Nessmuk Returns

Over 130 years ago, the writer Nessmuk (George Washington Sears) visited my great-great-grandfather George Hornell Thacher on Indian Point in 1883.  Two weeks ago, I received an email from Will Madison, the great-great-great-grandson of Nessmuk.  Will is retracing the canoe journey of his ancestor and arranged to meet me at Indian Point this past weekend.  Please enjoy this video of our rendezvous and click at the end to support and share the campaign.  Or contribute directly at http://igg.me/at/50acres

The Search for William Wood’s Cabin

Courtesy of the Adirondack Museum

Courtesy of the Adirondack Museum

My last article identified the most likely location of the original cabin built by Matthew Beach and William Wood in the mid-1830s. Wood remained on Indian Point until 1859, but sometime between 1844 and 1846 he had a falling out with Beach and built a separate cabin (shown in this 1851 sketch from Jervis McEntee’s diary).

I began a new search to determine where Wood’s cabin had stood, using the 1851 sketch as a starting point. I feel confident in saying that the mountainscape in the background of the sketch is unmistakably Bluff Hill, which rises above the Bluff Point peninsula of Raquette Lake. So where would one see this particular view?

One might expect that each man’s cabin would have been located within their individual parcel when they obtained legal title to their lands in 1849. The image below shows that Beach was deeded 25 acres to the right of the yellow line, encompassing both tips of Indian Point. Wood was deeded 25 acres in a rectangular parcel between the red and yellow lines. My theory of the location of Beach’s cabin has it on Beach’s property, so Wood’s cabin should have been within his rectangular parcel.

Beach and Wood division

However, after carefully canoeing along the shores of the inner bay between the two tips of Indian Point and along the south shore of Indian Point, I can unequivocally state that the view captured in the McEntee sketch could not have been seen from within Wood’s 25 acre parcel. The only potential location would be at the very back of the inner bay but Needle Island obscures the view of Bluff Hill from that vantage point.

Why would Beach and Wood divide the end of Indian Point in a way that did not correspond to where the men’s cabins were located? The answer comes from looking at the Township 40 Map of 1900. Notice that most of the straight edges of the property parcels are all lines that run parallel to the diagonal boundaries of Township 40. In 1773, Ebenezer Jessup was charged with surveying the boundaries of the Totten & Crossfield Purchase and segmenting the area into townships. The reason why the township’s west and east boundaries run North 27 West rather than straight north-south has been lost to history. Nevertheless, it appears that in giving legal title to the men, Farrand Benedict and David Read chose an easier surveying technique to divide the land into equal 25 acre parcels, without regard to the location of the cabins.

jessup line

This realization opens up the possibility that Wood’s cabin actually existed on what was legally Beach’s land.   McEntee was not the only visitor who wrote about Wood’s cabin. In 1855, Henry Jarvis Raymond, the founder of The New York Times and NYS Lt. Governor, wrote of his visit to Indian Point.

[Wood] and Beach in course of time disagreed, for in any part of the earth, no matter how secluded, two persons are enough for a quarrel; and a clearing of ten acres, even in a wilderness a hundred miles through, affords ground enough for a local dissension. So finding they could no longer live together, they agreed to divide their fortunes and have nothing to do with each other. Wood moved into a hut, half logs and half bark, some fifty rods from Beach.

Fifty rods is 825 feet. From where I believe Beach’s cabin to have been, I ventured roughly that distance in each direction seeking to see if any point gave a view similar to the McEntee sketch. I found it at what our family calls Hawks’ Point (named for the family of Ken Hawks, current owners of Watch Point on North Bay, who camped here for many years). The view from here has a very close resemblance to the sketch.

Hawks point map view

Surely this was the location of Wood’s cabin.  I was convinced until I read the entirety of Jervis McEntee’s diary from his 1851 visit. McEntee said of Wood’s cabin, “The house is built of logs with a bark-covered porch in front, and standing on a gentle elevation about fifty yards from the lake.” A cabin 150 feet back from the lakeshore on Hawks’ Point would be in a marsh and no longer have a view of Bluff Hill.

McEntee also states that, “Wood was not at home but we saw him coming over the lake soon after we reached his house…he had just now returned from ‘Blue Mountain’.” This could be interpreted to mean that they were able to see Wood coming north across Beaver Bay up from the mouth of the Marion River. There is no such view from Hawk’s Point.

McEntee also commented that he had “stopped at Wood’s and got our clothes and some meal and potatoes. We heard three or four rifle shots in the direction of Beach’s, and rowing over there we found a skiff and a birch bark canoe and met Beach and an Indian at the landing.”

If Wood’s cabin had been on Hawks’ Point, Beach could have shouted over the water the short distance from his landing and would have not needed to fire gunshots in the air to get McEntee’s attention.

Levi Wells Prentice’s 1877 painting titled “Raquette Lake from Wood’s Clearing” alludes to another possible location for Wood’s cabin.   Prentice actually painted at least three versions from the same sketch. I believe the one shown below helps to identify where the sketch was drawn.

LWP Woods Clearing

I believe the sketch was drawn at a spot (marked with a white star below) on a small inner cove at the far east end of the southern tip of Indian Point while looking south. The peninsula on the left of the painting is Woods Point, where William Wood’s brother Josiah lived. Osprey Island appears to the right across a small channel from Woods Point. The far shoreline is not actually the southern shore of Raquette Lake but rather Long Point. The mountainscape in the background shows the Blue Ridge, Wakley, and Metcalf mountain ranges that lie south of Raquette Lake.

LWP sketched here

If one looks due east rather than south from here, you do see a view of Bluff Hill similar to the McEntee sketch. Sitting on the porch and looking south from here, you would see William Wood “coming over the lake” as he “returned from Blue Mountain”. The distance from Beach’s cabin and the fact that I believe Wood left a windbreak of trees to the north of his cabin (seen in McEntee’s sketch) would explain why Beach had to fire gunshots in the air to get McEntee’s attention. Finally, there are stone piles that appear to be corner foundation points found where I believe Wood’s cabin to have been.

Woods cabin v2My search would have ended here if not for two conflicting “facts”.

