Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

by Benson J. Lossing
Virtue & Yorston : New York 1866


In the old settlement of Pendleton, in the town of Newcomb, Essex Country, we spent our second Sabbath. That settlement is between the head of Rich's Lake and the foot of Harris's Lake, a distance of five or six miles along their southern shores. It derives its name from Judge Nathaniel Pendleton, who, about fifty years ago, made a clearing there, and built a dam, and grist, and saw-mill at the foot of Rich's Lake, where the lumber dam and sluice, before mentioned, were afterwards made. Here was the home of Sabattis, our Indian guide, who owned two hundred and forty acres of land, with good improvements. His wife was a fair German woman, the mother of several children, unmistakably marked with Indian blood.

It was Friday night when we arrived at the thrifty Pendleton settlement, and we resolved to spend the Sabbath there. We found excellent accommodation at the farmhouse of Daniel Bissell, and giving Preston a furlough for two days to visit his lately-married wife at his home, nine miles distant, we all went in a single boat the next day, manned by Sabattis alone, to visit Harris's Lake, and the confluence of its outlet with the Adirondacks branch of the Hudson, three miles below Bissell's. That lake is a beautiful sheet of water, and along the dark, sluggish river, above the rapids at its head, we saw the cardinal flower upon the banks, and the rich moose-head* in the water, in great abundance.

*This in the books, is called Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata of Linnacus), but the guides call it moose-head. The stem is stout and cylindrical, and bears a spear-shaped leaf, somewhat cordate base. The flowers which appear in July and August, are composed of dense spikes, of a rich blue colour. A picture of the moose-head is seen in the water beneath the initial letter at the head of Chapter I.

The rapids at the head of Harris's Lake are very picturesque. Looking up from them, Goodenow Mountain is seen in the distance, and still more remote are glimpses of the Windfall range. We passed the rapids upon boulders, and then voyaged down to the confluence of the two streams just mentioned. From a rough rocky bluff a mile below that point, we obtained a distant view of three of the higher peaks of the Adirondacks--Tahawus or Mount Marcy, Mount Colden, and Mount M'Intyre. We returned at evening beneath a canopy of magnificent clouds: and that night was made strangely luminous by one of the most splendid displays of the Aurora Borealis ever seen upon the continent. It was observed as far south as Charleston, in South Carolina.

Sabattis is an active Methodist, and at his request (their minister not having arrived) Mr. Buckingham read the beautiful liturgy of the Church of England on Sunday morning to a congregation of thirty or forty people, in the school-house on our guide's farm. In the afternoon we attended a prayer-meeting at the same place; and early the next morning, while a storm of wind and heavy mist was sweeping over the country, started with our two guides, in a lumber waggon, for the Adirondack Mountains. We now left our boats, in which and on foot we had traveled, from the lower Saranac to Harris's Lake, more than seventy miles. It was a tedious journey of twenty-six miles, most of the way over a "corduroy" road--a causeway of logs. On the way we passed the confluence of Lake Delia with the Adirondack branch of the Hudson, reached M'Intyre's Inn (Tahawus House, at the foot of Sandford Lake) toward noon, and at two o'clock were at the little deserted village at the Adirondack Iron Works, between Sandford and Henderson Lakes. We passed near the margin of the former a large portion of the way. It is a beautiful body of water, nine miles long, with several little islands. From the road along its shores we had a fine view of the three great mountain peaks just mentioned, and of the Wall-face Mountain at the Indian Pass. At the house of Mr. Hunter, the only inhabitant of the deserted village, we dined, and then prepared to ascend the Great Tahawus, or Sky-piercer.

The little deserted village of Adirondack, or M'Intyre, nestled in a rocky valley upon the Upper Hudson, at the foot of the principal mountain barrier which rises between its sources and those of the Au Sable, and in the bosom of an almost unbroken forest, appeared cheerful to us weary wanderers, although smoke was to be seen from only a solitary chimney. The hamlet--consisting of sixteen dwelling-houses, furnaces, and other edifices, and a building with a cupola, used for a school and public worship--was the offspring of enterprise and capital, which many years before had combined to develop the mineral wealth of that region. That wealth was still there, and almost untouched--for enterprise and capital, compelled to contend with geographical and topographical impediments, have abandoned their unprofitable application of labour, and left the rich iron ores, apparently exhaustless in quantity, to be quarried and transformed in the not far-off future.

