Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lt. Gov. Woodruff and the Raquette Lake Railroad

adirondack news ad 1900Just when I think I have learned all of the origins and instigators for the building of the Raquette Lake Railroad during 1899, I find a new participant.

I have read of Collis Huntington’s impatience with the inefficiencies of the Fulton Chain steamers and stages from Old Forge’s transportation monopoly’s companies, his sitting on a keg of nails during a long wait.  Also,  that his wife refused to visit him at Pine Knot until this builder of the transcontinental railroad built a railroad to their camp.  Dr. William Seward Webb did plan in 1892 on a road from Clearwater to Raquette Lake.  Later, the Raquette Lake Railroad would use the two mile lumber railroad built in 1897-1898 by John Dix to Rondaxe Lake as the beginning of this road’s route.

In the Harold Hochschild private history Township 34 excerpt published by the Adirondack Museum, we learn that William West Durant determined that the Delaware & Hudson Company would not be extending his father’s line past North Creek.  This meant that Dr. Webb’s line built in 1892 would be the only railroad available to connect Raquette and Blue Mountain Lakes to major population centers.  Hochschild wrote that it was Durant who thought a railroad should be built connecting with the New York Central and that, lacking the funds to do so, Durant interested Collis Huntington in the project.

During the summer of 2007, I visited the Adirondack Museum Library to review any correspondence contained in the W. W. Durant papers regarding the Raquette Lake Railroad.  I found a letter dated January 24, 1898, from Lieutenant Governor Timothy Woodruff at his Albany office to William West Durant at New York City written upon Woodruff’s return from the woods (perhaps Sumner Lake).  Woodruff had recently purchased a camp on the lake, which he renamed Lake Kora (for his wife) and the camp Kamp Kill Kare.

I quote the letter below and want to introduce its importance by saying that I had not previously known of any involvement of  Woodruff in the planning for the railroad.  But I also cannot conclude that Durant had not already conceived the idea presented by Woodruff in this letter.  I do consider its existence as an historically important part of the railroad’s genesis.

Mr. Woodruff began his letter by thanking Mr. Durant [spelled Durrant] for the cigars recently given as a Christmas present and then moved to the purpose of his communication:

“As you are aware, a railroad [Dix Lumber Railroad] has been built from Clearwater, the first station above Fulton Chain, easterly two miles.  It has been built to get out lumber.  If continued about five miles further it would reach Eagle Bay, and could then be built along the old winter road [built in 1896, today’s Uncas Road to Brown’s Tract Ponds] to Sucker Brook Bay  on Raquette Lake.  It seems to me as if this would be of great benefit to all of us.  In fact everybody except the proprietors [Crosby Transportation Company] of the steamboats on the Fulton Chain.  We could have a station [Uncas Station] where the Raquette Lake road crosses your private road [today’s Uncas Trail], and then it would only be about nine miles to Shedd [Sagamore Lake].

“It would seem as though Mr. Huntington (Camp Pine Knot) and Mr. Morgan [Camp Uncas] ought to have influence enough with the New York Central people to get this little road built.  I have been confidentially told that if Mr. Morgan would ask to have it done it would be done at once, and that it could be built and equipped without being any charge upon the Central Road, the materials furnished being taken out of old stock now on hand.

“Let me know what you think about this, and I would advise seeing both Mr. Huntington and Mr. Morgan, if you approve of it, at your earliest opportunity”.

According to Hochschild, Mr. Durant evidently did what the Lt. Gov. suggested.

I will conclude with some history about Lt. Gov. Timothy Woodruff.

Chapter 220 of the laws of 1897, in addition to providing $1 million for acquisition of lands for the Adirondack Park, directed Governor Frank S. Black to appoint a three member Forest Preserve Board to carry out this task.  The members of the Board were State Engineer Campbell Adams, Forestry Commissioner Charles Babcock and Lt. Gov. Woodruff.

