Chateaugay Railroad Flyer



The Big Forest in Danger


Ruinous work of the existing railroads

Mile after mile of the old woods converted into a waste of stumps and stones

The route of Dr. Webb’s road

The state lands problem

Trespasses already committed

Organized effort called for to preserve the wilderness

SARANAC INN, June 9.–“About the biggest bear I ever saw swam across this bay from the old carry yonder one day last Fall,” said my guide. “He put in his best strokes when he saw my boat come out upon the lake from the outlet, and as soon as he struck bottom he scrambled up the bank and made off in the underbrush. Over on the either side there is a deerstandand many’s the buck I’ve seen brought down there.” We were out for trout on one of the smaller lakes not far from this inn, and my guide was reminiscent and communicative. “How long will the bear and the deer stay in this region after Dr. Webb begins to run his trains through the woods?” I asked. “Not for long, I guess; they’ve no use for a railroad.”

This opinion, though it is the opinion of an expert, is not accepted by Dr. W. Seward WEbb and his engineers and contractors. In their view there is nothing in this world the bears so much enjoy as the spectacle of the rushing trains. They will come miles to see it. As for the deer, after their first timidity has worn off a little, they will come up and eat hay off the locomotive and scamper along in friendly rivalry beside the vestibule coaches to pick up the banana skins thrown to them by the delighted passengers from the windows of the buffet car. From what I have read and heard of the habits and tastes of bear and deer I am inclined to think that my guide is right and Dr. Webb wrong. These interesting animals and their forest companions of every species, except, perhaps, the crow, the hedgehof, and the squirrel, will decline to share the benefits which the promoters of the Adirondack and St. Lawrence Railroad propose to confer upon this wilderness. They may not migrate at the first screech of the locomotive. They are used to discordant noises. They may mistake the steam whistle for the yell of an angry panther or the laughter of an excited loon. But long before the devastating changes inevitable to the operation of railroads with a view to dividends have been wrought upon these woods, the bear and the deer will have become as scarce around the Upper Saranac as they are in front of the Fifth Avenue Hotel.

However, they are unsociable creatures, of no use to civilized man save for their skins, which are of trifling value, and except by depriving of the pleasures of the chase a few hunters who probably ought to be engaged in some gainful occupation, their depatriation by Dr. Webb’s railroad will be an event calling for no lamentation. Limited merely to its effects upon the larger game, this practical view of the doctor’s railroad project would be unhesitatingly accepted by the Chamber of Commerce and the Stock Exchange of New York. But this limitation of view is impossible The whole question of excluding railroads or permitting their invasion, or the preservation of the forest or of its destruction, must be considered, the question whether the future visitor to the Adirondacks shall make his way, now along wagon roads where big trees cast the shade of their lofty tops, and the leafy undergrowth, the wood flowers, and the green mosses give refreshment to the eye and spirit, and now by canoe and carry and camp through the lakes and waterways of the forest; or whether he shall ride in Wagner drawing-room cars through a landscape of weather-beaten stumps, of prostate and moldering tree trunks, unaccountable rejected by the greedy lumbermen, of boulders stripped of their invstigating mosses and whitened by the firest, a soil that bears no living thing upon its surface–the triple abomination of desolation, from which the feeling traveler would turn his sad eyes to contemplate the Wagnerian splendors of his car or read in the Mail and Express the praises of the New York Central and the quarterly report of the Adirondack and St. Lawrence Railroad. With such a transforming disaster threatening the Adirondacks, every lover of nature must rejoice that the memory of the great forest may at least be recalled to him by Emerson, whose eyes saw and whose soul was moved by its majesty more than thirty years ago when–

“The wood was sovran with centennial trees–
Oak, cedar, maple, poplar, beech, and fir,
Linden and spruce, in strict society
Three conifers, white, pitch, and Norway pine,
Five-leaved, three-leaved, and two-leaved grew thereby.
Our patron pine was fifteen feet in girth.
The maple eight, beneth its shapely tower.

” ‘Welcome!’ the wood god murmured through the leaves–
‘Welcome, though late, unknowing, yet known to me.’
Evening drew on; stars pepped through maple boughs,
Which o’erhung, like a cloud, our camping fire.
Decayed millennial trunks, like moonlight flocks,
Lit with phosphoric crumbs the forest floor.”

