Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Fulton Chain and Raquette Lake Steamboat Company

photo 4During the summer of 2014, on the lawn at the Goodsell Museum in Old Forge, Kyle Kristiansen, using a metal detector, discovered a metal object. Digging it up, he uncovered a buried metal luggage tag containing the intials “F.C & R.L.S.B.CO.”

These letters stand for the Fulton Chain and Raquette Lake Steamboat Company, a short-lived and relatively unknown concern established for carrying passengers and cargo from Fourth Lake to Raquette Lake in the days before automobiles connected the region.

This is a history of that company and its successors to that trade.  We will probably never discover how that item arrived on the lawn in the Town of Webb.

In 1871, Dr. Thomas Durant’s Adirondack Railroad from Saratoga Springs to North Creek, followed by an 8-hour jaunt by tally-ho coach, provided access to a once remote Blue Mountain Lake that soon developed into a major hotel resort area. (Durant’s son William would add steamer and stage lines to Raquette Lake and later build great camps) The southern entry from Boonville, Port Leyden or Utica to Raquette Lake however, was still a combination tramp and guide boat trail through the upper Fulton Chain lakes until the beginning of the 20th century.

Before George Washington Sears (Nessmuk) wrote Woodcraft in 1884, he wrote letters to Forest and Stream magazine about routes he paddled on his way to Paul Smiths.  After staying overnight at Hess Camp on Cedar Island in 1881, Sears toted his Rushton canoe Sairy Gamp and gear up the 3/4ths of a mile carry from Fifth Lake to the Sixth Lake dam, recently built to provide water “to the Black River, to turn mill-wheels and swell the profits of some manufacturer or corporation having influence at Albany.”

After paddling across the dying, smelly vegetation on Sixth and Seventh Lakes, Sears arrived at another carry for a mile long trek to Eighth Lake.  After crossing Eighth Lake, he walked the third carry, a mile and a half long, to Brown’s Tract Inlet which he paddled to Ed Bennett’s steamboat landing at Long Point on Raquette Lake.  When traveling alone as he did, you made several trips until both boat and baggage were transported to the next landing.  Today, this route is part of the Annual 90 Miler Adirondack Canoe Classic.

William Seward Webb’s new  1892 railroad  immediately brought people of all classes to formerly remote Adirondack regions.  Its route became a magnet to existing communities who now wanted to connect with this new rail highway.  Charles Bennett had opened the Antlers in 1887.  He recognized that more than the most hardy would now be traveling the above route.

Jack Sheppard left the Fulton Chain in 1892, but not before selling his steamer Fulton to David Pierce, his engineer the previous two years.  Charles Bennett was reported buying the popular steamer in July 1892 plus another ship Sheppard was building.  But David Pierce still owned the Fulton in 1895 when carrying his famous passenger, ex-President Benjamin Harrison, to his summer camp. In November 1892, Bennett also dredged the flow ground on Seventh Lake for a steamer, probably the one mentioned under construction.  In the following January, Charles Bennett purchased a right of way from the Head of Fourth Lake over to Sixth and Seventh Lakes from James Galvin’s Fulton Chain Club, which owned 6000 acres from Fourth Lake to Seventh Lake down to Limekiln Lake.


Seventh Lake State Dam 6th Lake Bugg Lake Eighth Lake Landing 001Wallace’s 1894 Adirondack Guide reported that Bennett established stages and steamers at Sixth, Seventh, Eighth Lakes as well as Brown’s Tract Inlet to bring travelers to the Antlers and Raquette Lake.  Bennett arranged scheduled connections with Pierce’s steamer “Fulton” to Dr. Webb’s railroad so that passengers and cargo could be transported by “transfer wagons” to his steamers.  In his 1896 journal Dr. Arpad Gerster would refer to Bennett’s service as the “Brown’s Tract Line”.


In July 1895, Bennett’s line manager was Fred Kirch, who since August 1894 had operated a camp for lodgers at the head of Fourth Lake on land purchased from the Fulton Chain Club. Kirch’s sisters would marry Arch Delmarsh, Frank Tiffany and Ed Harwood whose families would be instrumental later in the political and commercial development of the new Town of Inlet.

Here is the “improved” itinerary for Bennett’s line as reported in the Utica Journal:  “Trail from head of Fourth Lake to foot of Sixth Lake, ¾ mile; steamer through Sixth and Seventh Lakes, four miles; trail from Seventh to Eighth Lake, 7/8 mile; boat through Eighth Lake, 1 7/8 miles; trail from Eighth Lake to Brown’s Tract Inlet, 1 1/2 miles; and steamer through the Inlet to the Antlers, four miles.”  Dr. Gerster’s journal identified the steamer on Eighth Lake as the Idle Hour and the steamer along Brown’s Tract Inlet as the Vera.  It was the Adirondack commuter light rail system.

