Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Herreshoff Manor: Witness to Tragedy

P506 Herreshoff Manor 1892Photographs of the Herreshoff Manor that stood in today’s Thendara depict what could easily pass for a haunted house.  It seems that the building, which stood on an elevation of land not present today, overlooking then (1892) newly built Fulton Chain Station, would collapse with the next stiff breeze.

The story of this structure cannot be told without telling of the trials of its occupants:  Herreshoff, Foster, Waters, Grant, Arnold, Short and Sperry.  Tragedy would be the common thread among those connected with this building.

The Manor was built in Township 7 of the John Brown Tract named for its owner, the merchant of Rhode Island who obtained a temporary title to it at a foreclosure proceeding in 1798.  His estate’s ownership was finally confirmed by 1804 legislation that eliminated legal questions lingering from prior foreign ownership restrictions and several debtor suits involving names such as Angerstein, Burr, Greenleaf and Hamilton.

According to John Brown’s Tract: Lost Adirondack Empire (1988), John Brown made two trips to the tract and engaged contractors for the building of roads and establishment of a settlement.  A road from Remsen to the proposed settlement was constructed.  A dam raised in 1799 changed the nature of the middle branch of the Moose River until it became the first four lakes of the later named Fulton Chain.

When Brown died in 1803, his will indicated that a saw mill, grist mill, some houses and a store had been built.  Ownership of Township 7 passed to his grandson, John Brown Francis. The Township lay dormant for several years until Francis tried also to establish settlement, hoping to increase its value and obtain some return on the land’s natural resources.  He was joined in this effort by Charles Frederick Herreshoff.

Herreshoff had come to America from Prussia in 1787, became a merchant in New York City and his business concern brought him to Rhode Island and John Brown, as well as to Brown’s daughter Sarah.  After an extended courtship opposed by Brown and beset by financial difficulties, Herreshoff married Sarah in 1801.  Brown’s concerns regarding Herreshoff included the suitor’s lack of business success.

In September 1811, Herreshoff and Francis visited the Tract for the first time.  Married 10 years to Sarah and having continued lack of apparent financial success, Herreshoff was said to have felt the need to prove his value, as a point of personal honor, to the Brown family.  Francis noted the deterioration of his grandfather’s earlier efforts and that only one settler lived in the Township.  As with many following him, Herreshoff was enamored with the location, believing only the lack of roads and prospects of industry prevented it being settled.

Herreshoff determined to attract settlement, repairing the dams and existing houses.  In 1812 he hired mill wrights to repair the mill; construction began on a new road to the Moose River fording place and from there to Boonville.  Herreshoff repaired some of the dwellings still standing and cleared additional land for farming and pasturing livestock.  He would annually return to the Tract, wintering in Providence.

In 1814, workers built a room in a Capt. Gould’s house for him.  Also, a shed 300 x 15 ft. was built for a sheep venture.  In July that year, Herreshoff wrote his daughter Sarah that he would “set up a small house early next spring, on a little elevation in view of the river to the south, and sheltered from the N. W. wind by a high hill.”

By the spring of 1815, Aaron Thresher, a hand on his wife’s farm in Providence, had driven a quantity of merino sheep over six weeks to the Tract where they were sheltered in the shed.  On the other side of world and unknown to many in North America,  a volcano that year on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa in the Pacific would cause the following year to be “the year without a summer”, damaging farming throughout the northeast, especially to Herreshoff’s 1816 crop.

As Herreshoff planned, the Manor entered documented history in September 1815 when Herreshoff proudly informed Sarah that he had built the “very snugg fair house”.  Workers had located lime stone so that, instead of clay, they could use it “to build our chimney and plaster the walls”.  Historians describe the structure as a two story house with six rooms.

