An Adirondack Love of Mystery and Intrigue in the 1880’s

One mystery remains which my research has never fully solved. Why did the last two generations of our family have no knowledge of the original Thacher cabin? And why are there no photos or drawings of the cabin? Most importantly, why did the cabin disappear? Here is one surprising theory that could shed light on these questions.

The Thacher and FitzPatrick families are proud of our Irish heritage thanks to the courage of our grandfather Kenelm R. Thacher (KRT) choosing to marry Catherine Callahan.   Family lore is that this act labeled KRT as the black sheep of the family given the unfortunate bigotry toward Irish Catholics by blue blood Protestants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.   My Aunt Ellen spoke of certain Thacher family members crossing the street in downtown Albany, rather than conversing with her parents.  It turns out that my grandfather was not the first Thacher to marry an Irish Catholic, nor was the resentment toward him the result of societal bigotry alone but rather a reflection of personal experiences.

After the death of our great-grandfather George Hornell Thacher 2nd (GHT2), his properties (including Thacher Island at Blue Mountain Lake, his summer residence in Manchester, VT, the mansion in Albany, NY, and the family business) were divided among his five sons. Our grandfather was given the least valuable undeveloped lands at Raquette Lake with its one room cabin and lean-to. We have often believed that our present day enjoyment of the beauty of Indian Point is the result of this bigotry.

Given this family lore, it was most surprising when my research discovered three facts completely contrary to a perceived bias against Irish Catholics.

  • Reverend Henry Gabriels, President of St. Josephs’ Catholic Seminary in Troy, NY served Catholic mass at the Thacher Camp on Indian Point on July 11-14 in 1878.
  • Mayor George Hornell Thacher Sr. (GHT1) secretly donated $100 dollars (about $3,000 today) each year for the construction of a new St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Albany from 1866 to 1869.
  • In July 1887, after GHT’s death in February, Mrs. George Hornell Thacher hosted Reverend Henry Gabriels at Thacher Island in Blue Mountain.

Why would GHT1 have a strong personal connection to Reverend Henry Gabriels and so generously support the construction of St. Mary’s? GHT1 had attended the Princeton Seminary and served as a Presbyterian Minister from 1843 to 1847.   Hardly a non-religious man, he was even less likely to find friendship with a Catholic.

The mystery began to unravel as I was researching another line of investigation regarding John Boyd Thacher 1st .   Look at the last paragraph of this newspaper article regarding his funeral in 1909:

funeral png

Our family never knew about and none of the official biographies of the Thacher family in Albany ever mentioned half-siblings. However, this gave me another epiphany.   Ursula Jane Boyd Thacher, mother of JHT1 and GHT2, died in 1874.   Clearly, the Mrs. George Hornell Thacher who hosted Rev. Gabriels in 1887 was GHT1’s second wife (incidentally also omitted from all official biographies).

Using the names of William A. Thacher and Mrs. J. W. Morris, I began searching for more information and came upon this startling information.

Eliza obit png

So GHT1 had remarried after his first wife’s death and started a second family with an Irish Catholic woman. Who was this Elizabeth Thacher from Ireland?   What was her maiden name? The first clue came from an in memoriam to Mrs. J. W. Morris’ late husband which identified his wife as Mary Agnes Thacher.

Dr. Morris in memoriam

GHT1’s daughter’s name led to a reference in the St. Peter’s Catholic Church of Troy’s online listing of church donations and gifts. Dr. J.W. Morris and Mrs. J. W. Morris had donated a church bell chime in memory of their daughter Gabrielle Mary Thacher Morris.   In the same online listing, an “Eliza Thacher” had donated a stained glass window in memory of her father Matthew Toomey.

Based on the hunch that Elizabeth Thacher was originally Eliza Toomey, I pursued that name. As the 1860 US Census shows, Eliza Toomey, age 24, was a servant in George Hornell Thacher Sr.’s home in 1860.

1860 census png

So did GHT1 fall in love and marry Eliza Toomey after his first wife’s death?   No, not as simple as that. Mary Agnes was born in 1866, a full eight years before Ursula Jane Boyd’s death in 1874. William was born in 1868.

It appears that Eliza moved away to birth the children out of the prying eyes of Albany society. Mary Agnes supposedly was born in Pittsfield, MA and William in nearby Canaan, NY.   I have not yet found birth certificates nor baptismal papers for the children, nor a marriage certificate for GHT1 and Eliza. My suspicion is that the Rev. Henry Gabriels played a role in both aspects. While I have no proof, the strong, decades long personal friendship between Gabriels and Eliza Thacher leads me to believe that he secretly married the two sometime after GHT1’s first wife died. I find the timing of GHT1’s secret donations to the construction of St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral an interesting coincidence. Might that have been compensation for private, off-the-record baptisms for the children in 1866 and 1868?

Even after GHT1’s death, Eliza continued to be a generous patron of the Catholic Church, such that her funeral was attended by several bishops and officials from different dioceses from across the State. Conjecture to be sure, but is it surprising that the Rev. Gabriels, possessing knowledge of a damning personal secret of one of the wealthiest political families in New York State, became the Bishop of Ogdensburg in 1892?

It appears that GHT1 continued his affair for over a decade. While we do not know exactly when they married, it must have been after his first wife’s death in 1874. We do know that the 1875 NYS Census shows GHT1 maintaining two households, one on Washington Avenue in Albany accompanied by his late wife’s sister, and one at 65 Grand Division Street in Troy where he resided with Eliza and the children.