1896 8th lake eugene scrafford camp 2_0 aThe same July, 1895 newspaper reported a new hotel at the foot of Eighth Lake near a huge beaver dam. The beaver dam mentioned was estimated in 1915 to have been built prior to the Revolution based on tree rings in cedar logs from the dam.   “Beaver Camp” was operated by guides George Smith and Eugene Scrafford.  Two years later, Scrafford left and leased land at Clearwater Station from William Scott deCamp for Camp Aden Lair. The article about Beaver Camp encouraged folks to say hello to Alvah Dunning at his “picturesque island camp”.  Dunning promptly moved and built a shanty camp in 1896 near where the Brown’s Tract Inlet entered Raquette Lake.  Beaver Camp was located near Durant’s new road from J.P. Morgan’s Camp Uncas at Mohegan Lake crossed to connect with the Sucker Brook Bay Road to Eagle Bay.

During 1896, Fred Kirch left Bennett’s company and became general manager in a new Inlet transportation company.

On May 18, 1896, Kirch and others would form the Fulton Chain and Raquette Lake Transportation Company for the purpose of “establishing, maintaining and operating a stage line or omnibus [horse-drawn streetcar] route or routes..” from Fourth Lake to Raquette Lake.  The company’s capital was $4000 and its directors (#shares) were Fred Kirch (15), Benjamin T. Gilbert (19), Ephraim Myers (4), Henry Myers (1), and Benjamin D. Gilbert (1).  Shortly afterwards, this company would be replaced by a similarly named company.

On July 3, 1896, a new company was formed, the Fulton Chain and Raquette Lake Steamboat Company, for purposes of “building, purchasing, chartering, navigating or owning steam, sail or other boats, ships, vessels or other property to be used in business, trade, commerce or navigation for carriage, transportation or storage of lading, freight, mails, property or passengers The waters to be navigated are the Fulton Chain of lakes and the inlets and outlets thereof, and Raquette Lake and the inlets and outlets thereof…”.  This second company’s capital was $5000 and its directors (#shares) were Fred Kirch (17), Benjamin T. Gilbert (24), Ephraim Myers (5), Ada Myers (1), Benjamin D. Gilbert (1), Henry G. P. Myers (1) and Frank Tiffany (1).

Only directors and shareholders were listed named in the documents; no corporate officers were named.  This would cause legal problems later.  Before continuing the history of the companies, I would like to provide a little information about the directors.

I have already introduced Fred Kirch, the second largest shareholder in both companies.  He became a road commissioner for the new Town of Inlet incorporated in 1902, later married Frank Tiffany’s daughter Lettie Mae and they would have three daughters: Eleanor Wabnitz and Inlet authors Marion Young and Letty Kirch Haynes.  Kirch was taking business courses in Utica during 1897-1898.   At the beginning of the 20th century he moved to Watertown and operated a construction firm.

Benjamin T. Gilbert, the top shareholder in both companies, was the son of Benjamin D. Gilbert.  Benjamin T. left Yale in 1894 to hunt in Colorado, then started for Italy and ended up hunting boar in Morocco, then studied literature at the Sorbonne in Paris and returned to get a B.A. at Columbia.  He did cow-punching in Montana and Wyoming, and then explored Native American ruins in Mexico and Arizona.  He returned east in 1901 to embark on a career in architecture and then became general manager of the Continental Car & Equipment Company.

He became a banker and later started the Gilbert & Company investment firm in Utica.  He developed the Pippin Hill area in New Hartford and owned the Genesee and Lafayette streets “busy corner”.  He performed in and wrote stage productions for the Utica Players and after retirement in the 1930s took up sculpturing.  His successes included the statue of George Washington erected in 1956 on the Utica Public Library Grounds.  He finished second in a competition for a St. Isaac Jogues memorial to the sculptor of World War I Chaplain Father Duffy at Duffy Square, the northern corner in Times Square.  A true renaissance man.

His dad was Benjamin D. Gilbert of Clayville, editor of the Utica Morning Herald and, at the time of these companies, was secretary of the state’s Dairymen’s Association.  He was a noted writer of botany and agriculture.  After his death in 1905, his wife presented Benjamin’s botanical library to the Utica Public Library.  The late James Constable’s fern collection cared for by Mr. Gilbert was donated at the same time by Constable’s widow.

