Celeste and the Wooden Cradle
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
"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
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.
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.