Warren Reynolds recalls his father showing him the remains of William Wood’s cabin when he was a small boy in the 1930s. Only a corner joint of rotting timbers remained. Warren’s father claimed that his friend Billy Wood, one of Wood’s descendants, originally showed him the site. These remains were not anywhere near the tip of the southern fork. Instead, this cabin had been located just to the west of the line dividing Beach and Wood’s properties on the southern fork but closer to the inner bay of Indian Point.

The second contradiction is Henry Jarvis Raymond’s 1855 comment that Wood’s cabin was “some fifty rods from Beach”.   The location near the tip of the southern fork is almost 100 rods away from Beach’s cabin.

My research of our family’s property deed revealed a clue that might explain these contradictions. In 1854, Matthew Beach sold a 4.75-acre parcel to Albert and Gardner Eldred. The boundaries of this small parcel, in blue below, enclose the area where I believe William Wood had his first cabin. Either Beach forced Wood out of his cabin or perhaps by 1854 Wood had already begun to court Celia Ann Whitman, whom he married in 1858 after fathering their daughter Lydia in 1857. Did he choose to build a more suitable cabin to raise a family in, within the boundaries of his legal property?

Woods 2nd cabin

Based on Reynolds’ recollection and the supposition that Henry Jarvis Raymond visited this second cabin in 1855, I have marked an approximate location around fifty rods from Beach’s cabin. It is likely that Wood occupied this cabin from 1854 until 1859 when he moved to Elizabethtown. Today the sites have modern construction or disrupted landscapes that preclude a more in-depth ground search for evidence, but I feel confident in my conclusions.

 

The Search for Raquette Lake’s First Cabin

I know where Matthew Beach and William Wood built their original cabin (depicted in this 1840 sketch by John Hill) on Indian Point. Or at least I think I know, or perhaps I should say I have deduced a pretty darn good educated guess. I welcome other’s critiques of my assumptions.

1840 Mathew Beach Cabin sketch2

After discovering the location of the mysterious 1878 Thacher cabin, my obsession turned to searching for the first settlers’ home on our land. The above sketch offers little in the way of accurate perception of distances given that the opposite side of North Bay appears as close to Needle Island as the tip of Indian Point. And don’t get me started on the apparent thickness of Needle Island. Yet the drawing holds some surprisingly valuable clues.

One might even question if this could possibly be a view of Needle Island and Indian Point. Thankfully, there exists exactly one more piece of contemporary evidence on the cabin’s location. A portion of the 1860 map of the Headwaters of the Racket River by F.A. Merritt shows the cabin on the north fork of Indian Point. Here again, the proportions do not reflect reality and the exact location of the cabin cannot be determined from the map.

interpretation 1860 map final

Although the sizes of the islands appear gigantic, my interpretation is that the very tip of the north fork appeared to the mapmaker as two small islands (B & C). If surveyed in early spring with unusually high water, what is today swampland separating A from B and B from C, could have been an open channel of water. This would imply that the cabin was located within the broad area marked A.

Having consulted the two pieces of evidence that provide graphic clues to the cabin’s location, I turned to the pitifully few cabin descriptions written by Beach and Wood’s visitors.

During his 1851 visit, James McEntee wrote:

We heard three or four rifle shots in the direction of Beach’s, and rowing over there we found a skiff and a birch bark canoe and me Beach and an Indian at the landing. Beach told us that a party had arrived and probably the one Brainerd was expecting…I had quite a curiosity to see him, and walking up to Beach’s house we found the party there.

The words “walking up to Beach’s house” appear to correspond with the 1840 drawing’s perspective that the cabin was on a slight rise of land above the lakeshore. The description also implies that McEntee could not hear or see the party at the cabin from the shore.

C. W. Webber wrote of his 1849 visit: “Securing our boat, and taking out our equipment, we walked to the hut, but a few rods from the edge of the lake”.   A rod is 16.5 feet, but the meaning of “but a few” could be interpreted to mean as little as two to perhaps five rods. This would imply that the cabin could have been between 33 and 82 feet of the shore. Given McEntee’s words, I suspect the cabin was at the higher end of this range.

An enticing yet cryptic clue comes from David Read’s 1848 letter published in Joel Tyler Headley’s The Adirondack or Life in the Woods.

About five hundred yards from Beach’s hut, stands a lofty pine tree, on which a grey eagle has built its nest annually during the nine years he has lived on the shores of the Raquette….From his cabin door he can see them in sunshine and storm.

If only Read had described where this lofty pine tree itself was located.

These writings did not help to zero in on the cabin’s location, so modern science was needed to aid the search. Dr. Mike Kudish, professor emeritus of forestry science from Paul Smith’s College suggested that the cabin and cropland clearing would likely today be a stand of spruce and white pine, secondary species that would have naturally reforested the open clearing.

Using an aerial photo from the early spring and Google Earth, I determined the GPS coordinates of the corners of two search areas (orange and red) mostly devoid of deciduous trees. The yellow line is the western boundary of Matthew Beach’s property.

tree cover search areas

Of course an aerial photo does not reveal what the reality is on the ground. Walking the two search areas with professional GPS equipment, I mapped the areas in blue that are wetlands and the red and orange areas which were the only ground suitable for the cabin’s location.

gps and wetlands

I searched the ground of both sites extensively but found nothing that indicated the remains of a cabin. The cabin had been described by C. W. Webber in 1849 as “of such peculiar and original construction that few would imagine it, at first sight, a human habitation…scarcely anything more that a hunter’s bark shanty of large size…and the roof was formed of as many as three different thicknesses of spruce bark, beside there being a rough flooring to the ‘building’, if indeed, I may use this term.”

Lacking a foundation or even stone pilings at its corners, it is not surprising that all surface evidence of the cabin has rotted away in the intervening 135 years since it was last occupied.

