Saturday, September 7, 2013

Adirondac: The Search for the Church of Tubal Cain

Tubal Cain on North Elba 1858 Land MapToday I return to my series on the McIntyre Mines, the Settlement of Adirondac and the romantic sense of the past the area embodies.  Being a ghost town, and an area of historical significance dating back nearly two centuries, the remains of the works, village, and private club possess an unmistakable aura of mystery.

This sense of the unknown, of the forgotten lives and fortunes of those who partook of Archibald McIntyre’s enterprise, extends beyond the experiences of wondering visitors who are discovering it for the first time or the hundredth.  Indeed, despite the fact that the history of Adirondac has been well-chronicled and that primary documents abound (mostly in the form of letters and business records) there are many things that remain legitimate mysteries to this day.  For example there were several furnaces  that were built or improved during the nearly thirty years the proprietors tried to make a go of it.  We still do not know where all of them were located.  We do not know where the original log boarding house sat, nor do we know where the great guide John Cheney lived during his many-year association with the mines.

But for me, as a lover and studier of all things related to the McIntyre Mines, there is one mystery above all of the enduring questions about Adirondac: where was the Church of Tubal Cain?

Tubal Cain: even the name itself is mysterious, evocative, maybe even a little frightening.  It has always struck me that this effect is a combination of something in its phonetics, in its syllabic construction, along with its Old Testament echo.  The latter is no accident: The eponymous Tubal Cain, biblical forger of metals, was the right character to lend his name to a church located at an iron works.

But if the proprietors of the McIntyre Mines named Tubal Cain with a reason, did they name something that actually existed?  Indeed, the first mystery is whether the church was ever present in Adirondac at all.  References to it are scant and primary documents supporting its physical existence number only two that I know of.  No one has yet found a physical trace of it.  A church is always an anchor of a small community like Adirondac.  Why do we not have more evidence of it?

One possibility is that if it did indeed exist it existed only as role played by another building, Adirondac’s schoolhouse, which itself had a cupola and looked church-like.  The schoolhouse is no mystery: documentation of this building is rock solid.  It was built some time in the 1840’s and originally sat on Adirondac’s main street opposite and a little south of the recently-stabilized McMartin House (aka MacNaughton Cottage).  Possible evidence of its foundation can still be found in the thick scrub.

The schoolhouse has an interesting history, documented in detail by journalist and writer Lee Manchester is his note On the Adirondac schoolhouse and the Church of Tubal Cain which prefaces his wonderful collection, Annals of the Deserted Village, available here.

The question is what role this schoolhouse played in the mystery of the church.  Being a good building for gatherings it may have doubled as a church on the Sabbath, however this is a speculation that has no evidence in written accounts.  More interesting is the possibility that it was simply taken as a church by later writers who conflated the idea of a Church of Tubal Cain with a building that looked like it.  Indeed old drawings and photographs published in some of the well-known histories or studies of the McIntyre enterprise that purport to show the Church of Tubal Cain clearly show the school.  Manchester himself suggests that church never existed except on paper and that the schoolhouse was mistakenly given its identity, a speculation he lays out in some detail in the above-mentioned note.

Looking at the various photographs and reviewing the descriptions by amateurs and experts alike who documented the history and remains of the works one discovers maddening inconsistencies in the description of the school building.  In the 1970’s historic preservation expert Richard Youngken, who at the time was doing an internship at the Adirondack Museum, described it specifically as a log structure that was later shingled over.  Nearly two decades later another historic preservation expert, Wesley Haynes, working with the Preservation League of New York State, undertook a field study of the works.  In his final inventory he described the schoolhouse specifically as a frame structure.

Drawings and pictures are inconclusive on this question of construction type.  With most of them it is impossible to tell.  Others show what appears to be a rough, shingled structure consistent with Youngken’s description.  On the other hand a 1910 photograph that is the clearest visual document of the schoolhouse (taken in 1910 after it had been moved and converted to a fish hatchery) clearly shows a frame structure.  All the pictures and descriptions of the building show a cupola, but its depiction has different shapes and different numbers of windows.  Were all these confusions and variations generated from a single building?  Maybe.

