Born: April 7, 1852, Salem, Massachusetts
Died: March 16, 1924, Plainville, Massachusetts
Married: Laura J. Miller, in 1885
Children: Herman, Seaver Miller Rice, Irving, Walter Livingston, and Sturgis
Walter Channing Rice built the fashionable Villa Dorsey on Dorsey Street that served as one of the first two cure cottages in the village. He served on the Saranac Lake water and sewer commission for three years, and also served as town tax collector. He worked as a hunting guide, known for his knowledge of woods lore and for his ability to spin tales of backwoods adventure. He had a camp named Camp Wah-Loon-Dah.
His poetry and prose was published in a number of periodicals. He was best known in his role as fire observer on Ampersand Mountain, where he spent eight years until shortly before his death, greeting scores of hikers, and helping them to recognize the view from Ampersand. A plaque on the summit, erected by his sons and friends, is still in place. He is buried in Pine Ridge Cemetery.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, March 17, 1924
Franklin Historical Review, Vol. 15, 1978
The Hermit of Ampersand Mountain
High on the eastern slope of Ampersand Mountain, a few yards from the rocky summit and near the observation tower, is a bronze plaque which reads
Walter Channing Rice
"The hermit of Ampersand", who kept vigil on this peak-1914-1922
Erected in loving memory by his sons 1928.
Walter Rice was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on April 6, 1851. His father Henderson Ives Rice, a native Vermonter, had taken his family and pregnant wife in 1850 to live with her parents while he took oft to seek his fortune in the gold fields of California.
Henderson Rice returned after two years without obtaining his desire, picked up his family including his newly born son, Walter, and returned to the farm in Milton Vermont.
In the year 1856, he learned through his friend Paul Smith that there was an opening for a Manager of the Franklin Falls, New York, hotel, so "Hand" Rice as he was known throughout life, packed up his belongings and brought his family across Lake Champlain to Port Kent, New York, journeyed on trough Ausable Forks to Franklin Falls on the Saranac river where he managed the hotel for two years. Young Walter thee grew up in this wild Adirondack country and developed a love for the unspoiled wilderness and the lakes and streams of this country which in later years would be disclosed orally before assemblages and in the written word.
Walter Rice had only a meager education but his appreciation of literature and a thirst for knowledge spurred him on, so in later life to together with a tender passion for nature, he became well versed in the arts.
In the Adirondack country, 120 years ago the lakes and streams teemed with trout and the Saranac river was a favorite haunt of young Walter Rice. He often told us in later years of the big catches in the Permit rapids [also known as the Permanent Rapids] above Franklin Falls. Sixty five years ago, the Paul Smiths Electric Company dammed its river at the falls. This created a large lake. It is well to mention that in the latter part of the 1800's Northern Pike, Perch, and Bass were introduced into our lakes and streams spoiling much of the trout fishing. Walter Rice's disgust at these measures knew no bounds. He was first, last and always a trout fisherman.
When he was a lad of 16, he journeyed over to St. Regis lake where Paul Smith had settled and built his hotel which developed into national prominence. He assisted at the hotel as night watchman, handy man and in necessity as a guide.
His first job as a full time guide was for Dr. Edward L. Trudeau at his camp near Paul Smith's hotel. Dr. Trudeau, of course, is the famed physician who helped in the discovery of an arrestment and sometimes cure of tuberculosis. His simple prescription was rest, nourishing food and pure Adirondack air.
Dr. Trudeau was carried on a stretcher suffering with this dread malady to Paul Smiths in the late 1860's. He lived on for forty years and is known for his many benefactions to the sufferers of Tuberculosis. With the aid of his moneyed friends he built and maintained the Adirondack Sanatarium in Saranac Lake. Later this institution was known as Trudeau Sanatarium and closed its doors as such some thirty years ago when the modern miracle drugs practically eradicated the dread white plague.
In 1877, Mr. Rice came to live in the village of Saranac Lake with a sister who had married R. Eugene Woodruff who had built the Berkeley hotel there and had taken over the management on account of financial difficulties. Woodruff was the contractor who also built the first Harrietstown town Hall, the Algonquin hotel on Lower Saranac Lake and the beautiful Church of St. Luke in the village. This church is still in operation after nearly 100 years.
