Since 1993, North Country Heritage Awards have been presented to more than 60 individuals, families, and community groups who demonstrate “evidence of traditionality, mastery, and creative commitment to their art form over time and a commitment to their community and the teaching of others.”
Big Moose Community Chapel, Big Moose, Hamilton County, has held balsam bees since the 1930s, for which men and boys gather fresh balsam boughs and women and girls hand stitch fragrant pillows to sell at their annual church bazaar.
Alice Clemens, Osceola, Lewis County, played fiddle for dances and collected traditional fiddle tunes since she was a child. She is a founder of the New York State Old Tyme Fiddlers' Association and of the North American Fiddlers' Hall of Fame.
Ray Fadden (Tehanetorens), Onchiota, Franklin County, is an Iroquois elder, storyteller, and teacher of young Mohawks about their own culture. He is founder of the Six Nations Indian Museum and author of many pamphlets about Native history.
Hamilton Ferry, Sevey’s Corners, St. Lawrence County, operated Ham’s Inn, where hunters and campers enjoyed his extensive repertoire of Adirondack tall tales and long narrative poems.
Bill Massey, Waddington, St. Lawrence County, was one of the last of the traditional St. Lawrence River guides and decoy makers, having learned the art as a boy from the old masters around Alexandria Bay and Clayton.
Veronica Terrillion, Indian River, Lewis County, worked for 40 years to develop her house and garden, which features a great variety of concrete figures, inspired by her favorite themes of family, religion, and nature.
Akwesasne Basket Makers, Akwesasne, represent over 100 Mohawks who carry on the old traditional craft of ash splint and sweetgrass woven baskets, for which some of the makers have received international acclaim.
The Brier Hill Volunteer Fire Department, Brier Hill, St. Lawrence County, continues the annual Brier Hill Bullhead Feed, one of the oldest bullhead feeds–a public fish fry with all the trimmings–which is a fundraiser and community-wide social event.
Jim and Colleen Cleveland, Brant Lake, Hamilton County, son and granddaughter of celebrated ballad singer Sara Cleveland, have continued to perform over 400 songs of Irish, Scottish, and English origins in the traditional unaccompanied style.
Carl G. Hathaway, Saranac Lake, Franklin County, is a master builder of Adirondack guide boats with native, handmade tools and handed-down patterns from past masters. Carl has taught several young people the craft.
La Famille Ouimet, Washington County, from both Quebec and the southeastern Adirondack foothills, actively practice the cooking, dances, celebrations, and especially the traditional music of their family and French American community.
The Adirondack Mennonite Camping Association, Lowville, Lewis County, represents eight Mennonite congregations and sponsors the annual Beaver Camp Auction to benefit their children’s camp. The auction features traditional pieced and appliqued quilts and other local traditional crafts and food.
Edith E. Cutting, native of Essex County, is a teacher, author, and pioneer in the collection and publishing of folklore materials from the Adirondacks and Champlain Valley. As a career teacher in the Binghamton area, she encouraged students to collect ethnic and family folklore for school projects.
Vic Kibler, Vails Mills, Fulton County, and Paul Kibler, Plattsburgh, Clinton County, traditional fiddler and pianist, represent a long line of family musicians who have played jigs, reels, and hornpipes for listeners and dancers alike. Vic has documented over 400 traditional tunes in his repertoire.
Bill Smith, Colton, St. Lawrence County, is widely known throughout the Adirondacks and well beyond for his mastery of traditional ash splint basket making, ballad singing and story telling. He has produced recordings and appeared in major folk festivals, media productions, and publications.
The women of the Altar/Rosary Society of St. Anthony’s Church, Watertown, Jefferson County, perpetuate significant religious and ethnic customs in local Italian American families, and prepare food, the church, the altar, and their own homes for festivals, weddings, christenings, funerals, and other special occasions.
Roger A. Huntley, Crary Mills, St. Lawrence County, is the dean of local farm and household auctioneers, and still conducts the premier old time sales in the northern Adirondack foothills. He is a dedicated collector of vintage farm equipment and tools and has created a personal museum to display them.
