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.


One Response to “Lake Tear of the Clouds”


  1. Lexington Avenue & 66th Street | corner by corner - August 25, 2013

    […] – maybe when I’m biking over the Pulaski Bridge, or driving down the FDR from a trip up in the mountains – and saying, “Damn, this is my city,” and really appreciating the fact.  Sure […]

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