The Fourth Annual Hobofest, an all-day music festival “at-the-tracks” in Saranac Lake NY celebrating railroad culture and the “hobo spirit,” is happening on Sunday, September 2nd. This year’s Hobofest will take place under the “big top,” to assure against the variables of weather, from noon until 11pm. Eat and Meet Grill & Larder will serve local fare, also a children’s activities booth and festival & artist merchandise tables.
This year’s special guest is Washington State legend, Baby Gramps. A former street musician and train buff, Gramps plays antique resonator National Steel guitars, and sings his own unique arrangements of rags, jazz, & blues songs from the 20’s & 30’s, and many originals with wordplay, humor, and throat singing. His appeal is to a wide range of audiences from “jam-band” – having toured with Phish and the Flecktones- to punk to old timey traditional and to kids of all ages. He has performed across the States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. » Continue Reading.
Join author Charles Yaple at the Adirondack Museum on Monday, July 16 for “Foxey Brown: The Story of An Adirondack Outlaw, Hermit and Guide.” Yaple will tell the story of railroad worker and college student David Brennan who, convinced he had killed a man in a Boston barroom brawl, fled to the Adirondack Mountain wilderness in 1890. Changing his name to David Brown, he became known as a crafty “Foxey” woodsman and popular guide, until a hunting trip tragedy led to one of the largest manhunts in Adirondack history.
Living through the beginning of the American conservation movement, some tried to cope with increasingly strict State conservation laws and private parks by resorting to thievery, poaching, setting forest fires and even murder. » Continue Reading.
News comes this week that the Saratoga & North Creek Railroad (Iowa Pacific Holdings) has gotten federal go-ahead to extend commercial rail uses to and from the former mine at Tahawus, Newcomb. I extend the company and the towns through which the spur line passes a thumbs-up and good luck, not just for its rail rehabilitation and future commercial success, but for its educational success.
That said, the State of New York, by failing to hold public hearings to share information and hear opinion about the complicated issues behind re-extending the line from North Creek to Newcomb, failed its responsibilities for the Forest Preserve. » Continue Reading.
This is New York State Museum Week, highlighting some of the best of what our state has to offer. Among the finest in the North Country, and at a price that can’t be beat (free), is the Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum, housed in the former railroad depot building. This community project has grown into a remarkable facility dedicated to regional and town history. The focus, of course, is on the iron mining facility that operated in the town for a century, producing some of the finest iron ore on earth.
No matter what your expectations are, you’ll be amazed at the quantity and quality of the displays. To top it all off, there are friendly, helpful folks on hand anxious to share their knowledge of the town’s history, further enhancing the museum experience. » Continue Reading.
What follows is a guest analysis by Billy Martin, a senior at Paul Smith’s College in the Natural Resource Management and Policy program who is interested in the economic and environmental sustainability of the Adirondack Park.
Adirondack history has been shaped by contention over how to manage the region’s resources. Maintaining this historical trend, contention over the use of a state-owned rail corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake has led to another divide among residents. The Adirondack Recreational Trails Advocacy (ARTA) and the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) represent opposing poles on the issue, each with seemingly equal support from residents of the Tri-Lakes Region. » Continue Reading.
Local historian Milda Burns, popular for costumed presentations stuffed with intriguing and often amusing details, will launch the John Thurman Historical Society’s 2012 speaker series with her program “Old Ski Train to North Creek.”
Burns, who grew up in North River the daughter of Finch Pruyn’s River Superintendent Jack Donohue, remembers well the D & H trains of the 1930s which brought weekend skiers to North Creek Depot. From there local families picked them up and shuttled them to boarding houses and homes with spare rooms, and ferried them to the new Ski Bowl for the novel “ride up, slide down” experience.
By one estimate, sometimes there were almost as many skiers as there were residents in the whole town. This past winter Burns was on hand to greet passengers riding the inaugural run of the new ski train operated by Saratoga and North Creek Railway.
The public is invited to attend this free program 7 pm, Tuesday, April 3rd at the Thurman Town Hall; refreshments will be served.
For more information, call Joan Harris, 623-2007. Thurman Town Hall is located at 311 Athol Road, Athol, just six miles from the Warrensburg Health Center via NYS route 418 and Athol Road.
Few villages in New York State can lay claim to as rich a heritage as Rouses Point, and like the oft-used real-estate axiom says, there are three primary reasons—location, location, location. As New York’s northernmost and easternmost village, Rouses Point can be found at the north end of Lake Champlain. Bordering on Canada to the north and Vermont to the east, for decades it was a shipping and transportation crossroads, serving both water and rail traffic.