The Norwood Brass Firemen, Norwood, St. Lawrence County, volunteers from many occupational and musical backgrounds, is one of our region’s oldest and best known musical organizations They continue in the tradition of playing at parades and concerts in small towns with their repertoire of old standards.
Clarence "Daddy Dick” Richards, Lake Luzerne, Warren County, began as a traditional fiddler and square dance caller and became an important pioneer country and bluegrass music performer on local stages and radio programs. In addition, he was an acknowledged teller of tall tales of the Adirondacks.
Captain James Brabant, Clayton, Jefferson County, is a fifth generation river man. By taking fishing parties in pursuit of pike, bass, and the famous "muskie” for the last 33 years, Jim represents the quintessential 1000 Islands fishing guide. He specializes in a traditional guide’s shore dinner, featuring the catch of the day, corn on the cob, guides’ French toast, and all the trimmings.
Bea Reynolds, Burke, Franklin County, was well known to her family, church, and community as a special home maker. In 1985, she entered breads, doughnuts, and pies in the Franklin County Fair and came away the Grand Champion Cook, having received the most blue ribbons. Each year after, she entered as many as 100 classes and received upwards of 40 blue ribbons.
Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, Saranac Lake, Franklin County, celebrated its centennial in 1997, with the claim that it is the nation’s oldest winter carnival. The ten-day event now includes skiing and skating races, snow sculpture competitions, the crowning of royalty, and the lighting of the ice palace, built each year by community volunteers and long its most famous feature.
Don Woodcock, Kendrew Corners, St. Lawrence County, began playing the fiddle at age 14. Thirty years later, Don now holds the title of Grand Champion Fiddler of New York State, having won the state championship contest three times. He was inducted into the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame in Osceola in 1987.
Three generations of the Hollis Family, Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, have fished, hunted, built fishing and duck boats, and carved decoys for many years among them. They are particularly well known for their "Hollis punts,” a flat-bottomed work boat especially useful for hunting and fishing on the St. Lawrence River.
The Mohawk Choir of St. Regis Mission Roman Catholic Church, Akwesasne, has sung for Mass each Sunday morning for many years and for wakes, funerals, weddings, and other special events. Their music helps keep the Mohawk language alive in their community.
Kermit Saxton, Brushton, Franklin County, lived on the Saxton Homestead, for which his great-great-grandfather, with the aid of oxen, broke the land in 1835. Over Kermit’s lifetime he owned eight “yoke” with which he demonstrated traditional driving and working skills. He was also a storyteller, reciting poetry and telling stage jokes in the tradition of community entertainers.
Francis Betters of Wilmington, Essex County, has studied and practiced the arts related to fishing for most of his life. Living near the banks of the legendary Ausable River, he has guided and taught hundreds of people in fishing for trout. He is particularly known for making custom fly rods and for tying a great variety of flies used in fishing under all kinds of conditions.
The annual Hammond 4-H and FFA Fair, St. Lawrence County, remains a genuine small town agricultural fair, with many activities like sheep and cattle judging, vegetable and baked goods competitions, and a horse show for junior competitors. All exhibitors are teenagers or younger. The event is planned to encourage the younger generation to continue in agriculture as a way of life.
Genevieve Yates Sutter of Tupper Lake, Franklin County, always kept busy making things at home. For many years Genevieve hooked rugs and taught classes; she later took up quilting, working at first with various traditional designs, eventually creating pictorial quilts of Adirondack scenes and personal memories for which she has become widely celebrated.
Cecilia Mitchell, Akwesasne, is known widely in her community as an herbalist and medicine woman. From the large, four-tiered “medicine wheel” of indigenous plants she cultivates in her back yard to her celebrated medicine walks in the woods, she researches and teaches both her philosophy and science, based on the traditions of past generations.
David R. Nichols of Whippleville, Franklin County, is a highly skilled luthier or stringed instrument maker, with particular interests in making guitars and mandolins. He has developed a national reputation for his custom inlay work, creating stunning decorative pieces for both Gibson and Martin instruments as well as his own.