Frank Tiffany was a camp painter, guide, hunter, assessor and later a realtor.  In 1899, Tiffany purchased a Fulton Chain Club lot next door to Kirch’s, adjoining the Pratt lot, built a camp and opened it to boarders.  Tiffany was the first Supervisor of the newly formed Town of Inlet and held this position from 1902 (Inlet’s first election) until 1925, when he was elected Hamilton County judge.  He held this position until his death on December 19, 1931.  His real estate business begun in 1908 eventually evolved into today’s Burkhard-Evans firm.  Tiffany is the “Grandpa” mentioned in the books by Marion Young and Letty Kirch Haynes.  Kirch’s sister Anna had married Tiffany on December 10, 1895 and would give birth to their son Lansing in December, 1896.  As mentioned, Kirch later married Tiffany’s daughter from a prior marriage.

Ada Spencer Myers was the husband of Ephraim Myers and the daughter of Dr. Henry G. P. Spencer, a respected Watertown physician and Fulton Chain Club trustee.  Henry Myers was the son of Ephraim and Ada Myers.  Ephraim Myers was the Myers mentioned on 1890s Fourth Lake maps as the “Galvin & Myers Lands”.  E. H. Myers was president of Carthage’s First National Bank and had been Carthage village president for a number of years.  He was also treasurer of the Fulton Chain Club.  Consequently, any required rights of way for the transportation company would be granted easily.

In December 1895, E. H. Myers and Thomas Hickey purchased Fred Hess’s stake in the Fulton Chain Lumber Company at Fifth Lake.  Myers’ installed his son Henry as its superintendent though Peter Rohr, Hess’s partner through an existing mortgage lien, probably performed this function.

After introducing the people involved in the new companies, I now continue with the activities of Bennett’s competitors, using newspaper accounts from the period.  The fortune of the Fulton Chain and Raquette Lake Steamboat Company would not be bright.

P528 Launching near Old Forge Dam001During 1897, newspapers reported that hopefully arrangements could be made with the upper Fulton Chain lakes’ companies so that New York newspapers delivered by train to Old Forge could reach Raquette Lake by evening on the same day printed.  In the spring of 1897, William Lindley, a boat builder from Canastota, had built a steamer in Old Forge for the steamboat company.  On a Sunday morning in late June, the new boat burned from a boiler fire at its dock on Sixth Lake.  Until it was replaced, passengers from Raquette Lake were driven on buckboards from Eighth Lake to Eagle Bay via Durant’s Mohegan road which crossed the carry near Eighth Lake.  This would soon become a popular route and take business away from the Sixth-Seventh Lake arm of the route.

The news about the fire also included William Moshier as a director.  Moshier and his brother Charles, Utica merchants specializing in tea and coffee imports, had just purchased Hess Inn in October 1896 from Fred Hess.  From later accounts listing the 1898 shareholders of the steamboat company, the Moshier Brothers during 1897 purchased 11 shares from Benjamin T. Gilbert, who now had 13 shares, Benjamin D. Gilbert’s share and one possibly from E. H. Myers, making them owners also of 13 shares.  Then later in 1897, Fred Kirch purchased the 4 remaining shares held by E. H. Myers and the single shares of Ada Myers, Tiffany and H. G. P. Myers, making Kirch the majority stockholder at 24 shares.

Using the business principles from his recent courses in Utica, Fred Kirch now recognized defects in the July 1896 corporation documents.  He concluded that the corporation was actually a partnership with him as the majority stockholder and its general manager on site.  Furthermore, the results from 1897’s operations to Kirch must not have been good and would not get better.  He may also have gotten feedback from customers’ multiple transferring between stages and steamers, especially whenever stages were late.  The news about the steamboat company would garner plenty of ink during the first half of 1898.

Imagine the reaction of Charles Moshier when he received a message in December 1897 from Kirch informing him that three steamers, three scows, a tally-ho coach, buckboards and other property were sold for $5000 cash to brother-in-law Frank Tiffany, especially when a recent inventory by Kirch tallied in excess of $5100.  Frank Tiffany’s plans will remain unknown and whether they involved Kirch.  Pages are missing from the diary he kept for this period.  When no proceeds from Kirch’s sale were forthcoming for prorated distribution among the stockholders, Moshier had Kirch arrested in March 1898 and charged with grand larceny.  April 1898 would be newsworthy in more ways than one.

E. H. Myers and Charles O’Hara posted bail for Kirch.  In April, court testimony revealed that Kirch claimed a defect in the incorporation papers and that he was majority stockholder in what was really a partnership.  As general manager, he had authority to sell the property.  The reason no proceeds were forwarded from its sale was that Tiffany provided notes for the purchase.  Kirch’s note to Moshier had been misunderstood.

