Tag Archives: Norman J. Charboneau

Norm: My postwar dad – #atozchallenge

Norm: My post-war dad. Fourteenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck — I’m more than halfway there!

Norm — my postwar dad — was twenty-six when we moved to Whispering Chimneys in 1950.

A Navy veteran of WW II, he was also an electrical engineering graduate of Clarkson College in Potsdam, N.Y — which is where he met my mom.

Our maternal grandparents lived on the farm with us — and the original plan was for all the adults to “go into business together.”

Gramps opened his machine shop out in the barn and Boom, my grandmother, started selling antiques and collectibles from her roadside store. My mom’s job then was raising us children.

Dad and me on the running board of our maroon Dodge, circa 1952. Photo: Peg (Laurence) Charboneau

A job at GE

And my dad? He became the sole family member with an outside job.

He went to work as an engineer at the General Electric company in Schenectady, N.Y. — a giant multi-factory complex left me awestruck whenever we drove by it.

Yet my early memories of Dad are from when he was home — puttering around doing household repairs, trying to eke a garden out of impossible soil, or getting behind the wheel of our maroon Dodge for family outings.

Gardening fiasco

After he retired, Dad wrote an essay about his youthful aspirations for the farm and how they fell short. So I’ll let him tell part of the story. (It’s written in third person, with “they” referring to our family.)

They could have beautiful gardens of flowers and vegetables, living off the land like the pioneers. They had a farmer plow up an acre to grow the tomatoes, carrots, beets, peas, lettuce, and beans.

What the heck? My brother Mark, 2, watches Dad try to grow vegetables in impossible soil. In the distance is the working farm of the Mennonite family next door. Photo: Rita Mary Laurence

Then they discovered the soil was clay, rain turning it to mud, which built up on the shoes an inch thick. Then the sun baked it to brick hardness with big cracks running through the rows of plants.

The poor carrots and beets could not penetrate more than two inches. The tomatoes did well but became the home of the green tomato worms, munching so loudly they could be located by sound.

Giving chickens a go

Dad gave gardening one last shot — planting strawberries in a far field above a creek behind our house — then abandoned the idea and moved on to a new plan.

Next project was raising chickens for eggs and meat. The barns provided a convenient location even having mangers for nests. The family kept business records, tabulating the cost of chicks, feed, and floor shavings.

They counted the eggs produced and realized that they could buy eggs for the same money at the local market. They did have the chickens to eat, but this meant the revolting task of killing the birds, plucking the feathers and eviscerating. Ugh!

Ugh is right. Well into my adult life, I could not eat chicken skin because it brought back memories of plucking wet feathers off freshly-killed chickens when I was little.

Press coverage of Dad’s 1956-57 stint on the Guilderland, N.Y. School Board (last paragraph). I recently found this Schenectady Gazette article while doing newspaper research. Source: fultonhistory.com

Life lesson: Try new things

Thus, project by project, Dad gradually moved away from the hope of small farming and embraced his new engineering career.

He also became active in the local community — even serving on the School Board. I was pleased to discover this tidbit in the April 12, 1957 issue of the Schenectady Gazette.

And Dad continued to embark on new projects throughout his life. He even self-published a mystery novel and started a blog when he was an octogenarian — which I wrote about in Norm’s eightieth birthday.

Dad’s can-do willingness to try new things has inspired me since I was little. He died five years ago today and I still miss him.

Up nextOut on the porch: Destination or state of mind? Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Norm’s eightieth birthday

Letter N: Fourteenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

The year my dad, Norm Charboneau, turned 80, our family threw him a surprise birthday party a little ahead of the big event at a lovely restaurant near my parents’ home outside Syracuse, N.Y. Dad had a great time — and so many of us turned out from far and wide that we had to take the group photo in two parts to fit everyone in.

image
Labor Day Mystery book cover (2005). When he turned 80, my dad Norm Charboneau started blogging and finished up the process of self-publishing his mystery book, which was set in the Adirondacks in the 1940s. Photo by Molly Charboneau

This meant that on his actual 80th birthday — besides celebrating with Mom — Dad was left to his own devices. And as always, he had a plan.

“Today I drove over to Carol’s Polar Parlor, ordered a banana split with everything on it and ate the whole thing myself,” he announced proudly when I called to say Happy Birthday.

Norm felt this was the most suitable way to mark eight decades of a pretty active life — and to anticipate two major octogenarian projects he had in the works.

Chabonews blog

One month later,  Norm started blogging — designing and launching his blog Charbonews all on his own, with a full bio, photos, the works. I have always loved my dad’s forward looking, let’s-try-a-new-challenge attitude — and starting a blog at the ripe old age of 80 was certainly an inspiring act.

Norm wrote short pieces — more as an online journal whenever the mood struck him — about his home town, Elderhostel trips with my mom, and even a post titled Famous Relative? about our family history. Dad had a mini marketing plan, too — emailing family and friends to alert them to blog posts. Like I said, way ahead of his time.

Labor Day Mystery: A Red Flannel Yarn

Norm’s other landmark project, which he was finishing up as he turned 80, was self publishing his book Labor Day Mystery: A Red Flannel Yarn — set in the fictional town of Panther Lake and featuring an amateur sleuth Red Flanneau (aka Red Flannel) loosely based on himself.

Dad modeled other characters and plot lines after friends, family and events from his home town — Otter Lake, Oneida County, N.Y. — to create a murder mystery true to its North Country setting.

