Water carrier helps trace history of Deerland

This demijohn carrier was used to haul spring water to the cottages at Deerland Lodge on Long Lake.

This demijohn carrier was used to haul spring water to the cottages at Deerland Lodge on Long Lake. Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Museum

Tap water. Village dwellers take it for granted, and we only notice the inconvenience of not having it when a water main breaks and the state Health Department issues a boil water order for days at a time.

Such was the case on Jan. 17, 2007 in Saranac Lake after the temperature plummeted to 20 degrees below zero. We had to boil consumable water for three days. In this age of technology, it’s sobering to look at past generations and search for the answer to this question, “What did Adirondackers do before they had running water in every house?”

Some homeowners had wells (and many still do). Others gathered drinking water from natural mountain springs and hauled it home. You can still find some of these springs along roadsides. I know of one in the Essex County town of North Elba and one in the St. Lawrence County town of Piercefield that are used today. Locals know where their favorite mountain springs are located. Municipalities pipe their water into communities from bodies of water, such as lakes and reservoirs, and some send the water to treatment plants before distributing it to the public. Water lines more than 100 years old are starting to show their age, and I’m afraid boil water orders may occur more often in the coming years as more pipes fail.

Old-fashioned water gathering, though, required a lot more muscle power than simply twisting a knob with a few fingers. It sometimes relied on the whole body and could lead to sore muscles in the shoulders, arms, legs and back. Foot power worked against gravity to deliver this refreshing mountain water to consumers.

Such was the case at a resort in the Hamilton County town of Long Lake. The Deerland Lodge on the shores of this lake used a double demijohn (carboy) carrier to bring water from the source to its lodge and cottages. There was no running water at the time.

(This story was originally published in “New York State’s Mountain Heritage: Adirondack Attic, Volume 5,” by Andy Flynn.)

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