Walter Rice worked in season as a guide on upper Saranac Lake in a tent camp for two maiden ladies from Philadelphia named Dorsey. They were of Quaker extraction.
On October 28, 1885, he married Laura J. Miller, daughter of Van Buren Miller, one of the leading citizens of the community and grandson of Capt. Pliny Miller, the first settler in the Harrietstown section of Saranac Lake village. Miller owned 300 acres there and erected the dam across the Saranac river and later a sawmill to aid in his lumber interests.
In 1888, Rice purchased several acres of land from his father-in-law Van Buren Miller. This land was situated on the west bank of the river across from where the Town Hall is located. On the hill he erected a twenty-five room building in which he boarded some of the health seekers who were beginning to crowd the village. He named the place Villa Dorsey after his employers and friends, the Dorsey sisters, whom as mentioned he had guided for several seasons on upper Saranac Lake.
Walter Rice soon established himself in the village. In 1892, he cast the first vote in the election to incorporate the village of Saranac Lake. He was a charter member of the Pontiac Club which maintained an outdoor electric lighted skating rink combined with other winter sports. He entered a float in the first mid-winter carnival in 1898, with his five young sons dressed as characters from Mother Goose. In 1907, he was elected Tax Collector for the Town of Harrietstown and also served on the Village Water Board, which purchased land around McKenzie Pond and piped water from this little body of water to the inhabitants of Saranac Lake village.
Walter Rice maintained throughout life his love for trout fishing on the streams and lakes of this region. As a small boy, I remember many trips he took me on to such places as Cold, Rogers, Ampersand and Ray Brooks. On one memorable occasion in 1903, we went on a trip to Chub River, a few miles south of Lake Placid and stayed in a log cabin with two men who were conducting a charcoal operation. They made charcoal by slowly burning hard wood in cement kilns for several days. I remember meeting a man along the trail who was gathering Ginseng roots to sell in China. The herbs were in great demand by the Chinese for their medicinal properties. As we rounded a bend in the trail, a mother Partridge with her chicks was sighted. A clucking sound from the mother and her brood disappeared magically. The mother ran down the trail dragging a wing as if broken. "Look" I exclaimed "That bird has a broken wing, I can catch her". Father laughed and replied, "This is your first lesson in wildlife survival, that bird is drawing you away from her hidden chicks."
In 1911, after the death of his wife, Walter Rice leased the Villa Dorsey to other interests. He again returned to his old profession as guide, working at Spruce Island on Follensbee Clear Pond, near upper Saranac Lake.
There was a tent colony on this state owned land with three wealthy and prominent families who maintained this establishment. It might be well to mention that at that time a permit was not required by the state of New York to erect and maintain a tent camp on state owned land. The three families included Dr. Richard C. Cabot of Boston, Walter Clark, an industrialist from New York and Dr. Richard Stockton of Buffalo.
In 1913, Rice rented the Hi Benham camp on Fish Creek near upper Saranac Lake and conducted a resort for paying guests. Fish Creek reservation is now the site of the famed New York State Conservation maintained camping grounds.
In 1914, Rice entered into the happiest period of his life on Ampersand Mountain located on Route 3 between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake village. The state had appointed him fire observer at this lovely spot. An incident which happened 16 years before on this mountain identifies him and will bear repeating.
In 1898, the Reverend Elmer P. Miller, an Episcopal Clergyman from Catskill, New York was vacationing at his old home in Saranac Lake. He was also a brother-in-law of Rice. One day late in August, he called at the latter's home and proposed that Rice accompany him in climbing Ampersand. It was midday and Rice agreed to go but remarked that it was doubtful if they could make it before sunset. The Reverend had also made arrangements with his brother Seaver to meet them on the eastern shore of middle Saranac Lake at the foot of the mountains and camp out for the night. The plan was for Seaver to row his guide boat with camping paraphernalia up lower Saranac Lake, through the connecting river to middle Saranac or Round Lake as the natives called it.
