Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Charlie Herr: A History of the Uncas Roads

1896 8th lake eugene scrafford camp 2_0 aIn the off year election of 1918, New York voters elected a new governor (Al Smith) who later became the first Roman Catholic and Irish-American to run for President.  In that same election, voters also approved a constitutional amendment to the “forever wild” Article VII (rewritten as Article XIV in 1938) permitting the construction of a state highway on forest preserve lands from Saranac Lake to Old Forge by way of Blue Mountain and Raquette Lakes.  Until this highway was built, the road from Inlet to the north ended at Seventh Lake.

When the segment from Seventh Lake to Raquette Lake was completed in 1929, it became the route of choice to Raquette Lake from Eagle Bay, replacing what today begins at that place as Uncas Road and ends as Browns Tract Road ending at Antlers Road at Raquette Lake.  Its name changes at Browns Tract Ponds.

Craig Gilborn’s Durant family history states that Durant built two roads:  from South Inlet to Camp Uncas  at Mohegan Lake in 1895 and another from Camp Uncas to Eagle Bay in 1896.  This agrees with examinations of Forest, Fish & Game Commission maps issued in 1902 and 1909.  These maps show that, until 1929, the only direct road to Raquette Lake from Eagle Bay was the “Eagle Bay and Raquette Lake Road” via Browns Tract Ponds.

1909 road from Inlet ending at seventh lakeThough Dr. Thomas Durant’s Adirondack Railroad to North Creek had been the first railroad (1871) into the Central Adirondacks, both he and its subsequent owner, the Delaware & Hudson, could not extend it further.  In March 1891, Dr. William Seward Webb and his engineers climbed to the Colvin signal station atop Bald Mountain and viewed the prospective routes for the extension of his Herkimer, Newport and Poland railroad to Tupper Lake.  His wilderness railroad project was yet in its infancy, but Dr. Webb predicted his new line would be running by August 1892.  Missing his vision’s goal by two months, the Mohawk & Malone opened in October that year and became the preferred entry route to and through the Adirondacks.  Blue Mountain and Raquette Lake resorts quickly became remote as the Adirondack Railroad lost customers to Dr. Webb’s line that carried visitors conveniently past the region to other formerly remote wilderness areas.

Before Webb’s railroad, travelers to Blue Mountain, Long and Saranac Lakes were subjected to long stage rides from North Creek’s station, the terminus for Durant’s line from Saratoga.   Now these communities realized Dr. Webb’s railroad was their ticket to future growth, development and financial survival.  The popularity of the route awakened in the Park’s towns the need to connect to it with highways.  Quickly, road construction for most communities became a high priority.  Even Dr. Webb had surveyed for two highways that later resulted in a railroad and a wagon road:  Clearwater to Raquette Lake and Old Forge to Eagle Bay.  The map issued with Wallace’s 1894 annual Adirondack Guide showed a nonexistent wagon road from Clearwater (called “Raquette Lake”) Station to Durant (now Raquette Lake Village).  He may have presumed Dr. Webb would complete a second railroad in short order.

1894 wallace map DSC04148Meeting on October 20, 1894, the town supervisors of Wilmurt, Herkimer, and Morehouse approved the building of two roads:  from Sucker Brook Bay on the west shore of Raquette Lake to the north shore of Fourth Lake and another through the Town of Wilmurt  to Dr. Webb’s line somewhere south of Clearwater Station, probably Fulton Chain Station (Thendara today).  Sucker Brook Bay was directly across from the Forked Lake Carry where a wagon route led to Long Lake.  Construction of this road began in short order.

By August 1895, newspapers reported that 2 1/2 miles of the new highway from Sucker Brook Bay were completed.  The “Raquette Lake Road” began at Sucker Brook Bay, passed through to the north shore of lower Browns Tract pond, then crossed the Browns Tract Inlet below the upper Browns Tract pond’s shores on the east and south.  At this point it would be within a mile of Eighth Lake.  The road then proceeded along the Eagle Creek valley and ended at Eagle Bay.  The new wagon road opened in the spring of 1896 and was known as the Sucker Brook Bay Road.

But unexpected delays occurred for the building of the second segment from Old Forge to Eagle Bay approved in 1894.  Afterwards in August 1895, the Town of Wilmurt’s appointed commissioners met at Bald Mountain Hotel to confirm the necessity for the road.  Samuel Garmon, Dr. Alexander Crosby, Victor Adams and William S. deCamp opposed it, claiming that it would only be used by 13 people and 3 horses only 12 weeks of the year.  Furthermore, they claimed if the road was built, it would be easier for a “railroad man” to add a line on it after the land had been cleared at taxpayers’ expense.  It should be noted that these four individuals were the primary landowners of what are today Thendara, Okara Lakes and Old Forge.  They did not want prospective buyers to seek building lots elsewhere.

Charles Barrett of Bald Mountain Hotel and proprietor Ambrose Briggs of the Forge House joined them in saying that “public sentiment would be violated”.  They were not warm to the needs of Raquette and Blue Mountain Lake resort hotels.

