Ernest Blue Vistas in the Trees Beyond Prison Bars
Page 1 of stories and sidebars associated with the life and times of Ernest W. Blue. Complied by his son, Allan G. Blue.

Ernest Wells Blue.

A brief account of a life in the woods

By Allan G. Blue

EWB was born on August 3, 1890, at the Home Farm near the town of North Gage, Oneida County, NY. When I (AGB) was a boy, he took me to a part of the Home Farm that bordered the West Canada Creek and showed me the remains of a log cabin he had built there from trees he had felled himself.

The camp was built near a spot on the West Canada called Blue's Eddy, which the Indians apparently used as a fording place and campground. EWB amassed quite a collection of Indian points and scraping tools that he would find there at low water.

(This collection is now in the NY State Museum, where some were dated to be at least 9,000 years old.)

Letter from NY State Museum acknowledging donation of EWB's Indian artifacts collection. Click to enlarge. Use "back" button to return.
He also told me that one of the spring chores that he and his brothers did was to search the banks of the West Canada for wood, especially cedar, that had been stranded by the annual high water. This salvage was used for fence posts.

I know very little else about his early life on the farm. He did once tell me that whenever he and his brothers had stayed out too late or had otherwise vexed their father, Arthur Grant Blue, would not say a great deal but would see to it that their next day was spent in the hot sun hoeing corn from just after breakfast until supper time.

Ernest and the other children attended school in Holland Patent, Ernest graduating in 1909 in a class of nine. In the summer of 1910, he joined the Biltmore Forest School, which at the time was temporarily operating on the lands of the Cummer - Diggens Lumber Company near Cadillac, Michigan.

(The Biltmore School was a 'travelling' school, which moved from location to location. Students could enroll at any time, and were graduated when they had completed all of the courses, which were taught in series. Tuition was $960, and each student had to provide his own horse.)

Cradle of Forestry in America logo. Click for web site. Use "back" button to return.
The fall and winter of 1910-1911 were spent in Germany, where the school was headquartered in Darmstadt. There were 60 students at this particular time. After Germany, the group returned to US headquarters near the Biltmore Estate in western North Carolina.

This site, near the town of Brevard, now houses the Cradle Of Forestry In America Museum. EWB's Biltmore Diploma is on display there. Here's a side story about that:

Forestry Discovery Center at Cradle of Forestry in America. Click for web site. Use "back" button to return.
In March of 1987 while on a trip through North Carolina I arrived un-announced at the Cradle Of Forestry Museum.

I approached a curator to see if they would be interested in having EWB's Biltmore Diploma. The reaction was quite dramatic.

It seemed they were holding the ground-breaking ceremony for the new Museum & Visitors Orientation Center that very afternoon and to have the son of an early graduate there would be a real coup! Would I participate? Would I give a little speech? Would I agree to a television interview?

Plaque given to EWB's son, Allan G. Blue, for his participation in the 1987 visitor center ground-breaking ceremony at Cradle of Forestry in America. Click for web site. Use "back" button to return.
I somewhat reluctantly agreed to all of the above, and later received a nice little plaque commemorating the event.

But they kept the shovel. . .

EWB graduated Biltmore in August of 1911.

He immediately went to work for the Finch, Pruyn Company of Glens Falls, NY, cruising timber on the company's vast holdings in Hamilton and Essex Counties.

On April 20, 1912 he was hired by the NYS Conservation Commission as a laborer at the Saranac Inn Tree Nursery. His pay was 22 cents an hour. The man in charge of the nursery was Robert Rosenbluth, who was to play a large part in EWB's future. Living quarters were primitive, and for a time EWB shared a double bunk with a notorious ex-hobo known as "Four Track Red," who was an ex-convict just released from state prison.

NYS Conservation Dept. magazine article by EWB about 1912-16 reforestation. Click to enlarge. Use "back" button to return. For the history of the state's Dept. of Environmental Conservation, visit the NYS DEC website. For more about NYS reforesting, visit the NYS DEC website's History of State Forest Program page.
Rosenbluth had been trying to convince the NYS Correction Department to let him try an experiment whereby prisoners would be used as laborers to plant trees on large areas of land owned by the State which had been de-forested either by lumbering or fire or both. He met with no success until a riot at Clinton Prison, near Dannemora, NY, left the prison shops and other buildings in ruins.

Rosenbluth argued that, if prisoners could be kept occupied by a program such as he proposed, they would be less apt to cause more trouble while the prison shops were being rebuilt and the men had to be locked in their cells 24 hours a day. The top officials at Albany - much against the wishes of the Warden at Clinton Prison - gave Rosenbluth the go-ahead for a small trial program. (Twelve prisoners.)

He left for Dannemora immediately, taking EWB with him as his principal assistant. The date was May 10, 1912. Rosenbluth was all of 25 years old, and Ernest was 22. EWB's starting wage was $2 a day. On September 9, 1912, he was given the official title of Foreman (Lumbering) at $1200/year.

(Note: The men arrived at Dannemora with a weekend to kill and took an excursion train to Montreal without realizing that, between them, they only had 40 cents beyond the price of the train ticket. Rosenbluth's unpublished "recollections" gives an amusing account of the trip, including how they were saved from starvation by a woman who boarded a train in a hurry and left behind a paper sack which turned out to be full of bananas.)

EWB (camera case on hip) with Dannemora reforestration crew.
EWB's work with the prisoners deserves a monograph of its own. Clinton was a prison for three-time losers. It was built on solid rock to prevent escape by tunneling.

The fierce riots and fires had shown what the inmates were capable of. Yet without guards and without guns, EWB and a few others (Rosenbluth had gone off to other things) maintained a series of camps 20 miles or more away from the prison in the bleak areas to the west of Dannemora, planting trees day after day.

They lived in tents, and no matter where they happened to be located at any given time, the prisoners always called the site "Camp Blue."

Framed tribute signed by "Camp Blue" inmates to EWB.
I have been told by my mother that Ernest would let one of the prisoners shave him with a straight razor.

To my knowledge, not one ever tried to escape even though Canada was not that far away.

(I have a framed tribute to EWB that was made, signed, and presented to him by the inmates upon his departure from Clinton.)

There exists a business card that shows EWB with the title of Forester Of Clinton Prison. I do not know if this was an official title he held at one time or if it was just meant to describe the duties he performed at the Institution.

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