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
Discovery brings with it a joy and a moment of satisfaction which spurs fresh pursuit of the truth. My cousin Stephen FitzPatrick was afflicted with curiosity by these initial blog postings, a compulsion to learn truths that our ancestors lived but failed to share with us. A piece of the puzzle had always been in his hands but he did not know it. Prompted by my last chapter, Stephen searched through boxes of his mother’s memorabilia and found this:
The photo is dated 1910, the year of construction according to our family’s oral history. Could this be the first photo of the little red cabin? Our previous research had narrowed the window in time to between 1905 and 1918. This would appear to squeeze the date of construction to a mere five year period between 1905 and 1910.
The power of the internet still amazes me with its ability to bring over 100 years of history into focus in the comfort of my “fortress of solitude”, the name given by my wife to the corner of our dining room where the iMac sits with stacks of books, photos and articles cluttered around it. Through hours of endless searching, a strong trail of evidence emerges which charts the family’s footprint on Indian Point and describes the cabin.
The earliest hint of the family’s use of Indian Point comes in this account from an adventurer camping on Tioga Point. He speaks of a camping party across the water enjoying the summer of 1877. I believe it must refer to George Hornell Thacher Jr., who at the time would have been 26 and single, and his friends.
As both points at the tip of Indian Point were once owned by Matthew Beach, the reference to Beach’s Point does not clarify where this encampment was. However, “charmingly located among the birches” is an apt description of its namesake and the “boulder out in the water” clearly describes what we call “The Big Rock” on the north side of Birch Point.
An encampment of twenty-six must have covered what little ground exists on Birch Point with tents and primitive lean-tos, leaving no room for a one room cabin that sleeps only two. The little red cabin came thirty-three years later, but the breadcrumbs are there in the pages.
My great grandfather George H. Thacher, father to the five brothers, hosted two prominent clergymen at the cabin.
I found an article which appears to refer to the first John Boyd Thacher and a “fine lodge” on Indian Point.
The famous wilderness writer George Washington Sears, who used the pen name Nessmuk, spoke of visiting the cabin in his book Woodcraft.
What incredible luck to find actual contemporary newspaper and literary evidence that corresponds to the time period of the cabin’s photographic evidence. On first impression, that is exactly what I thought I had found. Alas, nothing is ever simple.
Exhibit A was published in 1880 and George H Thacher is not my great grandfather but my father’s great grandfather, the patriarch of the Thacher family. Exhibit B was published in 1881. “Ex-Mayor Thacher of Albany” refers also to the patriarch of the family and not his son John Boyd Thacher, who likewise was mayor. Exhibit C was published in 1884.
Further research turned up…
Despite our love of the little red cabin, it strikes me as odd that a one room structure would be described as “a fine lodge”, a “fine residence”, a “cottage” and a “beautiful camp”. The lodging described in these excerpts appears to have accommodated a family and hosted prominent guests. And what of the photographic evidence that shows no cabin existed in 1905? Our family knows of no stories, nor paintings, nor photos of this previous Thacher cabin on Indian Point.
I began with a search for the origins of the little red cabin and have satisfied my curiosity with the photo from 1910. Now a new mystery emerges. When and where was this newly discovered original cabin built and what happened to it?