My trip to the Adirondacks from our home in Western Massachusetts ends when I see the water of Raquette Lake’s South Bay – a three-and-a-half hour drive. OK, my wife insists the trip is not over until we unload the car, pack the boat, traverse the lake, unload the boat and schlep everything into the cabin. A five-hour ordeal in her mind, but serenity fills me the minute I see the water.
Be it three-and-a-half hours or five, our trip is nothing compared to the arduous travels my great-great-grandfather took to reach these shores. He had been among the very first to summer on Blue Mountain Lake, building the first private summer home on Thacher Island in 1867.
In 1862, George Hornell Thacher first traveled to the region guided by Mitchell Sabattis. At that time, the railroad to North Creek and the stage road from North Creek to Blue Mountain Lake did not exist. Access to Blue Mountain Lake was only from the north, down from Long Lake. The trip from Albany took three or four days.
On day one, he would have taken the train from Albany to Glens Falls, then a stagecoach to Minerva. On day two, he would have traveled again by stagecoach to Long Lake and spent the night. From Long Lake to Blue Mountain Lake he would have taken either of two routes, each one potentially lasting more than a day. He could have taken the arduous South Pond route with four miles of portages to Blue or the longer but easier water route via Raquette Lake to Blue.
George Hornell Thacher’s son John Boyd Thacher had an easier two-day trip in 1874, which he chronicled in a letter to Forest and Stream magazine.
Blue Mountain Lake, Adirondacks, Café Hathorne, June 15, 1874
Leaving Albany at seven o’clock in the morning on the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad, we connect at Saratoga with the Adirondack Railroad, reaching North Creek, its northern terminus, at about noon. Thence by stage to Dick Jackson’s, a distance of nineteen miles, where we spend the night. This is the last place on the route where one can experience the comforts of a good hotel, although there is soon to be one opened at Wakely’s on the Cedar River.
Bright and early the next morning a buckboard wagon will take us to Blue Mountain Lake, a distance of twelve miles, over a road that has never been submitted to the process of Macadamization. …
At Chauncey Hathorne’s shanty will we find a smoking hot fish-chowder in thirty minutes after we tear ourselves off the buck-board, and, in fact, it were no bad idea to consume a goodly portion of this time in gradually performing this operation. About twenty minutes is the average time allotted for accomplishing this in safety.
From 1879 to 1893, the route to Blue Mountain Lake continued to be via train to North Creek; however a shorter stagecoach ride out of Indian Lake brought people to Blue along what is now Route 28. The Thacher family traveled by guide boat from Blue Mountain Lake through Eagle Lake and Utowana Lake, portaging on foot to the Marion River and plying oars once again into Raquette Lake.
In 1893, the railroad was extended from Utica, NY, to Thendara Station near Old Forge, and for the next seven years, there was a second path to Raquette Lake. From Thendara, a series of steamboats and buckboards through the Fulton Chain of Lakes brought you to Raquette Lake, through the Marion River, Utowana Lake and Eagle Lake, into Blue Mountain Lake.
In 1900, the Raquette Lake Railroad was built to extend the rail lines from Carter Station (just north of Thendara) all the way to Raquette Lake Village. In the same year the Marion River Railroad, the shortest full gauge railroad in the world, was built to transport travelers and their luggage the three-quarters of a mile of the Marion River Carry. Travelers would take steamboats from Raquette Lake Village to the end of the Marion River. They would then board the train for the short trip to the landing of the steamboats at Utowana Lake.
After 1900, those traveling to Blue Mountain Lake preferred to take the train all the way to Raquette Lake and travel by steamboat into Blue Mountain Lake, thus avoiding the long stagecoach ride from North Creek. It was now possible to reach Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain Lake in only one day of travel from Albany and even from New York City.
In 1929, the auto road was built between Raquette and Blue Mountain Lakes and brought an end to the Marion River Railroad. The Raquette Lake Railroad and the steamboats of the region ended service in 1933.
The daily trips from our cabin on Indian Point to Raquette Lake Village (on land purchased by my family in 1876) have changed as well. My grandfather rowed his guide boat a couple of hours to the village every day. As a boy, I would sit in the bow of a 17 foot aluminum fishing boat, holding the bowline as we bounced and crashed against the waves – water spraying my face for the forty-five minute ride powered by a 15 horsepower Johnson outboard. My kids’ trip from our cabin to the village dock is a mere fifteen minutes in our Four Winns 190 Horizon speedboat. I think my kids are missing out. (They don’t.)
Photo above: Thacher family members traveling on the Marion River Railroad in 1922.