1917 History of Indian Lake

Gertchem M. Houghton, Indian Lake High School

Source:  "Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association: The Eighteenth Annual Meeting," Vol. XVI, published by the New York State Historical Association, 1917. [Images are from various postcards]

Main Street, Indian Lake, NY circa 1912

        The village of Indian Lake is situated in the heart of those beautiful mountains, the Adirondacks, 1750 feet above sea level.  The town is composed of Indian Lake village, Sabael, Big Brook, Cedar River, a part of North River and Blue Mountain Lake village.  This beautiful little place, the Matubla of the Indians and their legendary burying ground, is situated on the shores of Blue Mountain lake, a famous summer resort.  indian lake, from which the town derives its name, is three miles south of the village.  It is surrounded by wooded hills and mountains sloping gently back from the shores and the little hamlet, Sabael, nestles in one of the hollows on the lake.

        One day about the year 1765 a lone Indian left the province of Quebec and journeying through the Canadian woods came at last to the shores of Lake Champlain.  At this time, the woods were very dense and only those gifted in woodcraft such as the Indians, were able to make their way unmolested through them.  When our Indian reached these shores, he probably fashioned a canoe of birch bark and launching it sailed up that sheet of water which later became the scene of many historical struggles.  We have no history to tell us the hardships the young brave suffered nor the stops he made while on his way, but we have a legend that when reaching the southern end of the lake, he left it and plunged into the vast deep forests on the New York side.  He journeyed through these pathless forests on the lookout for moose, because for these he had made his journey, to relieve his starving tribe.

        One day breaking thorugh a covert of underbrush, his customary Indian habit of silence gave way and he gave an exclamation of delight.  He stood on the shores of a placid little lake, the first human being ever known to gaze on those waters hwich were named by the early settlers, Indian lake, after the Indians.  The lake at this time was only about threemils long but at its middle point was separated almost into twin lakes, by the "Narrows" which had been formed by sediment brought down by a turbulent little mountain brook, which now bears the name, Squaw brook.  This Indian was Sabael Benedict, a Banakee.  John Mitchell, a resident of this town and the grandson of Sabael, is the only living member of this tribe in this part of the country.  Sabael at this time was aoubt eighteen years old.  One day many years later he was asked how he knew his age and he replied in his broken English, "At the time of Wolfe's death at the Battle of Quebec, I was twelve years old."

        He made several journeys back and forth through the woods, influencing members of his tribe to settle here, where they could make a living in their primitive manner.  One winter, while on his way here, the story goes, he made friends with an old Dutchman who lived a solitary life near the Raquette river.  The jovial old fellow had several daughters, one of whom was red-headed.  He liked Sabael very much and when it came time for Sabael's departure, he said, "Sabael, you've been my good friend, have given me venison and fish and I want to give you something, so you may have for your wife your pick of my daughters."  Sabel (true to his color) chose the red-headed one and came on to Indian lake where he made his home on its shores.  By this time many Indians had come but, for an unknown reason, Sabael never mingled with them much, choosing rather to stay in his tent in a secluded part of the place.

        But the Indians were not destined to dwell forever in their primitive fashion.  Their seemingly relentless enemy, the white man, was pushing farther and farther into the wilds and with his axe, cutting down the Indian's best friend, our virgin forest.  About 1835, Reuben Rist, a great hunter and trapper, came here.  While on his journey he found plenty of game and fish.  He decided to settle and soon had a little house built in the midst of an unbroken forest.  Into this he moved his family and dwelt in happiness befriending every one who came to his door.

        One freezing morning early in midwinter, after he had lived here several years and had constructed a few paths through the forests, he was aroused by a loud knocking on the door of his cabin.  Ever ready to do a kindness, he ran and opened it.  He saw a young boy about eighteen years old standing on the threshhold and almost frozen with cold.  This boy said his ox team had run away from him and he had almost frozen trying to catch them.  Little did Rist think then that the boy he was befriending was one day to become the philanthropist of Glens Falls and also a great lumberman of the Adirondacks.  This man was Henry Crandall, whose death a few years ago was felt by all with whom he had come in contact.  Down on the banks of Indian River in sight of the highway  is an old tombstone, tottering and moss-covered.  On it is inscribed, "In memory of Reuben Rist, and wife, first settlers on township 15, where they lived to a good old age."  It was placed there by Mr. Crandall.

        By this time, several more men had come, lured on by the prospect of making homes for their families.  Among them were Lacke, Persons, Webster, Hoxie and Porter.  W. W. Porter was the first white child born at Indian Lake.  With the coming of settlers, lumbering, the chief industry, was opened up.

        Orson Richards of Sandy Hill was another large lumberman in this section.  He owned township 32, which is around Indian lake, and township 33, which is around Cedar river.  He lumbered here for a good many years previous to 1873 and built a sawmill on Ovitt brook, which flows into Cedar river.  The remains of this mill may be seen today.  Other lumbermen in this section were Webster and Bloomingdale.

