Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Good Ole Route 28: A trip that used to be a journey

raquette lake


We take roads for granted. I sure did as a kid riding from Syracuse up to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Blue Mountain Lake. We drove on Friday nights with my parents and eight brothers and sisters, all stuffed into a station wagon (they were like minivans in 1960s and 70s). My grandfather told us stories about when he was a kid and Route 28 did not exist!

The Adirondack section of Route 28 starts near Otter Lake and runs northeast through Old Forge, Raquette Lake, and Blue Mountain Lake. It then curves southeast through Indian Lake, North Creek, and ends near Warrensburg. On the map, it looks like a crooked 90-mile frowny face.

Route 28 was built in the late 1920s. Before that, if you needed to get from the train station in North Creek to Sagamore Lodge (now Great Camp Sagamore) near Raquette Lake, you begin with a 30-mile, uphill stagecoach ride to Blue Mountain Lake. From there, you took a 5-mile steamboat ride to Utowana Lake. Then a 3/4-mile train ride (the shortest railroad in the world!) to the Marion River. Then, another steamboat ride to the South Inlet on Raquette Lake. Finally, you took a 3-mile carriage ride through the woods to Sagamore. The trip usually took more than one day. Now it takes about an hour. So, three cheers for Route 28!

Do you have a favorite road? Can you find it on a map? Use the internet to look up Blue Mountain Lake Stagecoach, the Tuscarora Steamboat, or the Marion River Carry Railroad if you want to know more about travel to Sagamore before Route 28.

Photo: Route 28 when it was brand new, near the South Inlet on Raquette Lake, about 1930. Courtesy of Great Camp Sagamore

Built in 1897 on 1,526 acres of remote Adirondack wilderness by William West Durant in Raquette Lake, Great Camp Sagamore was a wilderness retreat for the Vanderbilt family for half a century. It is now a National Historic Landmark imanaged by a non-profit educational institution in order to inspire others to help protect the environment, history, and culture of the Adirondacks.

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Robert Engel is historian at Great Camp Sagamore in Raquette Lake.

19 Responses

  1. Pete Nelson says:

    Great memories of this route. Route 28 and the immersion we would undergo from the turn-off at Route 12, passing White Lake, when you really felt you were getting into the park, to old Forge, Inlet and beyond to Blue Mountain Lake with its extraordinary view, is the reason I live here now. It was a magical journey, and BML was and is a magical destination. I was coming up there in the same era as you: who were Grandma and Grandpa?

    • Robert Engel says:

      Yes, passing Old Forge meant we were “almost there.” My dad, driving the Chrysler Town & Country with the nine kids, would often hear “How many more miles?” His answer, no matter where we were, was always “35.” My Grandparents were Pat and Jan Collins. Grandpa grew up at Sagamore with his brothers and sister. Hope to see you at Sagamore – someday!

      • Pete Nelson says:

        I’ll stop by some time! The Collins Family is as venerable in BML as you get.

  2. Sherry says:

    Well done, Robert. I heard those same stories from my grandparents too…as well as yours! I do have a favorite road: the old road between Blue Mountain Lake and Indian Lake, right by Durant. Loved that little road! Still do.

  3. Steve B. says:

    It’s likely this is the route my mother and her family would take to a family cabin on Fourth Lake, coming up from Binghamton. She recalled it as a dirt road, that she learned to drive on when she was 17, so 1934 or so. She recalled the terror of driving it in a Model A in the rain. I was always curious what route they might have taken.

  4. Rob Sprogell says:

    Brings back fond memories of my family doing the same sort of trip from Phiadelphia, PA, to Long Lake in our 1955 Ford station wagon. My dad always told my mom he HAD to take chances passing on route 28 because, between Alder Creek and Long Lake, there were only three short stretches with passing zones. That old 28 was windy/twisty. To this day, I occasionly enjoy wandering off “new” 28 onto spurs of the old road that bear off into woodsy areas.

  5. Phillip A. Bobrowski says:

    One of our requisite stops for all our forays into the ADK has been Old Forge Hardware, either on our way in or on our way home. So, 28 is always a route for us that carries a spectrum of emotion, prompted by the ever-present, roadside hanging ADK-brown sign. An emphasis for crossing The Big Blue Line is made by the scent of balsam that finds its way to us, and would be greeted greater by our dog, Dakota, who then couldn’t wait to alert to some distant chipmunk’s call.

  6. Pat Boomhower says:

    I have many favorite routes in the Adirondacks but the memory-lane route is Warrensburg to Long Lake on Rte 28. Our 1966 Ford Fairlane towing a 1959 17′ Owens boat, Mom, Dad, 4 kids, tent and gear for a two week vacation on one of the state sites along the northeast shore of Long Lake. Going up the North River hill with this full load was a challenge. We camped on the lake thru ’69. I always wondered why Mom needed a vacation from our vacation. Note that we were a one-car family. The Fairlane was Dad’s compromise with Mom after he had traded our the ’60 Ford wagon for his mid-life crisis car a ’65 Mustang!

