Thursday, July 8, 2021

Historical profile: The person behind Kempshall Mountain

In the southwestern spur of the Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness lies Kempshall Mountain, a peak with a prominent history in fire observation.  Rising 3,350 feet on the northeast side of Long Lake, it is the town’s highest peak.  After the 35-foot steel tower on its summit was closed in 1971 and dismantled in June 1977, the trail to it from Long Lake was left largely unmaintained and nature was allowed to slowly consume what man had made.  Today, some old State trail markers can be seen along parts of the former trail.

Of the more than 220 Adirondack mountains whose history (including name origin) I have researched, determining whom this mountain was named for has been one of the most challenging efforts.  Since 2016, I have consulted numerous primary and secondary sources, as well as made inquiries with several authors and historians familiar with Long Lake, but none could definitively tie the name to any particular person and source.  There was speculation it pertained to Rev. Everard Kempshall (1830-1904), a Presbyterian minister from Elizabeth, N.J.  Unfortunately, no historical source could be cited connecting Rev. Kempshall to the Long Lake region.

long lake map

A History of the Name

The earliest mention of Kempshall Mountain I have found is in the October 28, 1870 edition of Glen’s Fall Messenger, where it is referred to as “Mt Kempshall.”  Its earliest appearance on a map is Stoddard’s 1880 edition of Map of the Adirondack Wilderness.

A breakthrough in my research came when I was at the Adirondack Experience at Blue Mountain Lake (ADKX) library in February 2021.  I came across an obscure, type-written manuscript from 1955 by George and Robert Shaw entitled Tahawus – Newcomb and Long Lake, 1841-1900, in which the authors mentioned the name “Kempshall” in regard to Long Lake.

The Shaw manuscript is actually comprised of two manuscripts, each of which was edited and privately printed in 1955 by Howard I. Becker.  The first manuscript contains the Shaws’ narrative of the Adirondack Iron Works, the early history of Newcomb and Long Lake, and Rev. John Todd’s story of his visits to the Long Lake settlement from 1841 to 1844 (which were published in his 1845 classic entitled Long Lake).  The second manuscript, authored by George’s son, Robert, is a narrative of Robert’s experiences in Long Lake.  George Shaw passed away in 1871 and his son, Robert, passed away in 1907, so much of the first, jointly-written manuscript must have been developed prior to 1871.  George and his family settled in Long Lake around 1842, having come from Addison, Vt.  Robert Shaw (1829-1907), the oldest son of George, was a lay minister for the Long Lake Wesleyan Methodist Church, serving its congregants from 1865 to 1874.

In the first manuscript, the Shaws described how, despite Rev. Todd’s visits to Long Lake and the sermons he preached to its people, a good church was never built.  In 1855, Willard W. Alden and John LaPelle came from the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Crown Point for the purpose of organizing a church in Long Lake.  According to Ted Aber and Stella King in their text The History of Hamilton County, the renowned Abenaki Indian and Adirondack guide from Long Lake, Mitchell Sabattis (1823-1906), undertook the effort to raise funds for the construction of a church.  As a guide, he served several prominent ministers from Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsfield, N.Y., and now he turned to them for help.  The Shaws mentioned that collections were taken up at “almost every city of note in the east.”  In the end, Sabattis returned to Long Lake with $2,000.

Through the fund-raising efforts of Sabattis and others, the Long Lake Wesleyan Methodist Church was built in Long Lake around 1865.  Many pastors outside of Long Lake were invited to preach in the new church, as the Shaws noted in their first manuscript:

“Many of the eminent Divines of all the cities contributing to its erection have preachin [sic] the house.  It has been and still is a power for good to the place and in summer it can not comfortabily [sic] seat those in attendance, especially when such preachers as Dr. Duryea, Dr. Bushnell, Dr. Kempshall, Dr. Cattell and many others of the same kind, have charge of the meetings and who, almost every season, spend some time at or near the place.  Dr. Duryea and Dr. Cattell have each a splendid camp, with necessary out buildings, on the Lake and have the confidence and respect of the people, often preaching in the little church on the hill and mingling with them in picnics etc.”

In the second manuscript, Robert Shaw described how he and his cohort, James Keller, were setting up traps for mink on “the North side of Mount Kempshall.”