Although they appear in the census, I believe GHT1 was attempting to keep this second family a secret from the Albany society. Nothing was published in the press actually naming Elizabeth Thacher nor identifying the children as being the son and daughter of GHT1 until after his death in 1887.

GHT1’s last will and testament makes no mention of nor bequeaths anything to Eliza or the children. In addition, his sons John Boyd and George Hornell, Jr., prepared a legal document by which Eliza signed away any rights she had to her late husband’s estate. A cruel act, I thought, until I learned that prior to his death GHT1 had provided for Eliza and the children’s future by giving her a sizable fortune in railroad company stock. It is unknown how much of the family wealth went to Eliza, but it could easily explain the apparent resentment that George Hornell Jr. displayed toward the second family and his future disdain for his son’s (my grandfather’s) wife Catherine Callahan.

Which brings us back to the Adirondacks. According to the History of Hamilton County, John Boyd Thacher “built a cabin for the use of his father,” in 1867 on Thacher Island on Blue Mountain Lake. An interesting choice of words by the authors Aber and King? Could it be that the island was purchased specifically for GHT1 to have a place to spend time with his secret second family, one year after Mary Agnes’ birth?

Although the deed to Thacher Island is in John Boyd Thacher’s name, there is little evidence of his using the lodge there until after 1876, when he also purchased Indian Point on Raquette Lake. John Boyd appears to be the owner of Indian Point in name only. I have not found any evidence that he ever spent time there.

Conversely, the evidence shows that his father, Eliza, Mary Agnes and William regularly stayed at the Thacher Camp on Indian Point. According to the historian Larry Miller, it was common for the camp owners on Raquette to end their long day of travel by train, stage coach and steamer at Ike Kenwell’s Raquette Lake House on Tioga Point for the night and then move to their private camps the next morning.

Entries for GHT1 and his second family appear at least two times in Ike Kenwell’s guest registry, July 8, 1882 is shown below.

kenwill

We also have letters written by GHT1 to his son George Jr. from the Thacher Camp on Indian Point referencing the children’s nicknames Willie and Mamie.

willie letter

mamie ltr

I believe that GHT1’s move from Blue Mt. Lake to Raquette Lake in 1876 may indicate that was the year that he revealed his second family to his sons. Perhaps the sons’ less than charitable response required GHT1 to build a new cabin at Raquette while John Boyd and George Jr. continued to use Thacher Island on Blue Mt. Lake.

While he may have come out to his sons, I believe GHT1 still wanted Albany society to be in the dark about his new family. This could explain why the land on Indian Point was put in John Boyd’s name. While most of the other private camps on Raquette Lake at the time appeared on maps and in the photos of Seneca Ray Stoddard, the Thacher Camp was notably absent.

The property on Indian Point appears to have been abandoned between 1886 and 1910, and the original Thacher Camp cabin disappeared without a trace.   At the time of their father’s death in 1887, John Boyd established a summer residence in Altamont, NY and George Jr. began to summer in Manchester, Vt. I suspect that they associated the Adirondack camps with Eliza and her family.

We may never know the truth but fortunately, all trace of the second family was not lost. Last summer I hosted Nancy Morris Tuthill, the great-great-granddaughter of George and Eliza, at our cabin on Indian Point. It is fitting that this descendent of Eliza, who brought the Thachers to the Adirondacks, is a resident of Lake Placid.

While I feel that our story has come full circle and our history on Indian Point is now understood, I will forever be searching for just one photo of the original Thacher Camp on Indian Point.

The End

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.

 

“A Week in the Wilderness” by Henry Jarvis Raymond 1855

Harold Jarvis Raymond

Among the many who visited Matthew Beach and William Wood on Indian Point, Henry Jarvis Raymond is notable as the founder of The New York Times.  Raymond was also the elected Lt. Governor of New York State in the summer of 1855 when he travelled through the region.  He published four letters detailing his Week in the Wilderness.   I have republished here his second letter which describes his time at Raquette Lake and at the Iron Works in Adirondac (present day Tahawus).

WiW1

WIW2

WIW3

WIW4

WIW5

WIW6

WIW7

WIW8

WIW9

WIW10

WIW11

WIW12

WIW13

WIW14

WIW15

WIW16

WIW17

WIW18

 

 

Alvah Dunning: The Hermit Who Could Not Escape Civilization

stoddard photo

Alvah Dunning was perhaps the most famous of Raquette Lake guides, alleged to have helped lead the first excursion of sportsmen to Raquette Lake at age eleven. Born in Lake Piseco in 1816, he lived there until 1860 when his neighbors’ rightful condemnation of his abuse of his wife forced him to flee.  1  From that moment, he chose to remove himself from society in favor of the freedom of the wilderness. Yet civilization’s constant barrage upon him eventually brought him to a tragic end.