Maybe not.  In his inventory of vanished buildings from the McIntyre Works Haynes lists the schoolhouse and Church of Tubal Cain separately.  As evidence of the church’s separate existence he cites the first primary document I know of that mentions it: an 1854 map, Ground Plan of Beds and Veins of Magnetic Oxide of Iron: etc. which was part of a prospectus for the McIntyre holdings.  The map has a dot labeled “Church of Tubal Cain” located not in Adirondac but along a road that ran southwest from the 1854 blast furnace toward Lake Jimmy about half a mile south of the village.  Manchester speculates that this reference may have been for marketing purposes, a planned addition that made the portfolio more attractive at a time when the  proprietors were looking to sell for the right price.  This speculation ifs bolstered by the fact that archaeologist Dave Staley included that area in his thorough search of the mining environs in 2003 and found nothing.  A coupe of amateur tries on my part in the early 1990’s proved fruitless as well, though they hardly merit mention.

I might have been content to leave the mystery of Tubal Cain at that even though the reference on the map made me want to look for it again.  But then a couple of years ago a friend of mine who has worked as an archaeologist and who shares my fascination with Adirondac sent me the map you see at the beginning of the article.  This is not the 1854 prospectus map; it is an 1858 North Elba Land Ownership Map, created for tax purposes.  It clearly shows the Church of Tubal Cain in the same place that the 1854 map does.  It also shows the school house right where it was, on the village main street.  Two separate buildings… aha!

Now this map proves nothing; it could easily be that with respect to the church placement the map’s creator simply copied what he/she saw on the 1854 map.  However being a map for official purposes, not sales purposes, it certainly makes it more likely that the Church of Tubal Cain actually existed.

In any event the second map was enough for me; I consulted with my friend and we decided to go look for the church, this time with a more thorough approach than my previous foraging.  He went as far as to use the map to establish possible GPS coordinates.  In the mean time I had been given the privilege to meet a descendent of the original proprietor, Archibald McIntyre and she expressed an interest in tagging along, making this outing even more special.

Last July a party of five waded through the  Hudson near the remnants of the metal bridge destroyed by Irene on the trail to the Mt. Adams and the Opalescent.  Achieving the opposite shore we began a bushwhack southeast, looking for the old road to Lake Jimmy.  It was easily found, having originally come across the Hudson over the dam at the great blast furnace, portions of said dam still very much in evidence. We began to follow it, clued by the shape of a road bed and the different flora growing in top.   As we worked closer to the supposed site of the church my excitement began to rise.

Part way down the road we encountered a twentieth-century dump showing evidence of material from the early part of the century – probably from club days.  We also noted signs of many other roads crossing and paralleling the Lake Jimmy road, likely logging roads.  We saw a number of large stumps; a quick perusal showed the trees had been mature.   This evidence of extensive activity promised to dim our chances of finding anything, for clearly there had been a great deal of disturbance of the area between the time of the original works and the present.

At this point we were getting close to the spot marked on the 1858 map.  We looked for a rise upon which the church would have been likely built – the area has traditionally been swampy and was described so at the time of the mining operation, plus culturally a church would typically be positioned on higher ground.  Yet despite being in the right vicinity, finding some appropriate elevated terrain and even seeing some vaguely suggestive rock piles and land shapes our search turned up nothing.

Perhaps no trace remains; the Adirondacks are notoriously good at consuming human-made structures, especially in territory that has shifting water tables.  Perhaps the Church of Tubal Cain was never there at all.

It is likely we will never know the answer for sure.  If we do ever prove Tubal Cain existed it is probable that our proof will come not from physical remains but rather in the form of some heretofore undiscovered primary document, perhaps a letter held by some distant relative that describes it.

In the mean time, many mysteries will endure at Adirondac.  Now that some of the McIntyre operation is going to be preserved in a historic district, generations of visitors can wonder anew at the lives and fortunes of those who lived and worked there: how they labored, how they learned in school, how they rested at night and how they worshipped, Tubal Cain or not.  These mysteries are an essential part of the experience of Adirondac and give us impetus to the make best preservation effort we can.  Next week I will complete my series on the deserted settlement of Adirondac with some suggestions for that historic district.

