William Seward Webb’s company began building the Adirondack & St. Lawrence Railroad in the spring of 1891. A year later, the line had not been completed when Webb made a promise to President Benjamin Harrison he was not sure he could fulfill. He promised the President and First Lady, Caroline Scott Harrison, they could ride his train to the Loon Lake House so she could spend the summer there to recover her health.
Near the end of Harrison’s term in 1892, Caroline’s tubercular condition worsened. The Harrisons and her physician considered a stay for her in the North Woods in a desperate move to improve her prospects. They contacted Ferd Chase of the Loon Lake House who offered a cottage for the summer. Learning this, Webb offered his assistance since Caroline’s condition limited her ability to withstand stage travel. He promised a ride by rail for most of the distance but Mrs. Harrison’s condition would determine the timing of the trip.
Webb was “greatly worried” that if his line to Loon Lake was not completed in time, a long stage ride to the hotel could prove fatal for Caroline Harrison. On Wednesday morning, July 6, the day prior to the Harrisons’ planned arrival, Webb’s railroad engineer William N. Roberts received a telegram from his boss about the railroad’s status. The President’s train was to arrive the next day. Roberts informed Dr. Webb that the rails on the incomplete line had not reached Loon Lake Station. “Finish that line at any cost,” Webb wired.
The Albany Express reported, “Engineer Roberts ordered every available man on the entire line to work on the unfinished stretch of road. He had a carload of provisions sent to the scene. Scores of naphtha lamps were utilized and hundreds of men worked all night that the road might be completed to save Mrs. Benjamin Harrison pain.
“The men worked liked Trojans, not only the ordinary laborers, but officials of the road, turned in and shoveled, tamped and hammered until daylight. A great shout went out as the last spike was driven to bind the steel rails in position in front of the Loon Lake Station.
“Then the workmen built a platform and covered it with carpet for the President’s party to step from the cars to the four-horse coach of the Loon Lake House, to which a drive of two or three miles took them.”
The Presidential party left Washington shortly after 2 pm on July 6 on a special Pennsylvania Railway train. It arrived at Troy at 1:30 am where it was switched to the Central Vermont tracks. The train arrived at Malone at 10:30 am, and station managers switched the cars to the new Adirondack and St. Lawrence tracks. They then quickly coupled a brand new engine to the special train’s cars and it left, only 15 minutes after it had arrived. This reportedly became the first train run over that segment of the Adirondack & St. Lawrence it arrived at Loon Lake Station at 1 pm. Despite the work of laying the track, Ferd Chase’s coach could only get within a hundred yards of the train. Benjamin Harrison and her doctor carried Caroline to her seat.
Caroline’s felt well enough to join those on a special Wagner car for one of the first trips over the entire Adirondack & St. Lawrence line, just a few days before the railroad opened to the public. Throughout the summer, national papers reported frequently on Caroline’s condition, sometimes highlighting even the slightest indication of improvement.
Though in the midst of a election campaign against Grover Cleveland, Harrison’s managers assigned most of his speeches throughout the summer to political surrogates. It was said that out of respect for the Harrisons, Cleveland limited his personal campaigning. The President’s appearances away from Caroline’s bedside were few, but reported in detail. Cleveland ultimately won the election.
Despite a summer of sometimes worsened illness, Caroline Harrison sought to return to the White House. On September 13th, her condition worsened to such an extent that her doctor brought Dr. E. L. Trudeau from Saranac Lake by special train and a specialist from New York, Dr. F. E. Dougherty, for consultation. Twice that summer Caroline had fluid and pressure taken from her lungs and this was tried again.
On September 20, Caroline was placed in a long, covered wagon specially adapted to receive her cot and buffered for the two-mile trip over the rough mountain road to the station. A month after arrving back in Washington, Caroline died.
According to the Town of Franklin website, the cottage occupied by the Harrisons that summer is the President’s Cottage. Its owners currently rent it as the Presidents House. After the Harrisons, Presidents Grover Cleveland (1895) and William McKinley (1897-1901) used it as summer White Houses. Three years after Caroline’s death, Harrison returned to the Adirondacks and spent the summer of 1895 on the Fulton Chain near Old Forge.