Reverend Thomas Wall described the man from his 1856 excursion to the region:

Dunning…is a very close imitation of some of [Fenimore] Cooper’s models [of the Leatherstocking Tales]– silent, stealthy in movement, full of resources; he could almost speak the language of the animals. I have seen him, by a peculiar chipper, call a mink from its hiding place in the rocks and shoot it, and have known him to bring a deer back into the water by bleating and making the noise of wading. Dunning was a true sportsman, never allowing more fish or game to be taken than was needed…Indeed, his excellence, when in his prime, was so generally known that it excited much of the enmity with which he was regarded by some, for if he could be had he was always first choice.  2

Dunning’s woodsman skills were learned from his father, “Scout” Dunning, who had served under General William Johnston and perfected his woodcraft during the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. These skills served Alvah well as he fled civilization for Lake Lewey and later settled in Blue Mountain Lake.  3

According to Dr. Arpad Gerster, the growing attraction of wealthy sports to Blue Mountain Lake soured the tranquility that Dunning sought.  4  My great-great-grandfather George Hornell Thacher began visiting Blue in 1862 seeking his own solitude and yet he represents the first wave that drove Alvah further west.   Ironically, GHT followed Alvah’s footsteps to the same spot 15 years later driven by the growth of tourist hotels on Blue.

Several sources state that Dunning lived at Indian Point on Raquette Lake between 1865 and 1868. My research indicates that he likely squatted in the first of two cabins built by William Wood, the one nearest the very tip of the southern fork of the peninsula. During this time, ownership of the cabin and a small parcel of land surrounding it changed between Albert Eldred and John Plumley, both of whom lived elsewhere. Plumley lived in Long Lake and being well acquainted with Alvah, it is conceivable that he allowed this use of his land by Dunning.  5

map 1865-1868

Of his many clients, we know that one visitor of note in the summer of 1865 was Fred Mather, who later became the fisheries editor of Forest and Stream magazine. For two weeks, he stayed with Dunning on Indian Point and fished for trout in Raquette and Brown’s Tract Inlet.  6

Mather later described him in his book My Angling Friends;

Only men who possess strongly marked personalities are capable of making strong friends and as equally strong enemies…it seems that Alvah is well liked by sportsmen whom he has served…Others dislike him, and among Adirondack guides he is, for some reason, the most unpopular man in the woods.

The enmity of other guides was also stoked by Dunning’s fierce belief in his right to unfettered use of the land and to kill game any time of year. Mather writes of visiting Dunning again in 1882 when Alvah complained;

Times is different now, an’ wus. In them days nobody said a word if a poor man wanted a little meat an’ killed it, but now they’re a-savin’ it until the dudes get time to come up here an’ kill it, an’ some of ’em leave a deer to rot in the woods, an’ on’y take the horns ef it’s a buck, or the tail ef it’s a doe, just so’s they can brag about it when they go home, an’ they’d put me in jail ef I killed a deer when I needed meat. I dunno what we’re a-comin’ to in this free country.  7

Although praised and sought after by the wealthy for his guiding skills, Dunning did not return the appreciation, complaining to Mather,

These woods is a-gittin’ too full o’ people fer comfort—that is, in summer time ; fer they don’t bother the trappin’ in the winter; but they’re a-runnin’ all over here in summer a-shootin’ an’a-fishin’, but they don’t kill much, nor catch many fish ; but they git in the way, an’ they ain’t got no business here disturbin’ the woods.  8

There is no small irony in the fact that the writings of Mather, in Forest and Stream, brought an even greater number of adventurers into the Adirondacks. Forest and Stream became a prominent voice championing the forest conservation and game regulations that infringed upon Dunning’s freedom.

Dunning continuously moved around the area. He allegedly purchased Osprey Island on Raquette Lake from John Plumley in 1868, sharing the island with Reverend Adirondack Murray to the early 1870s.  9

alvah osprey camp

He then built a cabin at Brown’s Tract Inlet and later the one shown below on an island on Eighth Lake.

Alvah Dunning with dog

Mather attempted to remain in contact with Alvah as late as 1896 according to this classified placed in Forest and Stream.

Mather search Dunning

While Mather and other writers in the popular press always expounded on Dunning’s expertise, they also often portrayed the man as a simpleton, condescendingly alluding to his lack of understanding that the earth is round, the reasons for tides, and giving Alvah’s voice a foolish dialect.

A popular fable about Dunning claims that he sold his vote for President Grover Cleveland in the fall of 1892 in exchange for two boxes of Cleveland Baking Powder. The true story is more complex but equally amusing. Dunning had guided for Cleveland in the summer of 1892. Prior to Cleveland’s second inauguration in March of 1893, the Fort Orange Club of Albany, NY, hosted a celebratory dinner for the president-elect. James Ten Eyck, President of the Club and owner of a rustic lodge at North Point on Raquette Lake, contacted Ike Kenwell to procure the freshest trout for the dinner. Kenwell, who had previously owned the Raquette Lake House at Tioga Point on Raquette Lake, contracted Alvah Dunning for the task.   Dunning caught 35 pounds of brook trout through the frozen ice of Shallow Lake. Rather than be paid for the trout, Alvah decided to make a trade. Erroneously believing the newly inaugurated President was associated with the Cleveland Baking Powder company, he wrote:

 Mr. Cleveland:

Dear Sir: Some time ago Ike Kenwell asked me to get you twenty-five pounds of brook trout. I done so. He offered to pay me, but I did not take any pay. Just now I am out of baking powder and would be very much obliged if you would send me some.

Yours truly,

A. DUNNING

President Cleveland graciously sent two cases of one pound boxes to Alvah.  10

News of his exploits often made the press.   In the winter of 1894 came a report of his unfortunate death.   Forest and Stream magazine reported that Alvah had fallen on the ice of Raquette Lake and cracked his skull. He was brought to William S. Durant’s Camp Pine Knot where a doctor attending him said he would not recover. The magazine lamented “That such a man should, after long years of peril by field and flood, come to his death by a fall on the ice such as one might get on Broadway, is one of the ironical phases of fate.”  11  Fortunately for Alvah, the news of his demise was premature and he recovered to live another eight years.