With the help of the Adirondack Research Consortium, I contacted Dr. Christopher Wolff of the SUNY Plattsburgh Anthropology Department. Dr. Wolff and two graduate assistants spent two days digging ten shovel test pits in each of the search areas.

shovel test pits

Alas, we found no evidence of the cabin’s location. In fact we found no man-made artifacts whatsoever. We did however discover that there is a burn layer in the ground about 8 to 12 inches below the surface (the grey ash in the photo). Dr. Wolff said it either indicates slash and burn cultivation at the hands of Beach and Wood or Native Americans, or a forest fire long ago. The burn layer is present throughout the north fork of Indian Point and thus does not provide any clue to the cabin’s location.

burn layer

The Empire State Metal Detector Association based near Albany also aided the search.   Tim Myers and Peter Teal travelled up to Indian Point for two days of detecting.

metal detector

Once again the search proved elusive. No artifacts were found in the red search area and the further west orange search area revealed only the lead bullet shown below which was fired from a .32 Smith & Wesson Number 2 Army Revolver (manufactured between 1861-1874) and a piece of iron from a chain link. Both of which post date the time of Beach and Wood.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 5.51.26 AM

Meyers and Teal were very surprised to find so little in an area occupied from 1837-1870; however, Meyers commented that they have done detecting at sites clearly marked as homesteads on old maps and come up similarly empty-handed. Both men believe that the orange search area is much more suitable for the cabin site, given that the red search area is bordered on two sides by wetlands and susceptible to flooding.

The mystery would have remained unsolved if not for the following letter, written by Ms. Howell to Amanda Benedict during the 1873 women’s botany expedition chronicled in Barbara McMartin’s book To the Lake of the Skies.

The accompanying sketch is a view from our camp [on Indian Point] which we were looking upon when at supper…The little boat near the island [Needle Island] which is one of our own is trying to approach the splendid buck, which is swimming with all its might toward the west and will evidently reach land before the boat overtakes it. Near the boat on the end of the island is the Eagle’s nest which for many years was the home of a family of Osprey.

Alone this text offers no meaningful insight, but it is the next paragraph of the letter that enlightens. Ms. Howell’s letter proceeds with a verbatim plagiarizing of two whole paragraphs of David Read’s 1848 letter in which he speaks of the “lofty pine tree” 500 yards from Beach’s hut. We do not know if Ms. Howell included these words in her original letter or if Benedict placed them there when transcribing all of the expedition letters. However, I think it is clear that the writer is implying that the Eagle’s nest on the west end of Needle Island in 1873 is one and the same as that seen by David Read in 1849.

This is very plausible as John Plumley and Amos Hough, as close as family to Matthew Beach, were among the guides with the women’s expedition camping on Indian Point. They would have known and could have told Ms. Howell and Amanda Benedict of the lofty pine and eagle’s nest’s history. It is also likely that Amanda Benedict would have read and indeed might have had with her on the trip her uncle Joel Tyler Headley’s book in which David Read’s letter was published.

A closer study of the 1840 sketch of Beach and Wood’s cabin reveals corroborating evidence of this theory.   If you look closely, the second pine tree in from the west end of Needle Island is topped with a horizontal surface rather than coming to a point. No other tree in the drawing has a similar top. Could the artist have been attempting to indicate an eagle’s nest?

eagles nest

A similarly close look at the drawing of the cabin clearly shows a hill rising behind and above the cabin with a few trees on it.

hill above hut

I believe this hill to be the small rise indicated by the arrow in the topographical map below.

hill topo o & r areas

Putting together all of these clues, I theorize that the cabin was located at least 500 yards away from the west end of Needle Island, that the island was visible from the vantage point of the cabin, and the area northwest of the cabin had a higher elevation.

Needle Island is not visible from within the red search area, blocked by the portion of Indian Point between it and the island. Also, the red search area is almost completely level with no hill near a cabin’s possible location.

Needle view

I am convinced that the original cabin must have existed in that portion of the orange search area south of the light blue sight line from Needle Island. I welcome any suggestions for how to search for definitive evidence in this area. However, even if I never find a holy grail of an artifact, I am content with my current conclusion, and my obsession has been sated.

 

 

First News Report of The “Forever Wild” Amendment to the NY State Constitution in 1894

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 9.06.28 PM

It is ironic that the same act which has protected the Adirondack Forest Preserve for over one hundred years actually took away the similar protection from a different region of the state.  Beginning in 1821, Article 7 Section 7 had read “the Legislature shall never sell or dispose of the salt springs belonging to this State.”

This constitutionally protected the Onondaga Salt Springs near Syracuse which from the late 1790s through most of the 19th century produced the majority of salt used throughout the U.S.  The State wanted to protect this vital economic resource.  That is until cheaper sources of salt in Michigan and Canada made the Salt Springs an economic drain on the State treasury.  Hopefully the economic value of the protection of the Adirondack Forest Preserve will remain unequivocally positive for the State of New York.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 9.20.30 PM

Here I re-publish one of the first newspaper articles detailing the “Forever Wild” amendment which was unanimously approved by the convention delegates on September 13, 1894 and later approved as part of the new constitution by the state voters in November of that year.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle title

R Dem Chron 2

R Dem Chron 3

R Dem Chron 4

R Dem Chron 5

The Triangulation of Verplanck Colvin

Few fully understand what the Adirondack wilderness really is. It is a mystery even to those who have crossed and recrossed it by boats along it avenues, the lakes; and on foot through its vast and silent recesses…In this remote section, filed with the most rugged mountains, where unnamed waterfalls pour in snowy tresses from the dark overhanging cliffs…the adventurous trapper or explorer must carry upon his back his blankets and heavy stock of food. Yet, though the woodsman may pass his lifetime in some of the wilderness, it is still a mystery to him. 1

 Verplanck Colvin, Superintendent of the Adirondack Survey

 Colvin oval photo

 

Between 1872 and 1900, perhaps no man traversed the Adirondacks more than Verplanck Colvin.  Russell Carson said, “With limitless enthusiasm and boundless devotion, he was exploring, surveying, mapping, and sketching the mountains, valleys, lakes and streams of the region, and writing voluminous reports and papers about them.” 2  Through his sheer personal will, he succeeded in lobbying the state legislature to appropriate funds for the Adirondack Survey and appoint him to the task. His explorations led to the discovery of Lake Tear of the Clouds as the source of the Hudson River and the first accurate elevations for Mt. Marcy and dozens of other regional peaks.

