On September 9th through 11th Newcomb, in Essex County at the heart of the Adirondacks, once again celebrates 26th President Theodore Roosevelt, who was vacationing at the Tahawus Club there in 1901 when the wheels leading to his presidency were set in motion.
Roosevelt had come to the Tahawus Club, a hunting and fishing retreat created in the 1870s on the site of early mining efforts on the uppermost reaches of the Hudson River, as a guest of one of its members. His arrival had been delayed by the assassination attempt on William McKinley, but after a trip to Buffalo where the stricken President was recovering, Roosevelt felt assured that he could join his family at Tahawus.
At that time, most of the club’s members would travel to Newcomb after disembarking from the train in North Creek. It was some 35 miles over narrow, rutted roads. The trip would usually be taken over two days.
Much has been written about Roosevelt’s enthusiastic climb of Mount Marcy in a cold drizzle with his guide Noah LaCasse and a small group of fellow hikers. A frantic search was launched for the party once news had been received about President McKinley’s turn for the worse. The party arrived back at the McNaughton Cottage, tired and hungry.
According to TR’s wife Edith Roosevelt, who met them at the door, her husband said “I’m not going unless I am really needed. I have been there once and that shows how I feel. But I will not go to stand beside those people who are suffering and anxious. I am going to wait here.” They went to bed, and shortly thereafter a second telegram arrived, with news that the President was failing, urging TR to come at top speed.
Mr. McNaughton, his host, urged the Vice President to wait until morning as the roads, hazardous at the best of times, were now rain-slicked and treacherous. But TR was determined, and at 12:30 am he and Dave Hunter, the Superintendent of the Tahawus Club, climbed into the waiting buckboard wagon. At top speed, they raced through the darkness, over washed out gullies and fallen branches. They arrived at the Lower Works at 2 am, where TR was again urged to wait for daybreak. But with fresh horses harnessed, Roosevelt climbed into the buckboard beside Orin Kellogg, a Tahawus guide.
From the Lower Works it was 9 miles to Aiden Lair, over what was usually a pretty decent road. But the rain had pounded the surface into a muddy slurry, and misty rain continued to fall. About three miles before they reached Aiden Lair, the road ran right in front of Kay’s Place, a local watering hole. Music and laughter poured out of the door.
Everyone had heard the dire news about McKinley, and knew that Roosevelt would soon be making his way by them. Sure enough, they heard the horses coming and to a person they rushed out into the night to watch the little wagon careen past.
Roosevelt and Kellogg reached Aiden Lair, a lodge and stagecoach stop along what is now Route 28 in Minerva, NY, at 3 am, where he found fresh horses, a covered surrey, and proprietor Mike Cronin, described as a “reckless Irishman,” who again urged Roosevelt to wait the few hours until dawn, to no avail. They set off on the 16-mile journey to North Creek at top speed. But again, the going was tough.
At one point one of the horses stumbled coming down Minerva Hill, and Cronin pulled on the reins to steady his team. But Roosevelt called out “Push on man, push on!” Cronin knew that if they reached North Creek a few minutes slower, it would not make a whit of difference. He had in his pocket the telegram that had been sent to Aiden Lair shortly before Roosevelt had arrived that read: “Honorable Theodore Roosevelt. The President died at 2:15 this morning. John Hay, Secretary of State.” Cronin, on his own, had made the decision to keep this news to himself. Why add unnecessarily to his passenger’s agitation on the journey?
Dawn was breaking as the exhausted team drew into the North Creek Station just before 5 am. It’s said that the trip broke all previous speed records, covering 16 miles in one hour and forty-one minutes, and the entire 32.6 mile journey in four and a half hours. Cronin handed Roosevelt the telegram, which he read with tight lips, and stepped onto the waiting train.
Roosevelt’s wild night ride, from the Tahawus Club to the Presidency, is marked with a tablet set into a boulder a few miles north of the ruins of Aiden Lair, to indicate the place where TR was when that weighty mantle passed to his shoulders.
Poppy Cummings is a Newcomb resident and a volunteer for Discover Newcomb and the annual TR Weekend.
Illustrations, from above: Theodore Roosevelt historic plaque at Aiden Lair in Minerva; Edith Kermit Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt; and Theodore Roosevelt portrait courtesy United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.