His actual death was equally ironic. On the night of June 13, 1902, the 86 year old Alvah Dunning spent the night in a hotel in Utica, NY. Continuing their condescending tone, the press reported that Dunning died because he “blew out the light” on the gas lamp in his room and was asphyxiated by the gas.   A more accurate account is given in Forest and Stream magazine, which noted that the cock on the gas lamp was left one quarter open. It appears that Alvah had closed it enough so that the flame of the lamp died but that he did not seal the valve shut.  12

Modern civilization, which he had sought to escape all his life, tragically ended that life.

 

He Who Would Give the Name ————– “Adirondacks” —————– Prof. Ebenezer Emmons

After much toil and labor in rowing, in consequence of a strong head wind, we reached the lake at its eastern extremity. This accomplished, our next business was to find the establishment of Beach and Wood situated on some point on the opposite shore. By fortunate conjecture, our guide struck upon the right course and soon landed on Indian Point at the residence of the above named gentlemen. Here we determined to remain till we had thoroughly explored the region.  1

Thus Prof. Ebenezer Emmons described his arrival on my family’s land in 1840, captured in this sketch of Beach and Woods’ cabin by John William Hill.

1849 Birch Pt sketch

Emmons was continuing his efforts, begun in 1837, as director of the Survey of the Second Geological District to study the mineralogy, geography and geology of 10,000 acres across northern New York State.  2

In his 1838 report Emmons wrote:

The cluster of mountains in the neighborhood of the Upper Hudson and Ausable river, I propose to call the Adirondack group, a name by which a well known tribe of Indians who once hunted here may be commemorated. 3

Emmons’ term for the high peaks region was adopted and expanded to describe all of the area now known as the Adirondacks.

However, Emmons’ impact on the region is not limited to its name. In the summer of 1837, he led the first recorded ascent of the tallest mountain in New York and named it Mt. Marcy, in recognition of Governor William Marcy who appointed him to lead the survey.  4

Ebenezer Emmons

Emmons was a true renaissance scholar who took a winding path through various disciplines before taking the helm of the survey. Born in 1799 in Middlefield, MA, his fascination with the natural world began early. According to an 1896 biography published in Popular Science Monthly,

The doors in his room were covered with bugs and butterflies pinned on when he was a small boy. His mother often used to say: ‘Eb, why do you always have your pockets filled with stones? I have to mend them every week.  5

Emmons enrolled at the age of fifteen to study botany at Williams College, graduating in 1818. He then attended Berkshire Medical College and became a practicing physician in Chester, MA. In 1824, he began his pursuit of geology at the Rensselear Institute (RPI), a member of the first graduating class of 1826. That year, he published his Manual of Mineralogy and Geology, which became the instructional text at RPI. He returned to Williams to chair the Natural History department, while spending part of each year teaching chemistry and obstetrics at the Albany Medical College.  6

While traveling with Williams College President Hopkins and Hopkins’ brother Emmons’ enthusiasm for discovery got the better of him according to the 1896 biography.

Emmons asked his friends to turn aside with him to visit a certain cave. They consented to the delay, although the brother was on his way to be married, and waited just within the entrance of the cavern while Emmons penetrated to its inmost depths. After a time they heard the excited cry, ‘I’ve got it! I’ve got it! And out rushed the geologist, bearing triumphantly a muddy fragment of rock.  7

Governor Marcy selected Emmons to lead the geologic survey because of his preeminence in the field best expressed a century later by Cecil J. Schneer.

If we were to limit our study to the selection of any single individual as principally responsible for transformation of American geology it would have to be Professor Ebenezer Emmons. Emmons’ work served as a model and a standard for the geologic-stratigraphic surveys for the rest of the United States.  8

While Emmons’ work left an imprint across the country, some of his impacts on the Adirondacks were short-lived. During the 1840 expedition, Emmons travelled through the Eckford Chain of Lakes, named for Henry Eckford who originally surveyed them in 1811. Emmons named the individual lakes for Eckford’s daughters: Lake Janet (Blue Mt. Lake), Lake Catherine (Eagle Lake) and Lake Marion (Utowana Lake). For a short time, Blue Mountain was called Mt. Emmons.  Today the Marion River is the only piece still carrying the name Emmons gave it.  9

LAKE JANET

The long-term impact of Emmons on the Adirondacks has more to do with the language and art work in his Survey reports. His writing romanticized an idyllic location that previously had been portrayed as cold, swampy and dreary. His reports were accompanied by some of the first drawings to show the public the majestic beauty of the Adirondack mountains, lakes and streams.

Emmons drawing 4

He gave an attractive description of Raquette Lake, which others ascribed to the region as a whole.

The view of the lake from [Indian Point] is also fine, and it is no exaggeration to represent it as equal to any in the northern highlands of New York. The waters are clear but generally ruffled with the breeze. It is well supplied with lake trout, which often weigh twenty pounds. The neighboring forests abound also in deer and other game. Hence it is finely fitted for the temporary residence of those who are troubled with ennui or who wish to escape for a time during the months of July and August from the cares of business or the heat and bustle of the city. To enable the traveler or invalid to make the most of the situation, a supply of light boats are always on hand for fishing and hunting, or for exploring the inlets and neighboring lakes which are connected with the Racket [sic].  10

Historian Philip Terrie places Emmons in the context of his times.

