Oak Orchard

Celeste and the Wooden Cradle

Frontier cabin
But the significance of this lock tender's home is more firmly intertwined with the early history of Verona than one might suspect, as revealed by Pomeroy Jones in his Annals and Recollections of Oneida County:

"La Whiten De Wardenou, a Frenchman, was the next settler [in Verona]. The precise time of his arrival cannot be ascertained, but it is believed to have been in 1796, or early in 1797. He settled at a place called 'Oak Orchard' on Wood Creek. There is much of romance in the history of his family. De Wardenou and wife were from families of considerable rank in France.

[The author then records Celeste: A Romance of Oneida Lake, a short fiction inspired by the story of these early settlers of Verona and concludes:]

"In some respects, the truth was stranger than the fiction. De Wardenou and ´Celeste´... were married, and embarked for America... Here misfortune overtook him, and he nearly lost his all, when they emigrated to the vicinity of the Oneida Lake. Even here trouble sought them out. A lovely little child, their first born, sickened and died, in 1797. No coffin could be procured. Its little cradle was substituted.

"A few years after, when the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company were about erecting a structure at the Oak Orchard, in digging for the foundation, they disinterred a cradle containing the skeleton of a child. This, no doubt, was the remains of the child of De Wardenou, the first deceased from a natural cause, within the limits of Verona."17

Men excavating

Clearly the "structure" referred to here was the lock tender's house erected in October of 1802. Apparently the excavation of the cellar hole revealed the infant burial. Perhaps this 1797 burial, in its original location and, hopefully, as reinterred by the contractor's men in 1802, reveals the origins of the extensive 19th century "burying ground" that presently has been rediscovered here on the highest part of this sandy hill.

We may assume the lock tender's house stood on that same hill, as Schuyler had requested it be situated "...on the south side of the creek as nearly opposite to the lock as circumstances will permit." The dry elevated hill that had been so attractive as a temporary encampment for decades previous, now, no doubt, drew the attention of the builders of this house as well. Such an elevation would also have appealed as a cemetery site, as such knolls so often have in the past.

It is likely the lock would have been located immediately downstream from the rift at Oak Orchard. The impoundment of water above the lock would have inundated that rapid making it passable for boats, with the lock letting them down to the deep water below the rift. To have placed the lock above the rift would accomplish nothing, as boats let out of the lock passing down would immediately run aground on the gravels below. Therefore, the house site was probably more or less within the elevation being identified herein as "Oak Orchard" and perhaps within the burying ground itself.

Jones' account claims De Wardenou and his wife, "Celeste", lived at Oak Orchard, and that seems probable, as it was one of few places in the district that would appeal to the homesteader in that period. The coincidence of their child's burial and the lock tender's house construction also places their home in the same vicinity.

In September of 1797, perhaps shortly after the death of the child, Alexander Coventry records his passage down Wood Creek and encounter with Oak Orchard. He closes his entry for that day by stating: "Slept at Oak Orchard where a man lives who has bought out the Frenchman who formerly lived there."

This suggests the house at Oak Orchard built be De Wardenou was now inhabited by another. Perhaps discouraged by the turn of events, De Wardenou and Celeste had abandoned Oak Orchard for good.


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