Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tracing Northern Warren County’s Earliest Roads

Warren County NY AtlasIn my book Echoes in These Mountains, I suggested two possible routes for the old military road used by Sir William Johnson during the French and Indian War, and later used by his son Sir John Johnson in his raids on the Mohawk Valley. In recent years however, I’ve given this historical problem more thought as new evidence has come forward.

For example, I’ve seen the swivel cannon said to have been left by Sir John Johnson’s raiders near Bartman Road in Bakers Mills. Also, Tom Askens has shared with me that he has found small “cannon balls” in his garden at the intersection of Bartman Road and Coulter/Armstrong Road. 

In Echoes I suggested the old military route may have run along the East Branch of the Sacandaga River (along today’s Route 8), possibly using what is today called “The Old Military Trail”.  It turned easterly down Bartman Road southwest of Bakers Mills, to Armstrong Road, then along Garnet Lake Road to Johnsburg, and on to Weverown and Riparius.

Another possible route I considered was north from “Baldwin’s Spring”, said to be the spot where Sir John Johnson stopped after his raid in Johnstown. The road then went by Lixard Pond to Garnet Lake (originally called Mill Creek Pond), and down Garnet Lake Road to Johnsburg, Wevertown and Riparius.

I now believe however, that the warpath through the Southern Adirondacks ran from Johnstown, north to “Baldwin’s Spring”, then northeast to Armstrong Road extension (now a snowmobile trail) to the “Old Military Trail”, thence along today’s Bartman Road to Coulter Road, then to Beaver Brook, today’s Mill Creek. Then along Mill Creek (travelers tended to follow waterways for easy access to drinking water and such streams usually coursed through fairly level terrain), either down Garnet Lake Road or down Hudson Street (the course of “Hodgson Street” was different back then and connected with Garnet Lake Road further south near Armstrong Road) and north up South Johnsburg Road to Johnsburg.  From there it’s pretty clear that the old path followed Mill Creek to Wevertown and crossed the Hudson River at Riparius. After crossing the river it went north to the west shore of Schroon Lake and then ultimately to Bulwagga Bay on Lake Champlain.

johns_sThere is another mystery as to the location of the road to John Thurman’s residence at “Elm Hill” (c. 1790 ). It is clear that settlers arrived from the south; Thurman gives directions by referencing the route from Sandy Hill (today’s Hudson Falls) and Caldwell (today’s Lake George). Unfortunately, his instructions do not indicate where the road crossed the Hudson River.

There are two possibilities. Alongside Thurman’s “Elm Hill” Compound is an old abandoned town road, once called Stratton Hill Road. It travels east through a beaver meadow and after about three miles, connects with the old Glen-Wevertown Road, just a hundred yards or so west of today’s Route 28. Along the old Glen – Wevertown Road, about a mile north of the Glen, is where famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady was born in about 1823 (the tannery at the Glen wasn’t built until 1838). It’s unlikely that early travelers crossed the Hudson River at today’s bridge at the Glen; the river there is narrow and the current fast. A mile or two downstream however, the river widens, the current slows, and the rocky riverbed would not have been difficult to cross.

Another option for early travelers might have been north from Caldwell to Warrensburg and then along the south shore of the Schroon River (originally known as East Branch of the Hudson River) to what is now Thurman Station. Just south of Thurman Station the river is wide and slow and relatively easy to cross.

That appears to have been a common crossing place for many years although it was not without its dangers; on April 28, 1812 James Warren, for whom the original Warren Inn and Warrensburg appear to be named, drowned there while returning from Nathaniel Griffing’s farm with a ballot box (national elections were held in April then).

Adding to the evidence that the Hudson River crossing to Thurman’s “Elm Hill” was located there is the fact that John Thurman’s agent, James Cameron, lived on the west shore of the Hudson there, as did Thurman’s nephew Richardson Thurman, who settled there after the war American Revolution.

Of course, there is also the possibility that both roads were in use before 1820.

 Maps from Beer’s Atlas of Warren County (1876).

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Adirondack historian Glenn Pearsall is the author of Echoes in these Mountains (2008), When Men and Mountains Meet (2013), and the Adirondack novel, Leaves Torn Asunder (2016).
In 2000, Glenn Pearsall and his wife Carol established and funded the Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life of year round residents of the Adirondack Park.

When not pursuing a passion for history and philanthropy, Pearsall is a senior partner and Portfolio Manager for a wealth management team in Glens Falls, NY. He and his wife Carol live near the base of Crane Mountain in Johnsburg.

6 Responses

  1. Curt Austin says:

    This is interesting. I’m confused about the two possible Hudson crossings from Elm Hill – the first seems to describe a west-to-east crossing since the first leg is three miles to the east, while the second is east-to-west since it starts in Lake George. Perhaps it would help if I knew where Elm Hill was.

  2. Glenn L. Pearsall says:

    Curt, You are right; I should have better identified Elm Hill. Elm Hill was the Adirondack residence of John Thurman, “merchant of New York City”, who, after the American Revolution owed most of northern Warren County, a significant portion of northern Washington County and had lands in Essex and Clinton Counties; through his Dutch-English family he also owned a wharf on the East River in NYC between today’s Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge, wharf on the Hudson River in NYC where today is the World Trade Center Ferry Terminal and owned a dry goods store at the corner of William and Wall Street. His Adirondack house was just off of today’s South Johnsburg Road about 2 miles south of NYS Rt 8 (there is a historic sign at that site now). John Thurman’s mills (c. 1790) were on Beaver Brook (now Mill Creek) about 2/10 mile south of NYS Rt 8 and included the first calico printing facility in NYS and, according to my research, the 6th or 7th in the U.S.

  3. Delbert Chambers says:

    Warrensburg(h) was named such in 1813 but was being settled by ‘white men’ as much as some 30 years earlier. It boasts the first bridge crossing the Schroon River and the location was at that time called “The Bridge”. There was no Rt. 9 and there was no bridge at today’s location that is most familiar to travelers. The “road”, such as it was in the John Thurman days, swept around the South side of the river and the first bridge was located at what is best known today as the Judd Bridge. That road, today called Rt. 418, followed, along the South side of the Schroon River to it’s junction with with the Hudson River. It is seems most probable that this would have been John Thurman’s route. He would have forded the Hudson River as noted and almost certainly made his way to “the Glen” via a path know today as River Road in the Town of Thurman. That road follows the West side of the river. In some manner he would have crossed Glen Creek and continued northerly on what today is Rt. 28 to where Pasco Road intersects. This probably being the extent of the Glen to Wevertown road at that time. A few hundred feet up Pasco Road was the road mentioned as to where Mathew Brady was born. Whether this road intersected what today is called Pasco Road or if it was a continuation i cannot say. This nameless road seems to have intersected with Stafford Hill Road and from there to John Thurman’s home-site and industrial complex at Beaver Brook.

  4. Glenn L. Pearsall says:

    Don’t you just wish we could just ask him about these roads – any more importantly, why he built an “industrial complex” here in 1790!

  5. Travis Slater says:

    Glen, Did you ever figure out roughly where the canon was discovered? Was it in Bakers Mills or Garnet Lake Rd near Crane mt? Thanks!

  6. says:

    Great piece. Makes a lot of sense.

    Would like to pick your realty brain about some property I am thinking of selling on Chatiemac Road. Summer 2016.

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