remember it has been the policy of our local paper to help the Health Interests to prevent any new source of income from coming to Saranac Lake.

A newspaper shares in the prosperity of a town; it also shares in the people's financial hardships. When our paper recently changed hands I hoped that the new owner would, in his own interest, adopt a more sensible editorial policy. A recent editorial, however, shows that up to the present time, no such change has been made.

THE TIME HAS COME FOR THE BUSINESS MEN TO FORM A CHAMBER OF COMMERCE OF THEIR OWN AND TAKE OVER THE MANAGEMENT OF THE TOWN. A half dozen members could do this to start with.

The object in forming a new Chamber of Commerce is to promote the village as an all-year pleasure resort and to encourage the coming to Saranac Lake of new business enterprises THAT WILL NOT HINDER THE GROWTH OF THE TOWN AS A HEALTH RESORT.

Who would be eligible to be a member of the new body?

Any one who is twenty one years of age and lives within four miles of the village, and who is not a T.B. specialist, a keeper of a sanatorium, or an employee of such an institution, or one who has a financial interest in a sanatorium, or any one who is known to be not in sympathy with the plans of the new Chamber. A prospective member must affirm that he is in sympathy with the new body.

Only members should be admitted to meetings of the new Chamber, unless especially invited. This rule is necessary, otherwise the Health Interests would pack every meeting with their representatives who would attempt to have their own ideas adopted.

***

The manager of the hotel at Bartlett's told me that when people wrote to engage rooms they often asked, "Just how far are you from Saranac Lake?

A neighbor of mine has some tourist's cabins near Crescent Bay. His brother described the place to some men who said they would come with him on his vacation; until they learned that this was Saranac Lake. "No, no," they said, "they are all sick up there".

There have always been a few invalids in neighboring villages; but these villages do not advertise the presence of these invalids, and thus keep other people away.

The Health Interests have wrecked the town and if they cannot bring prosperity back to the place they should step aside and let others try to repair the damage.

I suggest that if this year's advertising does not bring results which indicate that the village can be quickly revived as a health resort that it no longer be advertised as such, to the detriment of the rest of the community.

*********

I showed a draft of this article to a resident of the village who said that it might split the town wide open; but the town is already split and has been for the past fifty years.

*****

I am in my 76th year and before I leave town I should like to see the cheerful, friendly spirit among the townspeople that prevails in other villages.

Fred M. Rice


Letter from Al Evans, June 14, 1992

" The unusual guide boat, built by Fred Rice in 1926, is on exhibit at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. The text of the history of this boat exhibited there is as follows:

Guideboat-Built Outboard Boat Gull

In 1932, a twenty five year old woman named Martha Rebentisch, weakened by tuberculosis, answered an unusual advertisement in the Saranac Lake newspaper. "WANTED," it read, "to get in touch with some invalid who is not improving, and would like to go into the woods for the Summer." Rice installed Rebentisch on a mattress in the bow of his boat Gull and metered her into an al fresco life in which she was to find health and inspiration to be an author. For 33 years she published books under the name of Martha Reben.

Fred M. Rice (1876-1966) learned boatbuilding from his father, a builder of small sailboats from Willsboro. Most of his boats were probably ordinary guide boats whose chief characteristic was light weight for portability. By the mid-1920's, however, he did most of his guiding on the Saranacs where he didn't have to carry a boat. He built Gull with a transom for a 4 hp. outboard motor and lengthened the boat. "The extra length was added to make the boat faster with a motor and was added to the middle of the boat to make it carry a bigger load." Rice was typical of many of his contemporaries throughout the country who adapted these long narrow dimensioned boats to outboard motors."

 


Letter from Al Evans, June 24, 1992

" In 1927, and a few years thereafter, my family - Mother, Dad, sisters Elizabeth and Dorothy, and I - were invited by Fred Rice to go up the lakes in his boat, Gull, usually on a Sunday. Fred had built the boat in 1926. We would picnic and fish and swim in different locations each time. I learned so much from Fred about the lakes, locks, channels, islands, the beautiful natural beach on Middle Saranac, and the small inlet into Weller Pond.

When my children were growing up in the 50's and 60's, I was able to show them all these beautiful areas with our boat. My grandchildren will soon be seeing these beautiful places. 

I had a number of pictures with my family and Fred Rice, taken on the shores of Lower and Middle Saranac Lake and Weller Pond. None of these pictures showed the boat, however, but I remember it so vividly. I knew it was the same boat that he used later to take Martha Reben to Weller Pond, because Martha had described it in her books. Just by chance, I learned it was on exhibit in 1991 at the Adirondack Museum. On June 14, 1992, I went there, found it, took pictures, and touched it one again and was thrilled - Imagine - 64 years later."


Letter from John Vinton: "About The Healing Woods"

Courtesy of Eleanor Stearns

   "I first learned of Martha Reben and her guide, Fred Rice last August while reading Maitland De Sormo's Summers of the Saranacs. I was intrigues by the remark quoted from Mr. Rice that some passage or other in Martha's manuscript of The Healing Woods was "nonsense," that it should be more "accurate and clear." Any writer who has the benefit of an editor like that is almost certain to produce a worthwhile book.

   To my surprise I found Martha's book on the open shelves of the Brooklyn Public Library, near where I live. When I returned it and asked to check it out again, I was told that someone else had reserved it. She is still being read after thirty years!

   I questioned whether there was enough drama in the book to sustain 75 or 80 minutes of listening, but I found the nature vignettes so charming and vivid that I went ahead and drafted an adaptation. This first version was based solely on Martha's description of her first summer with Fred on Weller Pond in 1931.

   I had written to Maitland about my project, and when I saw him again at the end of September, I discovered he was taking a very personal interest in my work. He gave me copies of Fred's Christmas letters to fellow campers, in which Fred recalled several experiences from that first summer, and one breezy morning Maitland and I paddled over to the famous campsite.

   He also arranged a visit to Mott Chapin, who had camped with Fred and Martha in 1933, and Mrs. Chapin, who had known them. As we sat looking at slides of the pond and the three of them reminisced, the feeling grew strong in me that Fred ought to be emphasized more in my adaptation. When I discovered at the Saranac Lake Library that Fred's Fifth Years in a Health Resort (1937) contained a case history on Martha's recovery, along with his own strong views on nature vs. medicine, I decided to redraft my version of the story.

   Fred and Martha both tell the story now. The healing aspect, which Martha downplayed, has become more prominent. And their remarkable friendship, which helped extend Martha's life by many, many years, will come alive, I hope, in a new way.

   I have dedicated this adaptation to Maitland De Sormo in recognition of his profound influence on its creation."


Comments

2010-02-11 14:25:29   I love this! Was talking to Amy just this morning about Fred and Martha. Thank you so much for posting it! - Karen Lewis —71.164.123.91

Footnotes

1. Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 14, 1966