Thursday, January 6, 2022

For Whom Was William Blake Pond named?

william blake pond sign

William Blake Pond is located near Thirteenth Lake in North River, NY and is part of the 114,000 acre Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area. It is a popular hiking destination.  In the early 1900s the water from the pond was piped downhill to Frank Hooper’s Vanning Jig. The jig used a lot of water to separate garnet from the hornblende and feldspar stone in which it was encased.

But exactly who was this William Blake for whom the pond was named?

An inquiry from an old friend instigated the pursuit of an answer. Jim Townsend told me he had a bet with another friend of his who asserted that the pond was named for the famous English romantic poet, painter, and print-maker William Blake (1759-1827).

Skeptical that a water body purposed for mining operations would be named for a romantic poet, I enlisted Deana Hitchcock Woods, Johnsburg Town Historian, to see what she could find out, but a quick search of the files of the town historian and local historical society yielded no answers.

I thought most likely the pond was named for a nearby farmer who might have owned that land. A search of deeds online at the Warren County Center, however, failed to turn up any land owner in the immediate area by the name of William Blake. Likewise, a review of the 1900 Federal Census of Johnsburg failed to yield any results.

Maybe the pond was really named for the English poet William Blake. Rick Morse, a local licensed guide, thinks it is quite possible. Rick has heard that Frank Hooper, despite being a mine owner and operator, was quite taken with the romance of William Blake’s poetry. The opening lines of Blake’s “Gnomic Verses” might have had a special appeal as Hooper was building the mine and this mining community in North River:

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet;

            This is not done by jostling in the street.”

According to an unpublished paper “Thoughts & Comments on Mining and Milling of Garnet by F. C. Hooper & North River Garnet Company, 1895-1928” by Vernon J. Burns (July 1976), Hooper opened his mine in 1895. William Blake was born in 1757 and died in 1827 so those dates work. Research indicates Blake wrote those now famous lines in 1793 or 1806, but his poetry was virtually unknown in his own lifetime.  It wasn’t until Alexander Gilchrist first published the first volume of The Life of William Blake, essentially a biography, in 1863 that Blake became known. The second volume, not published until 1880, was a compilation of Blake’s poetry, prose artwork and illustrated manuscripts.  The “Men and Mountains Meet” line most likely first appeared in that second volume in 1880, just 15 years before Hooper began work on his garnet mining operations. Blake was primarily known for his engraving, not his poetry. Could Frank Hooper have read these now famous lines of poetry and named the pond for this poet? Certainly possible, but plausible? That argument would be strengthened if we could find a reference to Blake’s poetry in Hooper’s personal diary or journal, if they even exist, or a copy of Blake’s Poetry from Hooper’s personal library.

Then Deana discovered there was an engineer by the name of William Blake who lived on Bassett Street in Albany, listed as such in the Albany City Directory of 1880.  Might this William Blake have been an engineer hired by Frank Hooper to help design the early garnet mining operations on the mountain? Perhaps a grateful Hooper named the pond after this William Blake. Unfortunately, no additional information on this William Blake has been found.

Next step was an inquiry to Charles “Chuck” Barton who has extensive files on the early garnet mining operations in North River. Could an engineer by the name of William Blake from Albany be found in the early employment records of Hoopers Mines?

No luck; the early office records of Frank Hopper or his mining operations have never been found.

Ivy Gocker, Librarian at the Adirondack Experience, then joined the search. She found a reference to a “local” William Blake listed as an engineer in the Argus newspaper of July 11,1887. Apparently, that William Blake was appointed assistant engineer of the fire department at Sandy Hill, todays village of Hudson Falls. Research though concluded that, in 1880s fire department parlance, an “engineer” was in charge of the maintenance and repair of the equipment. His prime function was to get the fire roaring and the steam up in a steam-operated fire truck and get the pumper into operation; clearly not one to design a mining operation with pond in North River, NY.

There is a Homer Pond in Minerva, named for the famous American artist Winslow Homer. Homer visited the Northwoods Club in Minerva over twenty times. His watercolor paintings of Mink Pond and environs are world renowned. Might William Blake Pond have been similarly named? Seems unlikely. There is no record of William Blake ever leaving England for America, no less ever visiting the Adirondacks.