Until Interstate 87 was completed in the late 1960s, adding a major customs facility at Champlain, Rouses Point was one of the busiest border crossings in the state. That made for an incredible mix of good, bad, famous, and dangerous folks passing through the village every day.
A book could be written on that subject alone, but in deference to space limitations, here’s a smattering of the interesting visitors to pass through a village whose population has stood at around 2,000 for more than a century.
In 1893, thirteen rail cars filled with British soldiers and their horses passed north into Canada, returning after appearing at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was the largest British presence in the village since thousands of defeated foot soldiers from the Battle of Plattsburgh (September 11, 1814) fled north in retreat.
In 1904, two circuses crossed at Rouses Point into Canada. For locals, this was a frequent and enjoyable event. Dealing with customs regulations was time-consuming, which meant the circus animals had to be walked, fed, and tended to, allowing curious visitors to view lions, tigers, elephants, and other critters … sort of a free show.
Besides Rouses Point’s proud legacy as a stop on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves to freedom in Canada, there were also instances of white slavery in the opposite direction, bringing young girls into the states to work as prostitutes.
Noted financier J. P. Morgan, Jr., son of one of the wealthiest individuals in American history, reportedly traveled through the village in his plush, private rail car following the end of World War I. Destination: Ottawa, to pay Canada for armaments used by the US during the war. He was said to have been accompanied by $50 million in gold (worth $630 million in 2011). It was nothing unusual for Morgan, who handled hundreds of millions of dollars in such payments each year for the governments of France and England as well.
New York City’s legendary vanishing judge, Joseph Force Crater, was reportedly seen in Rouses Point in 1930. Though his acquaintances believed he had been murdered, authorities were dispatched to the border village to conduct a search (unsuccessful, of course).
At about the same time, recently retired World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Gene Tunney passed through Rouses Point after touring through southern Quebec.
Following a state visit to Washington, the King of Siam traveled north through the village in 1931. Five years later, Anna Hauptmann spent time in Rouses Point after being denied entry into Canada, even though she was accompanied by her lawyer. Anna was well known as the widow of Bruno Hauptmann, who was executed five months earlier after being found guilty of kidnapping and murdering the Lindbergh baby, a deed that became known as the “Crime of the Century.”
In 1940, prior to America’s entry into World War II, millions of dollars worth of armed and battle-ready planes, built on Long Island, streamed north through Rouses Point to assist Canada’s war effort.
Considering the level of traffic that once passed through the village on road and rail, the village is much quieter today. In the 1920s, for example, more than a million people crossed the Rouses Point border in a single year. On one busy weekend, 9,000 cars went through customs, and in 1925, officers reported that six and a half miles of boxcars passed south from Canada daily.
Of course, those statistics occurred during Prohibition, which saw increased traffic due to smuggling. The high number of border crossings reduced the chances of being caught. Since thousands were arrested, it’s certain that a much larger number of booze smugglers escaped detection. (Flo Ziegfeld was among those caught by local customs officials.)
Rouses Point has also been visited by several US Presidents, among them James Monroe, William McKinley, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.
The most famous of foreign visitors to the village were British royalty. In 1919, the Prince of Wales toured Canada and accepted an invitation to visit President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. Wilson was bedridden with illness at the time, so a “bemedalled staff of admirals and generals” was dispatched to greet the Prince when he first stepped onto American soil at Rouses Point.
On November 10, 1919, Edward, Prince of Wales, arrived at the train station. Awaiting him were Secretary of State Lansing, Major General John Biddle of the US Army, Rear Admiral Albert T. Niblick of the US Navy, and Major General Charleston of the British army.
The band of Plattsburgh’s 63rd US Infantry was on hand to play the British and American national anthems. A group of young ladies held an unusual canopy (the flags of both countries sewn together) while Prince Edward strolled beneath it, shaking the hand of each girl.
Augmented by a contingent of several hundred from Plattsburgh, the throng, estimated at around 2,000, offered a gracious welcome to the future king, whose friendly, pleasant demeanor endeared him to the crowd.
(Years later, Edward made his lasting mark on royal history. After ruling as king for less than a year, he famously chose to abdicate the throne in order to marry a commoner, Wallis Simpson.)
Another royal visit to Rouses Point twenty years later lacked the details of Edward’s sojourn, though it was considered a great honor for the private rail car of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to pass through any village.