Illustrations: William Seward Webb from E.R. Wallace’s 1894 Guide to the Adirondacks; Caroline Harrison (Library of Congress); and Loon Lake House and Cottage from the New York Press, Sept. 20, 1892.
Today, it would take about 90 days to completely refurbish and upgrade the rails from Big Moose to Lake Placid. Who would not want to take that first train ?
The President’s Cottage can still be found in the hamlet of Loon Lake, on Garden Road.
A very interesting article. Years ago I volunteered to assist Michael Kudish, a professor at Paul Smith’s College, and a railroad enthusiast, to look for the old spur constructed by Dr. Webb. It was not difficult to find as a portion of it traversed property once owned by my family at the NW end of Loon Lake. Dr. Kudish references that mini expedition in his book “Railroads of the Adirondacks”. That spur ended at a point where the current Mud Pond Road meets County Route 26 once known as State Route 99. The distance from that point to the Loon Lake House would be approximately 2-3 miles. However, the spur passed within feet of the lake itself and the story that I heard from my Dad was that the President’s party was transported from the spur to the Hotel via boat on the lake. If the party were transported via horse drawn coach, constructing the spur would have saved about a mile of road travel.
Many years ago, I explored the south edge of Loon Lake and found a interesting straight road there that was long abandoned. Looking at current satellite views of the lake shows me that it is possible that there may have been a route to the Loon Lake House constructed there. If that was the case, then a very short ride of a few hundred yards would be all that would be necessary for Mrs. Harrison to reach her destination. Perhaps when I’m back in the North Country later this spring, I’ll check that area out. All in all, the article does provoke a lot of thought.
I did see the information in Kudish’s book. The 1892 July and September newspaper articles on http://www.fultonhistory.com for the arrival and departure trips both refer to Mrs. Harrison’s transport between the station and the hotel/cottage was by Mr. Chase’s stages or special wagon. In neither article was there a mention of any travel by boat. For the trip back to Washington, they specifically detail the efforts made for a special wagon for her cot to be transported in. I just reread them and both to and from refer to a road from one and a half to three miles from the station depending on the article.
My examination of the1902 Forest Fish and Game Commisson map shows a road from the station to “Chase’s” that follows the north shore of Loon Lake paralleling it peninsulas and form its whole route to Chases. It is possible they didn’t want to risk travel by boat in her condition. Thanks for the information; it would be interesting if other old maps show the road.
Is this the Loon Lake in Warren County not far from Ripariius?
That’s the Loon Lake not far from North Creek, a different one. The Loon Lake where Chase’s was is the northeast quadrant of the Park in Franklin County following the railroad corridor north of Round Pond.
I guess that, short of someone inventing a time-machine, we’ll never be completely sure of what actually took place back then. Careful examination of the map (maps.google .com) of the area shows that the spur from the RR station to the intersection of the Kushaqua Road and CR 26 saves driving on the road from the station to that point. From there to Chase’s along CR 26 is a much longer distance.
From a pure speculative point of view, might there have been a route along the southwest edge of the lake ending at Blue Spruce drive? I have walked the abandoned road there years ago from Blue Spruce drive and now wonder if it could have extended to connect with what is labelled “Prayer Road” on the Google maps. Food for thought.
Take a look at the map here on the Adirondack Atlas. Turn on the 1890s topo base layer at the top right to see the historic railroad routes.
I also have an 1896 forest commission map. At that time there was the same 1902 road from Loon Lake Station following the north shores of Loon Lake to Chase’s. It also shows a road south from Chases going directly to Round Pond station in a southwesterly direction. Nothing is shown following around the south side of the lake to the station at that time.
At time when Dr. Webb was building his line, the Chateaugay Railroad had been in existence and his new line paralleled the earlier one in the Loon Lake region. The Chateaugay must have built the station for its line when it extended to Loon Lake in 1886. The road from Chase’s must have been built at that time.