A lease between Andrew J. Baker and the Stevenson Society, dated Oct. 2, 1916, to rent:
“The two rooms in the south wing of the cottage belonging to the above landlord, said rooms to be furnished with the same furniture as was used by Robert Louis Stevenson and to be comfortably heated by the landlord when necessary.”
Signatures: Andrew Baker, C.M. Palmer, Stephen Chalmers, Earnest H. Baldwin, Walter H. Cluett.
Andrew and Mary Baker were at it again–making money off of Robert Louis Stevenson, even though he was dead. Each time it happened was a happy windfall for the couple, if that means easy, unexpected extra income. In this case, it meant $25 a month just to rent out two expendable rooms to this new Stevenson Society, who said they had great plans for their use. The Bakers’ last living child, twin daughter Bertha, had joined up with this new movement and even carried a title, “Resident Librarian.” By then, Bertha was 40 and had become Mrs. Joseph H. Vincent along the way, childless like her long-gone siblings:
1. Grace, d. 1879;
2. Clara Louise, d. 1882;
3. Ralph, d. 1895;
4. Twin sister Blanche, d. 1903.
Finally, at Christmas time 1923, the parents got to fill in the last available space at the bottom right corner of the death page in their extra large family Bible: “Our last dear child is gone. How lonely we are.”
Turn the page over and the deaths of Andrew and Mary Scott Baker are recorded by someone unknown, possibly their son-in-law, Joseph H. Vincent, also the executor of their estate. Vincent seemed to have issues with the Stevenson Society and presented them with their first crisis. Someone preserved a news clipping with the headline: “R.L. STEVENSON COTTAGE SHUT, RELICS REMOVED.”
Vincent had kicked them out. The relics were removed for safety to the Saranac Lake Free Library and the vault of the Adirondack National Bank. In the meantime, a year dragged by while negotiations dragged on. The summer of 1924 remains the only summer the Stevenson Cottage was closed to the public in its 106 years of operation; but the society still had their annual meeting moved across the river to Denny Park, two photos of which are in their archives.
Eventually a deal was agreed upon between J. H. Vincent and Col. Walter Scott, President of the Stevenson Society of America, Inc., which had lengthened its name in 1920 from just Stevenson Society. All the particulars of this transaction can be found in their 1925 Annual Report. The purchase included all contents within the house and the adjoining barn. The affair dominated the front page of the Adirondack Enterprise, Aug. 31, 1925, with the headline: “Celebrate Purchase of Cottage.”
Between the time of their eviction and their triumphant return, the Stevenson Cottage was locked up and no one went in there without Vincent. When the new owners went through for the first time, they found the place just like Mary left it, the night she was carried out on March 20, 1924. The Stevenson Cottage should be recognized as a landmark more specific to the Baker family of Baker Mountain fame, among the first pioneers of distinction to take on this wilderness.
Some years ago, a new section was added to the inventory of the Saranac Lake collection of Stevensonia, putting on record for the first time the leftovers of the Baker family who occupied the house Andrew Baker built for 58 years, unto death, all of them, children too. Much of what the Bakers had left went into storage on the second floor of the barn. That was all stolen in 1972. The only thing they left were the tent poles.
The Baker part of the collection includes furniture, books, pictures, photographs, a little of everything and once in a blue moon something new that’s really old will turn up, always by chance. A not so recent example is the “creepy doll” discovered in 1981, under a pile of fallen plaster in a corner of the little upstairs room that Stevenson called a “prophet’s chamber” in a letter to his friend, Will Low. Wrapped in a newspaper from 1892, it had seen better days. It is well within the range of possibility that the author of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” stared at the Baker twins at play with this doll or setting it down to play with their cats.
In 1988, during a sidewalk replacement project at the street entrance, about two dozen spent shells from rifle fire with a pretty light blue patina, came out of the dirt. A photo circa 1898 shows Andrew Baker sitting at that very spot next to his rifle. Too bad they got stolen, too. After lining them up like soldiers on the rail, quite visible, they were gone the next morning. Somebody forgot to take them in.
Baker remains are all over the property, from the barn to the attic or “prophet’s chamber.” The only place you don’t find them is in the basement, because there was no basement until 2004, courtesy of Mr. Albert Gordon. The more significant items were placed in the closet off Andrew and Mary’s bedroom, the same room used by the mother of RLS for the winter of 1887-88.
When the Stevenson Cottage museum started in 1916, it had two rooms–Stevenson’s study and bedroom with “the same furniture as was used by Robert Louis Stevenson.” Today four of the seven rooms rented by the author are official “showrooms,” including the master bedroom just mentioned and their sitting room, what we call a living room.
Life on a frontier farm when the Baker kids were growing up, meant a lot of family time passed in the sitting room, especially at night. At night, with lanterns lit, the sitting room was a place of refuge from everything outside. Darkness was the problem. There were no streetlights, neighbors were out of earshot, no flashlights either. They could only imagine what kind of nocturnal critters were creeping or stalking around out there, invisible. People with degrees say that man invented monsters from his fear of the dark. Stevenson felt that unsettling sensation here, too, even though he could see a couple lights on French Hill, half a mile away. People stayed in at night.
In this respect, the Baker family had an advantage over their neighbors, however few. It was their fireplace. This, too, is a museum showpiece, enhanced by, some say, “the most famous cigarette burns in the world” on the mantel. The whole house itself is just one big artifact. As for the fireplace, Alfred Donaldson explains it all in his History of the Adirondacks:
“Besides having become a literary shrine (Baker’s), the place holds a lesser bid to fame. It contains the second open brick fireplace built in this section. The first was in the home of Lucius Evans, on Main St.,” which would have been in the middle of the parking lot opposite the Blue Moon Cafe.
“Strange as it may seem, open fireplaces were a late and rare luxury in the Adirondacks. The one in Andrew Baker’s home was suggested by Mr. Riggs, of Riggs Hotel in Washington. This gentleman was among the regular summer visitors at “Baker’s Tavern,” and when he heard that his favorite guide was going to build a house and take boarders (1866), he urged the open fireplace and agreed to pay half the expense of constructing it. After it was built he sat before it on many a chilly night–as did Stevenson after him.”
RLS went to the grave with not a clue how good his luck had been, the day his wife found them a home to rent in these mountains, “by accident” according to Bertha Baker; a house that came with a fireplace, ideal centerpiece for the “Hunter’s Home.”