1909 ffg uncas route_0 with inked pathsAdding to this complication was the creation of the new Town of Webb, separated from Wilmurt, in January 1896.   The Town’s first election resulted in partisan objections about incorrectly completed ballots; a court ordered resolution determined the results of the election.  (Sound familiar?) Then problems resulted between the first elected town supervisor Alexander McIntyre and highway commissioner John Wakely over Wakely’s piecemeal awarding of the highway’s construction contracts.  This issue was also settled in the courts.  We will return to this highway’s construction below.

W. W. Durant sold Pine Knot Camp to Collis Huntington in 1895 and newly built Camp Uncas to J. P. Morgan in February 1896.  According to Craig Gilborn, Huntington and Morgan insisted that Durant build a road to connect Camp Uncas at Mohegan Lake to Dr. Webb’s railroad, the closest station being Big Moose Station.  In July 1896, Dwight Sperry provided Durant with the right of way to build a private dock, wharf and store house on Sperry’s Eagle Bay Hotel property.  The deed included a right of way to connect with the newly built Sucker Brook Bay Road to Raquette Lake.

The Boonville Herald reported in November 1896 that the “Mohegan Road” to Eagle Bay was completed.  But the Mohegan Road did not go directly to Eagle Bay.  No highway yet led to Old Forge and the millionaires of Raquette Lake did not favor Old Forge’s steamer service.

From Camp Uncas, the “’Mohegan Road”, also called Durant Road,  routed northwesterly through the woods and crossed the carry between Seventh and Eight Lakes, part of the Charles Bennett and later William Moshier route of steamer and stage transportation systems from Fourth Lake to Raquette Lake.  It passed the west side of Bug Lake and connected with the Sucker Brook Bay Road.  The road joined the Sucker Brook Bay Road and left it, according to Norton Bird, about a mile from Eagle Bay.

morgans miles_0This route is shown as bike paths 2, 3 and 4 on the “Morgan’s Miles & Sargent Ponds Mountain Bike Trails” map available in the Inlet Town Hall.

In February 1897, the Utica Daily Press reported that a new highway to Big Moose Station was completed.  This road, an extension of the Mohegan Road, began about a mile from Eagle Bay and passed in a northwesterly direction towards Cascade Hill or Mountain, then to the left of Cascade Lake towards Big Moose Lake where it joined a road built from the west side of that lake to Big Moose Station.  This diversion is easily seen on the reprinted historical map available from the Town of Webb Historical Association.

By May 1898, the Eagle Bay Hotel announced connections with the famous “Durant Road” that “leads to Raquette Lake by Sucker Brook Bay” and could be used to reach “Eighth Lake Camp”.  When Sixth and Seventh Lake steamers faltered, stage lines also connected to the Eighth Lake carry via the Durant/Mohegan Road over the Sucker Brook Bay Road.

With Town of Webb court battles completed and contracts let, the Old Forge and Eagle Bay Road was finally completed in June 1899.  At this point in history, John Dix was using his lumber railroad from Clearwater Station to Rondaxe Lake, Huntington and Morgan were tired of the stages and long steamboat rides on the present “90 Miler” route to Raquette Lake. They also were forced to park their private railroad cars at the Old Forge dock or at Big Moose Station.  Dr. Webb’s 1896 settlement with the state included easements for his two projected highways and a new railroad was built using these routes: the Raquette Lake Railroad.

1905 uncas road from sb bay photoThis railroad’s application in the spring of 1899 to the highway commissioners for Herkimer, Morehouse and Long Lake referred to the railroad being built upon or along the combined highway segments now complete, known as the “Clearwater to Raquette Lake highway, said highway leading from Clearwater, on the Mohawk and Malone Railway, to Sucker Brook Bay”.  The new railroad opened to the public in July 1900 with a station (Uncas Station) where the Mohegan Road met the Sucker Brook Bay Road.  The wagon road to Sucker Brook Bay (and the name of the road) from Brown’s Tract Ponds drifted into obscurity.

From Eagle Bay, the Raquette Lake Railroad paralleled the road until it reached the Browns Tract ponds and proceeded directly to Raquette Lake.  After running on an improved line to Rondaxe Lake built by John Dix, the railroad went south to north of today’s Rondaxe Road and paralleled the new highway from Old Forge to Eagle Bay.  Today’s hike/bike path along Route 28 is the bed of that portion of the line.

“The highway running from Brown’s Tract Ponds to this point (Sucker Brook Bay) on Raquette Lake has been practically abandoned as a wagon road,” so claimed the 1900 Forest Fish and Game Commission report pushing a plan to lumber the state lands surrounding Raquette Lake.  It recommended the construction of a lumber railroad spur using the “now available route from Brown’s Tract ponds to Sucker Brook Bay”.  The required constitutional amendment for lumbering Township 40 forest preserve lands did not get favorable views from the legislature.

The Old Forge steamer companies’ court battles against the Raquette Lake Railroad included testimony that the abandoned road was “a wagon road in more or less bad condition.” They fought the railroad because the tracks traveled over the north shore of Fourth Lake, resulting in their steamboat monopoly to that lake becoming obsolete.