The two men trudged up the old state road which connects Saranac Lake with Tupper Lake. This road had been constructed by Van Buren Miller in 1888. Miller at the time was supervisor of Harrietstown in Franklin County. He was also father-in-law of Rice as previously related.
Late in the day the men reached the path leading up Ampersand and hurried along the rough blazed trail, obstructed by fallen trees and grown over bushes.
Dr. Henry Van Dyke in his book "Little Rivers" has devoted a whole chapter about Ampersand and conjectures how the mountain received its name. "It is a mountain. It is a lake. It is a stream. The mountain stands in the heart of the Adirondack Country, just near enough to the thoroughfare of travel for hundreds of people to see it every year. Behind the mountain is a lake which no lazy man has ever seen. Out of the lake flows the stream winding down a long untrodden forest valley, until at length it joins the stony creek waters and empties into the Raquette river which of the three Ampersands has the prior claim to the name I cannot tell, philosophically speaking, the mountain ought to be so regarded because it was there before the others existed, and the lake was probably the next on the ground, because the stream is its child. But man is not strictly just in his nomenclature, and I conjecture that the little river, the last born of the three was the first to be called Ampersand and then gave its name to the Parent and Grandparent. It is such a crooked stream, so bent and curved and twisted upon itself, so fond of turning around unexpected corners and swooping away in great circles from its direct route, that its first explorers christened it after the eccentric supernumerary of the alphabet which appears in the old spelling books as &."
The two men hurried along the rough trail following it for the most part by the blazed trees. After an hour through the hard wood forest of Maple, Birch and Beech trees, of comparatively easy walking, the trail ascended sharply through spruce, balsam and hemlocks trees and a hour later the men emerged on to the rocky summit of Ampersand as dusk was rapidly approaching.
Rice and the Reverend Miller briefly took in the dazzling splendor revealed below. To the north and west could be seen the lower and middle Saranac Lakes. The Weller Ponds, Lonesome Pond and dimly seen far to the west were upper Saranac Lake and the St. Regis chain. On the East and the south was a wild land of mountains, McIntyre, the Gothics, White Face and Marcy and more lovely than all was Mount Seward, standing apart from the others and clothed from base to Summit in a dark unbroken robe of forest and at its feet the wildest and most beautiful of all Adirondacks waters, Ampersand Pond. "Come Elmer" said his companion "Let 's hurry back, I doubt if we can make it out of the woods before dark".
The men hurried down the trail. A half mile on, darkness set in. Rice carrying his rifle handed his-companion a dozen or more sulphur matches to help light the way. They had lost the trail several times and stumbled in-to the dense forest. The night was of the darkest, the cold mountain air enveloped them and finally Rice spoke up, "Elmer, we are not going one step further. It 's useless in this darkness".
He leaned his gun against a tree and began to gather dead branches for a fire. He pulled birch bark from a tree and with his knife he made shavings from dry cedar. He turned to Elmer and said "Now give me one of those matches and in no time we will have a fire to warm us".
The Reverend fumbled around for a match and couldn't come up with a single one. He had used them all in lighting the way along the trail. "What do we do now" asked the crestfallen clergyman.
The old woodsman scratched his head and then began to gather the cedar shavings, birch bark and Pine Needles Into one small compact heap. He picked up his gun and exclaimed "Now Elmer, I am going to fire off this gun into the kindling. I want you to kneel down near the muzzle when the shot comes out of the gun barrel there will be some sparks, you blow the sparks into the kindling". It worked and they soon had a blazing fire which warmed them through the long night.
Meanwhile Seaver Miller had reached the camping rendezvous on the shore of Round Lake and set up camp in expectation of the arrival of the two men. As the night wore on, Seaver, then a young man, became almost frantic with fear that some accident had befallen the men. Had they fallen off a mountain cliff or met with some other accident?
At last daylight dawned and the men on the mountainside made their way through the woods until they discovered the trail and an hour later they were at the camp site on Round Lake where they sat down to a hearty breakfast of flapjacks, bacon and eggs with plenty of coffee.
