From "The Beach" to Brewerton Stories of Oneida Lake.
From "The Beach" to Brewerton Stories of Oneida Lake
By Jack Henke 320 pages; hardcover $29.95 North Country Books, Inc., Utica, NY 1-800-342-7409
This lively anthology stories by teacher, lawyer, and Oneida Lake Association board member Jack Henke is his fourth book about the history of his beloved lake, its people and environs. Blending his own effusive prose with dozens of anecdotes and clippings from historical archives, Henke takes the reader on an armchair tour through Oneida Lake's past that begins with the lake's geological origins, continues through colonial times, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and ends with an impassioned appeal for preservation of the lake's ecology and cultural history today. Henke's unabashed affection for Oneida Lake emanates from every page. His conversational mix of first person narrative, interviews, diaries, and old newspaper accounts is interspersed with vintage photographs. His writing technique gives you the impression that you're discovering Oneida's secrets with him. Reading the book gave me the feeling that I was shooting the breeze with its colorful collection of enterprising characters, just like a local resident would do on a trip to the general store.
From fish pirates to philosopher farmers, rugged steamboat pilots to "bible communists" who would carve a utopia along Oneida's banks, Henke delves into every aspect of the lake's vibrant past. Oneida's once-plentiful walleye fishery is nostalgically recalled by Henke who admits to "a strong fishing bias." But he also takes you to Oneida's tourist mecca, Sylvan Beach, in its heyday, where you find immigrants working the midway rides and beach concessions. You can almost hear the squeals from the rides, smell the fresh-sliced french fries, and taste the homemade ice cream as he presents the stories of the people and places that made many a vacationer's summer.
Henke is at his best when he sticks to the subject of the lake, its towns and citizens. But overall, Henke ably succeeds in beckoning the reader to experience the places he lovingly describes.
John Razzano is on editor in DEC's Division of Public Affairs and Education in Albany.