In 1939, Rouses Point was featured in articles from coast to coast as the place where “the first reigning monarchs ever to visit the United States and Canada” departed from American soil.
Security for the trip was at the highest level ever seen in the North Country. D&H Railroad Police, FBI agents, NYS Police Troop B officers, and the entire 26th Infantry from Plattsburgh handled an important assignment: “… practically every station, crossing, culvert, underpass, and overpass will be patrolled for hours before the royal train passes through this section.”
Separately, a massive crew was charged with ensuring against any equipment failures: “… every inch of the roadbed from Troy to the Canadian boundary at Rouses Point will be patrolled by section men and other railroad employees just ahead of the train to make certain there are no broken rails or obstructions on the track.”
The royal tour of Canada received worldwide media coverage, but the US excursion, described as “a private diplomatic mission” related to impending hostilities in Europe, was more low-key. Small crowds gathered at northern New York rail stations to watch the royal train pass by on the trip’s farewell leg.
Traveling north along Lake Champlain’s shores, the train bearing the King and Queen reached the Rouses Point station at 5 a.m. on Monday, June 12, their last stop in America. A number of Canadian Mounties, having stayed overnight at Rouses Point’s Holland Hotel, assumed security duties at the border crossing. Within about fifteen minutes, the royal couple was on their way to Halifax, where they would sail back to England.
Interesting visitors are just a small part of the village’s story, which spans many and diverse subjects: the discovery of the Lake by Samuel de Champlain; various conflicts, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Lower Canada Rebellion, and the Fenian struggle during the Civil War; the stories of Fort Blunder and Fort Montgomery; a lengthy border dispute with England; smuggling of just about every commodity imaginable; the wild times of rum-running during Prohibition; and more.
Rouses Point is one of New York State’s historical treasures.
Photo Top: Edward, Prince of Wales, 1919.
Photo Middle: Gene Tunney headline.
Photo Bottom: Headlines touted the royals’ departure point from the United States.
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
The North Creek Depot Preservation Association will pay tribute to “The oldest continuously operated transportation company”, The Delaware & Hudson Railroad and it’s Adirondack Branch, on October 15 and 16, 2011.
North Creek is home to one of the last complete and original D&H Terminals, fully restored to it’s turn of the of the century condition. The event feature exhibits on the the D&H and it’s operations on the Adirondack Branch including one-of-a-kind rare pieces of railroad history. There will also be vendors showcasing D&H merchandise, a slide show featuring passenger and freight operations on the Adirondack Branch and much more. The exhibits will be open Saturday October 15, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, and Sunday, October 16, 11:00 pm to 6:00 pm. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Justin Gonyo at (518) 251-5345.
What follows is a guest essay by Kate Fish, Executive Director of the Adirondack North Country Association and a member of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.
Recent news that the Lake Placid to Saranac Lake rail side recreation path project received a $1.2 million grant should put to rest any debate about what “should” be done with the northern portion of the 119-mile Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.
The Federal Highway Administration grant has been awarded to the Adirondack North Country Association on behalf of New York State Department of Transportation through a very competitive process – 1,800 applications were submitted, requesting more than 30 times the funds available — for projects under the National Scenic Byways Program. This grant is one of the largest amounts received in this round of funding, indicating strong support at the national level to boost recreation and improve infrastructure simultaneously. » Continue Reading.
A tornado in the northeastern states, as happened recently in Massachusetts, is a comparatively rare event, but it’s by no means anything new. Many similar storms in the past have wreaked devastation in New York and New England, but few have had the incredible impact of the tornado that struck northern Franklin County on June 30, 1856.
The storm system caused chaos across the North Country, and in lower Quebec and northern Vermont as well, but the villages of Burke and Chateaugay bore the brunt of the damage when a tornado touched down, causing destruction of historic proportions. In the 1850s, northern Franklin County was mostly a vast, wooded wilderness. The arrival of the railroad had led to accelerated growth and the development of several population centers, including Burke and Chateaugay, just five miles apart in the county’s northeast corner.
Farming and lumbering were the chief occupations, and until sections of forest were cleared, most of the farms were located near the villages and along the Old Military Turnpike (modern-day Route 11). About the only way a storm’s effect could be truly devastating was for it to strike the population centers—and that’s exactly what happened.
Not that it would have made much difference, but this storm also had an extra element of surprise—it struck shortly before mid-morning. The great majority of tornadoes strike in the late afternoon after the sun has had plenty of time to heat things up.
