Lt. Gov. Timothy L. Woodruff’s Letter to W.W. Durant
Just when I think I have learned all of the origins and instigators for the building of the Raquette Lake Railroad during 1899, I find a new participant.
I have read of Collis Huntington’s impatience with the inefficiencies of the Fulton Chain steamers and stages from Old Forge’s transportation monopoly’s companies, his sitting on a keg of nails during a long wait.
Then his wife refused to visit him at Pine Knot until a builder of the transcontinental railroad built a railroad to their camp.
Dr. Webb did plan on a road from Clearwater to Raquette Lake; the Raquette Lake Railroad would use the two mile lumber railroad built in 1897–1898 by John Dix to Rondaxe Lake as the beginning of this road’s route.
In the Harold Hochschild “TOWNSHIP 34” excerpt published by the Adirondack Museum, we learn that William West Durant determined that the Delaware & Hudson Company would not be extending his father’s line past North Creek.
This meant that Dr. Webb’s line built in 1892 would be the only railroad available to connect Raquette and Blue Mountain Lakes to major population centers.
Hochschild wrote that Durant thought a railroad should be built connecting with the New York Central and that, lacking the funds to do so, Durant interested Collis Huntington in the project.
During the summer of 2007, I visited the Adirondack Museum Library to review any correspondence contained in the W. W. Durant papers regarding the Raquette Lake Railroad.
I found a letter dated January 24, 1898, from Lieutenant Governor Timothy Woodruff at his Albany office to William West Durant at New York City written upon Woodruff’s return from the woods (perhaps Sumner Lake).
Woodruff had recently purchased a camp on the lake, renaming the lake Lake Kora (for his wife) and the camp Kamp Kill Kare.
I quote the letter below and want to introduce its importance by saying that I had not previously known of any involvement of Woodruff’s role in the planning for the railroad.
But I also cannot conclude that Durant had not already conceived the idea presented by Woodruff in this letter.
I do consider its existence as an historically important part of the railroad’s genesis.
Mr. Woodruff began his letter by thanking Mr. Durant [spelled Durrant] for the cigars recently given as a Christmas present and then moved to the purpose of his communication:
“As you are aware, a railroad [Dix Lumber Railroad] has been built from Clearwater, the first station above Fulton Chain, easterly two miles. It has been built to get out lumber. If continued about five miles further it would reach Eagle Bay, and could then be built along the old winter road [today’s Uncas Road to Brown’s Tract Ponds] to Sucker Brook Bay on Raquette Lake. It seems to me as if this would be of great benefit to all of us. In fact everybody except the proprietors [Crosby Transportation Company] of the steamboats on the Fulton Chain. We could have a station [Uncas Station] where the Raquette Lake road crosses your private road [today’s Uncas Trail], and then it would only be about nine miles to Shedd [Sagamore Lake].
“It would seem as though Mr. Huntington and Mr. Morgan [Camp Uncas] ought to have influence enough with the New York Central people to get this little road built. I have been confidentially told that if Mr. Morgan would ask to have it done it would be done at once, and that it could be built and equipped without being any charge upon the Central Road, the materials furnished being taken out of old stock now on hand.
“Let me know what you think about this, and I would advise seeing both Mr. Huntington and Mr. Morgan, if you approve of it, at your earliest opportunity.”
According to Hochschild, Mr. Durant evidently did what the Lt. Gov. suggested.
I will conclude with some history about Lt. Gov. Timothy Woodruff.
Chapter 220 of the laws of 1897, in addition to providing $1 million for acquisition of lands for the Adirondack Park, directed Governor Frank S. Black to appoint a three member Forest Preserve Board to carry out this task.
The members of the Board were State Engineer Campbell Adams, Forestry Commissioner Charles Babcock and Lt. Gov. Woodruff.
The first purchase by the board was announced in August 1897.
The purchase, from Durant’s Forest Park and Land Company, was 23,872 acres of Township 6 at $7 an acre.
When the Board made its first annual report in 1898 to the legislature about this purchase, it mentioned that improved properties at Mohegan (Morgan’s Camp Uncas), Shedd (Sagamore) and Sumner Lakes were not included.
It was soon learned that Woodruff purchased the excluded Sumner Lake property lake from Durant for $12 an acre.
When testifying about the transaction in 1910 during an investigation of forest commission actions, Woodruff claimed that Durant had advertised the property that would became Kamp Kill Kare and Lake Kora as a separate parcel years earlier than this 1897 purchase.
Also, he testified that Durant would not sell Township 6 at any price if it included Sumner Lake because, surrounded by state land, the values of neighboring estates at Shedd and Mohegan Lakes would be damaged.
At the time, Woodruff had discussed the matter with Governor Black and others and, to allow the sale of Township 6 to proceed, Woodruff offered Durant the price of $12 an acre for the Sumner Lake parcel.
According to Woodruff’s research, that amount was the highest price then being paid for “unimproved wild Adirondack lands.”
This gesture did not improve the public’s view of the transaction in either 1897 or 1910.
So, did Lt. Gov. Woodruff plant the bug in Durant’s ear about building a railroad to Raquette Lake by tapping onto the John Dix lumber railroad? What do you think?
Sources: “Land Acquisition For New York State” by Norman VanValkenburgh, “Fairy Tale Railroad” by Henry Harter, “Life and Leisure in the Adirondack Backwoods” by Harold Hoch-schild, “Moose River Plains Wild Forest Draft Unit Management Plan-Addendum” New York DEC, “Woodruff to Durant, January 24, 1898” W. W. Durant Papers, Adirondack Museum Library, and the following newspapers from Fultonhistory.com: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, The Auburn Citizen, and the Utica Semi Weekly Herald.