The ores of that vicinity had never been revealed to the eye of civilized man until the year 1826, when David Henderson, a young Scotchman, of Jersey City, opposite New York, while standing near the iron-works of his father-in-law, Archibald M'Intyre, at North Elba, in Essex County, was approached by a St. Francis Indian, known in all that region as a brave and skilful hunter--honest, intelligent, and, like all his race, taciturn. The Indian took from beneath his blanket a piece of iron ore, and handed it to Henderson, saying, "You want to see 'nm ore? Me fine plenty--all same." When asked where it came from, he pointed toward the south-west, and said, "Me hunt beaver all 'lone, and fine 'um where water run over iron-dam." An exploring party was immediately formed, and followed the Indian into the deep forest. They slept that night at the base of the towering cliff of the Indian Pass. The next day they reached the head of a beautiful lake, which they named "Henderson," and followed its outlet to the site of Adirondack village. There, in a deep-shaded valley, they beheld with wonder the "iron dam," or dyke of iron ore, stretched across a stream, which was afterward found to be one of the main branches of the Upper Hudson. They at once explored the vicinity, and discovered that this dyke was connected with vast deposits of ore, which formed rocky ledges on the sides of the narrow valley, and presented beds of metal adequate, apparently, to the supply of the world's demand for centuries. It is believed that the revealer of this wealth was Peter Sabattis, the father of our Indian guide.

The explores perceived that all around that vast deposit of wealth in the earth was an abundant supply of hard wood, and other necessary ingredients for the manufacture of iron; and, notwithstanding it was thirty miles from any highway on land or water, with an uninterrupted sweep of forest between, and more than a hundred miles from any market, the entire mineral region--comprising more than a whole township--was purchased, and preparations were soon made to develop its resources. A partnership was formed between Archibald M'Intyre, Archibald Robertson, and David Henderson, all related by marriage; and with slight aid from the State, they constructed a road through the wilderness, from the Scarron [Schroon] Valley, near Lake Champlain, to the foot of Sandford Lake, halfway between the head of which and the beautiful Henderson Lake was the "iron dam." There a settlement was commenced in 1834. A timber dam was constructed upon the iron one, to increase the fall of water, and an experimental furnace was built. Rare and most valuable iron was produced, equal to any from the best Swedish furnaces; and it was afterward found to be capable of being wrought into steel equal to the best imported from England.

The proprietors procured an act of incorporation, under the title of the "Adirondack Iron and Steel Company," with a capital, at first, of $1,000,000 (£200,000), afterward increased to $3,000,000 (£600,000), and constructed another furnace, a forge, stamping-mill, saw and grist mill, machine-shops, powder-house, dwellings, boarding-house, school-house, barns, sheds, and kilns for the manufacture of charcoal. At the foot of Sandford Lake, eleven miles south from Adirondack village, they also commenced a settlement, and named it TAHAWUS, where they erected a dam seventeen hundred feet in length, a saw-mill, warehouses, dwellings for workmen, &c. And in 1854 they completed a blast furnace near the upper village, at the head of Sandford Lake, at an expense of $43,000 (£8,600), capable of producing fourteen tons of iron a-day. They also built six heavy boats upon Sandford Lake, for the transportation of freight, and roads at an expense of $10,000 (£2,000). Altogether the proprietors spent nearly half a million of dollars, or £100,000.

Meanwhile the project of a railway from Saratoga to Sackett's Harbour, on Lake Ontario, to bisect the great wilderness, was conceived. A company was formed, and forty miles of the road were put under contract, and actually graded. It would pass within a few miles of the Adirondack Works, and it was estimated that, with a connecting branch road, the iron might be conveyed to Albany for two dollars a ton, and compete profitably with other iron in the market. A plank road was also projected from Adirondack village to Preston Ponds, and down the Cold River to the Raquette, at the foot of Long Lake.