“From a single crime learn all,” remarked Aeneae to Queen Dido in his narrative of the wooden horse affair. We have a broader basis for our foreknowledge. From what two railroads have done to the Adirondacks we may know what a third will do. When Frank Forrester, some forty years ago, used to visit the Adirondacks he found a virgin wilderness in the region now traversed by the Chateaugay Railroad from Chazy Lake to the Upper Chateaugay. There he found opportunities for the sports he loved hardly surpassed anywhere in the world. Speckled trout abounded in the lakes, and the depths of the woods were the home of bear and deer and panthers and every species of large and small game game native to those wilds, then visited only by hunters and trappers. If that gifted man and accomplished sportsman could revisit the scenes of his former hunting exploits, the spectacle of the dead waste and absolute devastation the Chateaugay Railroad has brought upon this once lovely country, would move him to form and express by tongue and pen opinions of Smith M. Weed vastly more unfavorably than any that Gov. Hill is capable of entertaining of the gentleman he robbed of the Senatorship. As I stood upon the platform of one of Mr. Weed’s cars the other day while the train waited at the Chazy Lake station I looked down to the waters of the lake across a foreground of whitening stamps. Not a sapling was visible on the slope. Hardly a blade of grass sprang anywhere from the gravelly soil to relieve the naked ugliness of the gray boulders. As far as I could see around the lake no green leaf adorned the shore, save that on the opposite side a considerable tract of the deciduous trees that sprang up after the felling of the pines has so far been spared, while upon the slopes whence all the timber trees have been cut a fresh growth of saplings and tender shoots covers the ground with verdure and gives promise of reforestation–if only the Spirit of Progress would spare them. On the southern and western shores of the lake everything has been swept off to feed the lumber mills and the charcoal kilns. I asked a native Adirondacker who stood upon the station platform when the timber was cut all around Chazy Lake. “About ten years ago,” he replied. It was on March 1, 1880, that the Chateaugay Railroad was opened as far as Lyon Mountain. One year sufficed for the deadly work. The history of the road is the history of the conversion of the noble forest into an ignoble waste. The State built the first section from Plattsburg to Dannemora. This section was opened in July, 1879. When the Chateaugay Company built the extension from Dannemora to Lyon Mountain the next year it entered upon and operated the State’s section, on condition that that it transport free of charge the supplies to and from the Clinton Prison at Dannemora. The next advance was from Lyon Mountain to Loon Lake, thirty-nine miles. This extension was opened Nov. 15, 1886, and the remaining section of the road, twenty-four miles, from Loon Lake to Saranac Village, the terminus, was first operated in December, 1887.

Thus for seventy-three miles between Plattsburg and Saranac Village the Chateaugay Railroad has cut its swath from Lake Champlain into the very heart of the Adirondacks. It did not all the way pierce an unbroken wilderness. For several miles to the north of Saranac Lake there were wide clearings, farms, and settlements before the coming of the locomotive. The clearing and settlement of the region was accomplished many years ago as a consequence of the lumbering operations begun about the head waters of the Saranac River, near the Lower Saranac Lake….

The New York Times, June 10, 1891

Plans Big Steel Plant Near New York Harbor

Schwab, for Bethlehem Company, Inspects Up-State Ore Lands

Negotiating with the D.&H.

Breaker Island Works Near Albany May Be Reopened by the United States Steel Corporation

Special to The New York Times

ALBANY, Aug. 19.–The opening of the ore mines in and near Lyon Mountain, in Clinton County, by the Bethlehem Steel Company for the use of its contemplated blast furnaces near New York Harbor, and the exploitation of the ore lands in the vicinity of Port Henry and the reopening of the Breaker Island steel plant, just north of this city, are some of the interesting rumors now current in financial and commercial circles.

Charles M. Schwab, former President of the United States Steel Company, was in Clinton County a few days ago inspecting iron ore lands owned by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company and its subsidiary companies, on Lyon Mountain, and in its immediate vicinity. Mr. Schwab’s experts discovered that the lands contained a low phosphorous ore, particularly adapted to the manufacture of high-grade steel and steel castings. It is said that negotiations are now in progress between Mr. Schwab and the Delaware and Hudson to exploit them, whether by purchase of the land itself or simply the ore, it is not definitely known.