Previous in series.

Picture: portion of an 1858 North Elba Land Ownership Map showing the schoolhouse and the Church of Tubal Cain

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

10 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    This is a stupid question, and probably a sign of laziness (assuming Google and I could find the answer), but I’ll ask it here anyway: When you write about the old Main Street and a restored McMartin House, is that what we passersby see just before the Upper Works parking lot? Or is the main part of the old town set back from the current road?

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Not a stupid question. When you drive on the last portion of the road to the trail head parking lot, passing ruined buildings, you are driving on the original main street. McMartin House is the stabilized house on the right, the first building you pass that fronts the road.


  2. Brian says:

    After I read your series on McIntyre Mines, dormant memories surfaced (30+ years old).
    When I lived in Newcomb (worked for F&P) many a hike started from the “MacIntyre Mines”; Santanoni Range, MacIntyre Range, Sawtooth Mts. and many plain old hikes/walks.
    Little did I realize the history I was hiking/walking through. I was told the houses were moved into (what I called) East Newcomb.
    I am planning a trip to revisit the “Mines” and will do so with new found history in mind.
    Thank You

  3. Bill Ott says:


    I see you have done tons of research. Just on the outside chance you have not been at this site, have you combed the Northern New York Library Network? I found a passing reference to the church here:

    Search Tubal Cain, open the top article (1963), and read the Essex County Notes.

    Probably wasting your time, but you are showing this reader stuff I never would have come across otherwise.


  4. Rich Youngken says:

    Pete, I stumbled upon your Sept 2013 article on the Church of Tubal Cain and the reference to my work as a National Trust intern for the Adirondack Museum long ago. While at the Museum that summer, I discovered (in the museum collection) a small wooden bench from the Church of Tubal Cain, matching it to collections records. The bench may be something you would be interested in as a follow up. I spent an entire summer locating surface artifacts and drumming up interest in the iron works. The following summer a team from the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) with historian Duncan Hay (now of the National Park Service in Boston) studied the blast furnaces and blowing machines along the Hudson at the Upper Works. Rich Youngken

    • Pete Nelson says:


      Thanks much for the comment. I am very familiar with your report and the subsequent studies but I did not know of the wooden bench. I will follow up; do you know where it was found or how the museum acquired it?

      Do you have an opinion on whether there was a church of Tubal Cain on the Lake Jimmy road?



  5. Chara Dow says:

    I recently did some exploring in Adirondac and am very intrigued with its history. Have you found any conection between this (much older) church of tubal Cain and the 1960’s British witchcraft “clan of tubal Cain” founded by Robert Cochrane? Just wondering what type of church we are looking for, and if you have read anything about the practices and teachings of the church? I will continue my own search but would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Pete Nelson says:


      There is no connection between them at all other than a common interest in the the name “Tubal Cain,” separated by more than a century.

      Tubal Cain is a character from the Bible, a descendent of Cain. He is described in Genesis as a metal worker, a forger of instruments and tools. Tubal Cain is Old Testament all the way. He has no connection to the occult or witchcraft whatsoever.

      The Church of Tubal Cain was so named by the mining proprietors because as a metal worker he made a fitting patron saint of sorts for iron ore workers. The church was non-denominational and certainly informal, accepting whatever preacher might come calling. But certainly it was dominantly Scottish Presbyterian, as the proprietors were all proud Scotsmen. In short, it was nothing unusual, just a country church back on the frontier.

      Cochrane I had to look up. Guess what? He was a blacksmith for a time before he ventured into the occult. He named his clan “Tubal Cain” to honor his heritage as a metal worker, not for any other reason.


  6. Steve Mertens says:

    Pete, I loved the series. I became interested in Adirondac in the early 80’s. At that time all the houses that are now almost swallowed by the forest were still standing. McNoughton cottage still had a porch. As a youngster at the time it sparked a life long curiosity with the place. I obtained Mastens book early on and have revisited many times over the last few decades. I have some great photos that I will share from about 1980 on. And I too looked for the cemetery. The USGS topo showsit almost in the right location. I have some great pictures of the cemetery too. They are on film.

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