But the labour on the road was suspended, the iron interest of the United States became depressed, the Adirondack Works were rendered not only unprofitable, but the source of heavy losses to the owners, and for five years their fires had been extinguished. In August, 1856, heavy rains in the mountains sent roaring floods down the ravines, and the Hudson, only a brook when we were there, was swelled to a mighty river. An upper dam at Adirondack gave way, and a new channel for the stream was cut, and the great dam at Tahawus, with the saw-mill, was demolished by the rushing waters. All was left a desolation. Over scores of acres at the head and foot of Sandford Lake (overflowed when the dam was constructed) we saw white skeletons of trees which had been killed by the flood, standing thickly, and heightening the dreary aspect of the scene. The workmen had all departed from Adirondack, and only Robert Hunter and his family, who had charge of the property, remained. The original proprietors were all dead, and the property, intrinsically valuable but immediately unproductive, was in the possession of their respective families. But the projected railway will yet be constructed, because it is needful for the development and use of that immense mineral and timber region, and again that forest village will be vivified, and the echoes of the deep breathings of its furnaces will be heard in the neighbouring mountains.

At Mr. Hunter's we prepared for the rougher travel on foot through the mountain forests to Tahawus, ten miles distant. Here we may properly instruct the expectant tourist in this region in regard to such preparation. Every arrangement should be as simple as possible. A man needs only a stout flannel hunting shirt, coarse and trustworthy trousers, woolen stockings, large heavy boots well saturated with a composition of beeswax and tallow, a soft felt hat or a cap, and strong buckskin gloves. A woman needs a stout flannel dress, over shortened crinoline, of short dimensions, with loops and buttons to adjust its length; a hood and cape of the same materials, made so as to envelop the head and bust, and leave the arms free, woolen stockings, stout calfskin boots that cover the legs to the knee, well saturated with beeswax and tallow, and an india-rubber satchel for necessary toilet materials. Provisions, also, should be simple. The hunters live chiefly on bread or crackers, and maple sugar. The usual preparation is a sufficient stock of Boston crackers, pilot-bread, or common loaf-bread, butter, tea or coffee, pepper and salt, an ample quantity of maple sugar,* and some salted pork, to use in frying or broiling fish, birds, and game. The utensils for cooking are a short-handled frying-pan, a broad and shallow tin pan, tin tea or coffee-pot, tin plates and cups, knives, forks, and spoons. These, with shawls or overcoats, and india-rubber capes to keep off the rain, the guides will carry, with gun, axe, and fishing-tackle. Sportsmen who expect to camp out some time, should take with them a light tent. The guides will fish, hunt, work, build "camps," and do all other necessary service, for a moderate compensation and their food. It is proper here to remark that the tourist should never enter this wilderness earlier than the middle of August. Then the flies and mosquitoes, the intolerable pests of the forests, are rapidly disappearing, and fine weather may be expected. The sportsman must go in June or July for trout, and in October for deer.

Well prepared with all necessaries excepting flannel over-shirts, we set out from Adirondack on the afternoon of the 30th of August, our guides with their packs leading the way. The morning had been misty, but the atmosphere was then clear and cool. We crossed the Hudson three-fourths of a mile below Henderson Lake, upon a rude bridge, made our way through a clearing tangled with tall raspberry shrubs full of fruit, for nearly half a mile, and then entered the deep and solemn forest, composed of birch, maple, cedar, hemlock, spruce, and tall pine trees. Our way was over a level for three-fourths of a mile, to the outlet of Calamity Pond. We crossed it at a beautiful cascade, and then commenced ascending by a sinuous mountain path, across which many a huge tree had been east by the wind. It was a weary journey of almost four miles (notwithstanding it lay along the track of a lane out through the forest a few years age for a special purpose, of which we shall presently speak), for in many places the soil was hidden by boulders covered with thick moss, over which we were compelled to climb. Towards sunset we reached a pleasant little lake, embosomed in the dense forest, its low wet margin fringed with brilliant yellow flowers, beautiful in form but without perfume. At the head of that little lake, where the inlet comes flowing sluggishly from a dark ravine scooped from the mountain slope, we built a bark cabin, and encamped for the night.

Chapter Two, Part Two

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