Sunday, August 10, 2014

Searching For An 1878 Cabin On Raquette Lake

William H Hill Parcel arialThrough my research on the mysterious Thacher Cabin, I learned that numerous newspaper articles and books referenced the cabin’s existence, none however, clarified where the cabin was located. Maps of Raquette Lake have given no indication of the location, and no photos or drawings of the cabin have been found.

I chose to begin my search by focusing on the one visitor to the cabin for whom historical records might exist.   In Aber and King’s History of Hamilton County, it is written that the Henry Gabriels, later the Bishop of Ogdensburg, performed Catholic Mass at the Thacher Camp, July 11th to the 14th, 1878. In the hope that this early mass in the Adirondacks might be of historical significance, I contacted the archivist of the Diocese of Ogdensburg looking for any original documents or photos of Gabriels’ visit.

Imagine my surprise when the archivist sent me the following from notes that he found: “Bishop Gabriels, then a priest, celebrated Mass at the Thatcher Camp, now North Point Inn, on July 11, 12 13, 14, 1878.”

North Point Inn? Could I be wrong in my assumption that the 1878 cabin was built on our family’s land on Indian Point? The North Point Inn was located across North Bay from Indian Point. My mind raced as I retraced my steps looking at all of the newspaper articles and books.

One New York Times article had reported “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.”  Did he mean the north shore of Raquette Lake and not the north side of Indian Point?

I then realized that when Nessmuk wrote of visiting the cabin, he simply wrote “a gentleman by the name of Thatcher (sic) who has a fine residence on Raquette Lake.” No mention of Indian Point whatsoever, just my assumption.

Fortunately, my heart rate eventually was calmed, after a day of frantic research turned up this from Seneca Ray Stoddard’s 1880 edition of The Adirondacks Illustrated:

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 5.09.25 PMOnce again confident of the cabin’s existence on Indian Point, I now tried to discover where on the land it was situated. I began by reviewing the property deeds. In 1876, John Boyd Thacher purchased two parcels on the tips of Indian Point. He paid nine dollars an acre to Marshal Shedd for roughly 25 acres.  In the aerial view above, this first parcel is all the land to the east of the yellow line, except for the area to the east of the blue line.   John Boyd Thacher paid $22 per acre to a William W. Hill for this second parcel of only 4.5 acres.

Eureka! Why would John Boyd Thacher pay more than twice per acre for the second parcel? Could it be that it contained an existing cabin? Was this the location of what became known as the Thacher Camp?

Alas, let me just say that there exists another explanation as to why he paid a high price for the second parcel. As the deed indicated that William W. Hill was from Albany, I thought it best to see if there was any connection between Hill and the Thacher family. Perhaps a higher price was paid as a favor to a friend.

Indeed, I found that William W. Hill and John Boyd Thacher were both 33rd degree Freemasons and members of the Albany Chapter of the Rose Croix.   William W. Hill was an amateur entomologist whose collection of over 10,000 specimens of butterflies and moths was donated to the New York State Museum. Hill was also an officer of the Albany Institute of History & Art. John Boyd Thacher had much in common with Hill’s scientific and preservationist inclinations and I have no doubt they were more than mere acquaintances.

This explanation does not completely eliminate the possibility that there was an existing cabin within Hill’s parcel, however, but an epiphany came to me that argues against George Hornell Thacher establishing his camp on the southern shore of Indian Point.

No fewer than five newspaper articles and Nessmuk’s book speak of George Hornell Thacher’s love of lake trout fishing. Anyone who knows Raquette Lake understands that in summer, one fishes for lake trout exclusively in North Bay, where the depth provides the cold water desired by the trout. It is logical that George Hornell Thacher would have built his cabin along the north shore of Indian Point.

Indeed, a fish tale would prove to be the conclusive clue. On July 10, 1879, the Weekly Saratogian published the following story:

Alvah fish

So clearly the Thacher Cabin was somewhere along the north side of Indian Point, but where?

Early in my research, the Adirondack Museum Librarian Jerry Pepper had shown me a hand-drawn map of Raquette Lake.   The museum did not know who created the map or when it was created.

Raquette 1881-1882 map close upThe map has an X marked next to the word “Camp”, written in cursive, on the end of Birch Point.  As this is the location of our family’s little, red one room cabin built in 1910, I assumed at first that this map was from the early nineteen teens.  However, further analysis revealed a different conclusion.

In addition to the geographic locations marked in ink, the map has the names of various camps written in pencil along the shore. There are two distinct sets of handwritten notations, one in cursive and one in block letters.   Based on the time period in which each of the named landmarks existed, the cursive notations predate those in block letters. The comparison of the dates reveals that the notation for the “Camp” on Birch Point reflects the year 1881 or 1882.

It would appear that the first Thacher Cabin was built in 1878 very near if not actually on the same ground where our little red cabin still stands today. What I would give for any photos that show the tip of Birch Point, even in the background, taken between 1878 and 1885.

 

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Tom Thacher

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. Charles Herr Charles Herr says:

    Perhaps forest commission annual reports or colvin’s reports may have photos incidental to the report.

    Also photographer Bierstadt took photos in the region for the Durante including pine knot . Check with Ted Comstock who may have info on the point

  2. Charlie S says:

    Have you read “Notes Collected in the Adirondacks” by Arpad Gerster Tom? These are two volumes of Gersters 1890’s journal writings,observations and musings,on Raquette Lake in the 1890’s. This is after your great grandfolk’s outings there but if you like that area these two volumes are extremely good reads and very localized.

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