Died: May 9, 1920
Married: Jane Nelson
Henry Davis was an early resident of Saranac Lake, and a well-known guide.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, July 24, 1970
Interview with Mrs. Genevieve Arnold
He married Jane Nelson, a neighboring farm girl, on March 35, 1878 in the little church that still stands in Saranac Hollow, near Dannemora, and the young couple moved to nearby Chazy Lake. He worked briefly there as a farmhand and had their first children, a girl, Ida, and a twin who died at birth. They then moved to Lyon Mountain, where three other children— Frank, Elizabeth and Eunice— were born, and where a near-tragic incident in the mines caused him to seek there a life in the great outdoors.
Henry Davis and nearly 20 other men were severely injured in a dynamite blast. "It blinded me and I couldn't see for days," he told his daughters over the campfire that spring evening years later, "and I made up my mind if I ever could see again, I would look only for what is beautiful." Beauty for him, at that time and always, was the unspoiled magic of the mountains to the east, which he had visited to fish and hunt.
Finally, a doctor arrived from Pittsburgh to patch up the victims of the blast and to spend hours picking the stone dust from Henry Davis' eyes.
Not long after, in the bitter cold of early March, 1885, Henry and Jane Davis packed their belongings into two horse-drawn sleighs and headed into the mountains for Saranac Lake. The oldest of the four children was six. The youngest, Eunice, almost smothered under the blankets that bundled her against the cold for the two-day trip. Snows that year and at that time were three feet deep and the horses needed constant prodding to keep going.
Frank Davis, Henry's brother, also later to become a well-known area guide, drove one of the sleighs carrying the older children. The little group stayed overnight at Loon Lake and reached Saranac Lake the evening of the second day. It was Jane Davis' first sight of the hamlet that was to be her home —a few scattered buildings and a saw mill, just beginning to emerge as a mecca for well-to-do sportsmen from the big eastern cities.
During his earlier visits, Henry Davis had met and been captivated by the colorful old guide Stephen Martin, who at that time lived at 1 Riverside Drive. The Davises stayed at the Martins for a few days until they located a house they could rent at Peck's Corners. This turned out to be a bad decision, for Mrs. Davis found bedbugs and wouldn't stay.
Henry resumed his search for a place to live and located a log cabin at the end of Lake Street, which he was able to rent for $4 or $5 a month. A few years later, then well-established as a popular guide, he had constructed for him the five-bedroom house that still stands at 124 Lake Street, nearer the village.
The remaining children— Albert, Nelson, Genevieve and Anna— were born here during the period that Henry Davis guided at the growing number of resort hotels, but principally from the Ampersand Hotel and boat house on Lower Saranac.
From there, he made numerous trips by guide boat with his "sports" via Lower, Middle and Upper Saranac, the Raquette River, Long Lake. Forked Lake, and through the Fulton Chain to Old Forge. This covered a distance of more than 80 miles, including 10 portages totaling about nine miles.
To be a "personal guide" with a regular following was preferable to being a hotel guide, and Henry Davis pointed himself in that direction. He soon cultivated a following of well to do and well-known sportsmen whose company he enjoyed and who reserved his time. Most notable of these was David Stevenson, a brewery owner, whom Henry accompanied to Canada for moose and caribou hunting and to California for white sea bass and marlin. Gradually, the walls of 124 Lake Street were adorned with trophies of almost every kind of northeastern big game animal, bird and fish. When 124 Lake Street was finally sold, most of these trophies were donated to the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake.
The camp at Long Pond was acquired by Henry Davis in the early 1900's as a place where he could accommodate his regular clientele. At that time it was a tent colony, which had been owned by a man named Gordon. Soon afterward, the disastrous fire of 1903 burned most of the surrounding area but through the day-and-night efforts of its owner and his sons and friends, the beautiful, conifer-studded point and tent structures were saved from destruction.