To map and describe this wonderful region, correcting the errors of early surveyors, and thus furnish a most important contribution to the physical geography of the State, is of course the primary purpose of undertaking the survey. But Mr. Colvin’s elaborate and interesting reports have been largely instrumental in calling the attention of the public to the attractions of the Adirondack wilderness both for the sportsman and the general tourist, and to the importance of taking any measures that may be necessary to preserve it forever as a mammoth pleasure ground. 3

1880 Editorial in The Cultivator and Country Gentleman

Indeed, Verplanck Colvin’s speech at Lake Pleasant in 1868 is credited as the first public advocacy for the preservation of the region as a state park. His later correspondences and reports illustrated his argument:

The Adirondack wilderness contains springs which are the sources of our principal rivers, and the feeders of the canals. Each summer the water supply for these rivers and canals is lessened…The immediate cause has been the chopping and burning off of vast tracts of forest in the wilderness, which have hitherto sheltered from the sun’s heat and evaporation the deep and lingering snows, the brooks and rivulets, and the thick, soaking sphagnous moss which, in times knee-deep, half water and half plant, forms hanging lakes upon the mountain sides…It is impossible for those who have not visited this region to realize the abundance, luxuriance and depth which these peaty mosses – the true source of our rivers – attain under the shade of those dark northern evergreen forests…The remedy for this is an Adirondack park or timber preserve. 4

While Colvin’s impact on the creation of the Adirondack Park is his most lasting achievement, his development of new survey techniques and technology should not be overlooked. It his efforts to unravel the mystery of the forest through detailed mapping that I find fascinating.

Triangulation is the process of determining the location of a point by measuring angles to it from known points at either end of a fixed baseline, rather than measuring distances to the point directly. Colvin used this method to map the Adirondacks using a series of mountain top signal stations.

Colvin was not one to avoid harsh and arduous effort in his attempts to map the Adirondacks. Notably, he did not retire to his Albany office in the dead of winter but rather used the frozen lakes to his advantage.

Raq baseline old

In February 1877, he came to Raquette Lake, as described by The Colvin Crew based on his field notes,

to establish a horizontally measured sub-baseline that could be used to strengthen his primary triangulation network of the Adirondack Mountains. This necessitated finding two points on the shore of Raquette Lake that would allow for the longest possible distance measured. Additionally, both points had to be visible from West Mountain and Blue Mountain. Following standard procedure, Bolt 69 was set on the south shore of Raquette Lake at a location known as Otter Point. With the ice cleared of snow, vertical wood stakes were set into the ice to act as guides in keeping the tape straight.   The 1,000 feet long steel “ribbon” was then stretched northerly with metal “ice blocks” being used at the intermediate chaining points for a total distance of 14,571.95 feet. The northerly terminus of this line was marked with a copper plug set in a small rock located at the northeast end of Needle Island. 5 [approximated in the author drawn map shown below]

Raq baseline google earth

Observations from the end point of such baselines to the mountain top signal stations required Colvin to devise two tools that advanced the accuracy of his methods. The Stan Helio is a spinning pyramid of shiny tin plates that reflect sunlight, providing a bright flash that could be seen in the daytime from twenty-five to thirty miles away with the naked eye and even farther through a telescope.

stan helio

Being able to see the mountain top signal stations from wherever his surveying teams were working was one piece of the puzzle. The other is for the surveying teams to accurately know exactly where they were when they observed the nearest signal station.

Determining a location’s longitude and latitude whether by the arc of the sun in day or by stars at night requires that one know the precise time of observation. The accuracy of Colvin’s surveying depended on all of his field teams synchronizing their timepieces to Albany’s Dudley Observatory time.

Here my research took an interesting turn when I discovered that Colvin’s solution to time synchronization involved my family. In August 1876, Colvin established an observation station on Thacher Island on Blue Mountain Lake. It was from here that he first observed the use of a nighttime powder charge flash signal that would communicate the accurate time to surveyors far afield. As he described

A supply of powder for the signal station time-flash had been sent to the mountain, and at a little before 9 P.M. we took up our station on a point commanding in the day-time view of the distant peak, and prepared to compare our watches with the chronometer signal. As we counted the seconds a bright flash illuminated the darkness, showing the mountain-top fairly, as lit by distant lightning. We found our time accurate, and were now satisfied that this method of distributing the Observatory time to the parties would be an entire success if the atmospheric conditions were favorable. 6

flash-signal

I was intrigued to know why Colvin would have used Thacher Island, when a point along the shoreline would have served just as well and eliminated the effort of rowing boxes of equipment out to the island. I knew that Colvin was from Albany, but did he know the Thacher family? My early hopes of a connection seemed dashed by viewing Colvin’s Reconnaissance Map of Tallow or Blue Mountain Lake, which incorrectly spelled our name as Thatcher. A family friend would never commit such an error.

Thatcher on map

I delved deeper into the accuracy of the map and found that the spelling was an inaccurate correction made by the printer. In Colvin’s own handwritten field notebooks, he repeatedly spells the name correctly.

Thacher in Colvin notes

Triangulation uses math to discover what cannot be readily seen and measured by comparing different points in relation to a baseline. I wondered whether an analogous method of drawing connections between points in time in the lives of Verplanck Colvin and the Thachers might answer my question.

The history of Albany provided the first clues. Verplanck Colvin and John Boyd Thacher were both born in 1847. Colvin’s father Andrew J. Colvin was the State Senator from Albany in 1860-1861 (the same seat occupied by JBT twenty-three years later) at the same time that George Hornell Thacher was the Mayor of Albany; both were prominent Democrats. 7  So their fathers were clearly acquainted, but did the boys know each other? Hilary Johnson King, archivist of Albany Academy, discovered that both boys were classmates in a group of forty students for three years (1858-1861). 8

The Thachers began to explore the Adirondacks in 1862 and established their summer home on Blue Mountain Lake in 1867. Verplanck Colvin began his explorations of the region in 1865. We have no correspondence or other evidence that John Boyd Thacher and Colvin were more than acquaintances in their youth. Colvin does not make reference to the Thachers in describing his earliest camping trips to the region, and yet it is hard to believe he did not consult with the first family from Albany to establish a base in the region.

I found that JBT’s and Colvin’s lives repeatedly intersected throughout the years.

JBT and Colvin timeline2

All of these intersecting points prove that the two men knew each other, but were they friends? Only after JBT’s death do I find evidence that it would appear so.

