Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Short History Of The Northville-Placid Trail

Northville Placid TrailThe Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) is celebrating the 90th anniversary of the completion of the Northville-Placid Trail (N-P Trail) this year. The N-P Trail, originally called The Long Trail is a north-south foot path that traverses through the heart of the Adirondacks from Northville to Lake Placid. This 135-mile, long distance hiking trail has captured the hearts of many throughout the years.

The N-P Trail was the first major project that ADK sponsored after the organization’s formation in 1922. One of the objectives as a newly formed organization was “to open, develop, extend and maintain trails for walkers and mountain climbers in the Adirondack Mountains,” as stated in the certificate of incorporation. What better way to do that than to build a trail that runs the length of the Adirondacks? Why pick Northville to Lake Placid though? Why not Lake George to Keene Valley?

Northville Placid TrailheadAccording to Jeff and Donna Case in ADK’s Northville-Placid Trail guidebook they believe it was a matter of trailhead transportation and convenience. When the trail was envisioned the automobile was not yet a household staple and Northville and Lake Placid had regular train service. Many of the areas between Northville and Lake Placid had also been heavily logged by the 1920’s so the network of logging roads helped in the ease of laying out such a trail. According to Edwin M. Noyes, one of the two men hired to lay out the N-P Trail, only about 25 percent of the trail was over new terrain.

Noyes states in a letter to the Blue Mountain Museum that, “Most of the trails were there many years before those to whom credit is given were born. There were Indian trails, old military trails, animal trails and trails made by local people on trap lines for access to fishing and some probably just for the hell of it, to get someplace no one had gone before just to see what was there.”

Messrs. Noyes and Rowe

In 1922, William G. Howard, the first ADK chair of the Trails, Camps and Shelters Committee, hired Messrs. Edwin M. Noyes and his friend Howard Rowe of Long Lake to lay out and build the proposed Adirondack Mountain Club trail. Little is known about Noyes and Rowe’s early lives but since they are referred to as Messrs, in multiple texts, one might assume that they were French.

Documentation exists stating that Noyes was a veteran of World War I, fighting for both the French and American armies. He was living in Troy, NY after his return and came down with Tuberculosis probably as a result of his service in World War I.   A doctor gave him a year to live if he didn’t get out of the city and into the outdoors. Sending people into the outdoors and into the mountains was a common prescription for Tuberculosis during that time. An enviable prescription for many of us today. He ended up getting a job surveying old state lines and mapping the “Great Burn” before being hired by Howard to work on the N-P Trail.

northville placid trail archiveAccording to Noyes, Rowe and himself, “Spent the next two years using old logging roads and deer trails when practicable, cleared away all brush and fallen trees and made a clean footpath perhaps 18 inches wide in the center of an eight foot strip. We built several log bridges over steep brook beds and altogether were quite proud of our work.” Noyes and Rowe worked on the trail until the Fall of 1923.

Edwin Noyes is often referred to as “Doc” Noyes in multiple texts and although there is no evidence that he was an MD there is one story that was passed down from Bob Hughes, an ADK member who helped Noyes and Rowe with the trail that might give us some insight into why he was called ”Doc”. The story explains that while cutting out an area North of West Lake, Bob was using a double bit axe. He hooked it in some low hanging branches and it spun around and somehow cut his chin apart. “Doc” Noyes was able to sew his chin up using hair from the tail of a mule that was nearby and someone’s needle.

