Tom is the great great grandson of the very first “summer folk” on Blue Mountain Lake. The Thacher family built the first private summer home on Thacher Island in 1867.
Tom has spent every summer of his life on Indian Point of Raquette Lake on lands purchased by his family in 1876. In researching the origins of his family’s century old, one-room cabin, Tom is discovering over 200 years of Adirondack History seen through the lens of one plot of land.
Extended versions of this article and other stories and photos can be found at Fifty Acres of Beach and Wood which chronicles tales of iconic characters of Adirondack history whose footprints have graced the shores of Indian Point.
Tom is currently fundraising to publish a book of his research. The proceeds from the book will support the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts. You can make a contribution to the book fund here:
One mystery remains which my research into the early cabins on Raquette Lake’s Indian Point has never fully solved. Why did the last two generations of our family have no knowledge of the original Thacher cabin on Indian Point from 1878-1886? Why are there no photos or drawings? Why was it abandoned?
Today, my family is proud of its Irish heritage thanks to the courage of my grandfather Kenelm R. Thacher in marrying Catherine Callahan. Family lore has it that after the marriage Kenelm Thacher was labeled the black sheep of the family, the result of the bigotry toward Catholics by members of my Protestant family. My aunt spoke of certain Thacher family members who crossed the street in downtown Albany, rather than converse with her parents. It turns out however, that my grandfather was not the first Thacher to marry a Catholic, to the chagrin of some of his family. » Continue Reading.
My last article identified the most likely location of the original cabin built by Matthew Beach and William Wood in the mid-1830s on Raquette Lake. Wood remained on Indian Point until 1859, but sometime between 1844 and 1846 he had a falling out with Beach and built a separate cabin (shown in this 1851 sketch from Jervis McEntee’s diary). » Continue Reading.
I know where Matthew Beach and William Wood built their original cabin (depicted in this 1840 sketch by John Hill) on Raquette Lake’s Indian Point. Or at least I think I know, or perhaps I should say I have deduced a pretty darn good educated guess. I welcome others to critique my assumptions.
The sketch at left offers little in the way of accurate perception of distances given that the opposite side of North Bay appears as close to Needle Island as the tip of Indian Point. And don’t get me started on the apparent thickness of Needle Island. Yet the drawing holds some surprisingly valuable clues. » Continue Reading.
Alvah Dunning was perhaps the most famous of Raquette Lake guides, said to have helped lead the first excursion of sportsmen to Raquette Lake at age eleven. Born in Lake Piseco in 1816, he lived there until 1860 when he was forced to flee after beating his wife.
From that moment on, he removed himself from society in favor of the freedom of the wilderness. » Continue Reading.
Local Raquette Laker Jim Regan told the following story one night 40 years ago while sitting around a campfire:
“Mr. Reynolds lived in that cabin over there with his wife and kids for a whole year. During that time, in the summer of 1938, he guided for a wealthy English gentleman, a friend of your grandfather [John Boyd Thacher]. Months after the man returned to England, Mr. Reynolds received a wooden barrel filled with good English china. The story goes that Mr. Reynolds, after one too many drinks, was angered that his payment came in the form of this useless luxury. He raised the barrel above his head and tossed it as far as he could off the dock into the Needles Channel, and that china still sits somewhere at the bottom of the lake.” » Continue Reading.
“After much toil and labor in rowing, in consequence of a strong head wind, we reached the lake at its eastern extremity. This accomplished, our next business was to find the establishment of Beach and Wood situated on some point on the opposite shore. By fortunate conjecture, our guide struck upon the right course and soon landed on Indian Point at the residence of the above named gentlemen. Here we determined to remain till we had thoroughly explored the region.”
Thus Prof. Ebenezer Emmons described his arrival on my family’s land on Raquette Lake in 1840, captured in this sketch of Beach and Woods’ earlier cabin by John William Hill. » Continue Reading.
“Few fully understand what the Adirondack wilderness really is. It is a mystery even to those who have crossed and recrossed it by boats along it avenues, the lakes; and on foot through its vast and silent recesses…In this remote section, filed with the most rugged mountains, where unnamed waterfalls pour in snowy tresses from the dark overhanging cliffs…the adventurous trapper or explorer must carry upon his back his blankets and heavy stock of food. Yet, though the woodsman may pass his lifetime in some of the wilderness, it is still a mystery to him.”
An article in the June 21, 1915, Syracuse Post-Standard was the first anyone in our family had heard of the role our property on Indian Point played in the evolution of early forestry education in the United States.
The August Forest Camp was a miniature village of 9×9 tents where approximately twelve boys and men lived while participating in morning instruction and afternoon fieldwork. The month long program included elementary forestry, zoology, botany and fungi courses taught by prominent U. S. pioneers of forestry science. An old Adirondack guide also taught a week of Woodcraft “such as a man should know who wishes to spend any length of time in the woods”. » Continue Reading.
“Honest John Plumbley [sic], the prince of guides, patient as a hound, and as faithful, – a man who knows the wilderness as a farmer knows his fields, whose instinct is never at fault, whose temper is never ruffled, whose paddle is silent as falling snow, whose eye is true along the sights, whose pancakes are the wonder of the woods…”
– Rev. William H. H. Murray, Adventures in the Wilderness, 1869.