Sixteen years later Walter Rice was appointed fire observer at the station on Ampersand Mountain where he spent some of the happiest years of his life. Ampersand Mountain was his mountain. He loved it bettor than any place on earth. At his death in 1924 his obituary in a Syracuse paper is a splendid tribute to one who grew up and spent his life in he North Woods. I quote from this article "Walter C. Rice, 72, Pioneer, Woodsman, Guide, Poet and Philosopher died today. He had been in failing health since two years ago when heart trouble necessitated the abandonment as fire observer on the peak of Ampersand Mountain. Mr. Rice's love for the solitude of the Mountain Peak gave him the sobriquet of the "Hermit of Ampersand". But he was not a hermit in the common acceptance of the term! On the contrary, his associations were perhaps more intimate and numerous than any of the old Adirondackers who in recent years have turned their last flapjack, extinguished the embers of their last camp fire and set out with packs lightened of the world's cares and worries over the last long trail.
News of the death of the Ampersand sentinel will carry a tinge of sadness to distant parts of the country. Hundreds have communed with him in the silences of the Peak above the Saranac chain of lakes. Hundreds have met him with outstretched hand of welcome when rain permitted his leaving the Peak and hundreds who fished and hunted with him in the halcyon days of the woods will greet him and swap stories in the eternal camp whither his spirit went winging today.
Walter Rice was a poet, underdeveloped technically, but possessing the fervent love of the beauties of creation and from such well springs there emerged at intervals his tribute to the wondrous alchemy of nature as he viewed it in blazing trails through the primeval forest as in mature years he saw it through the windows of his soul from the heights of Ampersand. So deep was his affection for the woods and so frequently did he give oral and written expression of it that year after year visitors to the Saranacs climbed the mountain to enjoy the philosophy of the kindly observer as much as the transcendent beauties sparkling in the vista of the range. He was an observer who looked for more than the outbreak of fire in his beloved forest. He saw not only the misty tops of the mountain at the break of day, the shimmer of the sun on the forest clad slopes at twilight and the gleam of silver from the Saranac chain at his feet. He saw the entire process of the changing seasons, he watched the buds burst into leafy loveliness and the leaves change to burnished gold and he saw the mating of the birds in springtime and their departure in the fall.
'I never felt lonesome on Ampersand' he said with tears in his eyes when he had to abandon his post. 'I have friends up there, a feathered orchestra to waken me in the morning and plaintive song of the hermit thrush to lull me to sleep at eventide.'
And then Mr. Rice had his books, the works of. Dickens, Shakespeare, Robert Burns and O. Henry were encased with others in his rustic bookcase. From these books he garnered embellishments for his homely philosophy which made him a most interesting companion.
In his last days Mr. Rice set in motion to perpetuate the memory of the philosophers camp established a few years before the Civil War on beautiful Ampersand Pond beneath the mountain peak. It was there that Agassiz, Emerson, Stillman the artist, Senator Hoar of Massachusetts and other great men of letters and accomplishments camped one summer and made the spot historical.
Mr. Rice suggested that a plaque with their names be placed on the peak of Ampersand to commemorate their visit. He had assurances of support from many people and was working on the plan when he was stricken."
Walter Rice died at the age of 73 on March 15, 1924. At his death he left four sons. Herman M. Rice, Seaver M. Rice. Dr. Irving J. Rice and Sturgis C. Rice. Another son. Walter L. Rice had died in 1922. And so ended the life of a man who perhaps portrayed the spirit of the Adirondacks, the love of nature and conservation of our heritage more than any other.
Malone Farmer, March 19, 1924.
HERMIT OF AMPERSAND MOUNTAIN.
Walter C. Rice, Noted Adirondack Resident; Gone to his long Rest.
Many people, not only in Northern New York but everywhere, have learned with sorrow of the passing of Walter C. Rice, Adirondack guide poet and philosopher, so long known as the "Hermit of Ampersand Mountain." He passed to the Elysian Fields at Plainville, Mass., on Sunday at the home of his son Sturgis with whom he had spent the winter. For two years he had suffered from a heart difficulty which compelled him to resign as a watchman on Ampersand mountain and leave the wilderness solitudes of which he was so fond. His remains were brought back to Saranac Lake, for nearly all his life his home, on Monday and the funeral took place from the church of St. Luke, the Beloved Physician, of which deceased had long been an adherent, yesterday. Rev. E. P. Miller, brother-in-law of deceased officiated at the last sad rites and the remains were laid away in Pine Ridge cemetery.