James Earl Sprague, Jr. of Port Henry, Essex County, has not only seen the storied monster of Lake Champlain, as a woodworker he has created many yard art images of “Champ,” from whirligigs to parade floats to giant roadside figures, expressing his town’s adoption of this local legend. Earl also builds shanties for ice fishing on the lake, one of our region’s favorite winter pastimes.
Historic Beth Joseph Synagogue, Tupper Lake, Franklin County, affectionately known as “The Peddlers Synagogue,” was built in 1905 and remains one of a very few synagogues in the Adirondacks today. A community effort begun by several local Jewish women in the 1980s resulted in a beautiful restoration and regular use for summer services and a community arts center.
Mèmére Catherine Charron, Whitehall, Washington County, is known to her grandchildren and many children in her community as a great teller of tales, especially the supernatural stories of ghosts, werewolves, and the devil, which she learned from her Quebec-born French elders.
After a career in the military, Erwin K. Quigley, Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, built impressive stone walls for private homes and businesses in and around Ogdensburg for over 30 years. His dry wall construction, using native stone from the region, employs techniques that are ancient and self taught.
The Redford Picnic, sponsored by The Church of the Assumption in Redford, Clinton County, has occurred every year since 1855. Highlights include the meal, now served to nearly 1,000 guests, booths featuring games of chance and “fancy goods,” and their celebrated carousel, made in the 1890s by Herschell-Armitage and operated only one day each year, for this event.
Barbara Klemens, Canton, St. Lawrence County, has been a knitter’s best friend to at least three generations of residents in and near Canton, where she taught the basics and the fine points of knitting to literally hundreds of people. The small shop in her home is a mecca for those in need of all kinds of yarns and supplies and for good conversation about one of our most traditional art forms.
Fred V. Higby, Black River, Jefferson County, has played harmonicas for over 65 years, beginning as a small boy in a Syracuse orphanage and still playing today for audiences in the Watertown area. A popular entertainer, he particu-larly likes to perform for veterans groups and military ceremonies, where his patriotic selections are featured.
Don Perkins and Phyllis Perkins Ezero of Plattsburgh, Clinton County, and The Perkins Family Band, follow the footsteps of fiddler-grandparents on both sides. While still playing familiar traditional French Canadian tunes of their childhood, they’ve also become popular bluegrass musicians.
Tom Phillips of Tupper Lake, Franklin County, follows a family tradition as an Adirondack camp caretaker, but for years has also been mastering the art of rustic furniture making. Tom produces individual works of art from roots, bark, limbs and twigs, reminiscent of pieces in nineteenth century Great Camps.
In the rural community of Cooks Corners in the town of Pierrepont, St. Lawrence County, Dawn Atkinson is known for her sincere devotion to old time music of all kinds. She uses music to entertain her neighbors, especially the “gang” of older residents who have gathered at her home for monthly sing-alongs and hearty lunches for many years.
Henry Arquette is much admired at Akwesasne for his mastery of the long tradition of making utilitarian baskets of hand-pounded and split black ash as his ancestors did before him. He has taught many young people the fine points of preparing and weaving the baskets and the importance of them to their culture.
Before there was a Disney World or Sea World, Arto Monaco was designing and building Santa’s Workshop in Wilmington and later his own child-scale Land of Make Believe near his home in Jay, Essex County. A child at heart, Arto’s many inventions–including several patented toys and board games, were both whimsical and creative.
Ralph Morrow of Saranac Lake, Franklin County, worked around boats all his life. For years he worked on high quality wooden boats for a local marina but decided to pursue building and repairing traditional Adirondack guide boats, “the Stradivarius of wooden boats,” which he mastered.
Taught by her grandmother to make traditional braided rugs from salvage scraps of wool, 50 years later Helen Condon continues working and teaching others to braid in her studio in Parishville, St. Lawrence County. A master of color and innovation, she often works on commissioned projects for rugs in places as diverse as Adirondack great camps and Manhattan apartments.
Each February since 1964, volunteer firefighters from northern Lewis County cut upwards of 1000 large blocks of ice for the New Bremen Ice Harvest. They continue to use traditional hand tools and a jury-rigged saw and hay elevator to get the job done. In the summer months, they sell the ice for festivals and picnics.