“Dr. Kempshall” is the first – and only – instance I have seen of someone by that name, tied to Long Lake, mentioned in a historic text.  In the context given, the gentlemen listed in the first manuscript are those who received their Doctor of Divinity (or D.D.) from a church-related college, university, or seminary.

A search of acclaimed ministers by the name Kempshall from cities on the east coast, who served between 1865 and 1900, produced one name:  Rev. Everard Kempshall.  Rev. Kempshall was a pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, N.J., having served the church from 1861 until his retirement in 1898.  He graduated from Williams College in 1851, Princeton Theological Seminary in 1855, and received his D.D. degree from both colleges in 1870.

Kempshall’s academic and pastoral experiences suggest a connection to Long Lake, albeit indirectly.  During the time which Rev. Todd was trustee of Williams College (1845-1872), Kempshall was a student at the college.  Hence, they may have crossed paths in some fashion.

“Dr. Cattell” is Rev. William C. Cattell (1827-1898), who was also a pastor of the Presbyterian church.  According to Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1895), Cattell served alongside Kempshall as director of the Princeton Seminary.  Cattell also attended Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating in 1852.  Thus, Rev. Cattell and Rev. Kempshall were familiar with one another.

aerial view of Kempshall Mountain

“Dr. Duryea” is Rev. Joseph T. Duryea (1833-1898), one of the first vacationers to establish a summer home in Long Lake.  He built a camp at Buck Mountain Point on the northwestern shore of Long Lake.  From his camp, Rev. Duryea would have had a fine view of Kempshall Mountain.  He continued vacationing at his camp until his death in 1898.  According to William L. Wessels in his 1961 book Adirondack Profiles, Duryea entertained many notable people at his camp, such as Rev. Frederick B. Allen (for whom the High Peak, Mount Allen, is named).  According to Harry C. Ellison in his 1964 book Church of the Founding Fathers of New Jersey: A History, one of Rev. Kempshall’s favorite hobbies was fishing.  He spent much of his life vacationing at remote lakes and streams along the eastern seaboard.  Thus, he may have been a guest at Rev. Duryea’s summer camp and could have been drawn to preach at the Long Lake church during a visit.

Duryea graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1856, a year after Rev. Kempshall, so they may have crossed paths.  Rev. Duryea also served as Director of the Princeton Seminary from 1873 to 1879, with Rev. Kempshall taking his place when he relinquished his seat.

Records from the early days of the Long Lake Wesleyan Methodist Church may have told who exactly this Dr. Kempshall was.  Unfortunately, many of these records were incinerated on April 27, 1927 (Good Friday), when the church burned to the ground.

More on the Life of Rev. Everard Kempshall

Everard Kempshall was born on August 9, 1830, in Rochester, to Thomas and Emily Kempshall.  He was ordained by the Presbytery of Buffalo on January 15, 1856, and began his pastoral services at the Delaware Street Church of Buffalo, where he served until 1857.  From 1857 to 1858, he served St. Peter’s Church in Rochester, then a church at Batavia from 1858 to 1861.  He finally settled in Elizabeth, N.J. and commenced service for the First Presbyterian Church on September 18, 1861.  He would continue to minister to the congregation for thirty-seven years until his retirement in 1898.

Of his life’s work, Rev. Kempshall is best known for his efforts in the 1890s to eradicate racetrack gambling from New Jersey.  What follows in describing these efforts is taken from History of Union County, New Jersey, 1664-1923 by A. Van Doren Honeyman (1923), Leon Abbett’s New Jersey by Richard A. Hogarty (2001), The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime by Steven A. Riess (2011), and newspaper articles from the 1890s published in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Daily Times of New Brunswick, N.J.

In late nineteenth-century New Jersey, horse racing interests were politically connected.  To garner support from the politicians, racetrack owners would give patronage jobs and offer free passes to the tracks.  Since 1890, there were several efforts to legalize racing and pool-selling at racetracks.  When Assemblyman Leonard Kalisch’s bill to regulate horse racing sailed through the Legislature in 1890, Rev. Kempshall led the charge to urge Governor Leon Abbett to veto the bill by organizing a group called the Anti-Racetrack League, which mobilized public support against racetrack-betting and other forms of gambling.

summit of Kempshall

On June 17, 1890, a large contingent of Protestant clergy and laymen, led by Rev. Kempshall, descended upon the governor’s office, and presented the governor with a petition signed by more than 3,000 citizens.  As a result of the protests throughout the state, Governor Abbett refrained from signing the bill, what amounted to a pocket veto.