We made the acquaintance of Mr. Rice in 1882, three years before his marriage to Laura J. Miller, daughter of the late Van Buren Miller, then one of the most prominent and influential residents of the Adirondacks. She was a woman of beautiful character and a most worthy helpmeet who died a number of years ago. Mr. Rice was one of the most loyal, tender-hearted and lovable men we ever knew. He loved the wild and all the living things which it contained, and had a poet's soul, together with a quaint philosophy of life which imparted the charm of right living and contentment in all whom he met. He spent many years as a guide and had a profound knowledge of woods and mountains and forest lore. And he wrote charming stories of wilderness life and adventure, both in poetry and prose, which were widely published in Northern New York, papers.
Mr. Rice possessed a remarkable sense of appreciation of the beautiful and knew the beauty spots of mountain and lake as few have known them. And he had the gift of pointing them out and making them appreciated by others. He was one of Saranac Lake's most intelligent and progressive citizens. He cast the first vote for the incorporation of the village in 1892 and aided in the promotion of every movement for the welfare o the place. For years he conducted Villa Dorsey, one of the first boarding cottages established there, and later became famous as the lone watchman on Ampersand Mountain, where he communed with nature and never became lonely. Hundreds of summer guests visited him there each season and he became noted far and wide for his kindness as a host and the pains which he took to make their visits enjoyable. Mr. Rice loved the solitudes and his rest will be sweet. Four sons and a sister survive. They are Seaver, of Southbridge and Sturgis, of Plainville, Mass.; Irving, of Hartford, Conn.; Herman, of Saranac Lake, and Mrs. R. E. Woodruff, Morrisonville, N. Y. Mr. Rice was 72 years of age.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 27, 1966
This 'N' That
by Helen Tyler
[…] Walter Rice was a very small child when his father, Henderson Rice, brought his family from Vermont to the Franklin Falls section of northern New York state, in the early 1850's.
From his very early years Walter had a love for the Adirondacks which never dimmed but grew as he grew, — in size, and age, and understanding.
It is hard to realize that 100 years ago this north country was much more of a wilderness than it is now. And back in the last century, and the early years of this one, not many people came into this portion of the North Country to hunt, fish, or just plain explore, without hiring a good "guide" to guide them to wherever they desired to go. Also the guide usually provided whatever was needed for camping equipment, served as cook, handy-man, and general planner of the whole outing. In fact he might have been considered "boss" of the whole expedition. You may think that he must have been considered a very lowly servant indeed, but this was not so. A good guide was much looked up to, and very highly regarded by those he served. This type of guide has long been gone from the Adirondack scene. But it was that type of work,- guiding,- that was Walter Rice's main vocation for many years.
In 1885 Walter Rice married Miss Laura J. Miller, who was the daughter of Van Buren Miller; who was one of the early settlers and developers of Saranac Lake.
It was in 1886 that Walter Rice built the large house on Dorsey St. that soon became known as the "Villa Dorsey." (This building was torn down a few years ago to make room for the LaPan Highway.) The Rices operated their house as a boarding "cottage," and it wasn't long before it was considered a "most fashionable" stopping place for tourists and health seekers. At about that time the village of Saranac Lake began to come into prominence as a health center for tubercular patients, and the Rice Cottage was one of the first two boarding cottages in the village to be operated as health cottages for tubercular patients. It was in this same "cottage" that the Rice's five sons were born, and it was there that their mother died in 1910.
Mr. Rice was always eager to help out with any project that would further the growth and progress of his chosen village. It was he who cast the first vote for the incorporation of the village in 1892. He served for varying lengths of time on the water and sewer commission, as town tax collector and member of the Woodruff Hose Company.
