Born: July 6, 1883
Died: August 24, 1967
Noah John Rondeau was an unusually sociable hermit, and the self-described "Mayor of Cold River City (Population 1)."
He was born and raised near Au Sable Forks, New York, but ran away from home as a teenager. He had an eighth-grade education, and was quite well read, with an interest in astronomy. He lived in Corey's, New York, on the Raquette River where he worked as a handyman, caretaker, and guide for fifteen years. He gained some of his woodcraft from Dan Emmett, an Abenaki Indian from Canada. He was occasionally jailed for game law violations.
Rondeau frequently hunted and trapped in the Cold River area, about 17 miles south of Coreys. In 1929, at age 46, he began living alone year-round in the remote area, saying he was "not well satisfied with the world and its trends."
He kept extensive journals over a period of several decades, some of which were written in letter-substitution ciphers of his own invention. The ciphers progressed through at least three major revisions in the late thirties and early forties and in its final form resisted all efforts to be deciphered until 1992.
Although he was considered an Adirondack hermit, he generally accepted visitors, sometimes performing for them on his violin.
During World War II, in his sixties, Rondeau was apparently suspected of being a draft dodger, as he submitted a letter dated 4/8/43 to the Ausable Forks Record-Post:
I never went to Cold River to dodge anything, unless it was from 1930 to 1940 when it might be said I dodged the American labor failure at which time I could not get enough in civilization to get along even as well as I could at Cold River under hard circumstances in the back woods. Since I'm not evading I did not make my first appearance at Cold River on the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed. What I'm doing toward the war effort looks like nothing, but that's all I can do and I'm doing it and it is this — I'm self sustained.
In 1947, Rondeau was flown to the National Sportsmen's Show in New York City by helicopter, starting a series of appearances at similar shows throughout the country.
In 1950, the Conservation Department closed the Cold River area to the public after a wind storm leveled the forest, forcing Rondeau from his home at age 67. He then lived around Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and Wilmington, New York. Besides the sportsmen's shows, he worked for a time at Frontiertown and at the North Pole in Wilmington as a substitute Santa Claus, but he didn’t return to a hermit's life and eventually went on welfare. He was buried in North Elba Cemetery, with a stone from his Cold River home marking his grave.
Source: Wikipedia - Noah John Rondeau
Ticonderoga Sentinel, March 11, 1943
Rationing Hits Hermit Rondeau Of Cold River
TUPPER LAKE — Noah John Rondeau, famed hermit of the Cold River country, crossed his fingers and headed for the Tupper Lake rationing board last week to find out how he could remain a hermit and still comply with the point rationing system.
Rationing had nothing to do with a hermit's life until last fall, when Rondeau discovered that the usual supply of sugar which his hunting friends brought in to him by arrangement each fall could not be obtained without Ration Book No. 1, which he didn't have. His friends and fellow members of the Adirondack Mountain Club and the "Forty Sixers" Club sent him enough from their own supplies to last until Christmas.
It has been the hermit's custom to come out of the woods over 18 miles of wilderness on snowshoes, just once a year, at Christmas time. He visited friends this year at Elizabethtown, Ausable Forks and Upper Saranac Lake, and answered the 80 to 100 letters which come into Corey's post office and accumulate for him each year.
How to get Ration Books No. 1 and 2, and how to get around the time element of the coupon system so that he can hit the trail for his Cold River home with sufficient supplies to keep him there until next Christmas, is Rondeau's problem.
With a vegetable garden, gun and fishing tackle, the hermit manages to be almost self-sufficient, but sugar, coffee and other essentials that he can't grow, shoot or catch can't be obtained at Cold River.
Tupper Lake Herald and Free Press, January 30, 1941
NOAH RONDEAU, HERMIT OF COLD RIVER, RE-UNITED WITH BROTHER HERE AFTER LONG SEPARATION
An unusual and touching scene broke the monotony of hospital life for patients in Ward 3 at the Sunmount Veterans' Facility Wednesday afternoon, the spectacle of two brothers, unexpectedly reunited after a separation of many years.
