Archive | July, 2013

Lake Tear of the Clouds

25 Jul

Looks like my mind is still somewhere in the mountains I guess, just bobbing up and down in old Henderson Lake.  As I mentioned last time around, Henderson Lake is officially where the Hudson River begins – some 300+ odd miles (and a world of quiet away) from New York City.  But though Henderson Lake is where the Hudson begins, it’s not the source of the Hudson, and for a guy like me – who likes these kind of distinctions – that counts.  So forgot old Henderson Lake, let’s bob up and down in old Lake Tear of the Clouds for awhile instead.  It’s got a better name anyway.

Lake Tear of the Clouds

Lake Tear of the Clouds is not only the source of the Hudson River, it’s also the highest body of water in New York State – resting some 4,293 feet up the side of Mount Marcy.  The lake was named by Verplanck Colvin in 1872 when he came across it in his travels: what he described as “a minute, unpretending, tear of the clouds — as it were — a lovely pool shivering in the breezes of the mountains.”  Verplanck Colvin was a surveyor (as well as a lawyer, author and illustrator) who was instrumental in promoting the preservation of the Adirondack Mountains.  In fact his actions are directly credited with the creation of the Adirondack Park in 1885: to this day the largest park in the lower 48 states (and at over 6 million acres roughly the same size as the state of Vermont).  Lake Tear of the Clouds trickles its pre-Hudson water down Feldspar Creek into the Opalescent River which finds its way into the Hudson somewhere around the town of Newcomb.  Lake Tear was also supposedly the spot where Vice President Teddy Roosevelt – hiking back down from the summit of Marcy – was informed that President McKinley (who had been shot a week earlier) was in critical condition and close to death.

The Opalescent River runs down Mount Marcy, passing just below Lake Colden, before continuing south to meet the Hudson.  Around Lake Colden the Opalescent was at one time dammed – its waters diverted into the smaller Calamity Brook.  Calamity Brook runs into the Hudson as well, basically at the point where the Hudson begins just below Henderson Lake.  The idea to dam the Opalescent goes back to the Adirondack Iron Works in the mid-nineteenth century: they were looking for a stronger water source to flow past their blast furnaces.  The Hudson – still in its infancy when it flowed past the mines – wasn’t strong enough on its own, but diverting some (or all, by some accounts) of the Opalescent’s flow down the Calamity and into the Hudson did the trick.  In the process the damming created what are still known as the Flowed Lands: a lake and marsh lands caused by the backed-up Opalescent’s overflow.  The dam was partially breached in 1984 by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation due to safety concerns.

Calamity Brook indirectly takes its name from David Henderson, the namesake of Henderson Lake, and one of the founders of the Adirondack Iron Works.  In 1845, before the dam was built, Henderson was scouting the area for places where a dam might be erected.  Traveling with his son and a guide, they came upon Calamity Pond (as yet unnamed) – apparently a prime nesting spot for ducks.  Henderson handed the guide his gun to try and shot some; the guide never got a shot off.  Henderson returned his gun to his pack, set it on a rock, the gun went off, and Henderson was fatally wounded.  Calamity Pond indeed! (I mean, a story like that has gotta be true!)  Just to make sure that no body forgot it (and maybe believed that they were telling the truth) the Henderson family erected a monument to David on the edge of Calamity Pond.  It still stands today in a great spot in the middle of nowhere, as a nice reminder maybe that humans are absolutely inconsequential in the face of nature (it kind of reminds me of Narnia too – the  sort of thing I’ve mentioned before).

Henderson Monument

In another tribute to David, maybe, the dam he had been scouting for did get built – overseen by his partner and father-in-law Archibald McIntyre, from whom the (misspelled) MacIntyre Mountains in the Adirondacks take their name.  In fact the entire Adirondack Iron Works is (was) often called the McIntyre Iron Works instead.  McIntyre was a bit of a man on the scene: a New York State Assemblyman, State Senator and Comptroller many times over, as well as a mine-owner, fledgeling railroad man and real-estate developer in Jersey City.  But hey, what’s he got to show for it now?  He does have a Wikipedia page, which is more than you can say for David Henderson.  Still, I’d take the monument….pretend it’s Narnia.