In 1869, Colvin was the first to bring national attention to an area of scenic beauty and scientific value with his writing and hand-drawn illustrations in Harper’s Magazine 14

To those who desire to escape for a day from the oven-like city in summer; who wish to enjoy a scramble among the romantic cliffs, in shady woods, beside cool mountain brooks and waterfalls; to view spots sacred to legends of wild Revolutionary days, of Tory and Indian depredation, naming place, precipice, and mountain…

One might think that Colvin was once again writing about the Adirondacks here, but the quote continues…

to gather the fossil corals and shells… to visit and explore known caves… among the cliff ledges, the “Indian Ladder” region of the Helderbergs offers superior inducements.

Verplanck Colvin Escarpment Illustration

The Helderberg Escarpment lies about twenty miles to the west of Albany and a two hour drive in 1869 when Colvin used the site as his training ground. The cliffs and fields served as a laboratory where Colvin perfected the self-taught surveying techniques that he applied to the Adirondacks. 15

Beginning in 1903, John Boyd Thacher purchased 300 acres along this escarpment to preserve its invaluable fossil record and intrinsic scenic beauty. After his death, JBT’s wife, Emma Treadwell Thacher, donated the lands to create what today is known as John Boyd Thacher State Park. 16

We might easily assume that Colvin influenced JBT to preserve these lands. However, unlike my previous “triangulations”, no assumption is required here. Within the 1915 annual report of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, a description of the 1914 Dedication Ceremony for the park lists Verplanck Colvin as one of eight dignitaries who enjoyed lunch with Mrs. Thacher at her Altamont estate prior to the ceremony. 17

This is notable for two reasons. None of the numerous daily newspaper articles describing the ceremony mention Colvin’s presence, and he did not speak at the ceremony itself. Having been unceremoniously and a bit scandalously fired from his state position in 1900 by Governor Teddy Roosevelt, Colvin faded into a life of obscurity, became depressed and lived in hermit-like seclusion in his home in Albany. 18

His respected place of inclusion in Mrs. Thacher’s plans for the dedication is, I believe, proof of a lifelong friendship with John Boyd Thacher and furthermore, evidence that Verplanck Colvin deserves credit as the father of two glorious state parks.

 

The August Forest Camp on Indian Point

Post Standard 06211915

This article in the June 21, 1915, Syracuse Post-Standard was the first anyone in our family had heard of the role our property on Indian Point played in the evolution of early forestry education in the United States. 1

The August Forest Camp was a miniature village of 9×9 tents where approximately twelve boys and men lived while participating in morning instruction and afternoon fieldwork. The month long program included elementary forestry, zoology, botany and fungi courses taught by prominent U. S. pioneers of forestry science. An old Adirondack guide also taught a week of Woodcraft “such as a man should know who wishes to spend any length of time in the woods”. 2

The Camp brochure noted,

any young man over fifteen years of age and in good physical condition may attend the Camp… [which] is equipped with a motor boat and a number of guide boats and canoes and it is expected that every man will learn to swim if he does not know how… The entire cost of the Camp will be $50.00 [that] covers instruction, rental of tents, cots and boats and board… It will be understood that plain wood’s fare and plenty of it will be given as board. It cannot be expected that table will be supplied with fresh vegetables and other things easily obtainable in the cities but often difficult to get in the woods. No refund will be made for absence from mess. 3

Unfortunately, Flora Nyland, College Archivist at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry in Syracuse, has found no documents or photos relating to the August Forest Camp on Raquette Lake.  There appears to be a conspicuous absence of sources describing the camp during or after August 1915. The archives only have material describing the summer camp for students of the College, which has been held at the 1,800-acre forest station in Wanakena on Cranberry Lake since 1912. Nyland suggested that perhaps the August Forest Camp had been planned for Raquette Lake but eventually held at Wanakena instead. 4

My search for other evidence of the August Forest Camp at Raquette Lake led to this article from the Herald Dispatch of Utica dated August 1st. 5

Utica NY Herald Dispatch 8-1-1900

The northern shore of Indian Point is on North Bay, but this article is from 1900. Had George Hornell Thacher offered our land for a State Forestry Camp as early as 1900?

It turns out that Raquette Lake was ground zero for the political debate over the survival of the 1895 “Forever Wild” Amendment to the New York State Constitution. In 1896, Colonel William F. Fox, Superintendent of New York’s state-owned forests, began a campaign to repeal the amendment. He believed that the electorate had erred in passing the amendment due to their lack of knowledge of conservative, science-based modern forestry. Fox believed that a successful demonstration forest could educate the voters as to his vision of sustainable forest management and exploitation of the timber in the state forest preserves as an alternative to preservation. 6

Fox persuaded the state legislature and Governor Black to establish the New York State College of Forestry within Cornell University in 1898, the first four-year forestry degree program in the United States. The College of Forestry was also given a tract of 30,000 acres near Saranac Lake. Dr. Bernard Fernow, the dean of the college, attempted to create a nursery and managed forest out of the tract. 7

Fox was also instrumental in the 1900 application by the NY Forest, Fish and Game Commission to the federal Division of Forestry for the creation of a forest working-plan that could show the potential for modern forestry practices within the Adirondack Forest Preserve. “A Forest Working Plan for Township 40, Totten and Crossfield Purchase, Hamilton County, New York State Forest Preserve” by Ralph S. Hosmer and Eugene Bruce is the result of this effort. 8

While forest working plans had been created for the private Adirondack forest preserves of Seward Webb’s Nehasanee Park and the Whitney Preserve, this effort was the first in the nation concerning public lands. It was the first to combine a lumberman’s perspective with that of a forester’s survey of the forest. 9 As Hosmer stated, “The foresters made actual surveys, gridironing the tract, carefully measuring the trees in diameter, and estimating the heights; so that with so-called volume tables showing the board contents of the logs…very accurate estimates could be made as to what was standing on the land.” 10

The base of operations for Hosmer and his team was the State forestry camp noted as “on the North Bay of Raquette Lake”, but I could not find a description of the campsite’s exact location. However, I did see a name I recognized: H. S. Meekham, one of the State foresters on the project. 11

The 1900 Lumbering Map of Township 40 created by the same H. S. Meekham hangs on our living room wall. The location of the campsite is clearly marked as “Forester’s Point”, east of what today is called Quaker Beach.