Returning to the Tract from Rhode Island in June 1816, Herreshoff viewed the results of the weather-damaged harvest of 1816.  His request to the family shipping firm for funds to start a nail factory would be denied.  In the following year, Herreshoff began his final venture, an iron industry.  A forge was built, expected to operate by November that year and using ore he discovered at two nearby locations.  But this source required a lengthy and labor intensive process for separating the ore from the soil. Herreshoff built an iron ore separator, but in the end the venture failed and his request for funds from the Brown interests were refused. In one of his last letters to Francis, wrote: “you may rely upon it that if I fail, it will be like a man, in the last trench.”

His final act of desperation occurred on December 19, 1819; there are two versions of what happened.

photo 1One version was given by J. H. French (1860) and repeated by Edwin Wallace (1889) in his Adirondack guides.  On the day before his death, Herreshoff instructed workers to, on the day following, fill in a large hole dug in vain for seeking ore.  But one of them returned to the hole in advance to ensure no tools were forgotten and found Herreshoff hiding there, intending to be buried.  Humiliated and under suspicion, Herreshoff shot himself the next day.  The other version is that workmen came to the Manor and informed Herreshoff that flooding caused the collapse of the most recently opened mine shaft.  Dressed well as it was a Sunday, he followed them and viewed it, returned to the Manor, walked to the rear room and shot himself.  The almost 200 year old relics of his forge are installed at Point Park in Old Forge as seen in the photograph at right.

In A History of the Adirondacks (1921) Alfred L. Donaldson informs us that the latter version was recorded in a letter from Sophie Post who wrote the Herreshoff family in Providence about the event and that burial arrangements were made that included a monument.  Sophie had kept house in the Manor for Herreshoff.  Her father, John Post, helped with building the road to the tract.

Herreshoff was buried in the “Old Cemetery” located at the foot of Schuyler Street in Boonville.  In March 1866, the Utica and Black River Railroad began constructing its extension northward from its Boonville terminus and chose the cemetery location for its new depot.  The contract was given in March a year later to Dr. G. P. Bridgman for transfer of the remains to the NewCemetery’s location off the present Moose River Road.  Citizen protests were mostly alleviated by Bridgman’s care in placing the remains in labeled, appropriate containers and the covering of expenses by the line’s directors.  The Old Cemetery had been ill-kept and fallen into disrepair.

During 1867, the vigilant Sophie Post again contacted the Herreshoff family in Bristol, Rhode Island and arranged transfer of Herreshoff’s remains.  Herreshoff was reburied next to his wife Sarah in the North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island.  Today, only the bottom half of Herreshoff’s monument is present, giving his age at death.

With the death of Herreshoff, the Manor settlement gradually withdrew.  According to an 1896 address by Charles Snyder, Francis hired Silas Thomas as an agent for the Township in 1821 for the purpose of again attracting settlers.  Thomas lived briefly in the Herreshoff Manor.  This settlement was again abandoned after a few years and for a decade the region was only visited by passing hunters and trappers.

According to testimony quoted by Jeptha Simms in Trappers of New York (1850), the Manor premises were leased on May 4, 1830 by agent Caleb Lyon to David and Solomon Maybee who occupied the Manor.  On February 26, 1832, they assigned the lease to Nathaniel Foster, the well known trapper and “Indian fighter”.  Foster moved into the Herreshoff Manor with is his wife Jemima and son David.

According to Joseph Grady, Peter Waters (a Mohawk from St. Regis) lived nearby, in addition to three other men who lived in the Joy dwelling (still standing from Herreshoff’s time).  Simms estimated that a few others living on the clearing made the population about fifteen.  Over the next two years, the behavior of Waters and Foster towards each other resulted in fights and death threats.  Foster ultimately shot Waters on September 17, 1833 from a location known today on the channel to First Lake known as Indian Point.  Foster was indicted but cleared based on permitted testimony about Waters’ prior death threats and other anecdotal misbehavior .  The trial lasted two days, although Foster spent a year in confinement waiting for his day in court.

Arnolds 1872_0Around 1837, Otis Arnold and his family moved from Boonville to the Herreshoff Manor.  Much has been written of the large Arnold family by national and international visitors.  Arnold expanded the clearing for pastures and farming and established the first public house on the Fulton Chain.  The Herreshoff Manor premises quickly became known as Arnolds and the surrounding area Arnold Clearing.  Travel literature published nationally provided descriptions of the Manor as well as Arnold’s large family.

