As a kid, I loved this place so much that I would cry when I had to leave. Back home in Boston, I would fall asleep with the Stony Creek Dude Ranch brochure beneath my pillow, dreaming of the day that I would return.
In 1950, my Uncle Tom was sitting at his kitchen table having a cup of coffee and noticed a small advertisement in the Boston newspaper that read:
Spend your summer in the Adirondack Mountains!
Landscaper needed to maintain grounds at the "Stony Creek Dude Ranch". Free room and board, plus bonuses of horseback riding, swimming, boating, fishing, nightly campfires, square dancing and participation in guest activities. Apply now, bring your cowboy hat and boots, Dude up, and be a part of our fun team."
This advertisement really appealed to my Uncle. He immediately applied for the job, received a phone call, was hired, and soon packed his suitcase, got on a bus, and headed for the mountains. The second he arrived he fell in love with this beautiful ranch, the fragrance of the majestic pine trees, the mountains, the sound of the horses and the soulful cries of the loons from the lake. It was a dream come true. In addition to all of the beauty surrounding him, something else stood out. He noticed that the ratio of woman to men was about 8 to 1, an added bonus he did not expect. At the height of World War ll, there were still many men enlisted in the war. Many of the guests visiting the dude ranches were woman who were seeking a different environment, and would travel to the mountains in hopes of meeting a cowboy. As soon as my Uncle Tom had a chance, he called my Dad (Joseph Oblaczynski), and like the town crier related the news. Immediately upon hearing this news, my Dad rounded up 4 of his friends, jumped into the car and headed up to Stony Creek.
The dude ranching businesses was flourishing at that time thanks to the legacy of Earl Woodward. To further add to this story, the history dates back to 1920's when it all really began. Earl Woodward, a frustrated school teacher and farmer from Forest Lake, Ohio, was also sitting at his kitchen table one morning, unhappy with his life, so he decided to make a change. He wanted to take a risk, do something different, so... he took a leap of faith. He then literally took out a map, circled it with his finger and said to himself...wherever my finger lands that is where I am going. His finger landed on Stony Creek, NY. At that time he had never heard nor did he have any idea just exactly where Stony Creek, NY was. The next day he made his decision, packed his bags, and headed northeast to the Adirondack Mountains. He ended up buying 222 acres of land with a farmhouse on it in Stony Creek. He had an adventurous spirit and quickly realized that he had great entrepreneurial skills also. He thought of an idea to provide wilderness nature vacations for people who wanted to get out of the city and come to the mountains for an Adirondack experience.
He also wanted to bring the wild west feel to the northeast and provide horseback riding to people that had only read and dreamed about Wild West Cowboy vacations. Air travel, to the west, was non existent at that time and few had the money, the means, or sense of adventure to travel 1000's of miles in a car. Unless your name was Lewis or Clark, you had only heard or read about the wild west. Earl's small advertisement in the back of Field and Stream magazine read, "Why go west?, you can experience the wild west right here in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The advertisement caught the eye of many people who realized that they could get into their car and within a few hours drive, they could capture this experience. Earl Woodward started his first Dude ranch right here in 1935, where he bought the Stony Creek Dude Ranch in Stony Creek, NY and it was an instant success. From that infancy, 47 other ranches mushroomed and thrived throughout the Adirondacks. They all offered similar amenities and activities including horseback riding, activities on the lake, boating, fishing, nightly campfires, scavenger hunts, and dancing in the Tavern. There was such a demand that ranch owners had to literally ship horses in from the west on railroad cars and of course the cowboys followed. It is rumored that at that time in history there were more horses and cowboys east of the Mississippi than west.
Back to my Dad....
The trip to Stony Creek from Boston took about 8 hours and route 9 was dotted with Dude Ranches, restaurants, and saloons and my Dad and his friends took advantage of them. Back then, the last 10 miles from downtown Stony Creek to the Stony Creek Dude Ranch was actually a dirt road and very remote, and along the route they encountered many Bear, Deer, and witnessed Moose crossing the road.
They arrived with much enthusiasm and the first thing my Dad noticed was the beautiful crisp, clean, rejuvenating mountain air, something previously only been experienced by well heeled names such as the Vanderbilt's. Prestigious wealthy families had been traveling to the Adirondacks by railway since the late 1800's. My Dad and his friends engaged in all Activities. Home style cooking in the main dining room was a real treat. A large brass bell hanging from the porch was rung to notify everyone that it was meal time. Years later when my Dad bought the ranch I got to ring the bell myself, at age 7. There was horse back riding 3 times per day, square dancing in the saloon, scavenger hunts, swimming in crystal clear Harrisburg Lake, picnics on the island, canoeing, fishing, and hiking. And of course...there was the 8 woman to 1 man ratio...for socializing. My Dad use to tell me if those majestic pine trees could talk they would tell quite a story.
At the end of their week vacation, my Dad's friends hid his car keys, refusing to leave. It didn't take much of a fight to convince my Dad to stay another week. After 2 weeks at the Stony Creek Dude Ranch my father fell completely in love. He professed to his friends, "One day I am going to come back and buy this place!" Ten years later in 1960, my Dad Joseph Oblaczynski, bought the Stony Creek Dude Ranch.
The county's dude ranch industry thrived for more than 30 years. From the 1960's to current date many changes took place. The advent of affordable air travel and an improved highway system spelled the demise of the dude ranches.
In 1973, while my Dad was sitting in a restaurant in the Bavarian Alps, he designed and sketched a 14,000 square foot Adirondack/Bavarian style main lodge and 4 chalets on a cocktail napkin. Upon returning from the Alps he immediately started construction. He changed the name of our resort to Harrisburg Lake Club and Resort. In 1988 My Dad hired a chef from the Culinary Institute of America and opened a gourmet French restaurant which we ran for many years. In 1995, my Dad wanted to include his Polish heritage and so decided to emphasize this by opening a Polish restaurant that he named, "A Taste Of Poland". We ran this restaurant for many years and people drove from all over to experience the unique flavor of Polish cuisine. Due to unfortunate circumstances My Dad sold the resort in 2001. The selling of the ranch was difficult for me, however, in 2005 we were granted a chance to re buy our 4 chalets and a part of the land where the ranch originated. In 2005 I completed the construction of my lodge overlooking beautiful Harrisburg Lake and named it Bear Country Lodge. Many guests ask how I came up with that name, and I tell them to keep their eyes open and they will see.
My heart has always been here at the ranch and it was always my dream to continue on with my father's legacy. In 2012, Bear Country Lodge officially opened for business. "The new Lodge and 4 newly renovated chalets were all designed and decorated to reflect the rustic elegance of the Adirondack Mountains. They are all decorated with cozy interiors of Adirondack knotty pine, a Cowboy/Native American Theme, fully equipped kitchens with all the accouterments necessary, Denali top of the line bedding, leather sofas, and original Adirondack artwork from local Artisans. Our horses are no longer here but if you listen closely you can still hear the sound of them whining in the barn or their hoof beats across the field. I have worked hard to recreate the feeling of the Adirondacks, the native American theme and the wild west and hope you will come and stay with us, relax, unwind, reconnect. As my Dad always said to our guests "we want you to feel like this is your home away from home."
Diane M Daly
In loving memory of my Dad, Joseph M Oblaczynski 1925-2006