Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Life and Times of the Raquette Lake Railway

1900 raquett lake railway schedule_0After the Raquette Lake Railway opened to the public on July 1, 1900, life on the Fulton Chain changed forever.  For its prime mover, Collis P. Huntington, life ended at Camp Pine Knot in August.  Huntington’s death left W. W. Durant without favorable money sources and his Blue Mountain and Raquette Lake Steamboat Company, as well as the newly built Marion River Carry Railroad and its terminal properties, were sold to Patrick Moynehan in May, 1901, then sold to the Webb interests in 1902.

I would like to tell the Railway’s story by telling the story of its stations.  When introducing the station’s name, I insert  its mile marker in parenthesis ( ) according to Michael Kudish’s Where Did the Tracks Go in the Central Adirondacks?.

PC2411 Clearwater Station  020From newspapers of the time, it seems that Clearwater (Clear Water), a little over four miles from the Thendara (then called Fulton Chain) Station, was becoming a settlement with hotels and houses built by William deCamp.  A sawmill would be built nearby soon after the railway’s opening.  Clearwater would be renamed Carter Station in 1912, probably after Herbert D. Carter, a general manager for many years on the N. Y. Central Adirondack line built by Dr. Webb.  Henry Harter’s railroad history provided a 1901 railroad inspector’s report that said Clearwater had a combined passenger and freight station.

Rondaxe Station (2.49) was the first station from Clearwater.  Instead of taking a direct route to the Fulton Chain from Clearwater as originally planned in 1892, the tracks were first laid east to Rondaxe Lake for John Dix who could not float lumber cut for a Webb in 1894 an eight-year contract.  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 obtain a right of way from Clearwater through deCamp’s lands to Webb’s Township 8 land.  Durant then sold this and subsequent right of way conveyances to Dix who then quickly built his short line.

1917 clearwater stretchBill Gove’s map in his history on logging railroads shows Dix’s line ending along the north shore of Rondaxe Lake, following the route of Independence Road from Clearwater (now Carter) to that location.  The Railway continued south over a bridge at the Moose River north branch, then ending at a siding at Rondaxe’s north shore.  The station was just south of the Moose River bridge at a point located just past where the Railway extended from the initial Dix route.  Rondaxe would become a flag station, meaning a train would not stop unless a flag at its station shed was displayed.

From Rondaxe Station, the Railway turned northeast to follow the south shore of Rondaxe Lake and then began the first of two major grades on the line, this one ending at Summit Station (4.48) near Carry Pond.  Burnap’s mail boat history informs us that trains with heavy loads of sleeper and freight cars would leave half the cars at Rondaxe Station, ascend the grade to Summit Station,  leave the other half section of cars at its thousand foot long siding, then return to Rondaxe for the second half of the load.

After Summit Station, the Railway followed a route that can be hiked today on the Mountain Pond trail and that’s visible on some satellite mapping internet sites.  A 1984 hiking guide describes a dirt road 5.6 miles from Old Forge Information Center, near Minnowbrook Motel, which follows the Railway’s route part of the way, then a trail continues its route to Carry Pond.  Before the next station, an historical marker (5.00) tells of the Railway’s history.

raquette lake railroad and dirt road_0We now come to the part of the route most familiar to us, the part that parallels Route 28.  Coming out of the woods just north of today’s Rondaxe Road, the Railway’s next station was Minnowbrook Station (5.55), just up the hill from the Burnap Camp.  From here to Eagle Bay, the route would run parallel and to the north of the Old Forge-Eagle Bay road completed in the summer of 1898.

Burnap tells of the chores related to the Station.  Visitors arriving to stay at area camps would have their baggage picked up at the station by the family and taken to boats for conveyance along the Fulton Chain to their camps.  The Minnowbrook Camp was also an official post office that received mail from both the Railway and from a stage when their mail boat (after 1929, when Burnap obtained the mail boat contract) couldn’t operate.  They would receive a carload of coal for winter heat and their deliveries of milk.  Burnap and his brother would know the train from Carter Station would be late if they heard brakes applied at the Summit Station leaving off the first half of the cars.  A school was also located at the Minnowbrook area where children from as far as Eagle Bay attended until the highway to Eagle Bay was paved in 1926.

Norton Bird informed Ruth Timm about an important  $0.42/hour job on the Railway: track walker.  Everyday from May to October one man walked the track from Clearwater Station to Eagle Bay and the other walked from Raquette Lake Station to Eagle Bay and both met at Eagle Bay.  They were to look for trees or debris on the tracks that would stop a train.  On November 9, 1913, three men died in a work train derailment just across from today’s North Woods Inn caused by an unseen tree down on the tracks on the hill just past St. Peter’s.  The surviving engineer came to Burnaps where he was taken to Old Forge Depot to telegraph the N.Y. Central.  Today a sign referring to the train wreck is seen off Route 28 in the St. Peter’s area.

