Then, and Now

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Then, and Now

Then, and Now is a new feature of the Historical Society’s community history program. The column is written by Jeannie Brennan, with editorial help from Mary Corboy and Connie Barone.

In 1980, stemming from his lifelong interest in Sackets Harbor history, Robert “Bob” Brennan was appointed Sackets Harbor Village Historian. Bob searched newspaper microfilm at both the Flower Memorial Library and the Watertown Daily Times for articles that mentioned Sackets Harbor, Madison Barracks or Pine Camp (aka Fort Drum).  He printed those stories, collected them into 39 binders, each three inches wide, and devised a detailed index system of over 2,100 index cards. Bob’s research collection is the source of interesting bits of Sackets Harbor history for these paragraphs called “Then and Now.”

For instance…

Ice Fishing Derby

A favorite North Country wintertime sport is ice fishing. North American native peoples showed early settlers how to ice fish. Today, winter anglers catch a variety of fish; primarily perch, sunfish, pickerel, northern pike, and walleye. Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s Sackets Harbor was host to many ice fishing contests or “derbies.” Thick ice on the harbor and Black River Bay provided vast areas for the hundreds of fishermen who used “spud bars” or augers to cut holes through the ice to fish by jigging or using tip ups. Some avid fishermen would position “shanties” or tiny houses on the ice to provide “all the comforts of home.” Monetary prizes were given for the largest fish caught, and one year a snowmobile was the first prize, won by a 14-year-old boy who landed a 13 pound 7-ounce Northern Pike. One of the largest derbies at Sackets Harbor was held in 1973, when the event organizers invited CBS television sports commentator Heywood Hale Broun. His presence and his camera crew at the derby proved to be a big “lure”; it was estimated that 20,000 people flooded the village to either mingle or angle. Mr. Broun chatted with people and signed autographs. Since those pioneering Sackets Harbor derby days, North Country communities and organizations host derbies on ice covered ponds, lakes, and deep water, throughout our long winters.

Jeannie Brennan, Sackets Harbor Co-Village Historian