Matters of business often required his presence on the Main Street side of the river, so, strictly for his own convenience Walter Rice built a foot-bridge across the Saranac River from the river bank in front of his Villa Dorsey home, to the opposite bank behind the building on Main Street. The bridge was only about two feet above the water. During the early years it had to be taken down every spring for about ten days, during the log drive, to allow room for the logs to float down the river. Otherwise logs would have caught on the bridge or on the upright posts supporting it, and that would have caused a log-jam to form.
Through the years Walter Rice spent much of his otherwise "spare time" exploring the mountain wilderness. Of his own volition, and on his own time, he marked out many trails so that others who might also desire to explore would be in no less danger of getting lost.
As a boy he obtained the most [illegible] of his formal education in the Franklin Falls school [illegible section]
[…] a well stocked library which often amazed the mountain climber who visited a while as they stopped to rest. Here was to be seen many of the classics, among them the complete works of Dickens, Tennyson, Shakespeare and O. Henry. All his books and other supplies he had to tote to his cabin, on his back in his Adirondack pack basket. It is to be remembered that this man who became known throughout this area as "The Hermit of Ampersand" was 63 when he began his mountain job, and already an old man according to some standards. However, neither lack of formal education, nor advancing age kept him from writing many an article, and poem, usually using some phase of his loved wilderness as his subject.
Outside of his specific duties as fire observer he served the Conservation Commission in various ways, often being able to obtain some much desired information about the wilderness, or its inhabitants of wild life. During otherwise idle time, when on the mountain, he spent many hours improving the trail to the summit by putting up railings and guide posts, and even building ladders to help in the climb where the trail was especially steep.
Because a fire observer is not needed on the mountaintops during the winter Walter Rice had time then for other interests. One of those winters—1920-21, — he spent four months in the Lake Colden country where he measured the rise and fall of the Opalescent River for the State. (Lake Colden is not far from the western base of Mt. Marcy. The Opalescent River is its outlet and flows southwestward into Harris Lake near Newcomb.) For the entire four months that he was in that area Mr. Rice didn't see any other human being. He was then 68 years old.
The World War I years must have been hard on this man. As he searched the horizon for signs of fires one can imagine him raising his strong binoculars high in an effort to see far beyond the seeable horizon to other areas in search of the sight of any one of his five sons who were all serving in that war. In those days visitors to the mountain noted with interest the "Service flag" with the five stars which floated above the roof of his cabin, and which he pointed to with justifiable pride.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 7, 1966
Our story today is a continuation of last week's story about Walter C. Rice, or "The Hermit of Ampersand," as he was affectionately called hereabout.
Walter Rice was one of the early inhabitants of Saranac Lake, and one of his sons, Herman Rice, is still living in Saranac Lake, at 1 Riverside Drive. The most of the data for last week's story was obtained from clippings lent to me by Mr. Herman Rice, and a smaller portion came from a letter which his brother, Seaver M. Rice, of Southbridge, Mass. wrote to me some five years ago.
Information for today's story came from a different source: Through the kindness of Mrs. Ruth Worthington, loyal guardian of the treasures in the Saranac Lake Free Library, I was allowed to look through some precious old scraps books. A clipping from the Adirondack Enterprise of November 9 in 1917 had this to say about Mr. Walter Rice, and his work on Ampersand Mountain:
Walter C. Rice, "Hermit of Ampersand Mountain," is mingling again with his fellows, walking paved streets and again amenable to all the little conventionalities of social life, but viewing the change with none of the elation that might be felt by a man who has lived alone since last spring on a mountain, protecting the forests from the ravages of fire.
"Mr. Rice would take exception to that word, "alone."
'I'm never lonesome,' he said the other day. "I have the whole Adirondack range as company. There are trees upon Ampersand that are almost as intimate as my friends: birds that come and sing for me during the long hours; squirrels that greet me with chirp of welcome every day. I've lived in the Adirondacks all my life and I love the trees and the mountains and the lakes as much as man can love men."
"Mr. Rice returned from his vigil last Sunday after remaining on Ampersand since April 25 last. During the summer 300 visitors toiled up the mountain slope to stand on the peak with Mr. Rice and listen to his description of the beauties of the region. One of those parties consisted of Saranac Lake Boy Scouts, who were told many absorbing tales of woodland lore by Mr. Rice. Another visitor, who lives in New York, told Mr. Rice that he should keep a register so that the names of visitors might be signed. Upon his return home the man sent a register to the mountain sentinel.