My good friend Caroline Welsh remembered that perhaps Verplanck Colvin, who surveyed this area in the late 1790s, had an assistant named Blake, but couldn’t place his first name.  Indeed, Crane Mountain in Warren County is named for Moses Crain, a surveyor who worked with Colvin surveying that mountain, and Moxham Mountain is named for Colvin’s assistant Robert Moxham who fell to his death on that mountain in Minerva in 1799 while trying to set a surveyor’s marker. There was a Blake who worked with Colvin and was a good friend of his for many years. Blake Peak (a/k/a Blake Mountain) is named for him and is located near Mt Marcy in Essex County, but that Blake’s first name was Miles, not William.

Last fall my friend Don Seauvageau shared with me that Finch Pruyn had recently donated over 300 maps to the Adirondack Experience at Blue Mountain Lake complete with background documentation, and they were all now online. Don searched these documents and maps, but he did not find a William Blake referenced in regards the pond near Thirteen Lake in North River. The only Finch lands in Johnsburg were along the Hudson River in Township 14, not Township 13 where the pond is located.

Interestingly, hiking maps identify “William Blake Pond Trail”, but official USGS topographic maps do not name the pond.

So the mystery remains, and that bet between Jim and his friend remains uncollected.

That should not, however, diminish your enjoyment of William Blake Pond. The trail to William Blake Pond begins across from the Garnet Hill Outdoor Center in North River, N.Y. Uphill just a hundred yards or so is Frank Hoopers original garnet mine where you can still pick up garnet chips. The 8/10 mile trail to the pond is just off to the right as you start your hike and is well marked. If you find yourself crossing a log bridge you have just missed the turnoff uphill to the pond; backtrack about 500 feet and you’ll see the weathered sign to Wm. Blake Pond posted on a young beech tree. The trail then climbs alongside a picturesque cascading stream, the overflow from the pond. You’ll also cross a series of water pipes used in the operation of Hooper’s garnet mine over a hundred years ago.

blake pond

Photos by Glenn Pearsall

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Adirondack historian Glenn Pearsall is the author of Echoes in these Mountains (2008), When Men and Mountains Meet (2013), and the Adirondack novel, Leaves Torn Asunder (2016).
In 2000, Glenn Pearsall and his wife Carol established and funded the Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life of year round residents of the Adirondack Park.

When not pursuing a passion for history and philanthropy, Pearsall is a senior partner and Portfolio Manager for a wealth management team in Glens Falls, NY. He and his wife Carol live near the base of Crane Mountain in Johnsburg.

9 Responses

  1. Bill Joplin says:

    Interesting article, and I admire the depth of your research, but Verplanck Colvin’s assistant was named Mills Blake, not Miles Blake.

  2. Tony Goodwin says:

    And surveyor Moxham, working in 1799 would not have been working for Colvin who started his surveys in the 1870s.

    Otherwise, a fascinating bit of research to solve a naming mystery. Any luck on the origin of Botheration Pond?

  3. Eileen Mack says:

    I really enjoyed reading this story I appreciate all the research and I am going to look up works by Blake!
    Thank you.
    Eileen. Mack

  4. Dick Carlson says:

    Nice Glenn! “In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors.” Wm. Blake

  5. Greg says:

    The pond is lovely year ‘round. When we have snow and decent ice cover, we ski across this pond on our way over the Halfway Brook Trail on a great back country ski run. It’s also a great stop on the Hooper Mine Loop trail.
    There is mention of NYS Surveyor Verplanck Colvin in the article. One of Colvin’s many survey lines runs near the pond.
    With the garnet mining industry, Historic Ski Trails, year ‘round recreational opportunities, and Colvin surveys, this area is steeped in history and well worth a visit. Don’t miss a short hike up nearby Balm of Gilead Mt. Indeed, North River is where “men and mountains meet.”

  6. Jane says:

    Fascinating reading and stunning photograph! Thank you, Glenn.

  7. Ed Zahniser says:

    Howard Zahniser was a huge William Blake fan. I think he got the word “untrammeled” that is used in the official definition of wilderness in the 1964 National Wilderness Preservation System Act, of which he was the chief architect, from William Blake’s BOOK OF URIZEN.One meaning of a trammel—the nominative version of the word—was a net used to capture flocks of birds.

  8. Ron J. Richards says:

    I love the photo of the pond. I am from Wevertown. Went to JCS and Clarkson.

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