Farmer Lucas Wyman of Constable watched as two dark, threatening cloud systems moved towards each other, one from the southwest and one from the northwest. He described their meeting as a thunderous collision, after which the storm began devouring everything in its path. Taking a northeastern track, it flattened trees and fences as it sped ominously towards Burke.
Arriving at the village, it tore the roofs off several buildings, sending their contents high in the air to parts unknown. As the storm raged, only pieces of some homes were left standing, and all barns, less sturdily built by nature, were leveled.
At the hamlet of Thayer’s Corners, the store of Daniel Mitchell was completely destroyed. Thirty-six-year-old Jeremiah Thomas, father of two young children, had recently sold his farm and gone to work for Mitchell. Thomas became the storm’s only fatality.
The storm’s route from Burke to Chateaugay suffered near-universal destruction, with reports indicating that “… one hundred and eighty-five buildings, either unroofed, blown down, or moved from the foundations can be counted as you ride along the road.”
At Chateaugay, the twister still had more than enough energy to lay nearly the entire community to waste. One reporter stated it plainly: “The village of Chateaugay is a complete desolation. Not a building escaped injury, and a great number—we do not know how many—are completely destroyed. The scene is one which baffles description. Stores, churches, dwellings, barns, sheds, outbuildings, all present a sad spectacle —they are awfully shattered and broken to pieces.”
Perhaps as important were other losses—gardens and fruit trees destroyed; farm crops flattened; cows, pigs, horses, sheep, and chickens killed. With all fencing destroyed, any animals that did survive were left wandering the countryside.
Though only one person died, many suffered serious injuries. Dozens were struck by flying roof shingles and shards of glass. One survivor was said to have lost his scalp to airborne debris.
The power of the storm yielded the usual stories of extreme occurrences. Entire sections of forest were flattened. A stone schoolhouse, one of the more solid buildings, was demolished. A lumber yard was completely devoid of lumber, all of which had been lifted high in the air and strewn across nearby fields.
A railroad handcar, weighing about a ton, was destroyed when it was carried aloft and dropped into the nearby woods. The tornado’s power was such that rubble from Mitchell’s Store at Thayer’s Corners was later found ten miles east in the town of Clinton.
In the days following the catastrophe, a traveler from Springfield, Massachusetts (coincidentally the site of recent tornadic destruction in 2011) rode the train across northern New York. After encountering the Chateaugay area, his report on the damage was published in the Springfield Daily Journal, including the following excerpts.
“The railroad track for some thirty or forty miles lies directly in the path of the tornado, and I never saw such a scene of destruction before. … it is in fact quite impossible to picture the scene on paper as it really appears. The villages of Chateaugay and Burke have sustained such serious damage that long years will come and go before its traces can be effaced.
“… Acres of forest trees are upturned, broken, twisted, and shattered; fences are torn to pieces, and the fencing timber scattered miles away from whence it was taken; piles of lumber, with which that section abounds, are nowhere to be found; barns are entirely blown to pieces; dwelling houses blown down, unroofed, and shattered. The eye rests on nothing else but such sights as these for miles and miles.”
The storm system caused considerable damage elsewhere, but the extent of destruction along the eight-mile path through the towns of Burke and Chateaugay was of near-biblical proportions. In the final tally, 364 buildings were damaged or destroyed.
Few North Country disasters can compare in scope and intensity with the tornado of 1856. For decades into the future it was used as a reference point for comparing other tragic events.
Photo Top: Tornado headlines, 1856.
Photo Middle: St. Lawrence County opportunistic ad after a tornado, 1914.
Photo Bottom: Hammond Insurance ad for routine needs, 1935.
Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
To the casual observer, the Lake George Steamboat Company’s marine railway near the foot of the lake is unlikely to conform to any preconceived notion of a historic site.
Built in 1927 by Crandall Dry Dock Engineers, it’s a utility, used to haul vessels in and out of Lake George for repair, maintenance and storage.
But in the 19th century, almost every harbor on the eastern coasts of the United States and Canada had similar railways, almost all built by Crandall Dry Dock Engineers; the Crandall railway at Hart Bay is, according to New York State’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, among the few that remain intact and in operation today.
The New York State Board for Historic Preservation has, therefore, recommended that the railway be added to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The Board cast its votes when it met in March in New York, where it recommended adding thirty nine sites to the registers, including Fort George in Lake George.