In 1849, Joel T. Headley noted that the Arnolds occupied it as squatters.  Headley recorded that the “log dwellings” of former settlers had rotted and the mills had fallen, “the forge upon the hammers” and that only the house formerly occupied by Herreshoff remained.  In 1859, Thomas Thorpe wrote that the building “which has defied the winter storms for more than forty years is a one-story attic, with unpretending extensions on one or two sides”.  Thorpe continued: “Over the door of the wood-shed…we discovered among the rafters the blade of a sharp scythe, upon the end of which some martins have built a nest.

Around 1863, Arnold leased the Manor’s popular hotel, supplies and bar business that had grown over the years to Charles Grant, brother of Henry Dwight Grant, who would later be famous for his guideboats.  According to an 1864 article, Grant soon “thoroughly overhauled and repaired” the house “so long occupied by Otis Arnold”.  Under his management, travelers referred to the Manor as “Grant’s Lodge in the Woods”.  Grant not yet being married, visitors were fed by Mrs. Halliday, wife to one of the guides, who was praised for her “Indian Bread” (corn bread).

A Lowville Journal & Republican article reported “In one corner of the large sitting-room of the old house …is stacked a dozen or so of rifles and shot-guns, and in the opposite lie piles of knapsacks, blankets, etc.  Outside the door, and from a stick against the old log building, hangs the body of a deer which a red-shirted, bare-armed employee of Grant’s is dressing.”  Kennels of hunting dogs for hire were on the hillside surrounding the Manor, now definitely a hunting lodge.

ARNOLD'S2While it was being leased by the squatting Otis Arnold to Grant, in 1866 Lyman R. Lyon sold Otis’s sons Edwin and Otis Jr. the Manor and surrounding Arnold Clearing acreage (which he had acquired Township 7 from John Brown Francis in March 1850).  Management evidently continued under Charles Grant until 1868, however, when Grant was found dead two miles from the Manor.  Edwin Arnold temporarily took over management of the Manor business.  Mrs. Arnold would die in June.  Then a third tragedy occurred later that year.

On September 18th, Otis’s son Edwin Arnold sold a hound to James Short, a guide from Essex County, but would not sell a leash and chain, evidently following his father’s instructions.  Three days later, Short convinced Edwin’s employee to sell a leash and installed it on the hound when Otis entered the Manor unaware of the sale.  Arguments, threats, and a fight ensued with Otis shooting and killing Short.  Before Short died, Otis left for Nick’s Lake where he weighed himself with rocks and dove in the water from a boat.  His body was found a month later.

Edwin Arnold then leased the Manor to Cyrus Sanford Sperry and his wife Jane.  When the new Forge House opened in May, 1871, it became the destination for travelers and the Sperrys became its first operators for owners George Desbrough and J. Milton Buell.  Sanford Sperry, the last proprietor of the Manor, would drown in November 1872 at Limekiln Lake, while his young son “Willie” watched.  Edwin managed Arnolds for a year or two and left briefly to manage the Forge House after the departure of Mrs. Sperry.  Edwin would soon marry and move to Jack Sheppard’s Camp, later the site of the Cohasset Hotel.

The Manor now began its long goodbye as a curiosity for travelers to the Forge House.  Herreshoff’s suicide and Short’s death followed by Arnold’s suicide would be repeatedly recalled as passing travelers viewed the structure. According to the Utica Daily Observer, in 1875 “the Old Arnold Mansion” was already going to decay and “recording the autumn leaves of its experience.  We rambled about the deserted rooms and thought of the many incidents connected with its history.  Antlers, hunting jackets and other paraphernalia of the chase lay scattered about in disorder, and judging from the large number of empty bottles and jugs, the crop of ‘rye’ seldom failed them.”