Foresters Point

The forest working plan for Township 40 was never implemented because the effort to repeal the “Forever Wild” amendment failed, as did the original College of Forestry itself. Wealthy New Yorkers owned private summer camps in Saranac Lake adjoining the forestlands that Prof. Fernow clear-cut to prepare his demonstration forest. The camp owners sparked a newspaper outcry over mismanagement of the forestlands (their hunting grounds) and ultimately persuaded the new Governor Odell to defund the entire College of Forestry in 1903. 12

It was not until 1911 that a new State College of Forestry was established at Syracuse University with a mandate for forest conservation. Louis Marshall, father of the renowned wilderness conservationist Bob Marshall, was the university trustee who lobbied Governor Hughes for a professional college of forestry in the state saying,

one of the greatest duties of State and National Governments is that of conserving our natural resources. The State of New York…[has] millions of acres of forest lands which are in constant jeopardy, and which is beginning to suffer the consequences of the evils of deforestation…[The State] is under an imperative duty to call a halt to the wild rage for destruction which seems to grow by what it feeds upon. 13

The new College created the State Ranger School and the Summer Camp for the College’s four-year degree students at Wanakena on Cranberry Lake. However, the August Forest Camp was indeed a separate program, as this 1916 advertisement in American Forestry magazine shows. 14

1916 American Forestry ad

The four-week Forest Camp is one of the earliest examples of a career exploration program for high school youth as well as an adult learning vacation designed to build a political constituency that would advocate for forest conservation.

The College’s bulletin described it thus:

The August Forest Camp has been very successful in its purpose which has been the development of the Forestry attitude among men who are interested in the forest and yet who do not expect to be connected in any way with forestry work. It is not the idea of the Camp to train foresters and the College prefers that the men who go into the Camp come from offices, from other walks of life, to which they will return with renewed interest in and a right attitude toward the forest. In some instances young men who are thinking of going into Forestry but have not decided will find the Camp a very desirable place to let them decide definitively. 15

The first August Forest Camps were held in 1913 and 1914 at Hoel Pond just north of Upper Saranac Lake. Although a beautiful landscape, the pond was not ideal for gaining access to virgin forest. Raquette Lake was chosen for “being in the midst of a very large tract of State land and the lake is so connected with the chain of other lakes that very attractive canoe trips may be taken [for] carrying out the field work.” 16

This innovative camp was held on our family’s property in 1915 and 1916, a successful endeavor that was ended by the onset of World War I. Alas, just like the original Thacher cabin of the 1880s, neither detailed descriptions nor photos of these two August Forest Camps appear to have survived.

 

Searching for the 1878 Thacher Cabin on Indian Point

In my last piece regarding when the mysterious Thacher Cabin was built, I cited numerous newspaper articles and books that referenced the cabin’s existence.   However, none of them clarified where the cabin was built. Previously reviewed maps of Raquette Lake gave no indication and no photos or drawings of the cabin have been found.

I chose to begin my search by focusing on the one visitor to the cabin for whom historical records might exist.   In Aber and King’s History of Hamilton County, it is written that the priest Rev. Henry Gabriels performed Catholic Mass at the Thacher Camp from July 11th to the 14th in 1878. Gabriels later became the Bishop of Ogdensburg. In the hope that this early mass in the Adirondacks might be of historical significance, I contacted the archivist of the Diocese of Ogdensburg looking for any original documents or photos of Gabriels’ visit.

Imagine my surprise when the archivist sent me the following photocopy from notes that he found:

Gabriels North Point Inn

“North Point Inn”? Could I be wrong in my assumption that the 1878 cabin was built on our family’s land on Indian Point? The North Point Inn was located across North Bay from Indian Point. My mind raced as I retraced my steps looking at all of the newspaper articles and books.

One New York Times article had said “There’s ex-Mayor Thatcher of Albany’s place,’ said the Captain of the little steamer, pointing to a fine lodge on the north shore.”   Did he mean the north shore of Raquette Lake and not the north side of Indian Point?

I then realized that when Nessmuk wrote of visiting the cabin, he simply wrote “a gentleman by the name of Thatcher (sic) who has a fine residence on Raquette Lake.” No mention of Indian Point whatsoever, just my assumption.

Fortunately, my heart rate eventually was calmed, after a day of frantic research turned up this from Seneca Ray Stoddard’s 1880 edition of The Adirondacks Illustrated:

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Once again confident of the cabin’s existence on Indian Point, I now tried to discover where on the land it was situated. I began by reviewing the property deeds. In 1876, John Boyd Thacher purchased two parcels on the tips of Indian Point. He paid nine dollars an acre to Marshal Shedd for roughly 25 acres. This first parcel is all the land to the east of the yellow line shown below, except for the area to the east of the blue lines.   JBT paid twenty-two dollars per acre to a William W. Hill for this second parcel of only 4.5 acres.

William H Hill Parcel arial

Eureka! Why would JBT pay more than twice per acre for the second parcel? Could it be that it contained an existing cabin? Was this the location of what became known as the Thacher Camp?

Alas, let me just say that there exists another explanation as to why JBT paid a high price for the second parcel. As the deed indicated that William W. Hill was from Albany, I thought it best to see if there was any connection between Hill and the Thacher family. Perhaps a higher price was paid as a favor to a friend.

Indeed, I found that William W. Hill and John Boyd Thacher were 33 degree Freemasons and both members of the Albany Chapter of the Rose Croix.   William W. Hill was an amateur entomologist whose collection of over 10,000 specimens of butterflies and moths was donated to the New York State Museum. Hill was also an officer of the Albany Institute. JBT had much in common with Hill’s scientific and preservationist inclinations and I have no doubt in claiming them to be more than mere acquaintances.

This explanation does not completely eliminate the possibility that there was an existing cabin within Hill’s parcel.   However, an epiphany came to me that argues against George Hornell Thacher establishing his camp on the southern shore of Indian Point.

No fewer than five newspaper articles and Nessmuk’s book speak of George Hornell Thacher’s love of lake trout fishing. Anyone who knows Raquette Lake understands that in summer, one fishes for lake trout exclusively in North Bay, where the depth provides the cold water desired by the trout. It is logical that GHT would have built his cabin along the north shore of Indian Point.

Indeed, a fish tale would prove to be the conclusive clue. On July 10, 1879, the Weekly Saratogian published:

Alvah fish

So clearly the Thacher Cabin was somewhere along the north side of Indian Point, but where?