For some time past a rumor has been current in New York financial circles that Mr. Schwab was about to erect large steel furnaces in or near New York Harbor, not in opposition to the United States Steel Company, but rather for the use of the Bethlehem Steel Company, in which he is heavily interested. His plans in the vicinity of New York Harbor, in any event, involve the utilization of the Delaware and Hudson ore deposits at Lyon Mountain and in other parts of Clinton County, which amount to several thousand acres.

A person possessing intimate knowledge of the subject says that the United States STeel Company has been negotiating with Witherbee, Sherman & Co., an iron ore company at Port Henry, in Essex County, as to the possibility of securing the necessary supply of iron ore which would warrant the big steel company in reopening its Breaker Island plant.

Witherbee, Sherman & Co. own ore mines at Mineville, a few miles northwest of Port Henry, which is connected by an abandoned railroad. The United States Steel Company owns several thousand acres of ore beds near Crown Point, and also has an abandoned blast furnace there. The company’s experts have been in the vicinity of Crown Point and Port Henry for several weeks inspecting the ore deposits there, and it is thought that the supply will be sufficient for the company to reopen its Breaker Island plant.

The plant at Breaker Island is a large one, and is supplied with all of the modern conveniences of a first-class furnace. It was formerly owned by the Troy Steel Company, but was sold under a foreclosure sale to W. F. Donovan here on Aug. 7, 1902, for $525,000. It later was transferred to the American Steel Wire Company, a subsidiary company of the United States Steel Company.

It was said at that time that the works would opened quickly, but that proved to be without foundation. The excuse was that there was not sufficient iron ore of the first quality near enough to the plant to make its operation profitable.

The New York Times, August 20, 1905

Changed to Standard Gauge

PLATTSBURG, N.Y., Dec. 28–The Chateaugay Railroad from Cadyville to Lyon Mountain, a distance of twenty miles, was changed today from narrow to standard gauge. Several hundred section men left here at 2 o’clock this morning, equipped with lanterns and all necessary tools, and at 3:15 o’clock this afternoon the work was done. The road already was of the standard gauge from Plattsburg to Cadyville, a distance of twelve miles.

Today’s work was rendered especially difficult because the ties were frozen solid in the roadbed. It is estimated that 310,000 spikes were driven in the twelve hours.

After Jan. 1 the Delaware and Hudson will assume control of the road under a lease, and the rate of fare will be reduced from 4 cents to 3 cents a mile.

The New York Times, December 29, 1902

Rich Strike of Iron Ore

The Chateaugay Company’s New Vein 70 Feet Thick

One of World’s Largest Deposits

PLATTSBURG, N.Y., March 6.–The Chateaugay Ore and Iron Company has recently discovered that the vein of iron ore at its mines near Lyon Mountain, N.Y., which was supposed to be thirty feet in thickness, is in reality more than seventy feet thick and extends for six miles in a northeasterly and southwesterly direction from Lyon Mountain, making it one of the largest deposits of iron ore in the world. The company has increased its capital stock from $1,500,000 to $2,750,000, of which amount the Delaware and Hudson Company owns $1,400,000.

The company has hurried a force of several hundred men into its forests to get out a supply of wood for charcoal. The charcoal blast furnace at Standish will be rebuilt, with an annual capacity of 25,000 tons of charcoal pig iron. Fifty new brick charcoal kilns will be built. The company is now mining about 800 tons of ore per day and this output will be doubled.

The officers of the company are Smith M. Weed, President; Talbot Olyphant, Vice President and Treasurer; James N. Stower, General Manager. Among the stockholders besides the Delaware and Hudson Company, are Robert M. Olyphant and C. Adolphus Low, uncle of Mayor Seth Low of New York City.

The New York Times, March 7, 1902

Into the Adirondacks

ALBANY, July 13–Next year the iron horse will run into the Adirondack wilderness as far as Saranac Lake. The Chateaugay Railway Company was incorporated today. It is to construct a railroad from near Lyon Mountain, from the westerly terminal of the Chateaugay Railway Company in Dannemora, by the most feasible route through Clinton County and into Franklin County, terminating at or near Saranac Lake Village, a distance of 40 miles. The capital is $168,000, divided into one-hundred-dollar shares. The managers are Smith M. Weed, who, as individual, takes 400 shares, and as Trustee 1,200 shares; Andrew Williams, Alvin L. Inman, Willard F. Parkhurst, Milton L. French, William E. Smith, Peter S. Palmer, Roswell A. Weed, Henry Paris, of Plattsburg; Robert M. Olyphant, Le Grand B. Cannon, of New York; James A. Burden, of Troy, and Edward Hall, of Lyon Mountain.