William H. H. Murray is widely credited with bringing the masses to the Adirondacks. The historian Warder Cadbury said, “Murray quite literally popularized both wilderness and the Adirondacks.” “Murray’s Rush”, the onslaught of tourists who rushed to the mountains in response to his book, gave rise to the claim that the Adirondacks are the birthplace of the American vacation.
The legend of Sir John Johnson’s role in naming Raquette Lake has been written and re-written for more than a century. Below is the earliest source I have found, from the 1891 Annual Report of the New York State Forest Commission.
Its name is founded on a bit of history, hitherto traditional. During the War of the Revolution, a party of Indians and British soldiers, under command of Sir John Johnson… passed through the wilderness on their way from the Mohawk Valley to Canada. It was in the winter time, and, on reaching this lake, the party was overtaken by a sudden thaw, which made further travel on snow-shoes impossible. As the Indians and soldiers did not want to carry their snow-shoes, or raquettes, as they termed them, they piled them up and covered them over, making a large heap that remained there many years. The expedition had reached the South Inlet when the thaw set in, and it was there, on a point of land, that the pile was made… Old Mr. Woods, the pioneer settler of Raquette Lake, heard this story from the Indians themselves, and often pointed out to hunters the decaying fragments of the raquettes.
Believing that “Old Mr. Woods” refers to William Wood, I was intrigued to unravel the mysteries of this folklore. Wood was known to be close friends with local Native Americans, and the passage continues with a reference to Woods “in company with ‘Honest John Plumley’, Murray’s celebrated guide”. Wood sold his land on Indian Point to Plumley in 1859. » Continue Reading.
When I walk the land around Matthew Beach’s original hut and William Wood’s shanty on Raquette Lake’s Indian Point, I imagine the Abenaki guide Mitchell Sabattis pulling into their landings in a canoe or guideboat made by his own hand. Indian Point was a waypoint for many a traveler boating through the Central Adirondacks.
While it is impossible to know how often Sabattis visited those acres, we have written record of at least three occasions: his trips with Joel Tyler Headley in 1844-46, accompanying C. W. Webber in 1849, and an expedition of women who explored the region in 1873 (beautifully told in Barbara McMartin’s book To the Lake of the Skies).
Sabattis guided for my great-great-grandfather George Hornell Thacher in 1862 as he explored the region from a base camp Sabattis had on Blue Mountain Lake’s Crane Point. Even if Thacher and his guide traveled to Raquette Lake however, it’s unlikely they spent a night on Indian Point. Sabattis maintained a campsite from 1852 to 1877 on Watch Point according to Ken Hawks, who now owns the property. » Continue Reading.
And how solemn it is to move all day through a majestic colonnade of trees and feel that you are in a boundless cathedral whose organ notes swell and die away with the passing wind like some grand requiem. Still more exciting is it to lie at midnight by your camp fire and watch the moon sailing up amid the trees or listen to the cry of the loon, wild and lonely, on the wild and lonely lake, or the hoot of the owl in the deep recesses of the forest. – Joel Tyler Headley
Many have probably heard of “Adirondack Murray”, the Reverend William H. H. Murray who wrote Adventures in the Wilderness in 1869. His book is credited with driving throngs of tourists to escape the cities for the Adirondacks in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. However, it was Joel Tyler Headley two decades earlier who wrote the seminal book The Adirondack or Life in the Woods in 1849 that brought the first wave of wealthy sports to explore the region. » Continue Reading.
You see me here standing where my great-great grandfather George Hornell Thacher Sr. once stood on the porch of the family lodge built in 1867 on Thacher Island on Blue Mountain Lake. The photo is not dated but given his aged appearance (no, the guy on the left), I believe it to be from the early 1880s.
My father spoke of visiting his uncle on the island as a young boy in the 1940s. No Thacher has had the opportunity to walk the island since then. It had always been a dream of mine to visit my family’s first summer home. A dream fulfilled thanks to the hospitality of John and Janet O’Loughlin, whose family has owned the island for over two decades. » Continue Reading.
My cousin Stephen Fitzpatrick showed me a mark that is chiseled into a rock just outside the front door of our family’s little red one-room cabin on Indian Point. The mark vaguely appears like an arrow but with a crosshair at the top instead of a point. Stephen applied an ink dye to the mark so it is more visible in this photo.
Stephen remembers asking his mother about the mark, and she said that her father claimed it was there when he first came to the Point in 1910.
The mark itself is intriguing, but the mystery deepened when Stephen explained that the crosshair is actually a compass rose. The large line runs almost perfectly north-south, and the smaller line is nearly east-west.
Alas, the best laid plans… I am finally here at Thacher Camp on Indian Point of Raquette Lake for two weeks. I had grand ideas of endless writing and to prepare, I had copied a treasure trove of my research files onto a 32 gigabyte flash drive and borrowed an old laptop from a friend. Then I discovered on my arrival that the flash drive is dead.
What to do? I began to think back to the precious few letters that I have which were written by George Hornell Thacher while sitting in the 1878 cabin, somewhere not far from this cabin in which I sit today. He probably wrote on paper with pen or pencil under the soft glow of an oil lamp, whereas I am here with pen and paper under the pulsating glow of the Humphrey three-mantel gas chandelier that hangs above our dining table. » Continue Reading.
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