Early in my research, the Adirondack Museum Librarian Jerry Pepper had shown me a hand-drawn map of Raquette Lake.  The museum did not know who created the map or when it was created.

Raquette 1881-1882 map cropped

The map has an X marked next to the word “Camp”, written in cursive, on the end of Birch Point.

Raquette 1881-1882 map close up

 

As this is the location of our family’s little, red one room cabin built in 1910, I assumed at first that this map was from the early nineteen teens.   However, further analysis revealed a different conclusion.

In addition to the geographic locations marked in ink, the map has the names of various camps written in pencil along the shore. There are two distinct sets of handwritten notations, one in cursive and one in block letters.   Based on the time period in which each of the named landmarks existed, the cursive notations predate those in block letters. The comparison of the dates reveals that the notation for the “Camp” on Birch Point reflects the year 1881 or 1882.

It would appear that the first Thacher Cabin was built in 1878 very near if not actually on the same ground where our little red cabin still stands today. What I would give for any photos that show the tip of Birch Point, even in the background, taken between 1878 and 1885.

 

Why Indian Point?

6 Indian Point red yellow and cabin

Matthew Beach and William Wood settled on the lands to the east of the red line. John Boyd Thacher purchased the portion to the east of the yellow line. The small red dot is the location of the little red cabin built in 1910.

Echoing across time, this question can be asked three ways.  Who were the Indians of its namesake?  Why did Matthew Beach and William Wood choose it for their home? Why was John Boyd Thacher enticed to buy these acres?

According to local lore, Indian Point was the site of an Indian settlement.  The earliest such reference was made by Joel Tyler Headley in The Adirondack: or Life in the Woods, published in 1849.

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Most research does not support the idea of large, permanent  Native American settlements within the Adirondacks.   However, evidence points to the Adirondacks being used as a seasonal hunting ground for the Iroquois, Huron and Algonquin Indians.  Four clues point to the area of Raquette Lake being under the control of the Mohawk Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy or Ho-dé-no-sau-nee (People of the Long House).  This map of the Six Nations of the Iroquois shows the Mohawks’ territory beginning to the west of Raquette Lake and expanding east to Lake Champlain. (Enlarge the map by clicking on it and read the text to the right of the compass rose)

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Guy Johnson’s 1771 Map of the Country of the VI Nations. New York State Museum.

Another clue is that the lands which would become the Totten & Crossfield Purchase (which includes Raquette Lake) were originally purchased by the British Crown from the Mohawk Nation in 1771.   The British had purchased the lands from the Mohawks for 1,000 pounds and sold it to Totten & Crossfield for 40,000 pounds in the same year.  (And you thought flipping real estate was a modern invention!)   Although this land sale took place, the Mohawk Nation later continued to claim the lands and use them until a peace treaty between the newly formed United States and the Iroquois was signed in 1794. 2

In Adirondack Pilgrimage, Paul Jamieson makes the argument that the Albany Road (sometimes referred to as the Old Military Road) constructed for the War of 1812 actually followed the path of an Iroquois trail which dates back to the 1600s.  Jamieson mines the first person writing of a Jesuit Priest named Joseph Poncet who was captured by Mohawks in 1653.  Poncet’s description combined with Jamieson’s research and that of Stephen B. Sulavik in Adirondack: Of Indians and Mountains 1535-1838 yields my approximation of the heavily travelled Mohawk trail which passed just to the west of Raquette Lake, traveling from the Mohawk River Valley to Canada.   The foot path led through the forest to the Oswegatchie River by which the Indians canoed to the St. Lawrence River.

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Beyond the evidence of this Mohawk trail passing close to Raquette Lake, the only other history which directly connects the Mohawk Indians with the lake is the escape of the Tory Sir John Johnson from Johnstown to Montreal in 1776.   His Mohawk guides brought him through the woods to the shores of Raquette Lake and then by canoe north to Canada, a tale which will be retold in a future chapter.

This scant evidence implies that the Mohawks were well acquainted with Raquette Lake for over a century.  But did they have an encampment on Indian Point?  There are no contemporary written histories which specifically speak of the use of Indian Point by the Mohawks.  My conjecture is based on descriptions of how large hunting parties of Mohawks would travel from their year-round villages along the Mohawk River to encampments in the Adirondacks from November to late January.

Father Isaac Jogues is another French Jesuit priest who was captured by the Mohawks in 1642, and his writings describe a hunting expedition departing from the Mohawk village of Ossernenon along the Mohawk River:

If we can assume that such a winter hunting camp existed on Indian Point, why did the Mohawks choose this location along the almost one hundred mile shoreline of Raquette Lake?  I believe it is the geography and topography which influenced their choice.

According to Lewis Morgan in the League of the Ho-De-Nau-Sau-Ne or Iroquois, “For three quarters of a century, from the year 1625 to the year 1700, the Iroquois were involved in almost uninterrupted warfare [with other Indian nations]…from about the year 1640 to the year 1700, a constant warfare was maintained between the Iroquois and the French.”  The 18th century brought ever greater conflict between the Mohawks and Europeans over control of Adirondack territory for the lucrative beaver fur trade. 3

In this context, the Mohawks would have benefited from siting their winter hunting camp in a location on Raquette Lake which could be defended and from which they could observe any approaching enemies.  Indian Point possesses a unique geological feature called the Crags, a series of three rock outcroppings at the top of the ridge line on the peninsula.  At an elevation of 2000 feet, even today one can see all the way to South Inlet, and anyone approaching from the Marion River or Brown’s Tract Inlet would be seen at least an hour before they could land on the shores of Indian Point.  To the northwest, one can see Sucker Brook Bay.

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USGS Raquette Lake Quadrangle Map

While today the tree cover does not provide a view to the northeast, images from the 1800s indicate that the Crags were almost clear of trees and it is highly likely that a lookout stationed there in the 1600s and 1700s would have also been able to see anyone rounding Bluff Point to the northeast of Indian Point.

Drawing from Craggs

Looking South from the Crags – a wood cut printed in Wallace’s Descriptive Guide to the Adirondacks. 1872.

Seneca Photo from Craggs

Photo from the Crags by Seneca Ray Stoddard. circa 1880.