In November 1880, George Washington Sears (Nessmuk) walked through the Manor.  He spent time “counting and inspecting the rooms, noting the broken furniture and discarded tin or iron ware and the moldy boxes, barrels, etc. that remain as they were left in the large and commodious cellar.”  Sears also viewed the old rusty scythe sketched by Thorpe twenty years earlier.  It was “hanging in what was once the drawing room, and in an upper room was a bunk, well filled with soft, dry grass.”  Nearby was a newly used smudge pail left by a hunter who camped overnight in the Manor.

Otis Arnold Jr. had married by 1881, but died in 1883 with payments on the Manor outstanding.  In 1887, the Lyon family reacquired the Manor through foreclosure, and the Manor property was purchased by Mrs. Julia deCamp, Lyon’s daughter, at a Sheriff’s sale.  In 1888, a traveler reported in the Boonville Herald that the “frame house, now old, stands near the center (of the clearing), but the doors are wide open, the windows broken in, and the partitions partially torn away”.

A witness to the Manor in 1891 had left Moose River on the Peg Leg Railroad and ridden on the steamer Fawn to Arnold Clearing.  He viewed the “old house rapidly falling into decay… The niggard soil has long been given up to the second growth and the pale green poplar and birch thinly veil what was once a garden or meadow… How many times we had come and gone along the road by that old home when it looked differently.  Once it had been the abode of a large adventurous family who knew full well how to make a home in the wilderness.  The weary hunter had found shelter there.  Whether fresh from the outside world or returning from camp after weeks of exposure, he was always welcome.  But now the place was deserted and the only signs of life were the blue jays screaming in the neighboring thickets.”

The days of the Peg Leg Railroad ended in 1892 with the building of Dr. Webb’s Adirondack & St. Lawrence through the Adirondacks, and the name Arnold Clearing was soon replaced by the new Fulton Chain Station.

1892_Arnolds_and_Webb_train_All_AboardIn 1893, passengers on the new train line would first see the station, “but a few steps away on a slight rise of ground the house which was the home of Otis Arnold for so many decades, where two sons and ten daughters grew…without ever hearing the sound of a locomotive or knowing other method of travel other than on horse back or in a row boat”.  Patrons in the new Cornelius (Connie) Mack’s Hotel (1894), with fall approaching, appreciated the furnace-heated rooms of his hostelry.  The writer sat at his window where “the old Arnold place may be seen…The house was built by Charles F. Herreshoff some eighty years ago.  It is now very dilapidated, having been unoccupied for some twenty years.  A year later in July 1895, the Boonville Herald reported the historic Arnold House was then “nearly razed to the ground”.

The end of the Manor came during the first week of May 1896 when it “was set on fire and burned to the ground by unknown persons.”  Before the fire, “a few girders and about one-third of the original roof made up the old house that has been pointed out to thousands of travelers for years”.  Joseph Grady informs us that Dana Fraula of Old Forge was responsible for it’s burning, considering it a menace to children playing near its walls.

When Grady and Arnold’s last surviving child Esther viewed the Thendara location in 1930, only the exposed cellar depression on the rise remained.  Today, even the rise upon which the Manor stood has disappeared.  But the memories of Herreshoff, Foster, Peter Waters, Charles Grant, Otis Arnold and Sanford Sperry remain.

Photos courtesy the Town of Webb Historical Association; photo of Arnolds from Babes in the Woods by Perry Smith (1872).

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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.

5 Responses

  1. Bob Kibbey says:

    Mr. Herr;
    Your tales of the Fulton Chains have been very
    enlightening. What a fascinating story about the
    Manor. And your tales of the railroads. Please keep
    the stories coming.


  2. Reggie Chambers says:

    Always interesting reading. I, too have been fascinated
    in the Herreshoff story.

  3. Suanne Balch says:

    I am so happy to find your articles. I am a descendant of Sanford Sperry, and looking for information on the family story. Thank you!!!


  4. charles herr says:

    I found a number of the Sperry family members at Oneida County cemeteries and they are on

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