Thursday, March 6, 2014

Charlie Herr: Building the Raquette Lake Railway

1909RR-Station-DockRPPC-LDriving to Old Forge, I pass the old Eagle Bay station, recalling that I had a tasty barbecue sub sandwich there in the early 1980s.  I continue, watching the hikers and bikers on the level path to my right, also watching for deer.  Passing North Woods Inn, I see a sign referring to a train wreck and, just around Daikers, the path to my right disappears into the woods.

I once biked into the woods there and found a historical marker that told of the Raquette Lake Railway.  I decided to learn more about this railroad that, along with Dr. Webb’s line, provided both the rich and the poor access into the Adirondacks.  Its story starts with the Adirondack railroads that preceded it.

While working on the Union Pacific project which concerned the building of the eastern portion of the transcontinental railroad from Omaha to Promontory Point, Utah, Dr. Thomas Durant became interested in building a railroad from Saratoga to North Creek.  Harold Hochschild tells us that this project had its beginnings in the 1848 establishment of the Sacketts Harbor and Saratoga Railroad Company that projected a route on paper that, after proceeding north to the town of Minerva, turned due west skirting the southern portion of the Eckford Chain, Raquette Lake and the north shores of the lower Fulton Chain before turning northwest towards Carthage.

This company ran into financial difficulties and several reorganizations later, Dr. Durant acquired it in 1863, naming it the Adirondack Company.  Under generous terms from the state, the earlier company had over time accumulated possibly 700,000 acres according to the Adirondack Company’s foreclosure sale later in 1881, most of it at a nickel an acre.  During the years 1865 to 1871, Dr. Durant built a 60-mile stretch from Saratoga to North Creek.  While this line proved a boon to the towns along its route, it was economically troubled.  With debts over $9 million in 1881, the Adirondack Company line and its lands were sold at foreclosure in 1881 for $350,000.  The Lowville paper said its buyers were William Sutphen and W. W. Durant, Dr. Durant’s son.

The holdings were reorganized the next year as the Adirondack Railway Company with  Thomas’s son William as its president.  Dr. Durant then educated his son in railroad and land management until his death in 1885.  In a series of transactions in June 1889 later affecting our subject, W. W. Durant sold the railroad and about 300,000 acres to the Delaware and Hudson Railroad which planned to build a railroad through the eastern Adirondacks using that line as a starter.  W. W. Durant then sold the remaining 400,000 acres to Robert Cromley, an agent for the lumber corporation, the Adirondack Timber and Mineral Corporation, possibly connected to Durant.  The deed for these lands would continue to carry right of ways reserved for the Adirondack Railway Company to Robert Cromley as listed in the appendix of Clara O’Brien’s history, God’s Country.

When Dr. Webb could not persuade the state to grant forest land for his planned railroad, he executed plan B and purchased it himself.  By June 1891, Dr. Webb had purchased almost 250,000 acres, including 77,000 acres in Hamilton and Herkimer counties from R. K. Hawley, President of Cromley’s company, and proceeded to build his railroad from Utica to Malone.  Garmon & Crosby’s Forge Tract and the deCamps’ Townships 1 and 7 were the only Fulton Chain lands not his.  A recent law enabled railroads to acquire lands via condemnation suits without approval by the Forest Commission, but Webb’s attempt with the deCamps was failing by June 1892, but a court ordered settlement resulted soon after and the last spike was driven near Twitchell Creek bridge in October, 1892.

The phrase, “if you build it they will come”, would have been appropriate in 1892.  Suddenly, everyone wanted roads to access the new railroad.  Before the railroad, Fulton Chain travelers to Big Moose Lake would get off the steamers near Becker’s, called “Big Moose Landing”, and hike past Sis, Bubb, Moss, to Dart lakes, where Bill Dart had a road built to Big Moose Lake.  According to William Marleau, a two-mile wagon trail was cut at the end of 1892 from the West Bay on Big Moose Lake to the Big Moose Station, connecting Dart’s and Big Moose Lake to the outside world.

1894 wallace map DSC04148Though Wallace’s 1894 Adirondack map (left) showed a “Raquette Lake station” connected by a “wagon road” straight to Indian Point on Raquette Lake, this may only have been based on Long Lake’s 1894 approval of a road from Sucker Brook Bay to just south of Clearwater on Webb’s line, but a road from Sucker Brook Bay was built to Eagle Bay and opened by 1896.

To connect with Webb’s railroad, Durant built a carriage road that can be hiked partly today.  From Lake Mohegan, (location of J.P. Morgan’s Camp Uncas) it went past 7th and 8th lakes connecting with the Sucker Brook Road and turned southwest towards Eagle Bay.  Most authors say it went to Eagle Bay but I like Norton Bird’s contention that it left the Sucker Brook Road a mile from Eagle Bay and proceeded north to hit Big Moose Road near Cascade Hill, then was extended to Big Moose Lake where it could connect to the road to Big Moose Station.  The construction of the road occurred from June to December 1896 and when G. Thompson paid off the workers, the Lowville paper reported that rails might be laid over the winter for a steam or electric railroad.