“These nominations reflect many of the varied commercial, agricultural, political and social movements that have shaped New York State,” said Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “Bringing recognition to these properties will help us to preserve and illuminate important components of New York State history.”
According to Bill Dow, president of the Lake George Steamboat Company, the entire marine railway complex, which includes 390 feet of track under water, the cradle and the gears in the small frame head house, was nominated for the registers.
“Without the marine railway, the Lake George Steamboat Company could not have continued to operate through the Depression and the post-War eras,” said Dow.
According to Dow, the railway was constructed to haul the Sagamore from the lake for repairs.
On July 1, 1927 the Sagamore rammed the point of Anthony’s Nose, and began to sink. The captain, John Washburn of Ticonderoga, ordered that the hole in the hull be stuffed with mattresses. He then sailed her into Glenburnie, where she discharged her passengers, and then beached her in a small cove. After repairs were made at Hart Bay, she was refurbished, launched again in May 1928, and sailed for another five years.
According to the State Board of Historic Preservation, the Crandall Marine Railway complements the Lake George Steamboat Company’s Mohican, which was placed on the registry of Historic Places two years ago.
“Together, the railway and the excursion boat recall the nearly two century history of pleasure boating on one of the Adirondack Regions’ largest and most popular and accessible tourist destinations,” the State Board noted.
The Lake George Steamboat Company is now preparing an application to place the former Lake George train station on the registers of historic places.
Like the Steamboat Company, the station was owned by the D&H railroad, which built the station in 1909 in the same Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture as its nearby hotel, the Fort William Henry.
“The Lake George Steamboat Company represents America, or the America of the past, as few companies do,” said Bill Dow. “We feel a responsibility to honor that past by preserving our legacy.”
Lake George has been lodging visitors at the site of the Fort William Henry Resort and Conference Center for more than 150 years. 156 years, to be precise.
Five years after the original hotel opened in 1855, the first Minnehaha was launched, and her captain entered into a relationship with the steward of the hotel’s dining room; as the boat came churning up the lake, the captain would blow the ship’s whistle once for every 10 passengers aboard, so that the steward would know how many would be in for dinner.
In 1868, the hotel was sold for $125,000 to T. Roessele & Sons of Albany and enlarged. A mansard roof was added and the hotel was now seven stories high. A 25 foot wide piazza extending the entire length of the north side of the building, supported by a row of 38 foot-high Corinthian columns, was also added. By then, steamboats were being met on the docks at the foot of the hotel’s lawns with 13 piece German bands. The hotel could accommodate 1000 guests; among them, former president U.S. Grant and Generals W.T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan, to name just a few of the celebrities who cooled themselves on the piazza.
A twelve year-old Theodore Roosevelt accompanied his family to Lake George in 1871, and they, too, put up at the hotel. Roosevelt kept a diary of the visit, recounting each day’s activities. For instance, of August 2nd he writes:
”Early in the morning we went to the ruins of Fort George which we found after some difficulty. We brought home some specimens with us. There was an airgun before the hotel with which we had some shooting matches with variable success. There was an Indian encampment near which of course we visited. Then we hired some boats and rowed off to an island in the lake where we left the Ladies, went off some distance and had a swim. We then rowed back to the island (and then) home to dinner.”
A visitor during that same decade wrote:
”The coach is driven with a sweep and a swirl through the grounds of the hotel , and, suddenly turning a corner, dashes up before the wide and corridored piazza, crowded with groups of people – all superb life and animation on one side of him, and a marvelous stretch of lake and mountain and wooded shore on the other…”
The hotel opened for business in mid-June. Life there was pleasant and undemanding, if an 1893 account in the Lake George Mirror is any indication. “The hotel is supplied with every modern convenience, and there are billiard rooms, bowling alleys, swimming baths, lawn tennis courts, and music is provided throughout the season, there being also balls and parties at intervals.”
The Mirror continues: “The cuisine is always of the finest and cannot be improved upon, it being of a character to commend it to wealthy and fastidious people. The drives in the neighborhood, the fishing in the lake, and the boating and yachting, all contribute to make a stay at the Fort William Henry Hotel all that once could wish for… The outlook from the piazza is at all times little less than enchanting, commanding, as it does, the level reaches of the lake for miles, with a number of the most picturesque islands and promontories. In the evening, by full moonlight, or on a peaceful Sunday, while the orchestra discourses sacred music, and the only undertone is the flutter of cool dresses, dainty ribbons and fans, and the low voices of friendly promenaders, life here seems entirely worth living.”