Emmons understood that America would follow western Europe down the path of industrialization, and he knew that the beauty and opportunities for spiritual renewal offered by the Adirondacks would be an invaluable treasure in a state where mills and smokestacks were even then beginning rapidly to replace forests and farms.  11

However, Emmons also promoted the economic exploitation of the natural resources within the Adirondacks. According to Terrie, Emmons had a vision of an “intensely populated and cultivated landscape” that embodied within one man the conflict between natural preservation and resource use, which still confounds us today. It is probable that the indomitable pioneer spirit of Matthew Beach and William Wood and early settlers of Long Lake and similar hamlets caused this vision to flourish as Emmons described.

We found that Indian Point was situated about midway in the lake between its southern and northern extremities and projecting far into it towards the northeast. It contains four or five hundred acres of excellent land, a warm, rich soil, as it appeared from the fine state of vegetables which were growing in the garden, and which were in an equal state of forwardness with the same vegetables growing on Lake Champlain.  12

Beach and Woods’s farm consisted of several acres of crops and hay pasture for up to ten cattle. But, theirs was a deceptively impressive subsistence farm. Though most Adirondack soils and the climate would not support expansive cultivation, their farm likely owed its success to two centuries of soil enrichment through burning and cultivating of root crops by Native Indians for their seasonal hunting parties.

Emmons’ experience on Indian Point affected his overall vision for the region. Fortunately for us, his connection to Indian Point did not alter the lake’s name. Had Emmons chosen to re-name the lake, we might know it today by the aboriginal name recorded in his report, Lake Fobullangamuck.

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.

 

Adirondack Murray’s Guide Honest John

John Plumley Photo

Honest John Plumbley [sic], the prince of guides, patient as a hound, and as faithful, – a man who knows the wilderness as a farmer knows his fields, whose instinct is never at fault, whose temper is never ruffled, whose paddle is silent as falling snow, whose eye is true along the sights, whose pancakes are the wonder of the woods…

Reverend William H. H. Murray in Adventures in the Wilderness 1869.

Murray is widely credited with bringing the masses to the Adirondacks.   The historian Warder Cadbury said, “Murray quite literally popularized both wilderness and the Adirondacks.” “Murray’s Rush”, the onslaught of tourists who rushed to the mountains in response to his book, gave rise to the claim that the Adirondacks are the birthplace of the American vacation.

John Plumley* is the man who brought the Adirondacks to Murray, serving as his guide through his adventures.

Following the similar Adirondack migration of fellow Vermonters Matthew Beach and William Wood, Plumley’s father moved his family from Shrewsbury, Vermont, to Long Lake in the 1830s. John was younger than ten when he arrived and quickly befriended an older boy, Mitchell Sabattis. Like Sabattis, John became an active guide at the age of twenty-one.

Plumley was the first guide to introduce Beach’s Lake to Dr. Benjamin Brandreth. In 1851, Brandreth purchased 24,000 acres surrounding Beach’s Lake (now called Brandreth Lake) to form the first private preserve in the region. Plumley served several years as caretaker for Brandreth Park and constructed many of the cabins within the park. The last photo taken of Plumley in 1899 shows him seated at the feet of what was believed to be the last wolf killed in the Adirondacks.

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There are two strings that tie Plumley to the fifty acres of Beach and Wood. As a young man, Plumley married Zobeda Hough, the daughter of Amos Hough. In 1856, Matthew Beach deeded his 25 acres on Indian Point to Amos Hough on condition that Hough would care for Beach until his death. Although Hough sold the land the same year to a land speculator named Marshall Shedd, from 1856 to1859, Hough and Beach still lived in his cabin on Indian Point. However in the 1860 census, Beach is found living in the Long Lake home of John Plumley, who had assumed his father-in-law’s obligation. Plumley also purchased William Wood’s 25 acres on Indian Point, owning the land from 1859 to 1864.

Hough and Plumley’s intimate familiarity with Indian Point led to a most remarkable rendezvous that occurred on these shores in the summer of 1873. Using Adirondack Murray’s book as a guide, a group of 25 women traversed the Adirondacks from four directions to meet at Indian Point. They were a group of teachers and students from a women’s academy in New York City founded by Amanda Benedict, the wife of Farrand Benedict’s younger brother Joel.

While not the first group of women to explore the Adirondacks, this expedition was clearly the most ambitious. The 16 Adirondack guides employed by the expedition included several of the most prominent guides of Adirondack history: Mitchell Sabattis and his son Charlie, John Cheney, William Higby, James Sturgess, Alvah Dunning, and Plumley.

One group travelled from Lake Champlain along the Saranac River and Raquette River to Raquette Lake in the company of Amos Hough. Another entered the region from the west, following the Moose River into the Fulton Chain of Lakes where Plumley guided them through to Raquette. A third group followed a path similar to Sir John Johnson’s escape north from Lake Pleasant, approaching Raquette Lake from the south. The forth group departed Ticonderoga and followed the Schroon River, and then hiked west to meet the rest.

The expedition’s final destination was Blue Mountain Lake, or as the women called it the “Lake of the Skies” (also the title of Barbara McMartin’s wonderful book detailing the expedition). All four groups rendezvoused at Raquette Lake’s South Inlet Falls on June 11th, then spent four days camped near the site of Beach’s cabin on Indian Point prior to continuing to Blue Mountain Lake on June 15th.