        As has been mentioned before, there was a man by the name of Hoxie here.  He set up a small store down near Indian river and brought in supplies by means of ox teams.  He seemed to be a very enterprising man and cut a path to Moose lake, a place which is even now considered a wilderness, and from here he brought out deer and game which he had killed.  Twice a week he sent these out to hotels at Saratoga and other places.  Of course at this time there were no game laws such as there are now.

        There are some people who say that the place at this time was known by the name of Gilman, which was composed of several of the present towns, Long Lake and Wells among the number.  There are several stories concerning how this town separated from the rest.  One is as follows:  One day a Mr. Peary's pig got into a Mr. Vealie's yard and there was a dispute over it.  There were no justices of peace or other officers within twenty-five miles, so the people saw the need of having some one to enforce the law.  The place had ten freeholders and it separeted and became a town, which was made up of what is now Long Lake and Indian Lake.  About 1857 this divided into the two above towns.  Milo Washburn was elected the first supervisor.

        At this time the town was almost a wilderness.  The settlers used to sit on their doorsteps and listen to the cry of wild animals.  The wolves used to follow them to their doors at night.  This seems almost unbelievable and one can hardly realize it was only a little over fifty years ago when the present town was almost all forest.  In 1860 the trout were so plentiful, one of the old settlers says, that after the dams on the Beaver Meadow brook were closed, she used to go out from the lumber camp and get a dish pan full in a very short time.  Now, one is lucky to get a fish-basket full in a day's fishing.

        About 1855 the man who discovered Indian lake died.  Sabael Benedict was supposed to have been killed by his grandson, a quarrelsome disagreeable fellow, who disappeared from Indian Lake shortly after.  At the time of his death he was one hundred eight years old.  His body was never found and his remains are probably resting in some hidden hollow of the nearby mountains.  Sabael, the little place on Indian lake, was named after him and Squaw brook was named after his wife.  Her grave was originally on its banks but since the state dam has been built the water of the lake covers the grave.

        Sometime in the fifties, the first dam was built at Indian lake.  It was built so that the lumbering might be carried on more successfully and a better supply of water be kept on hand.  It increased the width of the lake but not its length.

        When Lincoln's call for volunteers came several nobly responded.  Among these were William and Freeman REade, Francis Viele, Milo Washburn, Frank Chapman and Willliam Aldous.  Ned Buntline, the famous author, took a load of men out from here and the surrounding towns.  He made his home at "Eagle's Nest" and many of the scenes in his stories are taken from the country surrounding Blue Mountain.  He himself enlisted and received five wounds by sabre and bullet, one of which made him lame for life.  During the war as men were so scarce, lumbering, the chief industry, was not carried on so extensively and business was at a standstill.  It is said that prices of food were very high, flour being about fifteen dollars a barrel and pork about fifty.

        After the war, times were better, settlers began to flock in and Indian Lake commenced to grow.  Many of those new-comers settled on Big brook.  A year or so ago their claim to their property was established.  They had been living on land claimed by the State all the time, and recently the State surveyed the land to see how much it owned.

Commercial Hotel, Indian Lake, N.Y. circa 1910

        Soon there was a straggling village.  A schoolhouse of logs stood on the grounds where the baseball diamond is today.  A hotel had been erected at Indian River and there town meetings were held.  However as the village grew larger the polling place was removed to the "Old Blockhouse" which is standing today in the central part of the village.  There was a hotel also in the village located on the site where the Commercial now stands; a store was located at Indian River and probably one at the village.  At first there wwas no postoffice and the mail was brought in by Henry (Hank) Munroe, who rode horseback in summber and drove an ox cart in winter.  The first postmaster was Nathaniel Gilson and the postoffice was near where Charles Pashley now resides.  The mail was not brought in as often as it is now.  The terminus of the railroad was at North creek.  At one time the railroad was built to North River but after a few loads of freight had been over the road, the tracks were taken up.  The road was built to North River so that the company might make good its contract.  This is why the mile posts are numbered from North River instead of North Creek.  The railroad was built about 1870.

        At this time the roads were made of corduroy and traveling was  very slow.  Ox carts were the chief means of travel.  However, in the seventies after the railroad was completed, John McGinn built the first carriage road and laid the mile posts from North River to Long Lake.  Dr. Brannon was the first man to drive over this road.

        In 1876, a large fire burned down all the standing timber between Beaver Meadow brook and North River.

        In 1881, the Prospect House was built at Blue Mountain.  At the time of its building it was the most elegant of all Adirondack hotels and ranked as first class with the hotels at famous watering places.  It was lighted throughout with the Edison incandescent light, this being the first hotel in the world to introduce electric lights into its dormitories.  There was an elevator in the house.  The hotel would accommodate five hundred guests.  Many summer visitors heard of the beauty of this section of the country and coming to North Creek, the terminus of the railroad found waiting for them four and six horse coaches and carriages which conveyed them to Blue Mountain, a distance of forty miles.  Until the lakes were opened all travel went on through this route, and as Indian Lake was also beautiful and the scenery pleasing, many made this their stopping place.  From this beginning Indian Lake soon took its place on the map as a summer resort.