The author of the Mirror’s account goes on to describe the interior of the hotel:
“Under the dome (from the upper part of which a grand view of the lake is obtained) is the general office, including also a ticket office, telegraph office, bazaar, news, book and cigar stand, etc. West of this is the drawing room, and on the east, suites of apartments, bijou parlors, and the large billiard hall, while at the back is the great dining hall. A cabinet of Indian and historical curiosities, gathered from the locality, attracts great interest.”
The hotel was owned by the Delaware & Hudson Railroad when it burned in June 1909, and two years later a new hotel was constructed on the site. In an article on the opening which appeared in the Lake George Mirror, the new structure was acclaimed “a masterpiece of architecture. With its companion hotel at Bluff Point on Lake Champlain, it shares the honor of being the only fireproof house in Northern New York devoted to the resort business.”
In another edition of the Mirror, an editorial described the lavish display of flowers and shrubs surrounding the new hotel and urged the natives to cooperate with the hotel in guarding the grounds against vandalism.
This hotel was demolished in the summer of 1969, the very same week that the Prospect Mountain Highway opened for the first time. In retrospect, the two events seem not co-incidental, since it was the automobile, more than any other single factor, which brought about the demise of the great resort hotels. The original dining room of the 1909 hotel, however, is still intact, as is the hotel’s stable.
In 1935, after years of planning, debate, and construction, the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway was completed. It was named in honor of America’s veterans of the so-called “Great War” (World War I), and was expected to be a major tourist attraction.
Automobiles were becoming commonplace in the North Country at that time, and travelers to the region now had a thrilling view available to them at the press of a gas pedal. Seventy-five years later, it remains a spectacular drive and a great family excursion. But the macadam highway to the summit almost never came to be. New Hampshire’s Mount Washington nearly had a New York counterpart. » Continue Reading.
On May 9, 1903, a seemingly minor error led to a terrible catastrophe near Old Forge in the southwestern Adirondacks. About seven miles south on Route 28 was Nelson Lake siding (a side rail, or pullover) on the Mohawk & Malone Railroad (an Adirondack branch of the New York Central). A little farther down the line from Nelson Lake was the village of McKeever.
That fateful day started like any other. From Malone, New York, about 90 miles northeast of Nelson Lake, train No. 650 (six cars) was heading south on its route that eventually led to Utica. At around 8:00 that morning and some 340 miles south of Malone, train No. 651 of the Adirondack and Montreal Express departed New York City. At 1:05 pm, it passed Utica, beginning the scenic run north through the mountains. The original plan called for the northbound 651 to pass through McKeever and pull off on the siding at Nelson Lake, allowing the southbound 650 to continue on its way. It was a routine maneuver. On this particular trip, the 651 northbound (normally a single train) was divided into two parts. The intent was to pull both parts aside simultaneously at Nelson Lake siding.
However, the 2nd unit heading north was traveling much slower than the nine cars of the 1st unit, prompting a change in plans. Because of the distance between the two units, it was ordered that the train from Malone (the 650) would meet the 1st section of 651 at Nelson Lake. Three miles down the line, it would meet the 2nd section at McKeever.
The actual written order said “2nd 651 at McKeever.” An official investigation later determined that the order was read to the engineman and then handed to him. But, when later reviewing the note, his thumb had covered the “2nd” on the order. All he saw was “651 at McKeever.” As far as he knew, he would pass both parts of the 651 at the McKeever side rail.
When the southbound 650 train approached Nelson Lake, the engineer believed there was no reason to reduce speed. He passed the Nelson siding at between 50 and 60 miles per hour. Just 1,000 feet past the side rail, the 650 suddenly encountered Unit 1 of the northbound 651. It was traveling at about 10 to 15 miles per hour, slowing for the upcoming turn onto the side rail at Nelson Lake. It didn’t make it.
The 650’s whistle blew and the emergency brake was engaged, slowing the train slightly before the tremendous collision. A newspaper report described “a roaring crash, a rending of iron and wood, a cloud of dust and splinters, and the trains were a shattered mass. The locomotives reared and plunged into the ditch on either side of the track.”
The impact had the least effect on the last occupied car of each train, but even those passengers were thrown from their seats, suffering minor injuries. The two trains had a total of 16 cars, half of which were splintered and piled atop each other.
While all the cars were badly damaged, it was the front of both trains that suffered most. Several of the lead cars were completely destroyed. Others telescoped within each other, causing horrific injuries. Screams of pain drew help from those who were less impaired.