A number of places could have served for their base camp, perhaps Big Island or Woods Point, which both lie between South Inlet and the mouth of the Marion River that leads to Blue Mountain Lake. Indian Point was out of their way and double the distance from South Inlet. Hough and Plumley must have proposed the use of their former property for the base camp.

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When John Plumley died in 1900, the Rev. William H. H. Murray wrote in the journal Woods and Waters:

He taught me a faultless knowledge of the woods, the name and nature of plant and herb and tree, the languages of the night, and the occultism of silent places and soundless shores…He had a most gentle and mannerly reticence and that sweetest of all habits in man or woman – the habit of silence. He could look and see, listen and hear, and say nothing… His knowledge of woodcraft was intuitive. He knew the points of the compass sensationally. He was an atom whose nature mysteriously held it in reciprocal connection with the magnetic currents of the world. In the densest woods, on the darkest nights, he was never bewildered, never at fault… He was the only guide I ever knew…that could not in any circumstance lose himself or his way.

They tell me he is dead. It is a foolish fashion of speech and not true. Not until the woods are destroyed to the last tree, the mountains crumbled to their bases, the lakes and streams dried up to their beds, and the woods and wood life are forgotten, will the saying become fact. For John Plumbley [sic] was so much of the woods, the mountains and the streams that he personified them. He was a type that is deathless. Memory, affection, imagination, literature – until these die, the great guide of the woods will live with ever enlarging life as the years are added to the years, and the lovers of nature and sport multiply.

And so here I do my part to breathe life into the memory of Honest John Plumley.

 

* John’s last name appears with and without the “b” in various written histories. However, the legal deeds to his property on Indian Point spell his name without the “b” and thus I have adopted that standard.

Farrand Benedict’s Canals

If you ever drive south along Route 28 to Indian Lake from Blue Mountain Lake, look for a sign on the right about 0.4 mile south of Potter’s Corner announcing you are crossing the divide between the St. Lawrence River and Hudson River Watersheds. The waters of Blue Mountain Lake flow through the Eckford Chain into Raquette Lake, north through Long Lake and the Raquette River eventually reaching the St. Lawrence Seaway. The waters of Durant Lake, only a half mile distant from Blue, eventually flow into the Hudson River.

If Farrand Benedict had been successful with his grand visions of reshaping the Adirondacks, the waters of Blue, Raquette and Long lakes would today flow into the Hudson River Watershed. The history of the development of the central Adirondacks might also have been greatly altered.

Courtesy of F.N. Benedict Jr. as published in To the Lake of the Skies.

Portrait of Farrand Benedict. Courtesy of F.N. Benedict Jr. as published in To the Lake of the Skies. 1

In my search for the history of our family’s cabin, I sought out all of the title deeds starting with our family’s in 1876 going back to the first title deed ever issued for this particular plot of land. I had always known from Ruth Timm’s books that the original settlers of Raquette Lake, Matthew Beach and William Wood had lived on Indian Point.   However, it was only in reading the title deeds that I became aware that it was on our current property that they had settled.

It was through researching the deeds that I first learned of Farrand Benedict. Although several contemporary descriptions of Matthew Beach and William Wood’s residency on the land peg their arrival to sometime between 1837 and 1840, they only obtained legal title to their lands in 1849. That is when they separately paid Farrand Benedict and David Read for titles to 25 acres each for their property. Obviously property owners having to pay for title to lands they already possessed is a pattern that history likes to repeat within Township 40.

I have yet to find direct evidence of Farrand Benedict interactions with Beach and Wood. However, it is almost certain that they met. Benedict was not an absentee landlord. A letter written by his business partner David Read to Joel Tyler Headley in 1849 describes a trip through Raquette with Benedict during which Read describes the two settlers.   Benedict’s personal explorations of the area are noted in his poetic description of Raquette Lake in the article “The Wilds of Northern New York” published in 1854 in Putnam’s Magazine. 2

FB RaqDescription titleFB Raq description 1FB Raq description 2

FB Raq description 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farrand Benedict was a professor of math and engineering at the University of Vermont in Burlington. He was an accomplished surveyor and began to explore the Adirondacks in 1835. In 1838, Professor Ebenezer Emmons, the surveyor who named the region the Adirondacks, engaged Benedict to resolve a dispute over the altitude of Mt. Marcy.

Between 1843 and 1852, Benedict purchased 152,000 acres stretching from west of the Moose River Plains to the headwaters of the Hudson River east of Long Lake. In 1848, he and his business partner David Read became sole owners of all of Township 40, which includes Raquette Lake.

In 1846, Benedict prepared an audacious plan for the NYS Legislature to build a series of canals, with locks and slackwater navigation, and railroads which would link Lake Champlain in the east with the Black River on the western edge of the Adirondacks. A 210-mile long course using the Ausable River Valley, Saranac River, Raquette River, the Fulton Chain of Lakes, Moose River and Black River would traverse from Port Kent to Lake Ontario.  3  The trans-Adirondack water route would bring people into the region and facilitate extracting timber and mineral resources from the Adirondacks. Alas, the entire project was a dream never realized.

Farrand Benedict 1846 Plan Corrected

 

A map accompanying the original 1846 plan appears to indicate a proposed canal between Caitlin Lake (L. Terrott) and Long Lake. It could be that this was intended to draw water from Caitlin Lake into Long Lake to increase the water flow to aid in navigation through his trans-Adirondack water route.   However, that would have required a dam on the natural outlet of Caitlin Lake to raise the water level and reverse the natural flow back toward Long Lake. It is more likely a map error and the canal marking relates to Benedict’s intention to build a canal from Long Lake to Round Pond (the body of water to the right of the canal line).