Mom and I shared the spoiler alert of reviewing and giving feedback on the manuscript, while Dad handled all the publishing arrangements. Then, like any good publicist, Norm emailed his list and did a blog post alerting us when the book was out — and also made sure that family members got a copy.

Some day, with luck and healthy living, we could all turn 80. When my time comes, I hope I am still writing, blogging and living life to the fullest — though perhaps without the banana split — just like my dad Norm was doing on his 80th birthday.

Up next: Oneonta: City of surprises. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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The Bulls and the Black River Canal

During the time that we researched the family history of our Bull ancestors together — focusing on the 1860s-1880s — my dad could never get over how mobile they were.

“You don’t think about people moving around so much back then,” Dad told me more than once. “But the Bulls moved all over the place.”

http://digitalcollections.archives.nysed.gov/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/1622
Black River Canal and Delta Dam (1916). General view from below of the Gate House, locks of relocated Black River Canal, a tow and a change bridge located four miles north of Rome. The completion of this canal led to the development of Moose River Settlement, to which  my Bull ancestors moved in 1875. Image: New York State Archives Digital Collections

True enough. Starting in New York’s Catskill Mountains in the 1840s, my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull and his family of origin ended up in the Binghamton, N.Y., area by the time of the U.S. Civil War.

Ten years later — after briefly trying the Catskills one more time — Arthur, his wife Mary Elizabeth, their children and his parents pulled up stakes again, moving in 1875 to Moose River Settlement in the state’s Adirondack region.

I wondered: How was Moose River Settlement established? What was the community like? How was daily life for the Bull family while living there? And how did the once-vibrant settlement disappear?

My first answer came from the excellent book The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State (Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London: 2010) — in which author David Stradling describes how New York’s canal system contributed to the development Moose River Settlement:

The completion of the Black River Canal in 1855 allowed Lewis County to diversify its economy. Tanneries sprang up along the Beaver, Moose and Oswegatchie rivers, often taking advantage of water power to crush the hemlock bark harvested in the Adirondack foothills.

Today, what remains of New York State’s Erie Canal system and its feeders is mainly used for recreation. So it is easy to forget the pivotal role canals once played in the economic, social and political development of the state. Yet here in my own family history is an example of how these canals shaped lives. David Stradling explains:

The canals transformed the state’s economy by connecting markets and creating opportunities in new lands, including those along the “feeder canals.”

My ancestor Arthur Bull, a tanner by trade, appears to have relocated so many times because his job required abundant forests and water power for leather production, along with transportation to bring in hides and ship out finished leather.

As these resources were used up in one place, my great, great grandfather was forced to move with his family to the next. In 1875, the next place for the Bull family was Moose River Settlement — brought into being by the construction of the Black River Canal.

What more could I find out about Moose River Settlement and my ancestors’ time there?  Stay tuned as the search continues.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Mapping Moose River

A newspaper announcement about the death of my great, great, great grandmother Mary Bull provided the first clue that my Bull ancestors lived for a time in Moose River Settlement, in the Town of Lyonsdale, Lewis County, N.Y.

I remembered seeing Moose River during a road trip in the North County with my dad, so I decided to look for some historic maps to pinpoint the exact location where the settlement had once stood.

Was I ever surprised to discover just how close it was to where Dad grew up in Otter Lake, in the Town of Forestport, Oneida County, N.Y.

http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~26296~1110059:Lewis,-Oneida-counties-?sort=Pub_List_No_InitialSort%2CPub_Date%2CPub_List_No%2CSeries_No&qvq=q:Lewis%2BCounty;sort:Pub_List_No_InitialSort%2CPub_Date%2CPub_List_No%2CSeries_No;lc:RUMSEY~8~1&mi=10&trs=128
1895 maps of New York’s Lewis County (left) and Oneida County (right). To enlarge the maps, click here. My Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull and his family lived for several years in Lewis County’s Moose River Settlement — just north of my dad’s Oneida County hometown of Otter Lake. Yet my dad knew nothing about this until we began researching our family together.  Image: David Rumsey Map Collection

The maps posted here show Moose River Settlement in the lower right corner of Lewis County (left image) — just north of the Oneida County border.

Carefully examining the Oneida County map (right image), I found Otter Lake in the upper right corner — almost within shouting distance of Moose River Settlement, when the two county maps are joined.

Charboneau connection

Why is all of this important? Because it was in this general geographic area, where New York’s Oneida and Lewis counties meet, that my Bull ancestors connected with the Charboneau branch of my family — early residents of the Adirondacks foothills.

And because — although he grew up right near the site of Moose River Settlement where the Bulls once lived — even my closest Charboneau ancestor (my dad, Norm Charboneau) did now know about any of this until we went looking!

Examining the 1895 maps above, I could clearly see the towns and villages that corresponded with my family history research findings — Lyonsdale and Moose River, where the Bulls lived; Port Leyden, where Arthur Bull saw a doctor when he first applied for his Civil War pension; Hawkinsville, Otter Lake, Forestport and Boonville, where the Charboneaus lived — all geographically located nearby one another.

And once again I was amazed that the details of my paternal ancestral history in and around this Adirondacks region failed to make it down to my generation — either in story or papers — requiring me to research and document from the other direction.

Which brings us back to Moose River Settlement. Although it no longer exists — and in fact was pretty much gone when my dad was a child — it was once a bustling hamlet when my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull and his family arrived there in 1875.

So what more can I find out about the area and my Bull ancestors’ time in Moose River? We will start that search together,  beginning with the Black River Canal.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Moose River and Otter Lake

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.

DadOtterLakeAug1992img093(2)_2
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.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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