What is believed to be the first summer camp on Long Lake was built on Birch Point in 1870 for Senator Orville Hitchcock Platt. Platt was born in Washington, CT in 1827. His father was a farmer who also served the community as deputy sheriff, judge of probate, and a school teacher. Platt’s parents were both active abolitionists and their home was a station on the Underground Railroad.
As a youth, Platt helped his father on the farm and also enjoyed roaming the countryside hunting and fishing in the woods and streams of northwest Connecticut. He attended school in Washington, CT, the student of abolitionist Frederic Gunn. When a pro-slavery group forced Gunn to close his school he and Platt (as assistant teacher) moved to the abolitionist stronghold of Towanda, PA. Orville Platt spent a year there and met a young lady who would later become his wife.
A Political Career
Platt eventually returned to Connecticut to become a lawyer and after passing the bar he returned to Towanda to marry Annie Bull and became an attorney in Pennsylvania. In Towanda the couple had two children, one died in infancy, but his son James eventually became his law partner and later a Federal District Court judge appointed by Theodore Roosevelt.
The Platts returned to Connecticut, settling in Meriden, about 20 miles from New Haven. At first Orville’s law business was slow, which enabled him to spend time fishing and hunting. His reputation as fair and reasonable caused others to seek his advice and he became active in Republican politics. In two years he was elected Probate Judge, than Clerk of the State Senate, a member of the State House of Representatives, and a State Senator. By 1879, Platt was ready to run for a U.S. Senate seat. Two Republicans, Hawley and Jewell ran against him at the Republican Caucus. In the beginning Hawley was ahead, Jewell second and Platt a distant third, but Platt persevered and by the 36th ballot he won by 76 votes.
He arrived in Washington in 1879 at the age of 51. The senate was controlled by a Democratic majority and Platt was placed on relatively unimportant committees. He bided his time and eventually became an influential senator, one of the “Group of Four” who coordinated party policy in the Senate. His most noted act as Senator was the Platt Amendment, which concerned U.S. control of Cuban lands, which accounts for our continued presence at Guantanamo Bay today. Notably, Platt voted against the Chinese Exclusion Bill, maintaining that the Chinese “had the same right to come to this country and work that any white foreigner had.”
Each summer Platt looked forward to leaving Washington. He was a longtime friend of Rev. William H. H. “Adirondack” Murray, who had preached at Platt’s church in Washington, Connecticut. When a vacancy in Platt’s church in Meriden occurred, Platt recommended Murray and he got the job. The two spent many hours hunting and fishing in Connecticut, but around the time of the Civil War, they decided to explore further afield in what was then the relatively little known Adirondacks.
Senator Platt once wrote: “My natural home is in the woods… I long more and more for the hermit life of the Adirondacks. When we go to the Adirondacks we go back absolutely to a state of nature, leaving all care and even knowledge behind. We eat and sleep, row and roam, and that is all. The mind rests with the body.”
Initially, the two men journeyed to Raquette Lake, relying on their guides to find the best hunting and fishing spots. John Plumley was among their favorites, and he persuaded them to travel up the Raquette to Long Lake. As a result of their trips to the Adirondacks, Murray wrote Adventures in the Wilderness and Platt built a camp. Murray’s book, in which he heartily recommended Plumley as a guide, helped launch the tourist industry in the Adirondacks.
Although Platt accompanied Murray on many of his excursions in the Adirondacks, he is not mentioned in the book, except in the dedication:
“To my friend and companion, O. H. Platt, of Meriden, Conn., with whom I have passed many happy hours by mountain and stream and shared the sportsman’s triumph and midnight bivouac, and as a token of my very sincere regard and friendship, this book is affectionately dedicated.”
At his camp in Long Lang, Platt was said to be an agreeable host. Nessmuck (George Washington Sears), who stopped by in 1883 on his Raquette River trip in the Sairy Gamp, wrote: “I found Senator Platt in camp and a pleasant visit, fish, venison with open bark camp and huge log fire in front go far to compensate for the almost daily soakings I have caught since leaving the Forge House.”
Other visitors to Platt’s camp at Birch Point included two artists, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait and Nelson Augustus Moore, a Connecticut landscape artist. Tait and his second wife Polly moved to their home on the west shore of Long Lake in 1877. Tait had a floating studio built which enabled him to visit various views on Long Lake and sketch and paint in relative comfort. He painted Platt’s camp from the tip of Birch Point. Moore visited in the fall of 1881 and sketched the view from the north side of Birch Point which includes the Seward Range.
The Charlie Parker Affair
One of the most dramatic incidents in the Adirondacks in the summer of 1881 involved Platt’s Camp and family. All the Platts, including George Bull, a relative of Mrs. Platt, were in camp and expecting the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Hall and Mrs. George Bull. The Halls and Mrs. Bull had met in North Creek and proceeded by stage to Blue Mountain Lake to spend the night. Mrs. Bull’s trunk did not arrive as expected and the Halls, anxious to get to Platt’s camp decided to travel ahead. They were encouraged by Mrs. Bull, who assured them she had found a guide in Charlie Parker who would bring her to camp the next day. When her trunk finally arrived Mrs. Bull and Parker set off for Long Lake. They crossed Forked Lake and entered the Raquette River, managed two carries, and arrived at Buttermilk Falls. There, according to newspaper accounts and diaries, Parker brutally sexually assaulted Mrs. Bull.
The two continued the journey up Long Lake to Kellogg’s Lake House where Mrs. Bull gave no sign of trouble. Later, she said that Parker had threatened to kill her if she said anything about the incident. When they arrived at Birch Point however, Mrs. Bull began screaming. Mr. Hall was the first to reach her and although he tried to prevent Parker from leaving, the guide escaped into the woods. Mrs. Bull was carried up the rise into the camp while the others spread the alarm. By the time a posse was formed however, Parker had managed to reach his home, grab some money and a gun, and head for Canada. Later, when word came from Kingston, Ontario that Parker had been apprehended, James Platt went with Long Lake Constable Warren Cole to Canada to bring him back.
James Platt wrote a letter to the Utica Observer describing their return from Canada, Parker’s appearance before Long Lake Magistrate Robert Shaw, and the accommodations afforded the prisoner (there was no jail in Long Lake). Cole and Parker went to bed and a guard was placed outside the door. After an hour or two however, the guard departed and Parker managed to slip the handcuffs without waking Cole and made a second escape through the woods toward Forked Lake. When Warren Cole awoke, he set out after the fugitive in the company of James Platt and Justice Shaw.
They found Parker in a boat, accompanied by his wife, at the foot of Forked Lake. Cole yelled for Parker to surrender, but he began rowing for the opposite shore. When the boat hit a rock and was grounded, Parker and his wife jumped into the lake. Cole shot Parker in the shoulder and he was carried into a nearby cabin and latter died. Cole was later absolved in court of any wrong-doing.
Senator Platt’s wife Annie died in 1893 and in 1897 he remarried to Jeannie Penniman Hoyt, the widow of George Hoyt who had a camp near the Platts.
Senator Platt’s last public appearance was in Hartford, CT on March 31, 1905. He delivered the eulogy over his old rival, Hawley, who despite losing the vote to run for the Senate, went on to become Governor of Connecticut. The two remained friends, despite political differences.
Platt had already contracted a cold, which worsened during the service for Hawley. He traveled to Washington, CT and died of pneumonia on April 21, 1905.
Photos, from above: Senator Platt; Platt and John Plumley; Platt’s cabin on Birch Point in 1901; and a detail from the “View from Birch Point” by Nelson Augustus Moore.