Three generations of The Fraser Family of musicians regularly gather in Harrisville, Lewis County, to sing and play music that has been in the family for generations. Tracing their roots to Cape Breton, they love the old Scottish, Irish and maritime music of ancestors, brought to the Adirondacks by their logger grandfather decades ago.
Nellie Staves of Tupper Lake, Franklin County, has been active outdoorswoman, trapper and conservationist for over 70 years. Since she was a child, she has collected bracket fungi from dead or dying hardwood trees and with simple tools etches pictures on them, usually of finely detailed images of wildlife.
For nearly all his life, James Kincaid came to the Thousand Islands to the family summer home on Wellesley Island. As a child, he built many models and, in retirement, he took up the hobby again, this time creating carefully detailed models of local boats, like St. Lawrence skiffs and Gold Cup racing boats, described by many as “amazing” for their authenticity and beauty.
A forerunner of the current rustic movement, Barry Gregson of Schroon Lake, Essex County, started out as a stonemason and made rustic furniture on the side. For the past 25 years, it has been his business. Each piece, from free-form wall cabinets to his distinctive chairs, is an original design, created from natural bends, roots, and burls from the wild.
Since the 1950s and the creation of Saint Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church in Watertown, Jefferson County, Greek Pastry Makers have made thousands of delicate, sweet, traditional pastries as a church fundraiser. For the pastry makers the time spent together allows for spiritual and ethnic renewal and a chance to support their church.
Louise and Vincent Boyea, retired dairy farmers from the Quebec border town of Westville, Franklin County, are passionate about old-time fiddle and dance music. As a teenager, Vince “first played out” at local dances. Louise’s father was Danish and played fiddle at home. She chords on the piano for backup for Vince when they perform for fiddle flings or senior centers.
Chief Tom Porter (Sakokwenionkwas) is the spokesman and chief spiritual leader of the Mohawk community of Kanatsiohareke, near Fonda. Raised at Akwesasne, he co-founded the White Roots of Peace and the Akwesasne Freedom School with a curriculum entirely in Mohawk. Tom is particularly known as a master storyteller, in the best tradition of Indian orators.
Over the last 30 years, Don Morley of Heuvelton, St. Lawrence County, has become a genuine master of the decoy carving and painting. An avid trapper and deer and duck hunter, Don has also raised exotic birds. His talents as a wildfowl artist have taken him to many shows and competitions, where he has won hundreds of awards and been a judge as well.
Annis Holmes of Chestertown, Warren County, has spent a lifetime perfecting the craft of knitting. From her impressive yarn shop in her home, she has taught and encouraged hundreds of knitters, from novice to expert, and has created dozens of patterns herself. Her specialty is the thick, carpet-like Adirondack buff mitten, worn by generations of woodsmen for frigid winter work.
Jane Desotelle of Chateaugay, Franklin County, has always loved plants. She helped her parents raise and sell produce from their garden and later learned all she could about herbs. She now makes culinary and medicinal products from wild plants and beautiful balsam wreaths for the holidays. Active in farmers markets, she maintains a botanical sanctuary to save native plants from extinction.
William Loran (Katsorptae), Akwesasne, is a retired ironworker best known for creating traditional Mohawk ceremonial dress, including headdresses (gustoweh), bead and quill decorated garments, and leather moccasins. He is also a scholar of the Mohawk language, interested in the origins of words and how they came into common use.
Ermina Pincombe, Benson, Hamilton County, is a descendant of early pioneers of her town and a lifelong resident herself. She grew up surrounded by family and
neighbors who loved, played, and sang music and continues today to sing and play “rousing beautiful songs” on guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandola for community gatherings and nursing home residents in her area.
For nearly 70 years, Eli Tracy a blacksmith from Hermon, St. Lawrence County, has done it all–first shoeing horses and making wagon wheels or bolts and, more recently, “blacksmith welding” broken farm equipment or simple tools. Today he works at his forge for small, specialized jobs that few others can do anymore.
Since he first discovered--at the age of 12--that dowsing for water worked for him, Ed Chartrand, Harrisville, Lewis County, has helped hundreds of people in the North Country and beyond by “witching water.” At 86 he still uses a large, freshly cut crotched stick from a tree and paces off the location to dig a well and determine how deep the vein is.
