By Fulton County Historian Peter Betz
As originally run in the February 2, 2009 “Windows to the Past” Column for the Leader-Herald

As a child growing up in Amsterdam in the late 1940's and early 50's, one of the annual events I most enjoyed was the Sportsmen’s Show, sponsored by a highly-organized group of devoted outdoor sportsmen/volunteers called the Amsterdam Fish & Game League.

Although I participated near the end of these great shows - they were started at the Armory in 1933 - I retain a fond memory of some events. An old Leader article, written after the conclusion of the 1948 Sportsmen's Show, states the event "attracted tens of thousands of visitors". This may have been an exaggeration, but at least 25,000 were recorded as attending the eight day event, always held during the school system’s Easter vacation in the Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School.

This building was a prefect location: Easter vacation then was two-weeks. The shows usually ran a week, but in 1948 - the first show I remember – it ran eight days. The League took over classrooms for the hunting, fishing and sporting goods dealers, plus the auditorium and large gym, prefect locations for the main activities. The older part of Junior High - originally the first high school - became a makeshift dormitory for participants from away. Old-time lumber camp cooks took over the cafeteria to provide legendary breakfasts of eggs, bacon and 'flapjacks'. This dedicated group of sportsmen and their Adirondack guests completely transformed the school into a relocated piece of the Adirondacks. Somehow, all traces were removed before school reopened.

This was a major event for Amsterdam and a major money-maker: it not only filled Junior High, it filled the hotels: it brought income to the bus and taxi lines. Bus companies from all over the state sent charters.

What kind of activities went on, and why did the event draw such a crowd? To begin with, in the 1930's and 40's, many pioneer Adirondack hunters, fisherman, guides and just plain woods enthusiasts were still alive and well. The volunteer promoters were also serious hunters and fishermen with strong remembrances of youthful and adult hunting and fishing excursions, people wishing to promote the Adirondacks and share their legacies. The Adirondack name had a romantic cache in those days of still-primitive roads, drafty hotels, great food and campfires, trout-filled lakes and deer-filled woods, perhaps even more so than now. Adirondack hunters, fishermen and loggers came to the show to demonstrate skills, compete for prizes and hobnob, and the area public paid to share the experience.

In the Junior High gym, a large pool was erected. In this pool, experienced woodsmen competed in log rolling contests, canoe tipping and fly casting. One year, a serious contingent of bearded Michigan log rollers showed up and left most of their challengers all wet. Rings of decreasing sizes were floated in the pool and anglers competed to demonstrate their skills in casting lines dead center inside the rings with skilled, overhand casts. Throwing axes overhand into a mark on the end of a block of wood was also a contest activity, and the experienced loggers who engaged in this were extremely accurate.

Sharp-shooting shows occurred. One year, league members gave a theatrical show called “Trapper’s Justice” in which an area marksman, W.H. Jacoby, hit the bulls eye on a playing card, held in the air by another man. In 1937, the world’s largest snowshoe was exhibited as an advertising stunt, courtesy of the Maine manufacturer who then racked up a considerable number or orders for normal size ones. Hope Falls brothers Leyman and Arnold Watson were frequent winners in the log sawing contest and they weren’t using chain saws either. Many Fulton and Hamilton country men entered these events and in 1946, the New York State Lumberjack competitions were held there.

In the auditorium, activities ranged from educational activities to simple entertainment. Conservationists gave slide lectures on hunting, fishing and logging topics. Prizes were awarded there. Larrabee’s Hardware, which included a large sporting goods department on nearby Market Street, sponsored radio broadcasts over the then very new Johnstown station WENT. Popular Grand Old Opry singers Lulu Belle and Scotty performed in both day and evening shows and Minnie Pearl showed up for several years. I remember her well because she apparently liked children: between shows, she would come out into the hallway to talk and kid around with us, which was nice, but I didn’t understand why she wore a hat with the price tag still on it. I didn’t understand until a few years later she was a comic: I thought she just forgot to remove the tag.

I must have first witnessed the 1948 show. I would only have been about six years old, but I clearly remember seeing the live black bears, which records suggest were only there that year. I don’t remember what these bears did, but a kid doesn’t forget when he sees real bears for the first time. Would you? One of the big draws was the presence of the Cold River Adirondack Hermit Noah Rondeau who was perfectly willing to de-hermitize himself long enough to appear at sportsmen’s shows. I remember that he set up a scene resembling his Adirondack campsite, complete with a kettle of stew on a tripod, from which he would offer samples to visitors. I once witnessed a conservation officer insist on inspecting the contents of his stew pot for venison, an out-of-season offence. Rondeau and the officer had a very heated exchange during which Rondeau called for a member of the Sportsmen’s League for help and threatened to dump the whole stew pot on the officer’s feet. I don’t know how this was resolved: I ran.

Sportsmen’s shows were both educational and entertaining, and they made money, as a result of which, professional entertainment companies muscled in on the ‘game’. While all proceeds from Amsterdam shows were donated to wildlife projects, these companies were in it for profit. They put an end to the Amsterdam shows by complaining to the N.Y. State Education Department that such events shouldn’t be held in a public school. The state agreed, and since there was nowhere else suitable, the concept died, until recently that is.

Now renamed the Adirondack Outdoorsman Show and transferred to Fulton County, the concept is regenerated by Gloversville’s Mike Hauser of Twin Cities Sports Promotions. Those interested in attending his next event may get a preview and information by visiting

No, it’s not 1948 and I am no longer six years old. Adirondack Noah Rondeau has gone to his reward, hopefully no longer harassed by game wardens interested in the contents of his stew pot. Mr. Hauser and friends have very realistically regenerated the spirit and intent of those old-time Adirondack shows. Even if no bears show up, I hope to meet some of my readers there.


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