Principals in the little drama they watched were Joseph Rondeau, a World War veteran fighting to regain his health here after a long illness and his older brother Noah Rondeau, known throughout the North Country as the "Hermit of Cold River" . . . and as extraordinary as a chapter from the Hermit's own strange life were the circumstances which led him to the bedside of the brother he had not seen in fifteen years.
On December 21st Noah Rondeau tramped down from his camp on wild Cold River to spend the holidays with his friend, Albert Hathaway, at Pine Point Camp on Upper Saranac Lake. He had gone into camp on Jan. 1, 1940, and it lacked just ten days of being a full year since he had been "out to civilization." On Tuesday of this week Jack Kerns and his Kentucky Ramblers, dance band from Station WMOQ, St. Albans, Vt.. were in Tupper to entertain at a Fire Department benefit, and Mr. Hathaway invited them out to supper. The Hermit had made preparations to return to camp, but his host persuaded him to stay over a day and meet his guests.
Quick to recognize the human interest possibilities in the Hermit's story, Jack Kerns jotted down an outline of Rondeau's strange life story, and obtained a snapshot from him. On Tuesday night the Kentucky Ramblers staged their show at Sunmount for the entertainment of the patients, and over the hospital radio hookup which reaches the bedside of every patient, Kerns told of the meeting with the hermit and mentioned having his picture. A few minutes later a nurse borrowed the snapshot to show to a patient in Ward 3 who had excitedly expressed the belief that the Hermit of Cold River was his own brother.
Word was gotten out to Noah Rondeau, and on Wednesday afternoon he clasped hands with the younger brother he had last seen years ago, in their native village of Black Brook. Overjoyed at their reunion, they found the short visiting hours all too brief for their reminiscing. Today, satisfied that his brother is making good progress toward full recovery, Noah Rondeau prepared to pack in his supplies on snowshoes, over the 18 wilderness miles that separate what he calls his "Diggings" from the nearest neighbor. He will be alone and snowbound for many months in the loneliest spot in the Empire State, before he comes out again.
The hermit is an arresting figure. A kindly face and piercing brown eyes are framed in a halo of Iron-gray hair which, worn long, runs without a break into his heavy moustache and flowing beard. The patriarchal effect, at first glance, proves misleading, for he is only 57 years old. Twenty-three of those years he has spent on his beloved Cold River. At first he only wintered in his cabin, high up between Seward and Santanoni Ranges, running his trap lines. Summers he spent working around Lake Placid or Coreys, and guiding in the fall. He acquired a small home with his savings. Then came a double disaster which charted his life into a new path. The depression made it increasingly difficult for him to find work, and fire destroyed his home and wiped out all his savings. That was eleven years ago. Cold River has been home to him since, winter and summer, and only once or twice a year does he bother to return to civilization for supplies.
Because of the great distance they must be packed in, only such staples as flour, sweetened canned milk, coffee and dehydrated vegetables go into his pack. In season forest and river supply him with meat and fish. He grows potatoes and turnips in tiny patches around his cabin, and wild greens supplement his meagre diet in summer. His camp is situated on a bluff some 30 feet above what was once the Santa Clara Lumber Company's big dam on Cold River. It consists of two rough log cabins about ten feet long and eight feet wide, roofed with assorted bits of canvas. Winter cold bothers him not the least. "I'm denned up like a muskrat, and as comfortable as I'd be in any town house," he says. One cabin he uses as sleeping quarters and his winter "living room." The other houses his supplies, along along with the yearly buck.
An old oil drum, banked in the dirt floor on its side, serves as a stove in each cabin. The top has been removed from each barrel and replaced with a sheet of iron, salvaged from an old lumber camp, to make a flat stove-top. Those crude stoves radiate plenty of heat, and on them the Hermit can whip up a tasty batch of biscuits in short order, as many a wandering fishermen who strayed to his cabin will testify. Two wigwams of 25-ft. logs laid closely together comprise the rest of the "diggings," and in them is stored an assortment of tackle and the bow with 75-pound pull which the Hermit sometimes uses when he hunts.