A lifetime hunter, trapper, and fisherman, Larry Vielhauer of Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, has practiced the art of taxidermy for more than 40 years. His showroom of mounted fish and mammals is a small museum of native North Country wildlife in an imaginative and educational setting. Although he prepares all kinds of mammals, birds, and reptiles, his specialty is fish.
The Forrence Family Orchards, Peru, Clinton County, can trace their roots to 1807, when the Forrence family first settled in the Champlain Valley. In 1942, Virgil Forrence bought the farm he and his sons developed into what is today one of the region’s most extensive apple orchards. Now owned and operated by the third and fourth generations of Forrences -- Mason, McIntosh, Peter, and Seth – the farm encompasses 1,350 acres where more than a half million bushels of apples are harvested and stored.
Chazy Central Rural School in Clinton County has always encouraged a variety of traditions that are greatly valued in the community, perhaps the most important of which is Class Day. Begun with the first graduating class and voluntarily carried on by students to this day, the ceremony celebrates the senior class’s connection to one another, the school, and the community.
In the classic mahogany 1951 Chris-Craft he bought when he was 21, Thousand Islands fishing guide Clay Ferguson, Jr. has been helping parties on the St. Lawrence River search for perch, bass, pike, walleye, and that elusive favorite, the muskellunge, for more than 40 years. He is famous for his shore dinners, a tradition since the beginning of guiding in the Thousand Islands.
Maple sugaring is a passion for Haskell and Jane Yancey and their children, who represent the fourth and fifth generations to operate Yancey's Sugarbush on the family farm since their ancestors first tapped trees in 1844. Methods for sugaring have changed over the years, but the Yanceys are among the few sugarbush operators who continue to gather sap with buckets and horse-drawn tanks rather than plastic tubing, pipes, and vacuum pumps.
Nearly a century ago, Elaine Dougan of Potsdam learned to quilt at the quilting frame in the parlor of her family's old farmhouse. Tied quilts, also commonly called comforters, were her specialty. Now in her early 90s, Elaine is a prolific quilter with a masterful eye for color. She has given more than one hundred quilts to her large extended family and friends, and is the informal matriarch of a group of Parishville quilters who gather weekly to socialize while piecing tops and tying quilts in the traditional way.
Gunsmith Jack Gray, Lisbon, grew up hunting and trapping with his father, beginning a lifelong passion for learning about the local woods and waterways and the creatures that inhabit them. Now a master gunsmith, skilled in the intricate work of repairing both new and antique guns, Jack owns and operates the gunship his father began. He attracts loyal customers from many miles around, some of whom have been regulars for 50 years.
One of the oldest woods-related industries in the region, cedar oil production has all but disappeared in recent decades. Floyd Snyder’s grandfather and father taught him how to make the oil when he was a teenager, and it has been a major occupation of his ever since. Now in his 60s, and with his son’s help, he continues to cull young trees from his woodlots in Brushton, trim the greenery for oil, and make cedar posts.
Model wooden boat builder Frank White of Canton grew up hearing stories of logging camps and river drives from his French-Canadian grandfathers. After retiring from a career as a florist in 1984, he took up model making, starting with kits, but with experience and confidence building them from build from scratch. His remarkable includes whaleboats, Lake Champlain sailing barges, a catboat, a Venetian gondola, and several canoes, including a Peterborough and a birch bark.
Since the 1930s, year-round residents and “summer people” have gathered every Wednesday evening in July and August in a lakeside park to “do-si-do” and “Allemande left” until dark at the Schroon Lake Square Dances. The local tradition continues today, with as many as 200 people attending each week and three, even four, generations taking part.
Watertown’s Red & Black are the oldest semi-pro team in the nation, having begun in 1896 and very active to this day. In its early decades, the Red & Black featured the sons of immigrants who worked in local factories and young men who had been star players in local high schools. More recently, over half of the roster is made up of soldiers from Fort Drum who just love to play football. At least 100 men try out each year for the coveted spots on the team
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