The New York Times, July 14, 1887

Ex-Congressman Andrew Williams

PLATTSBURG, N.Y., Oct. 6–Ex-Congressman Andrew Williams died today, aged 79 years. For half a century he had been a conspicuous figure in Northern New York, engaging actively in business and politics. He was elected to Congress as a Republican in 1874 and re-elected in 1876. With Smith M. Weed he formerly controlled the Lyon Mountain iron mines.

The New York Times, October 7, 1907

Owlyout Lodge Burned

Twelve-Year-Old Boy Loses Life in Summer Resort Fire.

Special to The New York Times.

PLATTSBURG, N.Y., Aug. 21–Owlyout Lodge, a Summer hotel in Merrill, Clinton County, which is much frequented by Washingtonians, was burned down early this morning. There were about 100 guests, and they lost practically everything they had. Many of them suffered severely from the exposure, being compelled to stay from 1 A.M. until the first train arrived at Lyon Mountain, this morning, out in the cold, with very little protection in the way of clothing.

The hotel burned so fast that it was reduced to ashes within one hour after the fire started. John Snyder, a boy employed in the hotel, was burned to death. There are rumors that the fire was of incendiary origin, and an investigation is being made by the Clinton County authorities.

The hotel was owned by Miss Edith C. Westcott and Miss Alice E. Bentley of Washington, D.C. Miss Westcott is the Principal of a high school in Washington.

Owlyout Lodge was situated on Chateaugay Lake and was one of the best-located small hotels in the Adirondacks. Lyon Mountain is the nearest railroad station.

The New York Times, August 22, 1908

Sun Parlor, Hotel Chateaugay, Lyon Mountain

Lead in Them Thar Hills?, by Phyllis L. Wells

WERE there once lead mines in the Adirondacks? Can anyone prove that there were? Probably not, but there have been numerous stories by various people; some seemingly good evidence; and a whole lot of time, energy, and money expended in an effort to do so.

Perhaps the most publicized mine was in the vicinity of Owls Head and Ragged Lake, in Franklin County. Floy S. Hyde in her Water over the Dam at Mountain View, tells about Ignace Plamondon, commonly called Plumadore, who was among the very early guides in this region. Born in Michigan about 1781 of French and Indian parentage, he lived for a time in Chasm Falls, but ranged widely over the northern Adirondacks. He died at 98 in 1879 and is buried in Duane.

Floy Hyde relates the following from Morton Fitch’s History of Ragged Lake in Franklin County. In the early 1860’s Plumadore made his headquarters with Madore Fountain, an old trapper, near Plumadore Pond and at Round Pond (now Indian Lake). At that time he would go east from Round Pond and south from the highest point of land near Drain Pond Hollow, and return with lead to be melted and made into bullets. Because of this, the hill east of Indian Lake was called Ore Bed Mountain. The deposit he visited was the source of supply for the St. Regis tribe, and its location was kept a sacred secret from the whites.

When older and in failing health, Plumadore went to live with a Spicer family near Chasm Falls. He became fond of them, told them about the lead supply, and promised to tell them its location. But, while visiting at Deer River (on the Duane-Meacham Lake road), he was taken sick and died, his secret untold.

F. J. Seaver, in his Historical Sketches of Franklin County, tells of Major Albon Man, who before the Civil War used to hunt at Indian Lake and Mountain View (then Round Pond and State Dam). He employed “Old Aleck”. a St. Regis Indian, for guide and camp worker. On several occasions “Old Aleck” sneaked off from camp, and after a few hours, returned with quantities of pure galena, which they reduced and cast into bullets. Old settlers in the vicinity used to tell of the same Indian appearing at their homes from time to time with native lead, claiming to have gotten it from a “mine in the mountains.”

