When the American Revolution broke out in 1776, several Native American tribes allied with the British conducted raids against the farmers located just west of Albany. Many settlers were killed, wounded, or taken into captivity and their possessions stolen or burned. After a close call when they attacked nearby farms, the McIntyre family moved to Albany for safety.
Daniel taught school in Albany until the war ended and then returned to Broadalbin. His son, Archibald, studied law and surveying and entered into a successful mercantile business in Broadalbin, importing hardware, tools and goods from Albany and then selling them locally.
In 1799, Archibald was elected to the New York State Assembly and moved back to Albany. In 1802, he was appointed deputy secretary of state and then state comptroller in 1806, a position he held until 1821, serving during the early years of the construction of the Erie Canal.
McIntyre was known to be very strict with the disbursements of state money and in 1817 when Governor Daniel D. Tompkins (1807 to 1817) left Albany to take his position as Vice President of the United States (1817 to 1825), McIntyre disallowed interest payments on some loans the governor had personally made to the state.
In 1804, 1812 and 1820-1821, he was again elected to the State Assembly. He was elected to the State Senate in 1821 and served until 1826.
On February 7, 1816 a meeting was held at the Tontine Coffee House in Albany during which ten prominent Albanians including Archibald McIntyre, Harmanus Bleecker and William James signed a petition calling for the construction of the Erie Canal. The committee then circulated the petition around Albany and presented it to the state legislature. The following year an act was passed “for the improvement of the internal navigation of this state.” Stephen Van Rensselaer III, DeWitt Clinton and three others were appointed commissioners to study the feasibility of the idea.
While holding the position of controller, McIntyre met Albanian David Gregory, chief clerk of the Erie Canal Company, and they began a long association. Gregory left the Erie Canal Company and became chief clerk for McIntyre. McIntyre taught Gregory about state lotteries that McIntyre had used successfully to raise state funds. McIntyre formed an Albany company called Yates & McIntyre to manage lotteries. McIntyre’s partner, Henry Yates, was the brother of the governor, Joseph C. Yates. McIntyre became known as “The Great Lottery Man.” From 1821 to 1834, Yates & McIntyre ran lotteries in New York State.
In 1832, Gregory departed Albany for Yates & McIntyre offices in Jersey City, New Jersey. Gregory started his own lottery management firm but together with McIntyre and McIntyre’s son-in-law, David Henderson, he invested in many new ventures in Jersey City including railroads, land speculation, the city’s first bank, Henderson’s Pottery Company, the city’s earliest newspapers, iron sales from McIntyre’s Adirondac Iron Company and the Dixon Crucible Company. Gregory and Henderson built the Jersey City Lyceum that held concerts and lectures. They also bought the Cunard shipping line that ran between Jersey City and New York City and helped develop the waterfront. Gregory became the first mayor of Jersey City. Henderson continued his business interests in both Jersey City and Albany.
McIntyre, Henderson and other partners purchased the land containing the iron deposits, and after forming the Elba Ironworks, they began to excavate and extract iron ore from what became known as the McIntyre Mine. Local settlers were hired and new families moved into the region. The economy flourished.
Hearing that the Town of Keene was doing well, Peter Smith of Peterboro, NY, examined the area and bought most of the remaining unsettled portion of the town, which was most of it.
Under the supervision of Henderson, the mine was prosperous although “impurities” in the iron ore (later identified as titanium) and transportation costs caused a drag on profits. By 1826, the ore that could be economically extracted had been removed and the workers at the mine were starting to worry about their jobs. That year Henderson hired an Native American trapper named Lewis Elijah Benedict, son of Sabael Benedict, to scout for either silver or more, and preferably better, iron deposits.
Sabel Benedict was a Penobscot who was locally known to be the first permanent settler of the area (at what is now Indian Lake).
Lewis Benedict did not fail and took Henderson through Indian Pass (whose eastern flank is now known as McIntyre Range) to a site about 15 miles south of the original mine. The new mine site was named “Adirondac” (no “k”) and the new venture was called Adirondac Iron Company (now known as the “upper works”).
The new site was about 15 miles from Newcomb, itself only a tiny settlement. A “lower works” was later constructed about 10 miles further south on the Hudson River at a place called “Tahawus,” now in Newcomb, NY.
The Adirondac Iron Company shipped iron ore to Lake Champlain to be processed. In 1838, Henderson & McIntyre decided to build the facilities necessary to process their own iron from the ore. They first built a puddling furnace to process small quantities of ore and then built a large stone blast furnace.
Blast furnaces required fuel and the logging industry in upstate New York was strong and growing. The first known logging and lumber sawmill in the north country was owned for many years by Philip Schuyler. Later, the Finch & Pruyn Company was flourishing and provided lumber for building and wood chips for paper making. The economy of the area revolved around the mines and the lumber industry.
