My grandfather was a fly-fisherman. Born in 1875, Grampa Van Wie died in 1960 when I was three years old, so I don’t remember him at all.
My father wasn’t much of a fisherman. He enjoyed boating, water-skiing and downhill skiing, but the fishing thing skipped a generation, I guess. Dad set me up with a spinning rod when I was a kid, but most of what I've learned, especially fly-fishing, was on my own.
Fortunately, Grampa was also a talented amateur photographer. As such, he left a collection of photos from 1900 or earlier through the 1940s. These images are captivating, and full of stories untold.
[For a gallery of more amazing images, click here.]
We didn’t find Grampa’s album until after my dad passed away, so I never got any of the background behind these images. As I reproduced and edited them, I marveled at the details and the expressions, and the mysteries only drew deeper. He appears in many of the images, so I presume Grampa had someone else popping the shutter after he set the camera up. Not everyone had cameras in those days.
I wish I knew who these people were, and where the pictures were taken. The one above is clearly a hunting or fishing camp. Note the neckties, the revolver on the wall, and the pin-up girl who looks like Rosie the Riveter, even though this was likely the WWI era, not WWII. And I like the rougher looking character, probably a guide or camp crew member, checking out the label on the bottle.
A few individuals appear in several photos in different settings. The album is not in a clear order, so I can only guess the time frame by the color of my grandfather’s hair and the lines in his face.
Grampa grew up in Stillwater, New York and went to work in the insurance industry in Glens Falls. He was quite successful, starting his own agency in Troy in 1902. Many of these pictures predate his move to Troy and his marriage to my grandmother in 1910.
Some of his photos show businessmen on company outings, so my guess is he had some good connections among the business leaders in the area. Grampa became a member of the Gooley Club, a private hunting and fishing club in the Adirondacks near Indian Lake and the upper Hudson River gorge.
The Gooley Club leased 16,000 acres around the Essex Chain of Lakes from Finch Pruyn, a paper company that operated a large mill in Glens Falls. The land around the Gooley Club was acquired in 2007 by The Nature Conservancy and donated to the State of New York, so it is now "forever wild" and open to the public as part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. My sister Nancy was involved in that transaction as Director of Philanthropy at The Nature Conservancy and the Adirondack Land Trust.
Many of Grampa’s photos are likely from that area, and also from Lake George where he vacationed at Silver Bay, a YMCA retreat at the north end of the lake. It appears he also went on a few fishing and hunting adventures with friends, possibly to Canada or even Alaska.
When I was growing up, my grandfather’s fly-fishing gear sat moldering in the basement. I wish we had taken better care of his antique bamboo fly rods. And I wish I knew the stories about his companions, the cabins where he stayed, and the waters where he cast his line.
As I embark on my Storied Waters tour in a few weeks, I will be thinking about the stories, both told and untold, that are part of our rich sporting history. When I pass through the Adirondacks in June, I plan to visit the Essex Chain of Lakes area, near the old Gooley Club.
Perhaps, just by chance, I’ll cast a line where Grampa fished with friends over 100 years ago.
[To see the full gallery of images, click here.]