  7. Cynthia McCormack says:

    Was wanting to no more about Robert Engel, cuz my last name before marriage was Engell, my dad was Fred Engell for North Ilion, NY

    • Robert Engel says:

      Hi Cynthia. I’ve known Engle’s (which is just wrong), very few Engel’s (outside my vast family,) but you’re my first Engell. Howdy, cuz! Mom was a Collins in Blue Mt. Lake, went to LeMoyne and met dad. His German family lived in Syracuse since the mid 19thC. Come to Great Camp Sagamore when we reopen and we’ll chat up the relatives.

      • Michael an Cynthia mccormack says:

        Thank you so much an I will bring some of my genealogy chart with me.. Thank you

  8. Charlie S says:

    My grandfather started going up to Blue Mountain Lake and the Raquette Lake region in the nineteen-teens, so he knew 28 before it went beyond North Creek. My dad recalled the days when my grandfather drove him and his brother up to the Adirondacks from Brooklyn, they sat in the back of a Model A (?) in a rumble seat on their trips up to Blue Mountain Lake in the 1930’s & 40’s. Rt. 9 was the only way upstate then to the Adirondacks and my dad recalled an open road with nothing but woods and farm fields back in them days, through Greenbush, etc. Times they sure do change. Rt. 28 is the only road I’ve known to get to Blue Mountain Lake which I first started visiting in the 1970’s. I recall the roadblocks along the way when the State Police were looking for Robert Garrow. I recall the time someone in a pickup truck flew by us on that road, up south of Indian Lake. What stands out about that truck racing by was one of the tires was shaking, or wobbly (a bad tire), and when we got further along we saw that truck was crashed off the road and it wasn’t a pretty scene with all of the emergency vehicles around. I believe the truck was upside down. This was in the 70’s. To this day I am not sure if there was a fatality involved in that crash or not. Memories!

    • Boreas says:


      I have mostly fond memories of that drive as well as in the late 70s I took that route from Syracuse to go almost anywhere up north. RT 8 was a washboard and RT 3 was boring. RT 28 was magical because around every curve was something interesting – especially decrepit old skeletons of failed entrepreneurship beside the highway. There also was that subtle yet important environmental transition from open farmland to pines and waters to mountains. This gradual transition was also important on the 5 hour ride back to the treadmill as to not be too jarring to the soul.

      My worst memory of it (other than the occasional automobile breakdown) was a trip I made in my MGB when they were upgrading the highway for the Olympics. Mile after mile of single lane, closed bridges, rough gravel and mud in a car with no real suspension and my ass 3″ from the rocks. Needless to say, I returned via RT 3 that trip!.

      • Robert Engel says:

        The extended family ran the Hedges in BML and my grands ran Cedar Cove Cottages. So, Charlie, I wonder if we attended the same island keggers hosted by the Booth brothers (owned the Boat Livery). And Boreas, I’m sure we kids were all properly impressed when your MGB would zip by.

        • Pete Nelson says:

          There’s a better than even chance that we all met long ago, at one of those keggers. The Booths have been friends since we met them on Castle Rock just a year or two before they took over from Russ Barrowman (who I still remember fondly).

          And Boreas, that Route 28 transition of which you write, yup, that right there was the magic…

        • Charlie S says:

          Robert Engel says, “Charlie, I wonder if we attended the same island keggers hosted by the Booth brothers (owned the Boat Livery).”

          Hi Robert. You probably met my brother Greg as he was a regular around the Booths, he knew them more than me as he lived in Blue Mountain Lake and he worked on the islands, or one of them at least anyway. Donny died just a few months after my brother died four years ago come November 6. I’ve known the Booth’s, especially Donny, for many years but mostly just in passing whenever I went up there. I talked to him often when I would see him around, and was quite surprised and sad when he died just a few months after my brother died. He had quite the energy Donnie did and was always upbeat. Greg took photos of some of those keggers and I would imagine you’re in one of them if you were a regular around the Booths.

          I spent a few days at the Hedges back in 2003 (?) with my little girl (1 yrs old) and her mom in the fall, and have eaten there also at special events. Very nice place. I have a good black-capped chicadee experience story that took place there some years back, which maybe I will get to at some time if something here sparks me to.

  9. Charlie S says:

    Engel! An old German name. My mom and dad knew Engel’s in the Ridgewood, Queens area back in the 30’s and 40’s. I remember them talking about them and there might even be a photo or two of them lying around in my heap.

  10. cynthia mccormack says:

    I no most of our family is upstate, ny.. thank you

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