His daughter believes that Henry Davis' proudest moment was the time that his three sons each killed a buck with a trophy rack, all on the same day. She remembers him as a stoic person, a strict disciplinarian, and one who kept his emotions in restraint. But this day, he burst into the house with childlike enthusiasm and said to his wife, "Jen, you've got to come out and see what your boys did today!"
A picture was taken that day in the backyard at 124 Lake Street, because, as Henry put it, "we re going to have grandchildren and they'll want to see this."
Indicative that times have not really changed very much, insofar as the tribulations of owning "state camps" is concerned, in 1901, Henry Davis erected a main building of logs covered with canvas on the Long Pond site. Three years, later, the state passed new regulations and it had to be torn down and rebuilt according to the new rules.
Aunt Jennie remembers her father as an excellent cook, not only of the game he caught, but also of corn bread and biscuits, "Talk all you want about electric and gas," he used to say, "Nothing will cook like a wood fire." Her mother's comment about this was that "Hank would rather cook than take care of the kids." He never denied it.
In May, 1920, Henry Davis was at his Long Pond camp when [sic: with?] one other person, a man named Fred Perks. He was taken ill with severe stomach cramps. It was an uncommon thing for him to have even a cold. His lean, wiry body had been through a lot and had never failed him, including the time lightning knocked the oars out of his hands during a violent storm on Lower Saranac and including all the times he had tapped his way with a stick across the thin, new ice of Long Pond after hunting season. He was 61 years old and still had all of his own teeth except one. Whatever it was that ailed him would go away.
Days passed while he stubbornly refused to make the long trek out by boat and railroad, with considerable hiking required in between. When he finally arrived home, it was still a chore to get him to go to the hospital. By the time he agreed to go on Wednesday, May 5, it was too late. An operation disclosed a ruptured appendix with attendant compactions.
He waited in agony for the next four days for death to come, and on Sunday, May 9, when the moment arrived, he knew it, and asked his youngest son, Nelson, to recite the 23rd Psalm. He never heard the end of the passage.
Old Hank Davis is buried in Pine Ridge Cemetery in Saranac Lake and has passed into legend along with many others like him whose strength of will and character helped to mold the Adirondack heritage.
Mrs. Arnold, in behalf of the family, wants to thank the Enterprise and Mr. Watson G. Harding for reviving and recording the Henry Davis story.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, September 8, 2007
The Adirondack Davis Family, part 2
By Howard Riley
Jane Nelson Davis was six months old when [her family] landed in America after a six-week crossing on a sailing ship from County Deny.
They settled on a farm near Dannemora, neighbors to the Davis family, where she met and married Hank Davis who was to become that famous Adirondack guide.
(The following details are excerpts from a 1982 Adirondack Life story written by John N. Dumas, grandson of Hank and Jane, after his interview with Jane Arnold, their only surviving daughter.)
Hank had tried farming, "picking rocks until his fingers bled," according to his daughter.
Injured in the mines
So after Hank gave up farming he became a dynamiter in the iron mines at Lyon Mountain, but a blast injured him and 20 others.
His daughter recalled: "It wounded father in the leg and left iron dust in one of his eyes. Finally a doctor came up from, Plattsburgh and picked iron dust out of that eye for hours. Father was so glad to have his sight saved that he never went back to the mine."
He decided to make a new life for himself and headed for the mountains and Saranac Lake, which was getting a lot of press because of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau transforming the community from a lumbering town to a health resort.
The trip to Saranac Lake
His daughter Jane said her father had been lured here by stories of giant brook trout and lake trout:
"Father had been there before. He had fished and hunted there and knew a guide by the name of Stephen Martin. He thought it was going to be a boom town and he was right.
"Now if you can picture this, here is a young man with a wife and four children, the oldest not yet six years and the youngest just six months. It is March and of course it is very cold. He gets his brother Frank to help and he loads up two borrowed farm wagons with all their worldly possessions and starts out for this Godforsaken place in the mountains where he hopes to make his living as a guide.