At the start of the 1893 legislative session, the Democrat-controlled Legislature (nicknamed the “Jockey Legislature”) made another push to legalize racetrack gambling.  Three bills on behalf of the state’s racetrack interests easily passed both houses of the Legislature in February.  Despite the veto of the Parker Acts by Governor George T. Werts, the Legislature overrode his veto and passed the acts on February 25th.  By mid-April, local Citizens’ Leagues were formed throughout the state to rally public support to vote out the legislators who supported the Parker Acts.

As President of the Citizens’ League, Rev. Kempshall called on the citizens who opposed the legalization of racetrack gambling to rally at the State House in Trenton to detest this “infamous action” by the Legislature.  A mass meeting was held in the Assembly Chamber, which included clergy from many denominations, the heads of educational institutions such as Rutgers College, representatives of business interests, farmers, and teachers.  Fully one-third of the crowd was comprised of women.

When Rev. Kempshall arrived at half-past-noon to preside over the meeting, he was met with “great applause.”  The Assembly Chamber being too small to accommodate the crowd, it was decided to move the meeting to the Taylor Opera House a few blocks away.  Before Rev. Kempshall left the Assembly Chamber, he said:

“I congratulate you that you are gathered in this house built by the people for the people.  Despite the attempt of your servants to keep you out of it, you occupy it, and you occupy it now by right of eminent domain. […]  Over the dome of this Capitol floats not the Stars and Stripes, but, as it were, the emblem of the horse and the jockey. […] Let us remember the solemn responsibility which rests upon us.  The eyes of the people not only of New Jersey, but of the United States, are upon you today.  New Jersey stands, alas, in the sisterhood of States humiliated and disgraced, but by the help of God, we will show that the blood of the fathers who fought in the Revolution flows in the sons of today.”

The crowd left the State House and marched to the Opera House, with Rev. Kempshall leading the procession.  An estimated two to three thousand citizens of New Jersey filled the Opera House, from gallery to orchestra pit.  At the conclusion of the meeting, five resolutions were adopted, the fifth calling upon the good citizens of New Jersey to use every legitimate means to bring about the repeal of the Parker Acts and extirpate every racetrack gambling effort in the state.

As a result of Rev. Kempshall’s efforts, much of the citizenry came out in November 1893 to vote against the assemblymen and senators who supported the Parker Acts.  The Republicans took control of both houses of the Legislature, and all previous acts in support of the racetrack interests were repealed.  Statutes were enacted to make it practically impossible to conduct racetrack gambling in the state.  On September 28, 1897, an amendment to the State Constitution forbidding the legalization of lotteries and other forms of gambling was ratified.

Severe throat trouble forced Rev. Kempshall to retire from the First Presbyterian Church at the urging of his physician; he preached his last sermon on October 23, 1898.  On March 31, 1904, Rev. Kempshall died suddenly from heart failure.  In the April 1904 edition of Obituary Record of the Alumni of Williams College, 1902-1904, the following was written regarding his character:

“In Dr. Kempshall’s character was simplicity, kindness and depth of heart which won our hearts.  He did not wear his heart on his sleeve, but when you touched it you found it was swelling over with kindness.  He was at his best when he prayed.  Dr. Kempshall was a man of marvelous resources in prayer, because of the depth of his religious life.  Dr. Kempshall’s power was deep sympathy, not carried in his hand but down in his heart.”

Photos, in order of appearance: View of Kempshall Mountain from a small rocky knob on McRorie Lake, looking east.  (Credit:  James Hopson)

1904 Long Lake, N.Y. U.S.G.S. quadrangle with Kempshall Mountain shown.

Aerial view of the summit of Kempshall Mountain. (Provided by Fred Knauf and courtesy of Paul Hartman, retired DEC Captain)

Small clearing on the summit of Kempshall Mountain where the fire tower once stood.  (Credit:  James Hopson)


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John Sasso is an avid hiker and bushwhacker of the Adirondacks and self-taught Adirondack historian. Outside of his day-job, John manages a Facebook group "History and Legends of the Adirondacks." John has also helped build and maintain trails with the ADK and Adirondack Forty-Sixers, participated in the Trailhead Steward Program, and maintained the fire tower and trail to Mount Adams.

