Sunday, April 19, 2015

Chasing A Barrel Of China To Raquette Lake

Lord Renfrew

Local Raquette Laker Jim Regan told the following story one night 40 years ago while sitting around a campfire:

“Mr. Reynolds lived in that cabin over there with his wife and kids for a whole year. During that time, in the summer of 1938, he guided for a wealthy English gentleman, a friend of your grandfather [John Boyd Thacher]. Months after the man returned to England, Mr. Reynolds received a wooden barrel filled with good English china. The story goes that Mr. Reynolds, after one too many drinks, was angered that his payment came in the form of this useless luxury. He raised the barrel above his head and tossed it as far as he could off the dock into the Needles Channel, and that china still sits somewhere at the bottom of the lake.”

A good yarn to be sure, but there is always a grain of truth to every tale. Who might my great grandfather have known in England? Finding no family correspondence that speaks of friends across the pond, I turned to the newspaper archives. I got a royal surprise when the first connection jumped off the page.

Albany Argus 10161860 GHT letter to Lord LyonsNineteen-year-old Edward Albert, the Prince of Wales, traveling incognito as Lord Renfrew, did indeed accept my great-great-grandfather’s invitation to host his visit to Albany in 1860. The Prince’s trip marked the first time a member of the British Royal family had stepped foot on American soil since before the Revolution.

Lord Renfrew later became King Edward VII, but could this one connection 78 years earlier possibly relate to our family’s English gentleman friend? I thought not, until I unearthed some evidence in a newspaper archive.

JBT2 invitationIn 1938, Mayor John Boyd Thacher 2nd invited King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to visit Albany during their 1939 tour of the U.S. and Canada. Could it be that he developed a connection with a member of the royal family’s staff during the planning of this event? Could someone of nobility have been the family’s English friend? Did royalty visit my family’s camp on Indian Point?

This theory unraveled when I learned two things.  First, King George VI did not accept the invitation to make an extended stop in Albany during his tour. Also, I tracked down Warren Reynolds who was a five-year-old boy when he and his family lived in our red, one room cabin.   Warren filled in some holes in the story.

It was not 1938 when his father had guided for an English gentleman. It was in fact in the mid 1920s and “the English gentleman” was actually two teenage boys sent to Raquette Lake from England by their wealthy father. One boy did not enjoy the wilds and returned after a short time, but the other stayed for almost two months. That boy came back as a young man with his wife in the summer of 1938. Warren went with his father to visit the couple at their campsite at Brown’s Tract Pond.

Warren believes that it might have been this young man who sent the barrel of china. He vaguely remembers his parents arguing about the china, but he is adamant that his father would not have tossed the barrel into the lake.  Perhaps we will never know the final resting place of the china, but a few years ago, my cousin Mike FitzPatrick did find an intact, uniquely colored oval bowl of English china buried in the family trash heap about a hundred feet into the woods behind the cabin.

Chasing down this barrel of china revealed one last twist. Jim Regan’s knowledge of this story most likely came from his very good friend George Reynolds Jr., Warren’s older brother.   In fact, Jim Regan would never have been able to spin this tale over the campfire had Warren’s brother George Jr. not spent the summer of 1938 at Raquette Lake. Jim’s daughter Joan assures me that the John in the article below is indeed her father, owing the misprint to Jim’s father being named John.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 5.10.11 AM

Related Stories

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:

One Response

  1. Great stuff — thanks for this, Tom.