As a homesteader, Mel Hathaway was one of a kind. After getting evicted from the Ausable Lakes because he didn’t abide by hunting and fishing rules enacted by the Adirondack Mountain Reserve in 1887, when it acquired the land, Hathaway went over the Great Range and set up camp along Johns Brook, at about the age of 40.
There he launched a new career as a wilderness host. He planted an apple orchard, hacked out a garden with a “bug hoe,” and entertained thousands of Marcy-bound hikers with his colorful stories and put some of them up overnight, charging 25 cents a bunk. Women hikers were gifted with flowers—poppies and nasturtiums.
"From Mel, weary and perhaps bewildered, hikers secured trail information, cold spring water, green vegetables, pack baskets, hunting and trapping stories and an entirely new stock of expletives,” according to a 1942 article in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Cloud Splitter magazine. "By Gee Whinners!!" exclaimed Mel one day, when the slide broke loose on Armstrong, I says, "Melvin, say yer prayers, the world is up-ended. Hell Twenty, there was smashin’ and crashin”!
Hathaway, apparently, also made among the finest pack baskets around, fitting them individually and using ash strips in his artistry.
Progress caught up with him again in the mid-1920’s, when the Adirondack Mountain Club began to plan its wilderness lodge along Johns Brook. Mel had been squatting on private land all those years. But like Mel, the Club realized that his spot was an ideal location, with two streams converging, a fresh spring for clear drinking water, and magnificent views of the Gothics and other mountains.
Young Jimmy Goodwin, guiding a party down the trail from Mt. Marcy at age 14, saw Hathaway’s cabin in flames, as Mel was forced to move again. The club offered to build him another cabin someplace, but ended up giving him money instead, as he went to live with a daughter. He died not long after, taking his colorful stories and rich historic lore with him.