Backtracking to March 1891, Dr. Webb visited the signal station atop BaldMountain on “railroad business”.  It may be at this time that he assigned George Clinton Ward to survey not only for his trans-wilderness railroad’s route, but also for a Clearwater to Raquette Lake and Fulton Chain highways.  He was “much pleased with the territory”.

In February, 1894, Webb signed three lumber contracts on his Township 8 (John Brown’s Tract) lands, the largest with John Dix’s lumber company covering 8 years.  In May 1894, Dr.Webb filed claims with the state for damages to his lands caused by expansion of the Stillwater dam.  When Webb persuaded the state to buy 75,000 acres, he persuaded the negotiators to not only to permit the lands to be transferred upon completion of the lumber contracts, but also retained the June 1889 easements for the two projected roads.

When Dix began floating Webb’s logs from Rondaxe Lake down the north branch Moose River to the McKeever mills in 1894, the deCamps stopped the logs at Minnehaha and began a suit in November to stop the flow.  By 1897, William Scott deCamp (William alone after wife Julia Lyon deCamp’s death in 1895) was not only winning court battles, but in May that year he was building two hotels at Clearwater (also called Clear Water) and adding a power boat to a fleet running the north branch.  The August paper mentioned that Utica’s George Haberer was providing the furniture for Justin Reed’s hotel at Clearwater, probably one of the deCamp hotels.  Eugene Scrafford would lease a deCamp cottage as a camp for guiding parties on deCamp lands.

Water transport of the logs no longer being an option, a permitted railroad was planned for the logs.  Instead of taking a direct route to the Fulton Chain from Clearwater (per Dr. Webb’s original plans), a logging railroad would extend east to Rondaxe Lake for carrying John Dix’s logs to be transported from Clearwater Station to McKeever.

The deCamp family had sued successfully to prevent Dix from using the Moose River’s north branch to float these logs through their lands to McKeever.  Dix arranged for Charles W. Durant, Jr.  (Thomas Durant’s nephew) to negotiate a right of way strip from Clearwater through deCamp’s lands to Webb’s Township 8 land.  DeCamp acquired lands along the Fulton Chain from another party.  Durant then sold this and subsequent right of way conveyances to Dix who then quickly built his short line to Raquettee Lake.  These transactions occurred between December 1896 and January 1898.

Dix would not get any favors directly from deCamp and deCamp would remember Webb’s earlier condemnation suits for right of way of the 1892 line.  But deCamp’s deed with Durant called for a railroad built to Eagle Bay then to Raquette Lake, but would not know until later how it assisted that Dix’s lumber transport problem.  Decamp also knew his Clearwater development would benefit from connections to Raquette Lake and Eagle Bay.

In November 1897, the papers reported that a railroad from a Clearwater station would connect to the head of FourthLake “and beyond” providing better service than the steamer lines for Fulton Chain folks.  Articles claimed how a direct cut from Clearwater to the head of Fourth Lake would be better for the hotels and travelers.  The above articles did not mention Raquette Lake and it wouldn’t be a “direct cut”.  Joseph Grady says “except for slight deviation” the line followed the 1892 survey’s route.  Newspapers also said Webb and Durant were the “main projectors” behind the railroad.

The line went first to Rondaxe Lake where Dix’s lumber lay on its north and south shores.  Construction proceeded rapidly but in December 1897 occurred the deaths of Bert Scrafford and Charles Clifford, “blown to bits” by dynamite working on the “Clearwater railroad”.  Snow stopped construction in January 1898 when the destination was announced to be RaquetteLake.

In August 1898, papers reported that the railroad would be 19 miles, 10 to Eagle Bay then nine to Raquette Lake.  It said the Thompson company (Dix’s) was urging its completion so logs stacked behind Eagle Bay hotel could be moved.  Two miles to RondaxeLake finished during 1898 met Dix’s immediate needs.

While this logging line was operating, the State’s attorney general investigated whether the line was violating the law; the petitioners were probably the Old Forge Company’s steamer and railroad lines whose patronage would drastically be reduced with the railroad’s opening.  Legal constraints weren’t found and by September 1898, C. D. Adams and others were trying to stop the railroad.  Three years later, Adams represented Charles Bennett of Raquette Lake.  It is possible he was doing so here since Bennett was running a baggage wagon and steamer line since 1893 from Fourth Lake to Raquette Lake that would also be obsolete.

Construction from Rondaxe to Raquette Lake resumed May 1, 1899.  The Clearwater to Raquette Lake railroad became the Raquette Lake Railway when it was chartered as an electric street surface, then approved as a “steam” railroad by April, 1899.  Webb, Dix, Morgan, Huntington and other wealthy businessmen were its directors.  Forest Superintendent Fox lent his support.  He was working on a lumbering plan for state-owned Raquette Lake that in his 1900 Annual Report would call for a branch railroad from this line for transporting logs.

At this time, Huntington was the Railway’s president, making most of the decisions and it was often called Huntington’s railroad.