 

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Benson Lossing wrote of seeing evidence of this canal building effort in his 1859 trip through the area in his book The Hudson, from the Wilderness to the Sea. 4

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Lossing also saw the remains of a dam that would have reversed the flow of water from Round Pond (referred to as Fountain Lake) into Long Lake.

lossing ditch

A likeness of a similar dam found by Lossing at Rich Lake is shown.

Lossing dam

The initial plans called for water to flow from Round Pond into Long Lake. This would have benefited the floating of logs down the Raquette River.  However, starting in 1850, Benedict had written of using the canal between Long Lake and Round Pond to float logs from the Eckford Chain, Raquette, and Long Lakes into the Hudson River to access the burgeoning New York timber market centered at the Big Boom in Glens Falls. Lossing, Alfred Donaldson in a History of the Adirondacks, and John Todd in Long Lake each make the argument that opposition from lumber industry interests along the northern reaches of the Raquette River, who feared losing their supply of timber for the Canadian market, scuttled the plans for this first canal attempt.

In 1874, at the age of 71, Benedict returned to his idea to build the Long Lake to Round Pond canal. The goal now was to re-route the flow of water from Blue Mountain Lake, Raquette Lake and Long Lake into the Hudson River Watershed via Round Pond-Caitlin Lake-Rich Lake-Harris Lake.

FB Canal final

It appears that Benedict no longer intended for the logging industry to float timber along his route into the Hudson. His goal was to significantly increase the supply of water into the Hudson River Watershed. Dams on the outlets of Blue Mt., Raquette, Forked, Brandreth, and Little Tupper lakes would provide controlled outflows to increase the water flow into the Raquette River and Long Lake. The canal would then divert the water to sustain log drives throughout the summer on the Hudson River.   According to Finch, Pruyn and Co. records, low water levels sometimes required three years of Spring flows to transport logs from the Adirondack interior to the Big Boom at Glens Falls.   Benedict’s plan would have reduced this to one year and assured sufficient summertime water flow to power mills along the Hudson as far south as Troy.

Diverting the water flow out of Long Lake away from the north running Raquette River almost certainly would have endangered the effectiveness of the Raquette River for floating logs north to the Canadian market. While it appears a political scandal in the administration of the New York Governor in 1875 was the practical cause for the death of this project, had it come to fruition, it could have significantly altered the history of this region of the Adirondacks.

Chapter 264 of the Laws of 1850 in New York State declared the Raquette River a public highway for the purpose of floating logs and lumber from the foot of Raquette Lake to its mouth in Massena. In the 1850s, Raquette Pond (not to be confused with Raquette Lake) became the home of the Pomeroy Lumber Company. Loggers would float logs down the Raquette River to Raquette Pond where they would be marked, sorted and prepared for large log drives down the Raquette River to the mills in the northwest corner of New York and the Canadian timber market. The logging camps on Raquette Pond grew into the Town of Tupper Lake.

raq river log drive

Log Drive on Raquette River. Published by Jon Kopp in Tupper Lake – Images of America 5

The logging industry and the town expanded greatly in 1890 with John Hurd’s construction of the largest lumber mill ever built in New York and his completion of his Northern Adirondack Railroad that connected Tupper Lake to Ottawa, Canada.  6   Although the milled lumber now moved north on trains, the mill still was dependent on logs floated down the Raquette River to Raquette Pond. It is doubtful that Tupper Lake would have become the largest population center in this part of the Adirondacks had the water flow been diverted from the Raquette River by Farrand Benedict’s Canal.

John Hurd's Big Mill

John Hurd’s Big Mill. From the Goff Nelson Library Collection. Published by Jon Kopp in Tupper Lake: Images of America.

Fortunately for Tupper Lake, Benedict’s land empire began to evaporate with sales of large tracts to the railroad companies in 1855. By the time of his death in 1880, his family’s lands had all been sold or reclaimed by the State for back taxes. His grand plans were simply forgotten.

This chapter is based on the extensive research of Barbara McMartin in her book To the Lake of the Skies: The Benedicts in the Adirondacks. McMartin argues that despite the failure of his ventures, Benedict did have one lasting impact on the Adirondacks. He first introduced the Reverend John Todd and his cousin Joel Tyler Headley to the Adirondacks. Todd and Headley authored Long Lake in 1845 and The Adirondack: or Life in the Woods in 1849, respectively. These early writings attracted other adventurers and laid the path followed by the great Adirondack promoter Reverend William H. Murray.

 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

The Search Begins…

While this book hopes to expand  beyond simple stories of my family, it is through our history that I became aware of the heritage of Indian Point both before and during our tenancy.

red cabin

To be clear, “our” tenancy speaks not solely of those named Thacher.  My father’s sister Ellen married Michael FitzPatrick.  Both families enjoyed summers together sharing the cabin and two lean-tos until 1981 when our family built a new place on the north shore of the peninsula.  Each summer, a growing brood of FitzPatrick cousins continues to inhabit the little, red one-room cabin at the point’s tip.

My journey began with a desire to learn when this cabin was built.   As a child I would fall asleep in the lean-to that sits just to the right of this cabin, being driven to sleep by the flames dancing in the stone fireplace and the hypnotic pulsing of the green and red lights which adorned the channel buoys in the Needles.  My father is shown here as a boy in the same lean-to.