Born near Ausable Forks on July 16, 1883, Noah John Rondeau was one of a large family. At 15, before he had completed grade school, he had to leave home to make his own way. He worked as common laborer, barber, carpenter, and general handy-man before the circumstances which determined him to cast his lot on lonely Cold River. Despite his primitive mode of life, the Hermit has read extensively and his conversation reveals a keen intelligence. Many books line the walls of his hermitage, among them two well-thumbed Bibles, a dictionary, Wells' "Outline of History," an elementary text on astronomy, and Parkman's "Conspiracy of Pontiac."
Down through the years Noah Rondeau has become an almost legendary figure in the North Woods but he numbers among his friends a surprising number of men and women from distant cities who have happened on his "diggings" and have been intrigued by his story. He is an honorary member of the "46-ers Club" of Troy, N. Y., whose members set their goal at scaling all of the 46 Adirondack peaks over 4,000 feet in height, and of the Adirondack Mountain Club, whose yearbook, "High Spots" paid tribute to him in a lengthy article prefaced by a full-page photo.
Essex County Republican, August 1, 1947
Noah John Home Again
Noah John Rondeau
Coreys, N, Y.
Essex Co. Republican,
Keeseville, N. Y.
Dear Editor:— July 10th I joined Bill Petty for the day; and Bill was equipped with touring car and moving picture camera—loaded with film, that reveal pictures in natural colors.
And I was equipped, with notions in pack basket, and a boquet of a hundred large, ripe, wild strawberries on 30 stocks; and out on the lawn—before leaving for Cold River presented Mrs. Petty, with the boquet of red berries, as Bill caught us with the camera.
And then, we were on our way (35 miles) to Cold River. And the drive was through forest, among mountains and valleys and the road has many a winding detour.
And at Coreys, we stopped for a brief visit with Mr. Dan Emmett. Mr. Emmett is French and Indian decent—is 77 years old and comes from an Indian Reservation in Canada; and for 37 years he has had a canvas set up at Coreys, where he baskets, balsam pillows, and are the ornamental and useful things that he makes from ash splints, birch bark and sweet grass.
And Mr. Emmett has limited English and splendid French vocabulary. He is courteous, honest and modest; and he has unique refinement of his style.
And for 37 years, he has enjoyed utmost respect and confidence of natives and tourist about Upper Saranac Lake and where ever he goes.
His friendship and esteem of others is 100 per cent loyal.
Many have followed him to his remote hunting grounds in the wilds of Canada— and in turn they have taken him on their ranches in southern states and entertained him all winter.
And whatever the depth, or the height, like Madam Curie, he never loses his head.
He is 99 per cent poor, 100 per cent worthy; and without office or price he has unchangeable perfect quality.
Well, W. E. Petty turned his camera on us, and rolled in a few yards of frames. And then we motored on.
And at Ampersand Park we stopped at the gate where a family by name "Martin" from Tupper Lake are in charge.
The Martins have a girl, 4 years old and one about 6 months old.
So I went into the beautiful log cabin and found the baby wide awake and laughing on a big bed under a canopy of mosquito netting.
So I took the baby and went out on the lawn and danced in the sunshine as W. E. Petty reeled more colorful film in variety of display.
Then we went snake curving through beautiful green, among many stack [sic] peaks to Cold River.
And early afternoon I left W. E. P. to walk 4 miles down the river.
And as I went up the last hill, approaching camp, I was greeted by about 4000 Fox Glove Blossoms that had opened while I was away.
The display, was Rosy Red and White and many intermediate shades of Rosy Pink.
And a Ruby Throated Humming Bird was humming among the flowery spikes.
And since that day, six fishermen have called; and I have readjusted myself to my Cold River city style— after my Tombolian debut at Rouses Point.
Noah John Rondeau.
- Adirondack Attic: vintage radio chat with the Hermit of Cold River
- "From Santanoni to Santa Noah: How Rondeau came out of the woods and into the spotlight," Adirondack Life, November/December 1995