N-P Trail Shelters

Five shelters were also built along the N-P Trail in 1922. George Pratt, ADK’s first President and Conservation Commissioner (predecessor to the Department of Environmental Conservation), personally paid for the building of these shelters at a price of $250 a piece.   These weren’t the lean-to structures of today but a more primitive version. According to Frank Oliver, “these shelters were small and you could see through the chinks.” The first was at Spruce Lake, about 10 miles north of Piseco. The second was at Mud Lake about six miles north of Spruce Lake, and one at Stephens Pond, between the road to Cedar River Flow and Blue Mountain Lake. The last two were at the east shore of Long Lake about three miles north of the village and the last one was at Shattuck Clearing about 15 miles north of Long Lake where the N-P Trail meets the Cold River. Modern lean-tos can still be found in these locations today.

northville placid trail logo (ADK Mtn Club)Even with five shelters built and the trail passable by the end of 1922 there was still a lot of work that needed to be done. In a 1923 edition of High Spots (ADK’s predecessor to Adirondac magazine) it states that,  “While it is true that the Northville-Placid Trail was reported passable by the end of the season of 1922, there were many sections of that trail which had merely been marked without proper clearing, or in some cases where the clearing had been completed but the markers had not been placed.

The work continued on the trail by both Noyes and Rowe and groups from the Conservation Commission through 1923. By 1924, Howard could report that the N-P Trail was “in good condition practically its entire length,” with the exception of a few miles near the south end of Long Lake. Since that time hundreds of recreationists have been able to enjoy this trail due to the early efforts of ADK. To this day ADK still puts a lot of time and effort into maintaining the N-P Trail. Last year, the Professional Trail Crew spent 12 weeks on the N-P Trail and plans on spending up to another 10 weeks this year. ADK also coordinates volunteers who adopt sections of the trail and lean-tos along its entire route.

A June 7th Event

In 2014, ADK is partnering with the Northville Merchants Association, the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the completion of the Northville-Placid Trail during National Trails Day on June 7th. ADK has a wide variety of volunteer trail projects planned for this year’s event, most notably helping to re-route a section of the N-P Trail off of the road and into the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest. Along with the volunteer trail projects, a guided hike will be available through the re-routed portion of the trail completed last summer by ADK’s Professional Trail Crew. A recognition dinner is also planned for all volunteers who participated in a trail project.

It’s been 90 years since ADK started its work on the N-P Trail. We are proud to still be involved with this long distance hiking trail in the Adirondacks and we hope you all have the opportunity to experience a part of it in the future.

Photo of trail and trailhead courtesy www.nptrail.org; photo “Blazing the Northville-Placid Trail 1924” (L-R) Walt Scott, “Doc” Noyes, C. Henderson, Bill Wasserman, Howard Rowe, courtesy Adirondack Mountain Club.

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Seth Jones is the Adirondack Mountain Club's Education Programs Coordinator. He has worked for ADK since 2008 and is a former High Peaks Summit Steward and Johns Brook Lodge Hutmaster.

Seth has a B.S. in Conservation Biology from SUNY ESF. He enjoys a variety of outdoor activities that includes paddling, fly fishing, hiking, skiing and photography.

5 Responses

  1. George L says:

    Was the N-P Trail built before or after the Red Horse Trail from Stillwater/Beaver River to Wanakeena?

  2. Dan says:

    “Messrs.” is simply the plural form of “Mr.” So I would not assume that Messrs. Noyes and Rowe are French.

  3. Sue says:

    Interesting article Seth. The assumption that Noyes and Rowe would have been French is really not accurate. Messrs. is a British abbreviation…
    “Noun BRITISH dated – used as a title to refer formally to more than one man simultaneously, or in names of companies. “Messrs. Sotheby” ”

    I took great interest in this article as my great grandfather was Edwin Noyes, who died in 1893. Noyes is Irish/English. My great grandfather is buried in Bloomingdale and could possibly be some relation to Edwin M. Noyes. There is no other Edwin that we have found so far in the family tree, but it’s indeed possible.
    Thanks for this. It’ll make for some more interesting research.

    • Seth Jones says:

      Thank you for that correction Sue! I guess I made that assumption when I found out that Edwin fought for the French army during World War 1. Good luck with your research.

  4. paulrowe@bellsouth.net. says:

    this is a very nice story as it tells all about how this trail came to be.howard rowe and my father hiram were brothers and they were both registered airondack guides.i t remember as a child my father and my mother and their five children going to long lake to visit my grand parents by auto.a wonderful time.