The 20th century brought the arrival of the automobile and a new challenge to the “forever wild” clause that did not benefit only the rich or the lumber or water power interests.  This change would provide access and flexibility of lengths of stay for people of all income levels.  As early as 1910, legislation was being introduced to allow construction of state highways on state lands.  Responding to the bill’s opposition, Dr. Robert Lindsay of Old Forge stated: “I can see no good argument why the owner of a car should not have the same right to enjoy the woods in his or her way as has the individual who prefers the pack basket and the lonely trail.”

The rebirth of the former Sucker Brook Bay Road began in the fall of 1914.  George C. Reardon, the Raquette Lake House proprietor, opened up a “pass” and connected with the road at the point it formerly ran to Sucker Brook Bay.  Reardon announced he was now able to drive his new car regularly to Eagle Bay.

By the summer of 1916, the Watertown Daily Times reported the “country road” from Eagle Bay to Raquette Lake was opened to motorists for the first time.  It was an “improved wood road”, previously “nothing more than an old trail through the forest”.  Drivers would find it “a favorite drive through the forest over country road…thoroughly passable and in fair condition although narrow in places.”  This description would be an appropriate description of the route today.  Norton Bird wrote that the Town of Long Lake soon built a road from Raquette Lake Village to where it intersected with the Sucker Brook Road to Raquette Lake.  This may have been an improvement  of the Reardon route already cleared.

no sharks no torpedoes utica daily press 7 29 1916In 1916 and 1917, the Raquette Lake Transportation Company encouraged folks driving to Old Forge to leave cars there and take its steamers up the lakes, advertising “NO TORPEDOES NO SUBMARINES NO SHARKS”, a World War I horror.  Though the service was not included in these ads, the Utica Daily Press announced that the company did provide ferry service to Forked Lake Carry for $4 or $5 dollars per car depending on weight.  A 1918 ad informed customers that a new highway had been completed.  The company reported in 1920 that improvements to the “Eagle Bay-Raquette Lake Road” accounted for a 200% increase in volume.  The number of cars ferried for the years 1917-1920 were 209, 361, 470 and by mid 1920, 342, respectively.

On November 15, 1918, voters approved a constitutional amendment for the construction of an Old Forge to Saranac Lake highway.  Maps appeared in 1925 and 1929 newspapers showing the impact of the new highway construction.  Dotted lines marked the continuation of the road ending at Seventh Lake, indicating its route to Raquette Lake circling around the southern shores of Seventh and Eighth Lakes.  An improved paved highway from Old Forge to Eagle Bay was completed n 1926; the highway from Inlet to Raquette Lake was finished in 1929 and its connection to the new highway from Blue Mountain Lake was done the following year.  Ferry service to Forked Lake Carry promptly stopped.

1946 charbonneau_0The Eagle Bay-Raquette Lake Road returned to “improved road” status.  The Mohegan Road (Uncas Road) from Cascade Lake to the Raquette Lake Road then to the Seventh-Eighth Lake carry would soon be a bridle path for the Moss Lake riding school.  A Syracuse newspaper in 1934 noted the sign “Uncas Road” on the highway out of Eagle Bay.  Its author provided a history of the roads built and connecting with the Raquette Lake road by Durant in 1897.  It mentioned that in 1933 the Eighth Lake CCC  unit cleared the route from Eighth Lake Carry to the “Raquette Lake Road”, building bridges over ravines and streams, posting it for hikers.  Later a Town of Inlet tourist map showed the road leaving Eagle Bay was called  “the Old Raquette Lake Road”; it contained the notation “Charbonneau 1946”.

Today, some call the entire stretch from Eagle Bay to Raquette Lake “Uncas Road”.  That’s the sign you see at route 28 when leaving Eagle Bay.  It becomes a country road again when the electric lines disappear at some distance short of the Brown’s Tract Ponds camp site.

From the Raquette Lake end, you leave the village along Antlers Road (built around 1910 to connect that resort with the railroad station) and turn left onto “Brown’s Tract Road”.

You can lose count easily of the number of names this route has had in its history.

Illustrations, from above: Eight Lake Camp (courtesy Irene Lerdahl); maps from the 1894 Wallace Guide to Adirondacks; Inlet road, Sucker Brook Bay Road, Mohegan/Durant Road to Sucker Brook Bay Road, 1909 Forest Fish and Game Commission; branch to Big Moose Road (Town of Webb Historical Association); 1946 Raquette Lake Road; hiking trail map, (courtesy Mitch Lee, Town of Inlet).


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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.

4 Responses

  1. big burly says:

    Thank you. Very interesting.

  2. Bob Kibbey says:

    Mr Herr;
    Thanks for another fine piece of Adirondack history.
    My wife an I like to hike easy trails and wonder if maybe
    some of these abandon roads/railways are or could be part of a trail system. In that vein, do you have any opinion
    on the current debate between railroads and all purpose
    trail systems for the Adirondacks?


  3. Alan Jones says:

    Great article, Charlie. I appreciate all the research that goes into these articles. We’ve also enjoyed tours you have given of the art at the Adirondack Museum. Good luck with your book.

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