The two trains carried more than 200 passengers. Nearly everyone suffered some type of injury from flying bits of glass and metal. Some victims were pinned within the wreckage, and a few were thrown through windows. Thirty-seven (mostly from the 650) required hospitalization.
Three passengers suffered critical injuries, including at least one amputation. There were dozens of broken bones and dangerous cuts. When some of the damaged cars ignited, passengers and railroad employees joined forces to extinguish the flames. Others performed rescue missions, removing victims and lining them up side-by-side near the tracks for treatment.
Three men were killed in the accident. Frank Foulkes, conductor of the northbound train (651), was later found in a standing position, crushed to death by the baggage that surged forward from the suddenness of the impact. John Glen, Union News Company agent on the southbound train (650), was killed when he was caught between two cars. William Yordon, fireman on the 650, died in his engine, scalded to death by the steam, like the hero of the song “Wreck of the Old 97.” Another report said that Yordon’s head was crushed.
A surgeon and a few doctors arrived from Old Forge, tending to the wounded. Trains were dispatched from Malone and Utica to haul the injured passengers both north and south. Another train set forth from Utica, carrying several more doctors to the scene.
The northbound 651 wasn’t only carrying human passengers that day. A theatrical company, performing A Texas Steer at various theaters and opera houses, was on board, including a variety of animals. Identified as the Bandit King Company, the troupe had a special horse car for animals belonging to the show.
When the collision forced the door open, a horse leaped out and ran off. Others weren’t so lucky. A passenger reported that the trained donkey, the pigs, and most of the other animals were killed. Amidst the chaos and their own losses, the men and women performers provided first aid for the injured until doctors arrived. They were later praised effusively for their efforts.
It took a 40-man crew four days to clear the wreckage from the massive pileup. The official report to the New York State Senate by the superintendent of the Grade Crossing Bureau in 1904 cited the engineman’s finger as the probable cause of the accident.
Top Photo: 1912 map of the Nelson Lake area 7 miles southwest of Old Forge. The extra tracks at Nelson Lake indicate the siding.
Bottom Photo: Unfortunate thumb placement inadvertently led to tragedy.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
Scores of gigantic wind turbines in the Adirondacks’ northeastern and southwestern foothills are a startling site amidst historically bucolic scenery. The landscape appears “citified,” with structures nearly 40 stories high where the largest buildings rarely top 3 stories. It is a dramatic change, and a far cry from simpler days when family farms were prevalent.
Few realize that in those “simpler days” of dairy farms, windmills were actually quite common across the region. Of course, the windmills once dotting the North Country’s landscape were nothing like today’s behemoths, which stand nearly 400 feet high from the ground to the tip of a skyward-pointing blade. And, the windmills of old weren’t always efficient machines. Wind technology took a tremendous leap forward in the 1850s thanks to Daniel Halladay, a Connecticut machinist. Halladay’s windmill not only pumped water, but automatically turned to face into the wind as it changed directions. Almost as important, he devised a way to control the speed of the blades (windmills are prone to destruction from within when operating at high rpm levels). Halladay established the US Wind Engine & Pump Company, setting up shop in Illinois. From the start, the business flourished.
Though his sales were focused on the country’s expansion westward, New York State was also experiencing dramatic growth, particularly in the remote northern Adirondack foothills, where pioneers faced a harsh climate and difficult living conditions. Halladay’s invention eventually helped turn some of those weather negatives into positives by taking advantage of wind patterns across upper New York State.
In 1874, the railroad was expanding north from Whitehall towards Plattsburgh. Since steam engines require water, the line generally followed the shore of Lake Champlain. Tanks were constructed along the route where the rails neared the lakeshore. Steam pumps or windmills were used to fill the feeder tanks, which had a capacity of 33,000 gallons each.
As settlers moved north on both sides of the Adirondacks, windmill technology crept northward with them. Farming was necessary for survival, and the enormous workload was eased by mechanical devices like windmills. The description of one man’s operation about 18 miles south of Lowville was typical of the times: “ … a beautiful farm of 280 acres, milks 35 cows, and is a model farm. House, barns, windmill pump, all systematically arranged.”
In situations like that, windmills often filled tanks placed on the upper floor of a barn. The water was then gravity-fed to the livestock below, and piped to other locations as needed. The machine was also used to grind various grains. Early models were mounted on wooden frames, but many fell victim to the very power they were trying to harness, toppling before raging windstorms. Eventually, steel frames supported most windmills.