The Lowville paper in a long August 1899 article described the number of men, the cost and the route of the railroad.  By then, 6 miles of grading and 2 miles of track from Rondaxe Lake were finished.  Grading to Raquette Lake and tracks to Eagle Bay would be done by August and the tracks to RaquetteLake by October.  Stations would be at Minnowbrook, Eagle Bay, Raquette Lake and other locations.

1902 raquette lake railway_0The line would go south from Rondaxe Lake to the wagon road from Old Forge to Eagle Bay, parallel that along the north shore of Fourth Lake to Eagle Bay and then bear northeast to parallel the Sucker Brook Road to the Upper Brown’s Tract pond, leaving it to parallel the present Route 28, ending at Alvah Dunning’s former camp at today’s Raquette Lake village, where the terminal station was built.  Alvah Dunning, who was paid $600 for his camp, had earlier been chased from OspreyIsland and would now leave the area for a brief period.  Uncas Station would be built where Durant’s Uncas trail connected to the Sucker Brook Road.

On September 11, 1899, Huntington left New York City in his private car and arrived at Raquette Lake.  J. P. Morgan would no longer have to race his carriage from Camp Uncas to meet the steamers of Fourth Lake.  With the town road from Old Forge to Eagle Bay completed the previous year, Inlet folks were now anxious to extend it from Eagle Bay to Sixth Lake, benefiting the Fourth to Seventh Lake hotel and property owners, formerly dependent on the waterways and the Crosby Transportation Company steamers.  Still a lumber train, the Potsdam paper reported in February 1900 that the Railway was making repeated runs to Eagle Bay to pick up lumber loads for McKeever.  The railroad’s directors now needed approval from the legislature to open the line to the public.

Huntington expected the Old Forge Company to again protest to protect their interests, but he believed the public good provided by the line would win over the Commission.  Because fire danger was prominent in legislators’ minds during the February 1900 hearings, Huntington offered to use “hard coal” as fuel, which his experience running the western portion of the transcontinental project demonstrated it produced few sparks.  The property owners dropped their protests but the Old Forge, the Crosby Transportation and Fulton Chain Railroad companies filed an injunction to be heard that month, claiming the railroad a public nuisance and it violated the constitution.

The railroad then claimed that the line would be abandoned if steam could not be used in place of electricity and that the public would be harmed through the loss of its convenience and the present transportation system’s (Old Forge to Raquette Lake through the Fulton Chain lakes) great expense and frequent transfers of freight and passengers.  In late February 1901, the Railway bill was amended for use of oil and the illegality issue was resolved by examination of the Webb 1896 easements and the right of ways built into the deeds by the 1889 sale of Adirondack Railway lands.

The Plattsburgh paper reported in June that Huntington’s directors approved the use of oil and the line opened to the public on July 1, 1900.  Oil would later be required for all state railroads.  A 1901 bill would permit coal to be used during the winter.  The Railway’s prime mover, Collis P. Huntington, died one month later (August 1900) at Pine Knot.

1900 raquett lake railway schedule_0Dr. Webb was now its president.  During 1900, Huntington offered to buy the Old Forge Company’s steamer and railroad lines.  After the N. Y. Central began management of the Railway as a branch line in January 1901, Dr. Webb again made overtures.  In April, the Malone Farmer reported that the N. Y. Central had also gained control of the Fulton Chain Railroad.

The same month, it reported that Dr. Webb had purchased the Crosby Transportation Company and renamed it the Fulton Navigation Company.  He said he intended to improve the condition of the boats now in use.  The Fulton, C.L. Stowell, W. S Webb and Zip would be overhauled and begin making regular trips in May 1901 as the Mohegan, Nehasane, Uncas and Old Forge.  A new steamer, the Clearwater was added to this fleet.  Webb would soon arrange mail service by boat on the Fulton Chain.  The Old Forge Company reorganized.

Photos: Above, a postcard of the railroad station and dock at Raquette Lake (1909); above map from Wallace’s 1894 Descriptive Guide to the Adirondacks; map below from the 1902 Forest, Fish and Game Commission Annual Report (1902); the schedule is from the Adirondack News, July 1900, courtesy of the Town of Webb Historical Association.

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Since the early 1980s when Charles Herr purchased a camp in Inlet he has been interested in the history of the Fulton Chain region of the Adirondacks. He has been contributing history articles about the times and people of the Fulton Chain, covering transportation, steamboats, hotels and most importantly, the people to the Weekly Adirondack of Old Forge since November 2006. His ambition is to uncover local and regional Fulton Chain history about people and events prior to 1930 and little covered in the histories of the region. He is the president of the Inlet Historical Society and presents summer programs on Inlet history at the Town Hall in Arrowhead Park in Inlet, NY. His book, The Fulton Chain-Early Settlement, Roads, Steamboats, Railroads and Hotels, was published in May 2017. More information is available at . During 2023, Herr was appointed Inlet Town Historian.

3 Responses

  1. […] Adirondacks: Building the Raquette Lake Railway […]

  2. Deb Evans says:

    good read, well done Charlie!!!

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