Since the early 1980s when Charles Herr purchased a camp in Inlet he has been interested in the history of the Fulton Chain region of the Adirondacks. He has been contributing history articles about the times and people of the Fulton Chain, covering transportation, steamboats, hotels and most importantly, the people to the Weekly Adirondack of Old Forge since November 2006.
His ambition is to uncover local and regional Fulton Chain history about people and events prior to 1930 and little covered in the histories of the region. He is the president of the Inlet Historical Society and presents summer programs on Inlet history at the Town Hall in Arrowhead Park in Inlet, NY.
His book, The Fulton Chain-Early Settlement, Roads,
Steamboats, Railroads and Hotels, was published in May 2017. More information is available at www.facebook.com/herrstory .
From 1892 to 1895, steamboat managers tried to outdo each other to attract passengers arriving on Dr. Webb’s railroad. But these efforts suffered from the growing pains of an embryonic village and bad business practices from Fulton Chain to the Old Forge dock.
As the Utica Sunday Tribune reported, “At the depot everyday are ‘pullers in’ and ‘runners’ for the several boats which run to the head of the lakes. As soon as a traveler alights from the train he is importuned to take this or that boat. Then, if he consents to go on a certain boat, perhaps the ‘runner’ for the other boat will get the check for his baggage, and passenger and baggage will go up the lakes on separate boats. The baggage man had no badge and the men who operate two of the boats go daily down to Remsen to ‘drum up’ business on the way between that station and Fulton Chain.” It was hoped that Dr. Webb’s agent H. D. Carter would take steps to “obliterate the nuisances which are hampering this resort”. » Continue Reading.
Much has been written of the steamers that operated on the Fulton Chain from Old Forge to the “head” of Fourth Lake. Regional histories describe the first steamboats introduced as well as those of the Fulton Navigation Company’s service at the beginning of the 20th century. After examining the newspapers covering early happenings in the region, I learned more about early public passenger and freight steamers.
Having covered the pickle boats and mail boats in other articles, they will not be included here. This work will be confined to only the steamers catering to passenger and cargo transport on the lower Chain lakes. I am going to divide this discussion into three parts: Beginnings, the Crosby Transportation Company years and the Fulton Navigation Company years. This narrative covers the first period. » Continue Reading.
In January 2010, the Weekly Adirondack reported that the St. Regis Mohawk nation agreed to be a “consulting party” for the East Side Pumping Station project, a station to be built along the Moose River behind the American Legion building in Old Forge. The tribe was contacted because a member was buried in the proximity, on the opposite side of the river, about one hundred eighty years earlier. That person, Peter Waters (a.k.a. Drid), was shot fatally by Nathaniel Foster, Jr. on September 17, 1833 at a location known alternately as Murderer’s Point or Indian Point, where the channel from Old Forge meets First Lake.
Less than twenty years (1850) afterwards, the events preceding the shooting and its aftermath were described in great detail, including trial testimony, by Jeptha Simms in Trappers of New York, which remains the primary source for that part of John Brown’s Tract history today. While the events surrounding the shooting have become a part of history and folklore, influenced by changing attitudes about Foster and toward Native Americans, another parallel story can be told about the graves of these two men. The remains of the two men who were opposing forces when alive, shared unsettled treatment after their burial. » Continue Reading.
During the first half of the 20th century, campers along the Fulton Chain welcomed the whistle of the steamer “Mohawk”, signaled to the pilot and knew that their meat and grocery provisions would soon be replenished by the Marks & Wilcox “floating supermarket”, known as the “Pickle Boat”. Today few people realize this name was borrowed from an earlier steamer built by Fred Kirch in Inlet. There were also other supply boats.
At an “Old Timers’ Banquet” held at Louis Sperry’s Riverside Inn in July 1934, pioneer guides and businessmen with names like Thistlethwaite, Sperry, Parsons, Rivett and Christy spoke of the good old days. At that gathering, a man named John McConnell “told of operating a supply boat for his father, a row boat he used for trips around the lakes.” » Continue Reading.
In 2008, an exhibit at the Goodsell Museum in Old Forge honored the train stations used by the railroads of the West Central Adirondacks. The first railroad in the region, nicknamed the “Peg Leg Railroad” or “Wooden Railroad”, did not quite extend to the Forge Tract as planned. But a more “green” option, in both literal and modern metaphorical terms, provided the additional distance not permitted to this railroad. The vehicle of the landowner’s choice was a steamer that, in the event of a boiler fire, would have sufficient water available to quench the fire.
Julia deCamp’s father Lyman R. Lyon originally owned all of Township 8, John Brown’s Tract, a replica map of which you can buy at the Goodsell Museum. Lyon conveyed a two-thirds portion that eventually was acquired by the Sacketts Harbor Railroad Company and subsequently mortgaged in the 1850s. A few corporate owners and receiverships later, this portion was acquired by Thomas C. Durant for his Adirondack Company that built the railroad from Saratoga Springs to North Creek. » Continue Reading.
