Go West, Old Man

AberKing

The History of Hamilton County. Ted Aber & Stella King. 1965. page 793.

The mysterious original cabin of the Thachers on Indian Point received numerous mentions in the newspapers of the day.  However, the earliest evidence of its existence comes from the single sentence in the text above.  It refers to Rev. Henry Gabriels who at the time was President of the St. Joseph Seminary in Troy, NY and who later became the Bishop of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, which encompasses all of the Adirondacks. 1  Can we simply assume that the original cabin was built in 1878, or might it have existed prior to this first reference?  After all, the family purchased the land in 1876.

Two pieces of history steer me to conclude that 1878 does indeed mark the construction of the original cabin.  Starting in 1867, the G.W. and C. B. Colton & Co. publishing company produced a series titled Map of The New York Wilderness and The Adirondacks, compiled by the cartographer W.W. Ely.  The original map was updated almost annually from 1867 to 1890.  If one assumes that every updated map reflects changes that were first observed through surveys in the year prior to publication, these maps provide a vivid, visual historical timeline.

1879 Map of the New York Wilderness and the Adirondacks.  G. W. and C. B Colton & Co. publisher.  Compiled by W. W. Ely.  Image courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection online at www.davidrumsey.com

1879 Map of the New York Wilderness and the Adirondacks. G. W. and C. B. Colton & Co. publisher. Compiled by W. W. Ely.    Image courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection online at http://www.davidrumsey.com

I was amazed to discover in the fine details that in the version of the map published in 1879, the name Thatcher appears written across the whole of Indian Point.  The name appears on all subsequent map editions but on none prior to 1879.

1879 Map of the New York Wilderness and the Adirondacks.  G. W. and C. B Colton & Co. publisher.  Compiled by W. W. Ely.  Image courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection online at www.davidrumsey.com

1879 Map of the New York Wilderness and the Adirondacks. G. W. and C. B Colton & Co. publisher. Compiled by W. W. Ely. Image courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection online at http://www.davidrumsey.com

But if the original cabin was built in 1878, the question remains why, with a beautiful lodge on Thacher Island on Blue Mountain Lake, did George Hornell Thacher choose to move further west and establish a new outpost on the shores of Indian Point on Raquette Lake?  An understanding of the changes occurring at Blue Mountain Lake at the time provides a clue.

GHT first came to the Adirondacks in 1862 and established his summer home on Thacher Island in 1867.  This was a time when travel to the Adirondacks was an adventurous expedition for wealthy “sports” and their guides.  In the early years at Blue Mountain Lake, GHT’s peace and serenity among the pines would have only been disturbed by small groups of hunting and fishing parties frequenting the camps established by Chauncey Hathorne at Potter’s Landing and Mitchell Sabattis on Crane Point.

Things began to change in 1874 when Tyler M. Merwin built the first of several cottages above the lake on the hillside where the Adirondack Museum stands today.

Merwin's original Blue Mountain House - courtesy of the St. Hubert's Isle website.

Merwin’s original Blue Mountain House – courtesy of the St. Hubert’s Isle website.

The Blue Mountain House originally only accommodated between twelve and twenty people, but by 1880 additional buildings increased this number to 100.

Merwin's expansion of the Blue Mountain House - courtesy of the St. Hubert's Isle website.

Merwin’s expansion of the Blue Mountain House – courtesy of the St. Hubert’s Isle website.

In 1875 John G. Holland built the first proper hotel, the Blue Mountain Lake House.  A primitive log structure of two and a half floors, it accommodated up to 60 guests.  Within six months of the hotel opening, the Thachers purchased the land on Raquette Lake.  In 1878 an addition to the hotel allowed for a total of 200 guests.

Joh Holland's Blue Mountain Lake House - photo by Seneca Ray Stoddard - Library of Congress Collection - courtesy of the St. Hubert's Isle website

Joh Holland’s Blue Mountain Lake House – photo by Seneca Ray Stoddard – Library of Congress Collection – courtesy of the St. Hubert’s Isle website

In the same year, James Ordway built the Ordway House to house thirty guests, seen here in a painting by Levi Wells Prentice.   The structure on the island at the right of the painting is our family’s lodge on Thacher Island.

Painting by Levi Wells Prentice - Courtesy of the Adirondack Museum Collection.

Painting by Levi Wells Prentice – Courtesy of the Adirondack Museum Collection.

In 1879 on the same site, the first class Prospect House Hotel was built to serve over 300 guests. 2

Prospect House - 1889 photo by Seneca Ray Stoddard - Library of Congress Collection - Courtesy of St. Hubert's Isle website.

Prospect House – 1889 photo by Seneca Ray Stoddard – Library of Congress Collection – Courtesy of St. Hubert’s Isle website.

By 1878, the quiet calm of a summer season at Blue Mountain Lake had become a much different experience.  I believe GHT’s sentiment may have agreed with the writer of this poem:

Recreation magazine. July 1896. page 191. G. O. Shields, publisher. NY. NY.

Recreation magazine. July 1896. page 191. G. O. Shields, publisher. NY. NY.

An insight into GHT’s feelings about modern convenience invading the primitive beauty of the Adirondacks can be seen in this New York Times article:

New York Times. July 31, 1881.

New York Times. July 31, 1881.

GHT’s antagonism toward the modern steamboats plying the waters of Raquette Lake was not unique.  Their impact on the livelihoods of the Adirondack guides, whose guide boats were previously the only source of transportation, was a contentious issue of the day.

One fateful night in 1885, a few guides took it upon themselves to scuttle and sink  Buttercup, the first steamboat on Long Lake.  Simultaneously, co-conspiritors dynamited the outlet dam which kept the water deep enough for steamboat navigation of the lake.  The culprits were never brought to justice as related in these excerpts from an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 1.33.19 PM

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scuttled 2

scuttled 3

This steamboat is of a similar size and design of what the Buttercup may have looked like.

This steamboat replica is similar in size and appearance to the original Buttercup.

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Brooklyn Daily Eagle. August 16, 1885. page 12.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. August 16, 1885. page 12.

The remains of Buttercup were raised from the lake bottom in 1959 and are exhibited behind the Long Lake Town Hall.  Photo courtesy of Diane Chase and adirondackalmanac.com

The remains of Buttercup were raised from the lake bottom in 1959 and are exhibited behind the Long Lake Town Hall. Photo courtesy of Diane Chase and adirondackalmanac.com

So in 1876, as Blue Mountain Lake began a building boom, George Hornell Thacher looked to Raquette Lake in search of a quiet, isolated place more in keeping with the rugged character of the Adirondack guides whom he held in high esteem.  Why did he choose Indian Point upon which to build his “camp” and where on Indian Point was this “fine lodge”, “fine residence”, “cottage” built in 1878?  The mystery will continue to unravel in these pages.

2 thoughts on “Go West, Old Man

  1. Well, this could explain how John Boyd Thacher, son of George and future mayor of Albany, happened to become the first treasurer of the Church of the Good Shepherd (Episcopal) on St. Hubert’s Isle, Raquette Lake. The church was built by William West Durant during the summer of 1880 and dedicated 12 September of that same year. Beginning 1 January 1880 all fund raising appeals were signed by “William West Durant, Warden, and John Boyd Thacher, Treasurer.” In 1885 Good Shepherd sponsored the mission church (Transfiguration) in Blue Mountain Lake, and in 1890 Durant built St. William’s Roman Catholic Church on Raquette (also designed by esteemed architect Josiah Cleveland Cady.) sthubertsisle.com

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