While the Crags may have led the Mohawks to choose Indian Point, where along the shores of the peninsula was the hunting camp?  As the camp would have been used mostly from November to late January, I suspect a location sheltered from the worst of the cold winds blowing across Beaver Bay or North Bay.   Either of the two protective coves would have served well, the cove near Hen and Chickens Islands or the little bay between the two points on the eastern tip.

An understanding of the size and description of a hunting camp helps to create a theory as to where on the peninsula it was located.  Father Jogues’ description implies that a family clan headed by a Chief would likely all relocate to the winter hunting grounds.  The villages in the Mohawk River Valley  would each have several Long Houses.  Each Long House would be the home of a family clan.   The length of the Long House and the number of fire pits within the Long House would relate to the number of families.  An account of Dutch explorers encountering a Mohawk village in 1644 described one Long House of eighty paces in length being home to a Chief, 40 men and 17 women. 4

The Mohawks’ method of hunting deer illustrates the need for a very large hunting party.  Father Jogues experienced the hunt firsthand, “They beat up the stags and the elks from their coverts, and drove them headlong toward the fences that strecthed between the trees and into the narrowing alleys of the traps, were they could easily be slaughtered.  They tracked the animals over the rise and fall of the mountains, and had the zest of dropping them with musket or arrow or javelin.”

Morgan in League of the Ho-De-Nau-Sau-Ne or Iroquois, provides an even more detailed description of the hunting method:

The construction of a V-shaped fence that stretched two to three miles on a side would have required significant manpower.  If the Indian “settlement” on Indian Point was a winter hunting camp, it likely was the temporary home to at least fifty or more people.

A young Mohawk woman named Kateri Tekawitha described one style of temporary shelter used in a winter hunting camp in the late 1600s.

This depiction has been faithfully recreated by Barry Keegan, an expert in primitive Native American structures, in his construction of a traditional wigwam on the shores of Prospect Point on Blue Mountain Lake.

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A traditional wigwam hunting-lodge constructed at Prospect Point on Blue Mountain Lake by Barry Keegan. Photo by Jerry Krasnick.

According to Keegan,  “South of the Adirondacks, wigwams were usually dome shaped and often sided with elm bark; north of our region they tended to be conical, like squat-shaped tepees with birch bark as the siding of choice. The Adirondacks are right on the border between those two types and probably both were in use here, at the very least as seasonal hunting camps.” 5

Father Jogues’s writings appear to describe the second style, “There the [women], under the direction of the men, threw up the three slanting poles of the hunting-huts and tied them at the top and sewed the bark and skins firmly about the triangular frame.”

IMG_0344

A conical teepee style hunting lodge from creaturehomes.blogspot.com

The “hunting-lodges of bark and close-woven boughs” referred to by Kateri or the bark tee pee style described by Jogues appear to have housed a small family of five to ten people.   To accommodate upwards of fifty to one hundred people, the winter hunting camp on Indian Point would have required up to ten lodges.  The annual construction of these lodges for over a century would have established significant forest clearings on Indian Point.

My theory that the hunting camp was on the shores of the little bay nestled within the eastern tips of Indian Point is tied to the reason I believe Matthew Beach and William Wood chose to settle at that spot.  My theory echoes one regarding land use in the Adirondacks first promoted in the late 1800s in an article in the New York Times.

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“The North Woods of Old” The New York Times. May 11, 1890.

The site of the Mohawk hunting camp would not have been open land by the 1840s. The majority of the Mohawk Nation relocated to the St. Lawrence River Valley on both sides of the New York/Canadian border after the Peace Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794 between the Iroquois Confederacy of the Six Nations and the new government of the United States. 6   Although Mohawks continued to come down from Canada into the Adirondacks for hunting in the early 1800s, it is likely that secondary forest regeneration began to take hold of the area of the hunting camp on Indian Point.

Beach and Wood were not simply hunters and trappers.  They also cleared ten acres of cropland to grow potatoes and vegetables.  When they first travelled the shores of Raquette Lake in search of where to stake their claim, Beach was nearly sixty years old and Wood was in his early forties.  I am sure they had a strength and vigor beyond what this author is capable of at 46, and they were accustomed to hard physical work.  Nonetheless, knowing that they intended to clear the land for farming, an area previously cleared by over a century of indigenous use yielding a young secondary forest would have been easier for Beach and Wood to clear with fire and axe than the surrounding primary forest of large diameter trees with deep rooted trunks.

young secondary forest

Young secondary forest

Old growth primary forest

Old growth primary forest

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Beach and Wood chose the twin tips of Indian Point because of the land use potential derived from the remains of the Mohawk hunting camp.  Conversely, the purchase of this land by John Boyd Thacher is puzzling in that it appears that he never really used the land.  It was his father George Hornell Thacher who built and frequented the mysterious original cabin, and yet the title to the land was always only in JBT’s name.  Could it be that JBT was motivated to buy the lands for their historical value?

JBT was an industrialist and politician but also an historian and scholar.  He was a renowned authority on Christopher Columbus and a collector of over 5,000 books and manuscripts from the 15th century, which his widow donated to the Library of Congress.  Among his varied interests, he showed a keen appreciation for the Iroquois Confederacy.  His collection included the original 1630 signed contract between the Iroquois and the Dutch for the sale of the land upon which the city of Albany was built.   At Albany’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1886, then Mayor JBT gave an eloquent speech welcoming a delegation from the Caughnawaga tribe and honoring the Iroquois Confederacy as the blueprint for our democratic form of government. 8

In 1893, he purchased four historically important Iroquois wampum belts. 9   The Hiawatha Wampum Belt was created in the 1500s to commemorate the union of the Five Nations of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas into the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee or Iroquois Confederacy.  To the Iroquois, this wampum belt is equivalent to the original copy of the Constitution of the United States.

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Hiawatha Wampum Belt

The George Washington Wampum Belt commemorates the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794 which brought peace between the newly formed United State of America and the Iroquois Confederacy.

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George Washington Wampum Belt

The other two wampum belts commemorated the first encounter between the Iroquois and European explorers in the 1500s and their encounter with Samuel Champlain in 1609.

Given John Boyd Thacher’s clear respect and appreciation for the culture of the Iroquois Confederacy in his later years, I do not think it unlikely that as a young man of thirty he would be attracted by the folklore of an “Indian settlement” that once graced the tips of Indian Point.

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.

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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.

*********

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.