"I have to give my mother a lot of credit for going along with it. She told me she worried most about whether the youngest, Eunice, would suffocate or freeze to death on the two-day trip. They stayed overnight in Loon Lake, which was a way station on the toll road between Port Kent and Hopkinton.
"Next day they went through Bloomingdale, which at that time was a thriving community (probably then larger and more settled than Saranac Lake) on the stage run, and then on to Saranac Lake. Later on, Frank had to bring the horses and wagons back to the farm."
Now we will try to condense the next few years into a few sentences. The family spent the first night with their friend Stephen Martin but moved into a rented house in Peck's Corners (later the hamlet of Lake Colby), but it was crawling with bedbugs so they found and rented a log cabin on Ampersand Bay, only a couple of hundred yards from Lower Saranac and, better yet, just a step away from Miller's Hotel, where guides could find plenty of work.
Bigger hotels were built, more prosperous clients arrived to hunt and fish, and Hank Davis began earning a reputation as one of the best Adirondack guides. The family grew (to nine children, but a twin to the oldest daughter, Ida, died at birth). and so did Hank's earnings, which resulted in the construction of a five-bedroom house "with a horse barn in the back and a dug well" which still stands today at 124 Lake St.
The Davises built a huge log camp covered with canvas along with several tents at the northern end of Long Pond on state land and occupied "by permission of state authorities."
It was at this camp in 1920 where Hank Davis suffered from abdominal cramps but refused to leave because he had never suffered as much as a cold. His appendix ruptured, and then after a long trek out of camp, then by boat and railroad, he made it to the Saranac Lake General Hospital where he died four days later.
Henry "Hank" Davis is buried in Pine Ridge Cemetery alongside his wife, who lived another 22 years and died at age 85 in 1942.
• • •
Other information in this column is from a collection of Enterprise clippings including a couple of Bill McLaughlin's columns loaned to me by Hank's granddaughter, Jane Davis Nelson.
Jane married the late Bob Nelson, a decorated World War II veteran who was wounded in the Battle of Bastogne and who was in the first class at Paul Smith's College in 1946. More than 100 of that class of a little more than 200 were World War II veterans. Jane said that he would be teased "as robbing the cradle" when they would go into Bernie Wilson's, our teenage hangout. Jane was 17; Bob was 23 and another one of the nicest guys in town. They had five sons: Richard, Gary, Michael. Steven and Jeffery.
From Chuck Brumley's Guides of the Adirondacks: A History, page 111. "[The Davis camp's site] was known as Pine Point, next to Mineral Springs Bay, from which leads the carry to Nellie and Bessie Ponds. In 1914 this building had to be torn down and rebuilt to conform to new state regulations. To get materials a little closer to camp from the Floodwood Railroad Station, Davis designed a hand car he used illegally on the tracks." (Thanks to Mary Hotaling for finding this.)
2010-12-15 16:05:31 my great gran dad...........Nelson was my grandpa....All I can tell you is that prior to the APA's emergence in 1975 the camp on long pond was paradise. I learned about fishing, hunting and treating the environment with deep respect. today in 2010, the place is trashed with garbage...................thank god grandpa henry isn't around to see that.
2011-07-20 12:43:10 Henry Davis was also my great grandfather, with Nelson being my grandfather. I too remember all the wonderful times at the camp on Long Pond, fishing and hunting. I remember vividly the last time I left the camp on Long Pond with my father, Richard, Nelson's son. It was our last trek before the camps were destroyed to protect "the forever wild". It was one of the saddest days of my life and I remember watching my dad, thinking he was leaving a place that held so many wonderful memories of his childhood. That camp remained open for so many years for anyone who traveled through that area to shelter from the storms if they needed. Sad to see the end of such a wonderful era. Emily Davis Donohue —126.96.36.199
- Do you have any old photos you'd like to share? If so, please email me at [email protected]. Thanks, Marc Wanner