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.

 

1850 – The Raquette River is Declared a Public Highway

 

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Log Drive on Raquette River. Published by Jon Kopp in Tupper Lake – Images of America

 

Prior to his visit to Matthew Beach and William Wood’s cabins on Indian Point in 1855, Henry Jarvis Raymond was instrumental in securing the funding from the New York State Assembly to make the necessary infrastructure improvements to turn the Raquette River and the Moose River into public highways for the transportation of logs through the vast wilderness of the Adirondacks.  Here is a reprint of the 1850 NYS Assembly committee report which led to this achievement as published in the March 1, 1850 edition of the New York Morning Courier.

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a line of text is missing from the bottom edge of the newspaper

 

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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.

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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.”

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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.

The Changing Times to the Adirondacks

I apply the brakes just a tad as the car hugs the downhill S-curve – getting closer.  The wheels straighten out and I sprint for the sign.  Up ahead on the right, there it is – the golden letters on brown wood canvas inviting us to enter Golden Beach State Campground.  We whiz by, thankful for the guidepost that alerts me to the prize.  Just a thousand feet.  There! As the trickle of Death Brook drops into the lake, the trees part and I can see the sun glinting on the waves of South Bay.  I am here.

My trip from our home in Western Massachusetts has ended when I see the water.  A simple three and a half hour drive.  Ok, my wife insists the trip is not over until we unload the car, pack the boat at Burke’s Marina, traverse the lake, unload the boat and schlep everything into the cabin.  A five-hour ordeal in her mind, but my blood pressure has lowered and serenity floods my mind and heart the minute I see the water.

Be it 3.5 or 5 hours, our trip is nothing compared to the arduous travels our ancestors took to reach these shores.

In 1862, George Hornell Thacher first travelled to the region, guided by Mitchell Sabattis who maintained a camp at Crane Point on Blue Mountain Lake. 1   At this time, the railroad to North Creek and the stage road from North Creek to Blue Mountain Lake did not exist.  Access to Blue Mountain Lake was only from the north, down from Long Lake.  The trip from Albany took between three and four days.

The Adirondack Museum has a description of a trip made by Miles Tyler Merwin, founder of the Blue Mountain House, which indicates the travel route that GHT likely followed. 2   On day one, he would have taken the train from Albany to Glens Falls, then a stagecoach similar to one shown below to Minerva.  On day two, he would have travelled again by stagecoach to Long Lake and spent the night.

Published in Heydays of the Adirondacks by Maitland Desormo

Published in Heydays of the Adirondacks by Maitland Desormo

From Long Lake to Blue Mountain Lake he would have taken either of two routes, each one potentially lasting more than a day in travel.  We do not know whether Mitchell Sabattis led GHT through the arduous South Pond route to Blue or the longer yet easier water route via Raquette Lake to Blue.

GHT route map

Click on the map and open to full screen to see an animation of these presumed routes. 

If we are to believe John Boyd Thacher, GHT’s son, it is more likely that Sabattis chose to go via Raquette Lake.   JBT wrote the following in a letter published in Forest and Stream magazine in 1874.

“From Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake there is a more direct route with four miles of “carry” but even the guides will take the longer and all-water route.”

If JBT was right, it is even conceivable that GHT camped on Indian Point during his passage to Blue a full fifteen years prior to owning the land.

Of course JBT had an easier trip of only two days in 1874, which he chronicled in his letter.

Blue Mountain Lake, Adirondacks, Café Hathorne, June 15, 1874

             Already has the winter of our discontent yielded to glorious summer in these parts, and the faithful tide of tourists and sportsmen is setting in toward the woods.   Doubtless from now till November snows will your desk, drawers and basket be filled with letters concerning the delights and joys here experienced.

            We do not know of any easier of more accessible entrance to the North Woods, especially to the New Yorker than the route we have taken and always take, no matter at which point we may eventually aim.   Leaving Albany at seven o’clock in the morning on the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad, we connect at Saratoga with the Adirondack Railroad, reaching North Creek, its northern terminus, at about noon.  Thence by stage to Dick Jackson’s, a distance of nineteen miles, where we spend the night.   This is the last place on the route where one can experience the comforts of a good hotel, although there is soon to be one opened at Wakely’s on the Cedar River.