"Mr. Rice said he reported only four fires during the summer, none of which were serious. The first year he was stationed on the Mountain, 1915, he reported 21 fires to the rangers.
He said that October brought the most disagreeable weather for that period. He said last month was the most disagreeable October since he was as assigned to the mountain. […]
The Hermit of Ampersand died two years later at the age of 72. But there are many people here-about who, as young men and women knew him when he was still living in his mountain cabin. I find they still have warm memories of him after the passage of more than 40 years. As for his sons—their admiration and loyalty for their father seems to have increased rather than diminished through the years. From the very little they have said to me I have the feeling that "The Hermit of Ampersand" was a much-loved hero to his sons.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 30, 2005
Part III: Ampersand — Mountain, Lake, and Hermit
By Phil Gallos
No one had more time to marvel and think, no one knew this scene more intimately than Walter Channing Rice, The Hermit of Ampersand.
Walter Rice was born to Henderson and Mary Ann Rice in Lowell, Mass., on April 6, 1851. Some years later, the Rices moved to Franklin Falls, New York, and managed the hotel there in 1862-63.
Walter found himself very much in tune with the Adirondack Country at an early age, and it wasn't long before he was guiding men like Dr. E.L. Trudeau at Paul Smiths.
In 1885 Walter married Laura J. Miller, the great-granddaughter of Captain Pliny Miller who was the head of the second family to settle at Saranac Lake.
In 1886 the Rices built a large boarding house on the left bank of the Saranac River where the LaPan Highway Bridge now crosses. The house came to be known as the Villa Dorsey. Its reputation was very good; and it was, along with the Evans Cottage, one of the first two curing cottages in the Village of Saranac Lake.
The Rices' five sons were born in the Villa Dorsey, and Laura Rice died there in 1910. Soon after his wife's death, Walter sold the Villa.
His sons were grown. He had an excess of time and he was too vibrant a man to just sit and wait for the time to pass, so he turned to the forest.
He found employment again as a guide; and, later, he went to work for the Conservation Department. In 1915 he became a fire observer on Ampersand Mountain.
For the next seven years, Walter Rice lived on the mountain from early April to late October, earning the title of "Hermit of Ampersand.
For those seven years, seven months a year, Walter Rice lived with the mountain as much as on the mountain. Every stone, every tree, every part and parcel of the vast panorama, every animal and insect and clump of moss was a companion, someone, not just something.
After he came down the mountain for the last time, the tears welling up in his eyes, Walter Rice said, "I never found it lonesome on Ampersand for I have friends up there. I have a feathered orchestra to waken me in the morning and hedgehogs who come most informally to visit me at night. And throughout the day the squirrel chatters nonsense at me and occasionally a deer looks at me in amazement."
And he had other friends. He had Shakespeare, Dickens, Tennyson, Byron — all in his cabin on the mountainside.
During the summer, there were the scores of hikers who were lucky enough to find more than a view at the end of the trail, lucky enough to find this 70-year-old Man of the Earth who was willing to share with them a good story and bit of his wisdom.
There were also the men of The Philosophers' Camp whose ghosts he watched haunting the shores of Ampersand Lake.
Walter Rice wanted to have a plaque placed on the summit of his mountain as a memorial to those men whom he so admired.
In 1930 the idea of a plaque became a reality. It reads: "In Loving Memory of Walter Channing Rice, 1852-1924, 'Hermit of Ampersand,' who kept vigil from this peak, 1915- 1923." The bronze plaque was purchased, carried up the mountain, and placed by Walter's sons.
Walter Rice was not actually a hermit. He was in touch with everything. The closing chords of his life were of an intense and sustained volume; but those chords were as clear as and as, free as the winds which washed his mountaintop.
If there was discord, it was of thunderstorms and bobcats and not of garbage cans and brawls. If there was sadness, it was sadness without despair. If there was solitude, it was solitude without isolation. When there was death, it was understood.
His obituary confirms this. "When his summons came he went sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams."