Sunday, March 9, 2014

Getting to Blue Mountain Lake in the 19th Century

1922 Marion River RRMy 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.


GHT 3-4 Day Route

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.

JBT 2 Day Route

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.


Related Stories

Tom is the great great grandson of the very first “summer folk” on Blue Mountain Lake. The Thacher family built the first private summer home on Thacher Island in 1867.

Tom has spent every summer of his life on Indian Point of Raquette Lake on lands purchased by his family in 1876. In researching the origins of his family’s century old, one-room cabin, Tom is discovering over 200 years of Adirondack History seen through the lens of one plot of land.

Extended versions of this article and other stories and photos can be found at Fifty Acres of Beach and Wood which chronicles tales of iconic characters of Adirondack history whose footprints have graced the shores of Indian Point.

Tom is currently fundraising to publish a book of his research. The proceeds from the book will support the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts. You can make a contribution to the book fund here:

10 Responses

  1. charlie herr says:

    great article.

  2. Charles herd says:

    The railroad car may be one of those at the adk museum at the pond and pavilion. I work there in the summer.

    • Tom Thacher says:

      Hi Charles,

      I think it is likely the one at the museum. I have actually met you and spoken with you each summer for the past two when visiting the museum. I always read your column here and in the Weekly Adirondack.

      Thank you for the comment.


  3. Paul K says:

    Great story, next best thing to being a TIME TRAVELER, sure wish THAT was possible,so i read these stories and dream.

  4. Randy says:

    Great story. I’ve done the Marion carry a few times and now realize I’ve been walking in your ancestor’s footsteps, among many others.

  5. laurie says:

    I’ve been following Tom’s writing over at Fifty Acres of Beach and Wood. He’s a great addition to the Almanack!

  6. Donna says:

    Love this Tom. Thank you for putting words, memories, thoughts to paper.

  7. Richard Berger says:

    Good luck Tom finding out what happened to the first dwelling at Indian Point- however large or small. It must have burned down don’t you think? Loved all you writtings and will buy your book one day.

    • Tom Thacher says:

      Hi Richard,

      Thank you very much for the comment. Yes, the mystery of the original Thacher cabin on Indian Point is what continues to drive my research. This summer I hope to determine the age of the trees at the tip of Birch Point. If I am lucky, the oldest standing tree will date back to the mid 1880s and not before. I truly believe somewhere in someone’s photo album, there must be a picture of Birch Point (perhaps far in the background of the photo) which shows the original cabin from the 1878-1885 time period.


  8. Tom Cobb says:

    And now, for 100 years, the legacy of John Boyd Thacher State Park will be revitalized. I hope to attend the centennial event in September. Incidentally this coincides with signing into law the National Wilderness Preservation which was influenced in no small part by the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. As spearheaded by Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, the kick-off event will take place on May 7th at the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany.

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