            Bright and early the next morning a buckboard wagon will take us to Blue Mountain Lake, a distance of twelve miles, over a road that has never been submitted to the process of Macadamization.  You remember it was one of Macadam’s theories that a bog was preferable to a hard bottom in constructing his roads.  There is plenty of substratum of that nature here.

            At Chauncey Hathorne’s shanty will we find a smoking hot fish-chowder in thirty minutes after we tear ourselves off the buck-board, and, in fact, it were no bad idea to consume a goodly portion of this time in gradually performing this operation.  About twenty minutes is the average time allotted for accomplishing this in safety.

See the complete letter as published in Forest and Stream magazine.  3  The letter begins at the bottom left side of the page.

JBT route map

Click on the map and open to full screen to see an animation of his presumed route.

From 1879 to 1893, the route to Blue Mountain Lake continued to be via train to North Creek; however a shorter stagecoach ride out of Indian Lake brought people to Blue along what is now Route 28.    Those travelling to Raquette Lake would take guideboats, and in later years steamboats, that flowed from Blue Mountain Lake through Eagle Lake and Utowana Lake (the Eckford Chain) and the Marion River into Raquette Lake.

In 1893, the railroad was extended from Utica, NY, to Thendara Station near Old Forge.  From that year until 1900, there were two paths to Raquette Lake.  Some still chose to take the train to North Creek, stagecoach to Blue Mountain Lake and by water through the Eckford Chain into Raquette Lake.  Others approached from the West; they would take the train to Thendara and then go by steamboat and buckboard through the Fulton Chain of Lakes to Raquette Lake.   If their final destination was Blue Mountain Lake, they would reverse the previous route from Raquette Lake through the Marion River, Utowana Lake and Eagle Lake into Blue Mountain Lake.

In 1900, the Raquette Lake Railroad was built to extend the rail lines from Carter Station (just north of Thendara) all the way to Raquette Lake Village.  In the same year the Marion River Railroad, the shortest full gauge railroad in the world, was built to transport travelers and their luggage the three-quarters of a mile of the Marion River Carry.  4   Travelers would take steamboats from Raquette Lake Village to the end of the Marion River.

Published in Heydays of the Adirondacks by Maitland Desormo

Published in Heydays of the Adirondacks by Maitland Desormo

They would then board the train for the short trip to the landing of the steamboats of the Eckford Chain (Utowana, Eagle, and Blue Mountain lakes).

Published in Heydays of the Adirondacks by Maitland Desormo

Published in Heydays of the Adirondacks by Maitland Desormo

The photo above by Seneca Ray Stoddard serves to authenticate the following two photos taken by members of the Thacher family traveling on the Marion River Railroad in the mid-1920s.

1925 Marion Carry RR

1922 Marion Carry RR

At this time, those travelling to Blue Mountain Lake preferred to take the train all the way to Raquette Lake and travel by steamboat into Blue Mountain Lake, thus avoiding the long stagecoach ride from North Creek.  It was now possible to reach Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain Lake in only one day of travel from Albany and even from New York City.

In 1929, the auto road was built between Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain Lake and brought to an end the Marion River Railroad.  The Raquette Lake Railroad and the steamboats of the region ended service in 1933.  5

Getting to the lakes was never the end of the journey.  Our daily trips from cabin to mainland have changed as well.  My father told us stories of my grandfather rowing a couple of hours to the village every day in his guideboat.

1922 JBT2 in guideboat

As a boy, I would sit in the bow of a 17 foot aluminum fishing boat, holding the bowline as we bounced and crashed against the waves – water spraying my face for the forty-five minute ride powered by a 15 horsepower Johnson outboard.  Fifteen minutes marks the duration of my kids’ trips from our cabin to the Raquette Lake Village dock in our Four Winns 190 Horizon speedboat.  I think my kids are missing out. (They don’t.)