It is interesting to note that Lot 87, which contains Ore Bed Hill, is given on several old maps as the “Lead Mine Lot”. About 1890 this lot belonged to Orville Moore of Malone, and others. Elmer Davis of Owls Head recalled that some men hired him to transport a considerable amount of equipment to Ore Bed, where they sank a shaft, saying they were searching for the lost lead mine. The attempt was unsuccessful, as was a similar one on Whipple Hill.

In 1894 the Plattsburgh Sentinel reported a rumor that lead had been found in this area, and that a Syracuse party was arranging to open a vein. In 1900 the Adirondack News reported that Thomas Todd, who had tramped through this area for years, believed that he had located the mine. He and others in Malone purchased land located east of Indian Lake and south of Owls Head Mountain from M. V . B. Turner of Plattsburgh. Arrangements had been made for an expert to start drilling. No big discoveries followed either of these reported finds.

The story of Cass Hoose and lead near Plumadore Pond appeared in the Adirondack Enterprise in 1970, probably a reprint from the Malone Farmer in 1925. He and his brother lived on the old Hatch place on the Loon Lake-Duane road. When he was twelve, an old miner named Davis, having heard of the lead deposit, came with instruments, and took the boys along on his exploration. They went east to a hill near Plumadore Pond, where there were indications of a lead deposit. Tunnelling into the hill produced thin slivers of lead, but no vein. Davis became ill, and nothing more was ever done.

Donaldson, in his History of the Adirondacks, tells of two inn proprietors who had contact with Indians concerning lead. Charles H. Wardner ran the Rustic Lodge at the end of Upper Saranac Lake in the early years of this century. He told of two old Indians coming to the Lodge from Canada, saying they were looking for lead. They knew that Indians once living here had known of its whereabouts. Their search was unsuccessful, and they never returned.

James M. Wardner, a relative, ran the Rainbow Inn on Rainbow Lake, and told of an old Indian who came to his place and offered quantities of lead ore as a medium of exchange. If he failed to have enough to complete the bargain at hand, he would disappear for awhile and return with a new supply. His secret was guarded with great care.

Lead fever also infected Essex County. The story ran as a series in the Essex County Republican in 1883. Smith’s History of Essex County also gives some of the details.

At the close of the Revolution, William Shapley, a soldier who was quite familiar with the waters of the Champlain Valley, came to settle on Flat Rock Bay. Exploration of Peru Bay (Willsboro Bay) disclosed abundant game, so he often hunted in the area. One day he picked up a light colored stone with which to scrape off the flint in his musket. Thinking it interesting, he picked up several more to carry home in his knapsack. That evening he put the pieces in the fire and discovered them to contain lead.

The next day Shapley returned to the spot, hoping to find more of the “stones,” but several years’ search proved unsuccessful. Later, his half-brother, Joseph Moore, settled nearby and helped Shapley with his search. Still without success, they eventually left the area, after telling several local people all about the old find.

The area in which Shapley located the “stones” was not far from where Peru Bay was visible, and among the northeast foothills of Rattlesnake Mountain, a huge mountain lying directly west of the Red Rocks, and near Little Sand Beach, at the south end of what is now the end of the tunnel at the railroad cut.

Some years after Shapley’s discovery, Caleb Smith (an old settler on Willsboro Point) was hunting in the same area and went into a hollow to find water. Brushing away leaves, he found some stones which were very heavy. The sound made when struck together convinced him that they contained lead. He covered the place, making a mental note of the location, and intending to return. He later did with his son-in-law, Dr. Asa Fisher. Still later, they told two friends, who also helped in the search. Finally, the information became known among several other settlers, who also aided in the search. Nothing was ever found by any of these people.

Winslow Cossoul Watson says that his father, Elkanah Watson, brought from London in 1784 an old map made by French engineers in l731. The map exhibited exact designations of headlands, islands, rocks, reefs, etc., and was considered to be the only minute chart of Lake Champlain extant. On the shore of Peru Bay is marked “lead ore bed.”

In the early part of the nineteenth century, Levi Higby’s father erected a sawmill at Port Kendall. It was in the deep gorge later spanned by the iron railway bridge of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. In clearing the gorge for the placing of timbers, workmen found a crucible of the type used for melting ores . Had it been used by the old French engineers a hundred or so years earlier?