Sources can be scarce when tracking down information for a region where precious few histories have been written. We are fortunate that the few we have are wonderful works, even though too many need reprinting. Such a work is David Beetle’s Up Old Forge Way. Originally published in 1948, this book provided readers with a humorous, introductory history of Fulton Chain lakes, hamlets and people. His sources were books, newspaper accounts and people’s recall of events in some cases fifty years after they occurred.
From Beetle’s book, we read that John Dix, a former governor, needed to float his company’s piled logs from the north branch of the Moose River (Township 8) through deCamp lands (Townships 1 & 7) to the company’s McKeever mill. Beetle wrote that Dix did not want to pay deCamps’ tolls for this river use, so Dix took them to court and repeatedly lost. Consequently, he needed to build a logging railroad from Clearwater to Rondaxe Lake. Dix got attorney Charles Snyder to get “Railroader” Thomas C. Durant to buy the right of way from deCamp with Dix’s money. W. S. deCamp would later wonder how Dix received this right of way in 1897.
Let’s correct two errors. Two later books also include this story and mention that this John Dix was governor before and after this episode. John Adams Dix was governor 1873-1874, died in 1879, and John Alden Dix, the one above, was governor 1911-1912. Also, Thomas C. Durant, William West’s father, had died in 1885, dead for twelve years by the time of the event described. What follows is what I have learned about the events, the people involved and the transaction itself. » Continue Reading.
The books of Henry Harter and Harold Hochschild discuss the building of the short-lived Raquette Lake Railway, its millionaire owners and probable origins. These include Mrs. Huntington threatening not to visit Collis Huntington’s Pine Knot Camp if she had to continue using the Fulton Chain steamers, riding on buckboard and boat carries beyond Fourth Lake.
Maybe Mr. Huntington, not finding an empty seat, got the idea after sitting on a keg of nails on one steamer ride. No doubt tycoons as Durant, Morgan, Vanderbilt and Whitney envied Dr. Webb’s ability to ride a private train to his Nehasane Preserve from New York. » Continue Reading.
Adirondack historians routinely state that Rhode Island merchant John Brown obtained clear title to a 210,000 acre tract of land when he paid $33,000 at a Court of Chancery mortgage foreclosure sale in December 1798. However, this transaction was not recorded in the Lewis County Clerk’s Office until February 22, 1804, more than five years later and five months after Brown’s death.
Two days later on February 24, the Assembly enacted Chapter 6, Laws of 1804 which affirmed that the Brown estate’s title to the tract could not be extinguished in any way “by reason or pretext of the alienism of any person to whom the said lands may have been conveyed” or “ by any conveyance prior to“ Brown’s 1798 payment.
John Brown’s anxiety over his title and his efforts to obtain this legislation while he was developing the tract at significant expense are evidence that his title was not perfected until 1804, the same year that two of his legal advisers fought a deadly duel. » Continue Reading.
The state’s ongoing purchase of some 65,000 acres from the Nature Conservancy brings to mind the largest land purchase for the Forest Preserve in history. In 1896, the needs of the Erie Canal resulted in the state’s purchase from Dr. William Seward Webb of 74,584 acres.
The story begins with the Black River, which starts primarily at North Lake reservoir and travels in a route that begins southwesterly then turns northwesterly around Forestport to ultimately end at Lake Ontario. At 115 miles, it is the longest river running completely within New York’s borders. Bodies of water adding to the Black River’s water volume include Otter and Woodhull Creeks, and the Independence, Moose and Beaver Rivers. In the 19th century, Watertown and other river towns grew from villages to industrial centers with factories and mills relying heavily on water power. » Continue Reading.
Probably the most unique post office in the United States was the postal station operating in boats on the Fulton Chain during the first half of the 20th century. Visitors today can actually relive this operation by riding the “President Harrison”, the current mail boat operated by Old Forge Lake Cruises. Though no longer a post office station, this vessel delivers mail in the same fashion as that provided by Capt. Jack Sheppard on his steamer “Fulton”, begun during the Benjamin Harrison administration (1889-1893). » Continue Reading.
Before the automobile, the railroads and the steamers, those who traveled from “the Forge” to Big Moose Lake disembarked on the north shore of Fourth Lake at a location known as “Big Moose Landing”. Another landing to the west was used that took the traveler past First (called Landon, then Rondaxe) and Second (called Foster, then Dart’s) Lakes to the Third (called Sherman, then Big Moose) Lake, north branch, Moose River. Guides with their sportsmen would usually head for Elba Island and bear north towards the shore where a landing developed that led to a trail through the woods. This trail was called the “Carry Trail”.
After unloading at Big Moose Landing, you would carry your belongings up a hill and quickly come to what Edwin Wallace called “a lovely little pond” which we today call Surprise Pond. Continuing another three-quarters of a mile past today’s Route 28 and the bed of the Raquette Lake Railway (now the hike/bike trail) you come to Bubb Lake. » Continue Reading.
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