Wind power wasn’t just for individual homes and farms. In July 1879, H. H. Babcock & Sons of Watertown was hired to install a windmill at 1000 Islands State Park. Water was drawn from the St. Lawrence River to large tanks near the dining hall, and from there was conducted to the various cottages by galvanized iron pipe.
And at Hermon, a contract for $6,595.00 was signed with Daniel Halladay’s company to install a new waterworks system. Included were a wooden tank of 50,000-gallon capacity, a windmill with a wheel diameter of 20 feet, and more than a mile of piping. The frost-proof tank was 24 feet in diameter, 16 feet high, and 3 inches thick. It sat on a trestle 20 feet high, while the windmill stood on a trestle 80 feet high.
Many hotels, including the Whitney House in Norwood and the Turin House in Turin, used windmills to power their water systems. At Chazy, windmills pumped water from the quarries; at Port Henry, they filled water tanks for the trains; and at Saranac Lake, they fed the water supply of the Adirondack Sanitarium.
In 1889, George Baltz of Watertown handled the Halladay display at the Jefferson County Fair, demonstrating that windmills furnished cheaper power than steam engines and could run a feed mill, a circular saw for cutting wood, or pump water.
Though Halladay’s products were widely known, he did have competitors. Some added their own modifications, and some were “copycats.” And they weren’t all products from afar. In 1882, an advertisement touted a windmill “warranted to take care of itself in high winds, equal to the best western mills, and is sold for half the money. It is manufactured at Potsdam.” It featured a self-regulator, and appeared to be based on Halladay’s own successful model.
In the late 1890s, most of the windmills in the Ticonderoga and Lake George area were products of the Perkins Windmill Company, which had already installed more than 50 units across the lake in Vermont. Though windmills in the Midwest were primarily for irrigation, most of those in the North Country supplied water to homes, businesses, and farm animals.
Wind power did face competition from other sources. Gasoline engines became more and more common, offering a reliable alternative. However, they were expensive, noisy, and costly to run. An operator had to be present to start and stop a gas engine, while windmills employed a system of floats to start and stop filling the tanks automatically. A once-a-week oiling was the only required maintenance. The biggest problem at the time was that gas engines ran when you wanted them to, but windmills depended on the weather.
The giant turbines we see in northern New York today are not a new idea. In a peek at the future, Charles Brush of Cleveland, Ohio demonstrated in 1888 the first use of a large windmill to generate electricity. As early as 1895, observers noted that windmills were “destined to be much used for storing electricity. We predict an immense future for the windmill industry.”
In 1910, a farm in America’s Midwest employed windmills to charge a bank of batteries. Wind power provided electricity to light the farm and operate the equipment, and when the wind didn’t blow, the farm ran on battery power for a few days.
By 1925, wind turbines had been used to run refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, and power tools. And in 1926, the NYS Fair urged farmers to purchase windmills, using a 12-foot-high model to show the benefits they might enjoy. It was an enticing glimpse at the potential of electricity. Ironically, the popularity of windmills soon became their undoing.
Though they were a wonderful source of cheap power, the main problem was intermittent operation. When the wind didn’t blow, the tools didn’t go. Battery storage systems were only good for brief periods, and people wanted power WHEN they wanted it. Soon, another overriding factor arose—the growing need for huge amounts of electricity.
By the late 1930s and 1940s, constantly flowing electricity was the goal, relegating wind power to the background of the energy battle. It was still used, and advancements were pursued, but success was limited. One notable effort was the huge Smith-Putnam windmill installed atop Grandpa’s Knob near Castleton and Rutland, Vermont, in 1941.
Though less than half the size of today’s models, it was still large, featuring a 16-ton, 175-foot steel rotor that turned at 28 RPM. Occasional use ended abruptly in 1945 when metal fatigue caused the blade to snap, hurling a huge section 1000 feet down the mountain.
In the North Country, windmills have returned after a long hiatus. They stand ten times taller than their predecessors, and now pump electricity instead of water. Where potato, hop, and dairy farms once dominated, the wind farms of today stand above all others.
Photo Top: Windmills 400 feet tall at Churubusco (and another under construction in the foreground).
Photo Middle Right: Typical use of windmill to fill railroad water tanks.
Photo Middle Left: Halladay windmills were offered by George Baltz of Watertown.
Photo Bottom: Advertisement for Halladay’s company.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
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