        The village was now quite large, although much of the wilderness was still here.  This can be readily seen when it is stated that thirty-nine years ago when Oliver St. Marie's store was built in the very center of the village, the land had to be cleared of trees.

East Main Street, Indian Lake, NY circa 1912
note the M.E. church on the left
click here for a view of only the M.E. church

        Sometime during the eighties the Ordway House was built.  It was four stories high and was built on the site where the Commercial now stands, although it occupied a much larger piece of ground.  The hotel was very comfortable.  In the nineties this hotel burned and the hotel which is standing today was built.  During these years there was sporting business carried on.  Four coaches passed through here daily from North Creek to Blue Mountain.  In the village there were three stores, one telegraph office, a postoffice located where Mrs. Reade's dwelling is now, two saloons, a two-room schoolhouse, two blacksmith shops, a town hall and the Methodist church.  The schoolhouse was built where the present one now stands.  More lumbering was carried on than now and many sports came to Indian Lake and Lewey Lake, where a summer house had been erected.  A road connected the town with Lake Pleasant, the county seat.  During the last part of the nineties the Prospect Hotel was closed, which was a sad blow, felt throughout all the region.  During recent years other hotels at Blue Mountain have burnt and on December 2, 1913, the one remaining large hotel that was then running was burned.  This was the Lake View House.

State Dam, Indian Lake, NY

        In 1898 the state dam was built, so as to supply the mills and manufacturing places along the Hudson with water in dry weather.  This dam increased the length of the lake to fourteen miles and now the "Narrows," which originally almost separated the lake into two parts, can be seen only when the water of the lake is very low.  Two years ago during the heavy spring floods some feared that the dam would go out.  If this had happened many places along the Hudson would have been destroyed.

        There was an incident connected with the building of the dam.  During the spring a man had been staying at the hotel in this place and at North River.  He seemed very inquisitive in regard to what days the money came in to pay the workmen.  Having learned that the pay for those working on the dam was to arrive on a certain day the robber waited alittle over amile this side of North River and when the stage appeared jumped into the road, revolver in hand and with a mask over his face.  The stage driver thinking it a joke did not heed the command to stop but the robber brought him to a standstill by shooting down one of the leading horses.  He then robbed the passengers and rifled the mail bags but failed to find the expected loot, as the paymaster did not arrive until that evening.  The robber made good his escape and was never seen or heard of afterwards.  William Eldridge, who was driving stage at the time of the holdup, is still making his daily trips between North Creek and Indian Lake, and can entertain his passengers with an interesting account of the robbery.

        During the early part of the twentieth century the old school-house was torn down and the one which is standing today was erected.  This schoolhouse contains five recitation rooms, a store room and an office.  The academic department is well provided with a library and laboratory facilities so that nonresident pupils may have their tuition paid by the state.  In 1908 the first graduates of the school were sent out.  how proud the town was, and the younger members of the school began to look forward to the time when they should earn their diplomas and journey on life's way.  The graduates were Catherine Persons, Nina St. Marie, Edwina Wilson, Charles Carroll and Guy Wood.  The school now sends out graduates each year; this year's class numbers six.  It is interesting to note that a majority are becoming teachers or doctors.

Along the North River - Indian Lake Highway

        We now come to the year 1916 and the conclusion of this little history.  The town ranks as first in the county, containing 1028 inhabitants.  Last year the town line was changed from two miles below the village to just outside of North River.  This was done in order to have the road from North River to Indian Lake in the boudnaries so it could be properly cared for.  The Galway Construction Company of New York has taken the contract to put five miles of state road through the village limits.  The work which was started last autumn is expected to be finished this summer.

        The village of Indian Lake is as pretty a village as can be found in the Adirondacks.  The mountains surround it on all sides and seem to stand as a fortress against the invasion of foes.  At the foot of the village is a little lake, which isused as a skating rink and is called Lake Adirondack.  Snowy mountain, the highest peak in Hamilton county, lies within the town limits, a few miles southwest of the village, while Mt. Marcy can be plainly seen in the northwest.  The village contains five stores, a high school, three churches, three blacksmith shops, a garage, town hall, two liveries, one hotel in the village and two on the outskirst, an I.O.O.F. Hall, and a postoffice.  It has both telephone and telegraph connections with the neighboring towns and cities.  The mail is brought in daily by stages from Blue Mountain and North Creek.

        The streets are well laid out under wide-spreading maple trees and cement side walks are found on all the streets within the village limits.


Last Updated: Wednesday, 14-May-2008 13:31:57 PDT
Copyright © 2002:  Lisa K. Slaski