In April 1883 the Plattsburgh Sentinel printed a letter from John Mattocks of Chicago (Presbyterian minister in Keeseville, 1838-1856) who tells of buying an old atlas published before the Revolution. At or near the present location of Willsboro was marked “lead mine.”

Accounts are retained by descendants of those who were taken prisoner by the French and Indians, that on their way through the lake to Canada, they landed at a small sand beach on a great bay, at a place where the rocks stood steep and high above the water. Some of the Indians went up into the mountains, and after a few hours, returned with lead ore. Notice that Red Rocks and Little Sand Beach are alluded to.

Mr Martin of Essex once accidentally secured a specimen of lead. He and his father were becalmed on the bay near Red Rocks. He took a shotgun and went ashore to get partridges. In climbing over a ledge, he broke off a small bulge which turned out to be lead. Messrs. Cameron & McDonald, contractors on the railroad, found one small pocket of lead when cutting through the Red Rock.

Winslow Cossoul Watson, in his Military and Civil History of the County of Essex, says that a tradition of an ore bed on Rattlesnake Mountain was known to exist among the Indian tribes north of the Great Lakes . Since the settlement of Port Kent, and until around 1870, a group of Indians appeared annually about mid-autumn. They usually camped at the sand beach south of the village, or in a glen nearby, for about ten days, and then disappeared. It is thought that they came for lead ore.

Trembleau Mountain is another location given in some accounts about the lead mine. As reported in the Essex County Republican in 1881, a landowner claimed to have found the excavation made by the Indians on Trembleau Mountain. In his letter, John Mattocks also states that in 1858 Jackson Bishop or his brother John of Keeseville had shown him a cube-shaped piece of lead ore which he had found while hunting on Trembleau Mountain.

The Plattsburgh Sentinel in 1883 carried a letter from Leander Dunham of Ellenburgh Depot regarding the Trembleau Mountain lead mine. He states that he was a sailor on Lake Champlain in 1826, and while returning from Whitehall, was becalmed near this mountain. He went ashore and rambled around. Later, he heard of an old man being taken captive by the Indians. They left him in a canoe while they went ashore at that spot, returning with a lot of lead. Dunham says it was the same spot where he had rambled around earlier.

Clinton County’s lead mine, once known to the Indians, was in the Lyon Mountain area. The summer 1967 issue of York State Tradition relates the story of two men’s attempts to discover the location, as told years ago by Capt. E. E. Thomas of Chateaugay Lake.

Nathaniel Collins was one of the first white hunters to canoe on the Chateaugay Lakes and roam the surrounding woods. While fishing on South Inlet he came upon an Indian girl and her parents. She explained that they had come for lead, and warned him not to follow them. Nat went across the inlet to a high elevation, and for five days he searched for smoke by day, and fire by night. He never saw either. After eight days the Indians returned loaded down with lead–long strips with evidences of charcoal.

About the same time, Mose Sangimore settled at Chazy Lake. He went hunting on Lyon Mountain, looking for the Indian lead mine. Smelling smoke, he used the wind to guide him to a cavern with stone steps and logs. He ventured in for a few feet, hearing no sound, but detecting the strong smell of smoke.

Leaving his overalls in a tree, he broke branches for a trail, and returned the next morning with neighbors. He could not find the mine. The Indians had probably been in the mine when Mose discovered it, and erased his trail marks . The location is still a mystery.

Also of interest in Clinton County is the notation “Leadmine Gully” found on a soil map of the county. It lies directly to the west of the Dead Sea area of Altona. Beers’ Atlas of Clinton County, 1869, shows a spot marked “leadmine” in plot #80, northeast of Churubusco, in the very northeast corner of the town of Clinton.

Undoubtedly, the Indians did know of the existence of lead in any or all of these locations. However, white men have never been able to substantiate its existence. Accounts of the various deposits remain as tales of the distant past, none of them ever having become a commercial reality.


According to the Essex County Republican, November 7, 1924, a woman who was a native of Plattsburgh enlisted and served as a man in the Union Army in the Civil War. Born Mary Ann Murphy, her mother died when she was very young, and she was adopted by the Benjamin Hill family, who moved from Plattsburgh to Worcester, Mass. She enlisted as Saul Hill when she was 18. She was a member of Company B, 53rd Massachusetts Regiment.

York State Tradition
Summer, 1974, 30-4.