Moose River and Otter Lake

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When Dad and I made our first family history trip together in August 1992, we knew next to nothing about the family of our ancestor Arthur Bull — the father of Eva (Bull) Charboneau, my dad’s paternal grandmother. In fact, we didn’t even know he had fought with the Union Army in the U.S. Civil War.

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Aug. 1992: Norman J. Charboneau in his Otter Lake home town. Dad is standing at the edge of Otter Lake, in Town of Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y., during our first family history trip together. The group of pines in the background was planted decades before by my grandfather, William Ray Charboneau. Photo by Molly Charboneau

All we had in hand was a copy of the 1880 U.S. Census showing that the Bull family, with Arthur at its head, lived in the Town of Lyondsale, Lewis County, N.Y. where he worked as a tannery foreman.

One of our goals, besides visiting where Dad grew up, was to find out more about Arthur and our other Bull ancestors. And it was on that trip that I first saw Moose River.

Driving north on Route 28, Dad initially passed right through his hometown of Otter Lake (in Town of Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y.) because — as official tour guide for the trip — he wanted to start our journey at the old McKeever train station.

Dad pulled the car onto a sun dappled forest ledge with a clear view of the vacant station below — a lovely building that is now a renovated stop on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. There, he gave me a lively rundown on how McKeever bustled with passengers during his youth.

Then the problem arose of how to get the car off the overlook and back onto the road — and I was suddenly transported back to my childhood and our family road trips with Dad behind the wheel.

He nearly pitched us over the edge trying to do a k-turn in the narrow space — his face reddening by the minute. Glancing over the precipice, I had a fleeting thought that our family history trip might end right there.

But much like the dodgy car maneuvers I remembered from years before, Dad somehow managed to turn the car and, sending an avalanche of dirt from the soft shoulder down toward the station below, headed us safely south to Otter Lake.

First view of Moose River

Back on the road, Dad calmed down and at one point cocked his head and said, “That’s Moose River over there.” I looked out the window at the narrow river, with its gravelly shoreline bordered by trees and no evidence of habitation or industry. It seemed like a place that time forgot, yet it was still touched by world events.

“My mother was riding in the car heading north from Moose River to Otter Lake when she heard the start of World War II announced on the radio,” Dad added, another of the spontaneous tidbits he regularly shared about my paternal grandmother.

Because of his brief comment, Moose River stuck in my mind — and the memory came back when I later discovered that Arthur Bull and his family once lived in Moose River Settlement.

“Exactly how close was it to Otter Lake?” I wondered. And I was very surprised by what I found when I went looking for historic maps.

More in the next post.

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