On another part of the field (as they say in war), at the end of April 1898, Company director Ephraim Myers grabbed over $6000 from his First National Bank’s drawers and was never seen again, soon followed by son Henry’s skipping out later with the Fulton Chain Lumber Company’s books.

The Moshier Brothers firm dissolved during April to permit William Moshier to concentrate on running the Hess Inn and the steamboat company interests.  The notice indicated that more time in the North Woods would be beneficial to William’s health problems.  He purchased Charles’ share in Hess Inn and the steamboat company.  William would live for years after leaving the Fulton Chain around 1902 or so, but Charles died one year later in 1899 at age 45.

At the beginning of May, the courts dissolved the Fulton Chain and Raquette Lake Steamboat Company and appointed Milton Robinson as receiver.  They also must have ruled the December sale by Kirch invalid because the court ordered Robinson to auction the defunct corporation’s property and steamers on May 24 at Moshier’s Hess Inn.  I could not find the results of the auction, but the properties may have been purchased by William Moshier and Charles Bennett.

P738 JG Moshier 6th Lake steamerNewspapers on July 4th reported that the already familiarly named company, Fulton Chain & Raquette Lake Steamboat Company would begin regular runs on July 1.  It was under new management, owned and managed by both William Moshier and Charles Bennett.  So the competitors combined resources to run the route; probably they split the route.  The company’s name would not appear again.

Another company of stage lines, the Eagle Bay Transportation Company, would carry passengers by stage over the Sucker Brook Bay Road, connecting with Mohegan Road to Eighth Lake to meet Bennett’s steamers for Raquette and Blue Mountain Lakes.  Now picnic excursions to these lakes were offered during 1898.

In late 1899, the larceny charges against Fred Kirch were dismissed.  In July, Kirch launched a grocery and provision boat to service lake residents’ needs.  He would lease this boat two years later to Charles Morris as a grocery boat, named Maynard that would soon be known as the first Fulton Chain “pickle boat.”  Leaving the management of Hess Inn to Albert C. Boshart, William Moshier now only managed the steamboat company.  The Sixth Lake steamer was the J. G. Moshier named for his father, built in 1898, with guide Augus Morrison as pilot and Louis Corbett as captain.  The Eighth Lake steamer was the Gazelle which, according to Theodore Seeber’s 1896 deposition for the Fulton Chain Railroad, had been running since 1895.

moshier head of 7th_0An excursion group in 1899 described its tour through the lakes and trails.  They reported that considerable dead timber still remained from the Sixth Lake’s damming by the State in 1880.  Bennett’s portion of the line past Eighth Lake carry was called the “Eighth Lake and Raquette Lake Transportation Company”.  This tour was to be among the last to view Dunning’s camp at Raquette Lake’s shores.  By the end of December, the Raquette Lake Station was being built at that location.


6th 7th lake transportation comp ad 1900 - CopyThe year 1900 saw the last of the Inlet company names.  Moshier’s company was now advertised as the Seventh Lake Transportation Company and only covered Sixth and Seventh Lakes.  But what would spell the end for all of the companies was the Raquette Lake and Marion River Carry Railroads which began public operations in July 1900.  These options removed the transportation companies’ reasons for being for the typical “pass through” traveler.  In a few years motorized cars on town built roads would appear.  Now when Moshier bought a boat like the steamer “Caprice” from a Mr. Merrill, it was to service the Arrowhead’s “formerly Hess Inn” dairy and  hotel’s needs.  One year later in 1902, renamed the “Marjory”, the overloaded boat would sink with guide Burt Murdock the only victim.

When the Raquette Lake Railroad opened for business in 1900, the lake and carry route from Inlet to Raquette Lake returned to its original status as a canoe and carry trip, an excursion on either of the lakes accompanied by a “shore dinner” or a route for an annual mile canoe race, the annual 90 Mile classic.

Photo: J.G. Moshier at dock on Seventh Lake, courtesy Tom Gates; Scrafford’s Beaver Camp, Eighth Lake, courtesy Irene Lerdahl; other photographs courtesy Town of Webb Historical Association.

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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.

2 Responses

  1. Larry Miller says:

    This is a great article.
    Your knowledge of the Fulton Chain transportation system is impressive.
    Do you have a Blankman map from 1902? It’s the most comprehensive map showing not only the railroad routs but also the camps and foot trails. Let me know if you want me to send you some scans.

  2. Becky Neeley says:

    I would love to be able to contact Mr. Charles Herr personally regarding some questions I have about the area from the 1980’s. Could my contact information be passed on to him, please?
    Thank you in advance,
    Beckh Neeley

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