Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ruminating on the North Country

Irving Bacheller. 1917.
Library of Congress.
      Was there a North Country in New York State before Irving Bacheller’s fictional character, Willie Brower, arrived in St. Lawrence County? Most New Yorkers who take pride in saying they come from the North Country will probably say yes.
However, the term North Country was first widely popularized for use in New York State by  Bacheller, when his novel, Eben Holden: A Tale of the North Country, became a literary sensation in 1900. Bacheller was born in Pierrepont, St. Lawrence County, NY in 1859 and graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1882. Two years later, he founded the first U.S. newspaper syndicate and introduced the writing of Stephen Crane, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Conrad to American readers. Bacheller retired from newspaper work in 1900 to concentrate on writing novels. Eben Holen: A Tale of the North Country was his fourth novel and it became a runaway best seller.

The story follows the life of an orphan, Willie Brower, who grows up in the North Country, becomes a journalist and joins the army when the Civil War breaks out. Large numbers of readers learned about the North Country’s strong sense of place from the characters in the book who were all drawn from people Bacheller knew in the North Country.

       Bacheller’s novel helped advance the notion that the North Country consists of only one or two counties—a region which can be called the archaic North Country. Old-fashioned as it may seem, an archaic North Country is used by organizations today. For example, the organizers of the Miss New York of the North Country contest require contestants to either live, work or go to school in St. Lawrence County. To the east, the North Country Community College is funded and sponsored by Franklin and Essex Counties.

In addition to the archaic North Country, there are four other major North Countries in New York State: the western traditional, the eastern traditional, the state-sanctioned, and the contemporary. They are all north of Yonkers and north of Albany. Some are north of the Erie Canal and others are north of the Adirondacks. We will take a look at exactly where these other North Countries are, in future posts.

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