Burnap tells us that Minnowbrook was first named Bald Mountain until the N.Y. Central was persuaded to change it with the argument that Bald Mountain House was a few miles south on Third Lake.  Train schedules would show one or the other or both stations.

raquette lake railroad and tin lizzy_0The next stop was Fairview Station (7.0), another flag station, named after an old hotel and opposite Lawrence Point.  Clara O’Brien’s history tells us that this hotel, the Fairview Lodge, was built by Milo Bull who married Millie Wood, whose Mother Ophelia was a daughter of Otis Arnold, operator of the Fulton Chain’s first hostelry (Arnolds) in today’s Thendara.  Part of the Fairview Lodge property is now Mountainside Lodge.  The station was midway between Ramona Point and Mountainside Lodge.

According to George Longstaff, “our own Skensowane Station” (8.06) was a quarter mile from The Mohawk’s back door and was the next stop.    A tradition at the Mohawk for a departing guest was to hold a bonfire sing-along and listen for a train whistle to blow upon leaving Eagle Bay.  A lantern hung earlier that evening at the Skensowane Station alerted the engineer who would toot twice, answering that the night “flag” was seen, and stop the train.  The station was named after Mt. Skensowane, not found on my maps, but according to David Beetle, a “twin-peaked mass overlooking Fourth Lake, on one side; Moss Lake on the other.” Today this  is Camp Mark Seven at the Mohawk.

In addition to the Clearwater and Raquette Lake stations, Eagle Bay Station (9.14) was the third major stop, all three believed to have been the first ones built in 1901.  Since the grade from Minnowbrook Station to Eagle Bay was downhill, Burnap tells us that heavily laden trains returning to Clearwater would split their loads at Eagle Bay Station in the same manner as done when coming from Rondaxe Station.

Eagle Bay became a crossroads for travelers when Dr. Webb’s railroad was opened in 1892.  William West Durant later built a road the other from J.P. Morgan’s Camp Uncas to just above Eagle Bay on the then named Sucker Brook Bay from Raquette Lake (1896).  The road continued north past Cascade Lake to Big Moose Station.  If preferred, travelers reaching Sucker Brook Bay road could turn left to Eagle Bay and use the steamer lines to reach Fulton Chain station, which may have taken longer.  With the new line, Uncas passengers would use the new Raquette Lake Railway to connect with the New York Central at Clearwater Station.

The Railway’s Eagle Bay station encouraged the building of the road from Sixth Lake to Eagle Bay to provide 6th and 7th Lake camp owners railroad access.  This Station proved to be a boon to the expansion of Eagle Bay, Inlet and the upper Fulton Chain lakes for both hotel and camp owners.  Though the Railway reduced dependency on Old Forge steamers, these still found business with passengers using EagleBay as a departure point to connect with the Fulton Chain Railway to Dr. Webb’s railroad.

The Eagle Bay Station stands today but not in its original location.  O’Brien’s history tells us that Bud Kopp bought the building from the Old Forge Bank in 1934, moved it closer to the highway and started a hot dog stand and liquor store.  After several owners, it may have been the “Spike and Rail” when I bought my barbecue sub there in the early 1980s.   O’Brien’s history God’s Country contains pictures of the Rondaxe, Fairview and Eagle Bay Stations.

After Eagle Bay, the Railway now switched over the Old Forge-Eagle Bay road and routed northeast paralleling the Sucker Brook Bay Road to Raquette Lake, traveling to the north of the wagon road.  Where Durant’s Uncas Trail from Mohegan Lake met the Sucker Brook Road, the Uncas Station stood (12.14).  Carriages would pick up the camp owners at this station for transport to Mohegan Lake until Dwight Sperry built Sagamore  Road in late 1902 from Raquette Lake to the camps owned by Vanderbilt, Morgan and Woodruff.

1909 ffg raquette lake suckerbrook

The Railway stopped being a companion to Sucker Brook Road around Brown’s Tract Ponds and headed more or less straight to its Raquette Lake Station (17.89), which also included a restaurant.  The Railway’s operation resulted in a drop in usage for the Sucker Brook Road.