Henderson Lake

14 Jul

This blog is supposed to be about NYC – and I swear I’ll get back to it someday!  But I don’t know, this summer I’ve been feeling the tangents.  Last year (or was it already two?) I was really digging the whole city summer heat thing, that kind of slippery concrete fever dream.  This year?  Not so much.  I mean I’m still living the whole city summer heat thing – and I tend to always like what I’m living (cause, you know, what are the alternatives?) but when it comes to the spots I’ve seen that pull on the imagination, they’ve been more of the not-NYC variety: be they suburban Jersey, suburban Westchester, or (best of all) the ole Adirondack Mountains.

I had a fantastic drive through them the other week: shirt off, windows down and the most unbelievable pine and sap laced air I’ve smelled in a long time.  Forget the internet; I mean if I lived here I wouldn’t even read the newspaper.  Just sniff the air son, just sniff the air.  It’s a long way down the Hudson to the city.

Cause of course the Adirondacks are where the Hudson River starts: right around the town of Newcomb on Route 28N, where you can drive across it in about 3 seconds flat (quite a different experience than driving across the Tappan Zee).  Though when I say “right around” I mean more like 7 miles down an empty mountain road skirting the highest peak in New York State past not one but two abandoned ghost towns to a cul de sac that gets you sort of near Henderson Lake.


Henderson Lake is where the mighty Hudson officially begins and suffice to say there’s not much going on up there.  It seems like a fitting start for a river that officially ends alongside one of the busiest places on Earth.  Though I guess the Henderson Lake locale used to be at least a little busier; it takes its name from David Henderson, one of the founders of the Adirondack Iron Works, all the way back in 1826.  The Adirondack Iron Works mined iron ore just south of Henderson Lake for a good 30 year period (1827-1857) before finally accepting the fact that they were operating in the middle of a pretty wild wilderness very far away from easy transportation or markets.  At the peak of its operations the company employed about 400 men who lived in the (now ghost town) of Adriondac – which even had its own bank for awhile (now owned by Bank of America*).  A giant blast furnace still stands as the most durable of Adirondac’s remnants.

Blast Furnace

Though it turned out the mining wasn’t over yet – it’s just that there was a long break in between.  After the Adirondack Iron Works company closed down the whole area was eventually leased to the private Adirondack Club (then changed to the Tahawus Club) for their exclusive fishing and hunting use.  With the coming of World War II though (and specifically the need for titanium dioxide) the federal government felt a need for the mine to reopen.  A railroad was built into the area (solving that whole transportation problem) and National Lead Industries moved in and got to work, creating the company town of Tahawus in the process (and also apparently using some of the old buildings of Adirondac).  National Lead would run the mine here all the way until 1989, when it again closed down – creating the second of the two ghost towns that still linger today.

The region’s biggest claim to fame though (I mean besides the Hudson River I guess) may be the fact that it was basically the spot where Teddy Roosevelt became the 26th President of the U.S., upon President McKinley’s death.  Vice President Roosevelt was on vacation with his family in Vermont when McKinley was shot by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz in Buffalo on Sept. 6, 1901.  Roosevelt made his way to Buffalo at once but after McKinley appeared to be recovering well – something all of his doctors agreed on – Roosevelt decided to continue his trip in the Adirondacks, staying around Mount Marcy so he could climb the summit: the highest in the state.  He was returning from that climb on Sept. 13 when a park ranger brought him word – via telegraph – that McKinley had taken a turn for the worse.  Roosevelt took an all-night carriage ride to the train station at North Creek (still in the Adirondack Mountains) and when he arrived at 5:22 am received word that McKinley had died; Roosevelt was now President.  Today the Roosevelt-Marcy Trail along Route 28N commemorates the path of that late-night carriage ride.  Along the way you’ll pass a plaque that more or less marks the spot where Roosevelt actually became President – aka, the spot where he was when McKinley actually died.  The plaque is in pretty rough shape, like most of the other remnants of the past up there; the air smells great though.


* Not actually owned by Bank of America