1945 Ken in Indian Pt

Kenelm R. Thacher Jr. in 1945.

By the fire, my father and aunt would tell stories of their times here and on Blue Mountain Lake.  Originally, the main family summer home was on Thacher Island on Blue Mountain Lake.  The island lodge was the first and only privately owned summer home on the lake for a decade beginning in 1867.  The island was purchased by John Boyd Thacher, who built a lodge for the use of his father, George Hornell Thacher.

Photo by Seneca Ray Stoddard 1880's    Courtesy of the Adirondack Museum.

Photo by Seneca Ray Stoddard 1880’s Courtesy of the Adirondack Museum.

The island lodge remained in the family until the 1940s while the lands on Indian Point, purchased in 1876, were always referred to as the “hunting and fishing” grounds.  We have always considered ourselves extremely lucky to still possess these wonderful acres on Indian Point.  Yet we wonder what transpired here between 1876 and now.

The oral history speaks of John Boyd Thacher and his brother George Hornell Thacher Jr. using Indian Point for guided camping adventures, with their father remaining at the island in Blue Mountain Lake.  Family lore holds that the red cabin was the first thing to be built on the point.  We have vague memories of our parents claiming that the cabin dates to 1910.  My challenge is to prove them right.

A review of several historic maps of Raquette Lake show no indication of a cabin at the point between 1886 and 1903.

Survey  Map Raquette Lake in 1886 shows the Thacher property in gray but no structure on the point.

Survey Map Raquette Lake in 1886 shows the Thacher property in gray but no structure on the point.

1890 Map of Raquette Lake by Seneca Ray Stoddard makes no mention of a Thacher cabin.

1890 Map of Raquette Lake by Seneca Ray Stoddard makes no mention of Thacher at Raquette but identifies Thacher Island on Blue Mt. Lake.

Map of Township 40 in 1900 shows the Thacher property line traversing Indian Point, but no cabin   location.

Map of Township 40 in 1900 shows the Thacher property line traversing Indian Point, but no cabin.

1903 USGS Raquette Lake Quadrangle shows numerous structures on the lakeshore and nothing on the point.

1903 USGS Raquette Lake Quadrangle shows numerous lakeshore structures but nothing on the point.

A 1905 photo from the family of Donna Phinney Geisdorf (owners of Sunny Cliff Camp deep in Sucker Brook Bay) shows Birch Point.   It shows no cabin and no dock.

1905 photo of Birch Point

1905 photo of Birch Point. Courtesy of the Geisdorf Family.

It is unclear if the photo shows any structure, but when blown up larger, there is an image that might be a primitive, makeshift lean-to.   It has oddly straight edges and corners that would seem unlikely to be natural trees.   I have highlighted the lines in red.

Possible evidence of a lean-to at the Point in 1905.

Possible evidence of a lean-to at the Point in 1905.

 

The only map that I have found to date which does indicate a structure in the location of the little red cabin is the 1954 USGS Raquette Lake Quadrangle.   Unfortunately, there appear to be no USGS surveys done between 1903 and 1954.

USGS Raquette Lake 1954

USGS Raquette Lake 1954

So the cabin was built sometime after 1905 and before 1954.   Couldn’t we narrow it down a little better than that?  Perhaps it was time to talk with the locals of Raquette Lake to see what they knew of the cabin’s history.

Fortunately, there is one person with direct personal knowledge of the cabin.  Warren Reynolds was born and raised at Raquette Lake.  His family rented the little red cabin for the summer of 1938 and then lived there for a whole year beginning in the summer of 1939.  He shared stories with me of his family living through the winter of ’39-’40 in the small one room cabin.  Warren travelled to school by boat when the water was open and by dogsled over the ice in winter.

His father worked as a guide in season and hunted, fished and trapped for his family’s sustenance.   The family could not have survived if his father had obeyed the Game Warden’s regulations.  To hide his illicit bounty of fish and venison taken out of season, Warren’s father dug a 6′ by 4′ hole six feet deep and set 350 feet back in the woods to the west of the cabin with a wooden cover camouflaged with pine pitch, sticks and leaves.  The remains of this “ice box” are still there today.

I next approached the local Raquette Lake historian, Jim Kammer, to see what he might know of the cabin.  He produced a photo that is part of a collection from the Carlin Boat Livery, one of the first marinas on the lake, located near the present day dock of the Raquette Lake Navigation Co.’s W. W.  Durant.

The Carlin Boat Livery was in operation from 1900 to 1935 and dates the photo of the cabin to within those years.

Earliest photo of little red cabin.  Courtesy of Jim Kammer.

Earliest photo of the little red cabin. Courtesy of Jim Kammer.

We know from the previous photos that this has to be after 1905.  When I showed Warren Reynolds this photo, he remarked that the boat appears to be a row boat without motor moored off shore with no dock visible.  In 1938 there was a dock and the Thacher’s gave Warren’s family use of a boat with a small outboard engine.  The photo is also missing a tool shed that Warren remembered being between the little red cabin and the lean-to.  Lastly, Warren commented that the cabin was far from brand new when his family lived there.  He thought it was about twenty years old at the time, which would date it to 1918.

Given all that we know – the local lore, photographic and map evidence – we can say that the little red cabin was built sometime between 1905 and 1918.   While this does not contradict the family oral history, I strive to narrow the window in time.  Perhaps through reviewing historical newspapers and contemporary literature, I might glimpse proof of this alleged 1910 date….