The first purchase by the board was announced in August 1897.  The purchase, from Durant’s Forest Park and Land Company, was 23,872 acres of Township 6 at $7 an acre.  When the Board made its first annual report in 1898 to the legislature about this purchase, it mentioned that improved properties at Mohegan (Morgan’s Camp Uncas), Shedd (Sagamore) and Sumner Lakes were not included.  It was soon learned that Woodruff purchased the excluded Sumner Lake property lake from Durant for $12 an acre.

When testifying about the transaction in 1910 during an investigation of forest commission actions, Woodruff claimed that Durant had advertised the property that would became Kamp Kill Kare and Lake Kora as a separate parcel years earlier than this 1897 purchase.  Also, he testified that Durant would not sell Township 6 at any price if it included Sumner Lake because, surrounded by state land, the values of neighboring estates at Shedd and Mohegan Lakes would be damaged.

At the time, Woodruff had discussed the matter with Governor Black and others and, to allow the sale of Township 6 to proceed, Woodruff offered Durant the price of $12 an acre for the Sumner Lake parcel.  According to Woodruff’s research, that amount was the highest price then being paid for “unimproved wild Adirondack lands”.  This gesture did not improve the public’s view of the transaction in either 1897 or 1910.

So, did Lt. Gov. Woodruff plant the bug in Durant’s ear about building a railroad to Raquette Lake, tapping onto the John Dix lumber railroad?  What do you think?

Illustration courtesy Goodsell Museum, Old Forge; Woodruff letter, Adirondack Museum Library.


Related Stories

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 .

2 Responses

  1. Larry Miller says:

    Your mention of Woodruff’s involvement in sparking Durant’s interest in the Raquette Lake Railroad is quite interesting. I shouldn’t be surprised that WW would take credit for initiating the idea. After all, he took credit for many ideas that were not his own.
    My understanding of the building of the railroad is that in the late 1890s, a group of wealthy Raquette Lake summer residents and others formed the Raquette Lake Railway with an initial investment of $50,000. The four primary investors were: Collis Huntington, Pres. of the Southern Pacific Railroad J. P. Morgan, Sr., the new owner of Camp Uncas; Dr. W. Seward Webb, owner of large Raquette Lake land holdings and William C. Whitney, ex-Secretary of the Navy and owner of a large timber preserve in the vicinity.
    The idea, initiated by William West Durant and others, was simple. They would extend a short line from the New York Central into Raquette Lake.
    From Durant’s viewpoint this would increase the worth of his investments in the area by making it more accessible to tourists. He approached Huntington who liked the idea partly because his commute into the city would be quicker and, time was money. In addition, Huntington held several mortgages on some of Durant’s investments in the area so he had a vested interest in seeing Durant’s vision of the area as a mecca for tourists succeed.
    Morgan was also agreeable. He liked the idea of a quick commute to the city much the same reason. So Huntington, a veteran railroad builder accustomed to building thousands of miles of track, agreed to build it; provided the right of way was secured.
    In order to secure a clear right of way, Durant enlisted Edward Burns and Charles E. Snyder (Webb’s attorney) both masters of navigating through the labyrinth of title work, originated a plan to have all the outstanding record title of Twp. 40 vested in William Steward Webb.
    In May, 1899 Webb then was able to convey all his interest in Twp. 40 to the State, who in turn reserved a right of way across the township for the Raquette Lake Railroad.
    When the railroad was completed in 1899 the tiny village at Raquette Lake was now the terminus of the railroad, and possibly the center for most commercial and civic development. Everyone got what they wanted—for a while at least.

    • Charles Herr says:

      Webb contemplated a railroad from Clearwater to Raquette Lake back in 1892 and had D.C. Wood survey a route which was looked at in 1897-1898 by Wood who I believe was asked by Huntington to explore a different route, the one actually taken hitting the north shore of Fourth Lake. It may have been Huntington’s choice to pick the latter.

      Anyways, Webb’s sale of his lands to the State in 1896 included permitting his three lumber contracts, one with Dix, to complete with no extension; also he was granted a right way in this sale for passage through these lands; I’d like to examine the Township 40 Totten and Crossfield sale to the state because it seems a similar right occurred in that sale as you say. Thanks for the information on that sale for that end of the Raquette Lake line.

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox