Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Cabin on Raquette Lake’s Indian Point: A New Mystery

SONY DSCMy cousin Stephen FitzPatrick’s curiosity was peeked by my writings.  A piece of the puzzle had always been in his hands but he did not know it.  Prompted by my last article, Stephen searched through boxes of his mother’s memorabilia and found the photo at left.

It’s dated 1910, the year of construction according to our family’s oral history.  Could this be the first photo of the little red cabin?  Our previous research had narrowed the window in time to between 1905 and 1918.  This would appear to squeeze the date of construction to a mere five year period between 1905 and 1910. It was time to see what evidence I could find of the Thachers on Indian Point between the pages of books, newspaper articles and letters.

The power of the internet still amazes me with its ability to bring over 100 years of history into focus in the comfort of my “fortress of solitude”, the name given by my wife to the corner of our dining room where the iMac sits with stacks of books, photos and articles cluttered around it.  Through hours of endless searching, a strong trail of evidence emerges which charts the family’s footprint on Indian Point and describes the cabin.

The earliest hint of the family’s use of Indian Point comes in this account from an adventurer camping on Tioga Point.  He speaks of a camping party across the water enjoying the summer of 1877.  I believe it must refer to George Hornell Thacher Jr., who at the time would have been 26 and single, and his friends.

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As both points at the tip of Indian Point were once owned by Matthew Beach, the reference to Beach’s Point does not clarify where this encampment was.  However, “charmingly located among the birches” is an apt description of its namesake and the “boulder out in the water” clearly describes what we call “The Big Rock” on the north side of Birch Point.

Big RockAn encampment of twenty-six must have covered what little ground exists on Birch Point with tents and primitive lean-tos, leaving no room for a one room cabin that sleeps only two.   The little red cabin came thirty-three years later, but the breadcrumbs are there in the pages.

My great grandfather George H. Thacher, father to the five brothers, hosted two prominent clergymen at the cabin according to an article in the Troy Daily Times which read:

Personal – The Rev. Fathers Gabriels and Puissant of the Provincial seminary are the guests of Hon. Geo. H. Thacher and family at Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks.

I found an article in the New York Times describing a steamboat tour of Raquette Lake which appears to refer to the first John Boyd Thacher and a “fine lodge” on Indian Point.

“There’s Ex-Mayor Thatcher of Albany’s place” said the Captain of the little steamer, pointing to a fine lodge on the north shore [of Indian Point]

The famous wilderness writer George Washington Sears, who used the pen name Nessmuk, spoke of visiting the cabin in his book Woodcraft.

A gentleman by the name of Thatcher, who has a fine residence on Raquette Lake – which he calls a camp…

What incredible luck to find actual contemporary newspaper and literary evidence that corresponds to the time period of the cabin’s photographic evidence.  On first impression, that is exactly what I thought I had found.  Alas, nothing is ever simple.

The Troy Daily Times article was published in 1880 and Geo. H Thacher is not my great grandfather but my father’s great grandfather, the patriarch of the Thacher family.   The New York Times article was published in 1881.  “Ex-Mayor Thacher of Albany” refers also to the patriarch of the family and not his son John Boyd Thacher, who was also mayor.  Finally, George Washington Sears’ book was published in 1884.

Further research turned up an Albany Evening Journal article from June 5, 1881:

The Hon. George H. Thacher of this city caught a 16-pound salmon trout in Raquette lake on the 27th.  The ex-mayor and family intend to stay in their cottage at the lake until September

The Essex County Republican reported on May 26, 1884:

The Raquette Lake camps have all been put in apple-pie order and are now ready to receive guests.  Mr. George Thacher, Ex-Mayor of Albany, and his interesting family are quite at home in their beautiful camp on the Raquette.

Despite our love of the little red cabin, it strikes me as odd that a one room structure would be described as “a fine lodge”, a “fine residence”, a “cottage” and a “beautiful camp”.   The lodging described in these excerpts appears to have accommodated a family and hosted prominent guests.  And what of the photographic evidence that shows no cabin existed in 1905?  Our family knows of no stories, nor paintings, nor photos of this previous Thacher cabin on Indian Point.

I began with a search for the origins of the little red cabin and have satisfied my curiosity with the photo from 1910.  Now a new mystery emerges.   When and where was this newly discovered original cabin built and what happened to it?

1877 Description from Camps and Tramps in the Adirondacks. A. Judd Northrup. 1880.

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:

2 Responses

  1. Will Madison says:

    Hi there Tom,
    George Washington Sears is my great great great grandfather and I plan to retrace his famous canoe trip in mid September. If you’ll have me I think it would be a beautiful opportunity to recreate a historic moment and pay you a visit just as he visited your ancestor on his trip. Let’s be in touch!
    Best, Will Madison

  2. Tom Thacher says:

    Hi Will, What a fantastic connection to make. Can you email me at [email protected]? Thanks, Tom

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