10 Responses

  1. Alan Jones says:

    Very interesting essay. Thanks, John. I attended Camp Onondaga on Long Lake for five years: 1947-1951. I returned as a counselor in 1957. The summer of 1957 I took three groups of campers on canoe trips down Long Lake which included a climb of Mt. Kempshall. I was pretty sure I had climbed Kempshall all five years as a camper and was able to verify this from the sign-in book in the tower.

    The ranger stationed at the summit that summer was very ambitious. He didn’t like hauling groceries up the mountain on the trail from the Lake. To that end, he took a soil sample into Cooperative Extension to have it tested. Of course, it was very acidic. To improve the soil he hauled bags of lime up the mountain to “sweeten” the soil. He also built a nine-foot fence around his garden to keep the deer out. By my third trip up the mountain, he and I were becoming friends.

  2. Dave West says:

    Thank you Mr. Sasso for your diligent work . Our family has been vacationing in Long Lake for 35 years. Our camp is on a portion of the property that was formerly occupied by a boy’s summer camp, Camp Kempshall. It was located on the western shore of Long Lake, south of Keller Bay, near Pine Island and I believe operated in the years after WWII.

    The last of our family to climb Kempshall Mtn were mystified why there was a State trail to the top. Also, there was no view from the top or along the trail. That was probably 10 year ago. The fact that it was a State fire tower site explains the trail’s existence.

  3. Mike Kerker says:

    Thank you for your research. We canoed Long Lake in 1977 and camped near where the Kempshall Mt. trail started. We climbed to the top and I was impressed by the view of the High Peaks to the east. That led to a hiking trip later that year to Santanoni, my first High Peak, and I finished 11 years later on Panther. My daughter finished her 46 about 6 years ago, and my ex-wife finished last year.

    And it all began thanks to Kempshall!

  4. LakeReader says:

    Nice one, John.

    It seems like Rev. Kempshall sort of has to be the source for the name, and it makes sense given his interest in fishing mountain lakes & leadership skills.

    I suppose the Reverend must be spinning in his grave at the thought of the State being in the gambling business, taking away the property of the less fortunate who can’t do math well.

  5. Steve B says:

    We might never know who exactly named it Kempshall Mt. though. There’s a process the Fed’s go thru when they put that info. on a topo, wonder if they’d know ?.

    • John Sasso says:

      At the time the name was given during the 19th century, it was just a local appellation. Map creators like S.R. Stoddard would usually apply it to their map, which did not follow any federal or state guidelines.

      In regard to federal guidelines, when the fed did get involved, there were a number of criteria they used, one being they would honor what the land feature was locally known as.

    • John Sasso says:

      As for who named the peak, that’s a minor matter (IMHO) compared to whom the peak was named for. Having researched the histories of over 220 Adirondack peaks (in addition to other land features), I can tell you that it is normally unknown who named a land feature.

  6. Phil Terrie says:

    John, thanks for your diligent research!

    I wish my old friend Abbie Verner could have seen this article. Before she died, she had been trying for years to pin down the origin of that mountain’s name. As I recall (dimly), she once told me she was pretty sure it was named for a Protestant minister, so I guess she was on the right track. Abbie, among many other things, was the Long Lake Town Archivist, and for years her family had a boat-access-only camp on the east shore, on Kempshall’s northwestern foot.

    • John Sasso says:

      Phil, I was referred to Abbie years ago and I got in touch with her about Kempshall. She said she thought it was named for Rev Everard Kempshall but could not find any historical document connecting him with that peak. I am lucky I found that Long Lake book at the ADKX!

  7. Chip Lee says:

    Every summer from 1956 on, a climb up Kempshall at least once was on the docket. A short trip across the lake from camp (we had the Gerster camp for nearly 50 years) to Kempshall landing and we were off, dragging friends and family up the mountain. Phil Terrie and I are planning to bushwhack up there in a few weeks. Sort of a homecoming I guess…thanks for a great piece.

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