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Retracing Roosevelt's September 1901 Adventure, Part 2

Oct 28, 2013

This is part two of a three-part series by Melanie Bayless Veteto, an enthusiastic historian and a friend and volunteer with the Theodore Roosevelt Center. Melanie lives in Carlsbad, California.

We arrived first at the North Creek Depot. It looks very much today like the depot TR knew and was refreshingly busy when we pulled in. What joy to see the platform where Theodore Roosevelt stood when reading the telegram that confirmed his rise to the presidency.

North Creek Station

North Creek Station. Photo courtesy of Melanie Bayless Veteto.

Our next stop was the Adirondack Museum, a marvelous place. It’s so grand, in fact, that admission is valid for two days in a one week period because of the size and scope of the museum. We had one hour. We hastened forward quickly (!) to the building that houses the TR exhibit. The carriage is remarkably well-preserved, and the exhibit also includes a coat TR borrowed for that famous night ride and a picnic basket he carried up Mount Marcy while hiking. Altogether an entirely worthwhile stop. 

Carriage used by TR in 1901

Carriage used by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. Photo courtesy of Melanie Bayless Veteto.

Cindi discovered that the great-grandson of Harrison Hall, the Mount Marcy telegram deliverer, worked at the museum. We hunted him down in the same way his great-grandfather hunted Roosevelt – successfully. Bill Hall, museum interpreter and musician, generously shared stories of his family and himself with us. Bill was born in Newcomb, so we asked him where we could find McNaughton Cottage. “Four miles past Newcomb,” he said, “on the left side of the highway.” We hopefully left for Newcomb, losing cell service as we lost sight of the museum.

But what meaning had cell service when the drive along highway 28N was so lovely?  The trees were gorgeous – turning for fall. It was overcast, misty, not quite raining. We drove through quaint little Newcomb and past. And past, and past, and past. Two miles. Three. Four. Five. Six. Just beyond Newcomb the highway became a construction zone. Finally, and very carefully, at six miles out of Newcomb, we made an illegal U-turn on a winding two-lane mountain highway with no shoulder. No problem. Cindi Our Most Informed was convinced that, in spite of what Sharon and I had (clearly) (both) heard Bill Hall say, we were moving in the wrong direction. After much discussion, some growing distrust and yet no disagreement, we followed her instincts and returned to the road marked Tahawus. We easily found the Tahawus Club site and remembered the photographs of the 1901 lodge. McNaughton Cottage, while a part of the Club, is not at the main site, so we continued on and soon enough were driving along the banks of the Hudson River. It was a beautiful evening. 

Mountains near Newcomb, NY

Photo courtesy of Melanie Bayless Veteto.

It was also, however, getting dark; while my friends feared not, I was deeply hesitant and growing fearful. With promises that my courage would rise with the sun and silently thanking the gods that I controlled the car, I convinced my faithful friends to return at dawn. In the interim, hopefully we could gain a better understanding of what we were looking for.  Suddenly, surprisingly, it was black-as-pitch dark. 

There were no hotels in Newcomb. We went to a bar instead (the only place open) and asked for information. To understate, quite a few gentlemen were very willing to help us. The female bartender weeded out one man who first told us to keep going “past Newcomb about four miles.” Our recent “four miles past Newcomb” experience had taught us to flatly refuse that answer. After ten minutes of circuitous conversation and – finally! – a napkin drawing, he (without explaining his reason for the sudden change) told us to go back the way we had just come: Tahawus Road, left turn, left turn, left turn, along the river, keep going – and there we’d find it. The home was painted yellow now (“I painted it myself!”) and was boarded up.

We departed quite confused, hoping that dinner and rest would restore our energies. We also hoped that the village of Long Lake, thirteen long miles away, had quality-classifiable room and board. By now it was completely dark and for adventure’s sake we stopped along the freshly paved black highway, lines not yet painted, and turned the lights and the engine off.  It was completely black, no light coming from north, south, east, west, Mother Earth or Father Sky. It was also completely silent, except for the blowing of the wind. We were weary all through, roaming deep in the darkness of the Adirondack Mountains, very unsure of our situation and yet hopeful about what morning would bring.

It was a September 1901 Theodore Roosevelt moment.

Each of us recognized this. With rising spirits we found a charming historic hotel in Long Lake village. The staff kindly discounted the cost of our suite “that was Grandma’s home when she was alive.” To our great delight the hotel had a restaurant and it was at dinner that our quest’s question – “Where in these mountains did Roosevelt stay?” – was answered. We asked our waitress, about 20 years old and an Adirondack native, if she could help us. When we told her what we were looking for she immediately said,

“Drive past Newcomb about four miles . . . .” 

It was remarkable, really, how consistent the locals were with this direction. We pressed further, stating that we had actually gone that far (and-a-half) past Newcomb with no success. She enlisted the help of her friend, also a waitress, also about 20 years old and also an Adirondack native. Between the two of them and the three of us, we finally discovered that we were chasing not one, but two Roosevelt sites along the trail. Eureka! The first was the McNaughton Cottage of our original must-see list, and the second was Aiden Lair, where Roosevelt had begun the final leg of his night ride to the depot. It took us four hours to discover that Aiden Lair, not McNaughton Cottage, is just outside of Newcomb on highway 28N. About eight miles.

Posted by Melanie Bayless Veteto on Oct 28, 2013 in Current Events  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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