The station started the growth of RaquetteLakeVillage that would include a supply store and a huge Raquette Lake House in the proximity of the Railway’s lands, formerly Alvah Dunning’s camp site.  The station house was also used for elections.  The Railway also helped increase the development of the Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain shore lines and hotels.  The Station included housing for the private cars of the millionaires of the Great Camps.  The steamer lines provided transport to Blue Mountain lake via the new Marion River Railroad, including for a time, train car ferries to Forked Lake.

From 1906 to 1922, the Railway was used to transport ice from Raquette Lake to the N.Y. Central.  Hochschild tells us ice would be cut first at Old Forge and then the operation was moved to Raquette Lake.   At Raquette Lake Station, in addition to sidings for private cars, warehouses and loading steamers with cars and cargo, one track set was a loop that traveled behind the library, curved in front of the Raquette Lake Hotel, in front of the Raquette Lake Supply store, behind St. Williams Church and met the incoming track line.  For the return to Clearwater Station, the train would leave off the passengers, travel this loop, move up the main line its entire length from the loop track, then back in to the station to pick up the return trip’s cars and passengers.

raquette lake house with tracks_0

During the life of the Railway, at least two fires occurred at Raquette Lake Station.  One on February 1, 1909 destroyed the roundhouse and oil tank.  The train used oil in the summer and coal in the winter .  A much larger fire occurred on February 20, 1927, when the Raquette Lake hotel, casino, store, post office, three dwellings and three lake steamers burned.  The Raquette Lake Station telegraphed to Utica, who telegraphed to Thendara Station, who notified Inlet’s fire Chief Armstrong.  One of the Railway’s locomotives pumped water along with Inlet’s apparatus.  The Railway Station temporarily housed the homeless and the Railway was a great help in supplying food for the displaced populace since its food stores were destroyed.

Norton Bus Bird described the use of the Railway as a Fulton Chain light rail system prior to the Old Forge-Eagle Bay highway being built in 1926, that didn’t connect to Raquette Lake until 1929.  To attend Masonic Temple meetings in Old Forge, Norton would arrange with the station agent, also a mason, for a special one-car run from Raquette Lake to Eagle Bay, picking up more members, then switching onto Dr. Webb’s line at Carter Station for Thendara Station, then switching again onto the tracks of the Fulton Chain Railway for the two miles to Old Forge, leaving them near the temple.

The Raquette Lake Railway operated from July 1, 1900 to September 15, 1933.  Hochschild tells us that two trains ran daily in the summer, one being a “sleeping car train”.  In the winter there was one train a day, three days a week.  The Railway always ran in the red.  Papers in 1903 reported its attempt to stop winter runs failing approval due to the new reliance on its service.  The age of private rail cars and steamers ended by the time the remaining millionaire owners of the Railway sold it to the N. Y. Central in March 1917, who assumed its $50,000 indebtedness.  In 1924, the N.Y. Central tried to sell the Railway and property to locals but found no buyers.

Ruth Timm reports its busiest volume of sleeping cars with children and camp leaders for Raquette Lake camps was in July, 1926.  But the automobile age had arrived.  Traffic was already using the incomplete section of new highway from Seventh Lake to Raquette Lake in December 1929.  Papers reported a Raquette Lake car ferry being discontinued in July 1930.  The Railway’s last regular run was June 15 to September 15, 1933.  The N.Y. Central received permission to abandon the line effective February 27, 1934.

Early in the summer of 1934, a special work train arrived at Raquette Lake Station and, starting where the tracks reached Carlin’s Boat Livery, workers began the long, last journey removing rails and ripping up ties.  Two years later, the station property was bought by the Raquette Lake Supply Company which operated the station house as a restaurant.  On December 8, 1972, the Raquette Lake Station house was destroyed by fire.

More information on the railway can be found in the histories of Henry Harter, Ruth Timm and Harold Hochschild.

Photos courtesy the Town of Webb Historical Association. Maps: above from Longstreth’s The Adirondacks (1917); and below from the 1909 Forest, Fish and Game Commission Annual Report.

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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 www.facebook.com/herrstory . During 2023, Herr was appointed Inlet Town Historian.

3 Responses

  1. Fascinating. As a boy, I hiked the old railroad bed from Adirondack Woodcraft Camps around Rondaxe Lake and Carey Lake many times. As an adult, I camped at Carey often, and the last time I was back in New York (2005) rode my mountain bike that way from Inlet to Clearwater. In my prized possessions from those summers at Woodcraft, I still have a spike from the old railroad.

    • charles herr says:

      I recall seeing some for sale at Dragonfly in Old Forge on the first floor to the right.

  2. Brad says:

    Nice story, good information. Appreciated. Do you have pics of the equipment, especially the car ferries and on the Marion River run ?

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