As genuine a mountain man as Louis Seymour was, the townsfolk never mistook his loud piercing cries from atop Page Hill for those of a wild animal. Everyone, especially the children, knew it was Seymour, aka French Louie, the Adirondack guide and recluse who came out of the woods a couple of times each year to visit his friends at Lake Pleasant.
“I grew up here, so I remember the stories,” said Julie Atty, owner and head chef at the Melody Lodge in Speculator, high above Lake Pleasant and at the top of Page Hill, just off Route 30 in Hamilton County.
“I don’t remember all the details, but I know he was a mountain man and he’s buried right in Speculator. The kids loved him because he would give them nickels and pennies.”
French Louie’s last few trips to Page Hill, and his trademark animal calls, may have alarmed some of the new girls just visiting for the summer. Three years before French Louie died in 1915, Ellison Van Hoose and his wife built a summer home at that precise location and used it as a girls’ singing school each summer, replacing the house they had rented down in the middle of the village. Van Hoose sold the place in 1918, two years after Marie died, and never returned, as far as village of Speculator historian Bev Hoffman can tell.
“The deed was in Marie’s name, she willed it to her husband, and we don’t know what happened to him,” said Hoffman. “He was German, and the war was on, but I don’t think that was the reason he stopped coming. There were a lot of wealthy people from New York City who would spend the summer up here like they did. After Marie died, maybe he just didn’t want to come back.”
The home that would become Melody Lodge had different owners after Van Hoose’s departure, and in 1937 Frances and Hamilton Chequer of Speculator purchased the place, opened it to the public for meals and lodging, and gave it its name. In 1976, when Julie Atty was 3, her parents, George and Sue Swift, bought Melody Lodge and continued to run it as a restaurant and inn. Five years ago, Atty and her husband, Kyle, took over the business and have kept the place thriving. Along with a taproom, a main lobby and a dining room that seats 60, Melody Lodge has seven rooms on the second floor that they rent to overnight guests.
“We try to consistently serve great food and provide great service,” said Atty. “We consider ourselves ‘Adirondack casual,’ yet the people who come here often think of it as a special occasion. It’s a special place for the family. They came with their parents when they were kids, and now they’re bringing their own children.”
Closed on Tuesdays, Melody Lodge begins seating people for dinner each day at 5 p.m. The tap room opens for lunch at 11:30, and the $100 price tag per night on each room remains the same regardless of the season.
“We feel like our rooms are worth it, whenever you’re here,” said Atty. “They each have their own bath, and we have an instrument — a trumpet, a flute, or some other instrument — on each door to represent the music school that was here. They’re nice rooms and most of them have a great view.”
Lake Pleasant to the south, Sacandaga Lake to the west and the rolling hills of the southern Adirondacks provide beautiful views for Melody Lodge visitors. Atty said the building is in pretty good shape, but any structure approaching its 100th birthday is going to need some special attention.
“Any building this age, you’re going to be constantly doing maintenance, but we love it,” said Atty. “I am the head chef, and my husband takes care of the front of the building and the wine and liquor. But, when you own your own business, you have to be a jack of all trades. My husband is, and we both are, really. We’re always working on the place.”
While Melody Lodge will celebrate its 100th birthday next year, the town of Lake Pleasant will be 200 years old in 2012. Speculator is within Lake Pleasant, and wasn’t incorporated as a village until 1925. The area, once known as Newton’s Corners, was renamed in 1897 after Speculator Mountain, which rises to 2,977 feet just south of the village.
“The first settlers came to Lake Pleasant in 1795, but it was thinly populated and spread out over quite a large area,” said Hoffman. “In the 1850s, the logging operation, which began over by the Hudson River, moved into the area, and logs were transported all the way down the Sacandaga River to the Hudson. Then we had our hunters and our skiers, and when some of those people started building year-round homes up here, that was why Speculator was incorporated in 1925. They built a power plant on the river just below the village to bring electricity here.”
Along with the hunters, fishermen and skiers came boxers. Bill Osborne, whose family ran a large hotel in the village, became friends with Gene Tunney while they were serving in France during World War I, and persuaded him to come to Speculator in 1926 to train.
Tunney, who became the world heavyweight champion and eventually a Speculator resident who voted in elections there, trained at Osborne’s hotel on Lake Pleasant for both of his successful title fights against Jack Dempsey. Tunney attracted crowds for his workouts and charged spectators 50 cents, which he then donated to St. James, a local church in the village.
“Bill Osborne told Tunney it would be good for him to come up to the Adirondacks and train in the mountain air,” said Lake Pleasant historian Anne Weaver. “We had several large hotels up in the area back then, and a lot of people would come into town to watch him train, and other boxers too. When Tunney left on the seaplane for one of his fights, there’d be a huge crowd there seeing him off.”
Dempsey himself followed Tunney to Speculator to train for some of his fights, while other top boxers who made the trip included Max Baer and Max Schmeling.
“After World War II, the boxers stopped coming, and things kind of died down,” said Weaver. “A hotel would burn, they’d build it again, and then it would burn again. There’s a nice park down by the beach, and there’s a plaque that shows you where the Osborne Hotel was and where the boxers used to train, right at Osborne Point on the lake. It’s a beautiful spot.”
As popular as Tunney was in Speculator, for some he took a back seat to French Louie. A decade or so before Tunney and other pugilists were heading north to hone their skills, French Louie demonstrated that he too was a fighting man.
Ready for battle
On one visit to Osborne’s Hotel, he ran into a St. Regis Indian named Johnny Leaf, and accused him of stealing traps. Johnny drew a knife and went after Louie, who knocked him down and then threw a cuspidor at Johnny’s head, spraying tobacco juice all over the Indian.
The two were ready to keep at it, but bystanders intervened and hustled Johnny back outside and prevented Louie from going after him.
Louie didn’t usually visit Speculator during the winter months, but in February of 1915 he wasn’t feeling well and decided to walk into town to seek medical help. A few days later, on Feb. 28, he died at the age of 85.
Some friends put together enough money to have him buried in an unmarked grave in a small Speculator cemetery. In 1954, a tombstone was added to the grave site. To this day, children visit the site and leave nickels and pennies on the marker.