Henderson oversaw the construction of the furnaces, a stamping mill, saw mill, power mill, water wheels, grist mill, two kilns, six coal houses, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, general store, ice house, school and church as well as a log building housing 100 men. The plant was powered by a revolving water wheel.
Meanwhile back at North Elba, the site of the first mine, Peter Smith died and his son Gerrit Smith inherited most of the town. He offered the land for sale in 1840. When there were no immediate takers, in 1845, he established a black community, Timbuctoo, offering 40-acre sites for free to any “colored person” willing to build a house and develop a farm. In 1849, John Brown (before the Raid on Harper’s Ferry) joined with Smith and in return for a farm of his own, Brown assisted and taught farming to the arriving Black families.
One of the problems at McIntyre’s new mine was a lack of power. The Hudson River near its source was not nearly as powerful as it was further downstream. Henderson came up with the idea of diverting a stream into the Hudson to increase the water volume and thus the power to turn the water wheel. On September 3, 1845, he hired local guide “Honest” John Cheney to take Henderson and Henderson’s son by canoe to various locations where the two streams might be joined.
Besides his honesty, Cheney was famous in the North Country for his experience and hunting ability. He was also famous for being a man of few words. While walking a party through the woods, Cheney suddenly drew his gun and shot up into a tree directly above their heads. A large dead panther landed in front of them. When Cheney was asked how he felt when he saw a panther ready to pounce on them, he allegedly responded “I felt as if I should kill him.”
Cheney took Henderson to several locations where the two streams came close and they discussed joining them. At one location they reached a small pond and saw several ducks swimming in the water. Attempting to obtain dinner, Henderson handed his revolver to Cheney to take a shot at the ducks, but before Cheney could get off a shot the ducks flew away.
Cheney returned the gun to Henderson and Henderson returned it to his backpack. Exiting the canoe, Henderson set his backpack on a rock and the gun, apparently still cocked, went off striking Henderson and killing him. Cheney said later, “I sat up all night and held Mr. Henderson’s little son in my arms. It was a dreadful night.”
Due to the accident, the pond became known as “Calamity Pond” and the brook flowing into it became “Calamity Brook.” A monument was placed on the spot where the accident had occurred. With help from some other Adirondack guides, Cheney carried Henderson’s body out of the woods and it was returned to Albany and buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.
Cheney continued on with the Adirondac Iron Company and earned his nickname “Honest John” by transporting large sums of money for McIntyre between the mine operation, Albany, and McIntyre business interests in Jersey City. The mine continued in operation which together with the lumber industry, provided, the mainstay of the local economy.
McIntyre continued to be very active in Albany, serving on many boards and civic organizations. He served as president of the Albany Orphanage during its early years; he was also president of the Scottish St. Andrew’s Society and one of the first board members of Albany Rural Cemetery and Albany Academy.
One of McIntyre’s close friends in Albany was William James (grandfather of authors William and Henry James). William James was among the wealthiest residents of Albany and reputed to be the second wealthiest person in America at the time. At James’ request, McIntyre sent a letter to James’ son, Henry, after Henry’s disastrous fall 1829 semester at Union College imploring him to come to his senses. Henry was later the father of the authors William and Henry James.
In 1842, Henry Yates and Archibald McIntyre purchased the Ithaca and Owego Railroad at a State Comptroller’s Public sale. They later sold the railroad and it became part of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. In 1857, as the ore became more and more difficult to obtain, the Adirondac Iron Company mine was finally closed. The community of Adirondac became a “ghost town” as its source of outside funds evaporated. Archibald McIntyre died in 1858 and was buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.
The year before, in 1856, after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, John Brown and four of his sons left North Elba for Kansas to try to influence the state’s upcoming vote on slavery. In April, 1859, Brown and his sons and recruits from North Elba including two brothers of town supervisor John Tompson, departed for Harper’s Ferry to initiate their planned uprising of southern slaves. On December 2, 1859, Brown was hung and his body returned to North Elba where it was buried on his farm. (You can read about this in John Warren’s series “The Last Days of John Brown“).
In 1901, Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt was staying at the Tahawas Club, constructed on the site of McIntyre’s Lower Works, having scaled Mt. Marcy and eaten lunch at Lake Tear of the Clouds when he was informed that President William McKinley was dying. Roosevelt made a mad dash for the railroad station at North Creek to get to Albany. McKinley died before Roosevelt reached Albany.
Today, the town of North Elba is most widely known as the home of Lake Placid, location of the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Illustrations from above: Portrait of Archibald McIntyre; and the monument at Calamity Pond, which reads “This monument erected by filial affection, to the memory of our dear father, David Henderson who accidentally lost his life on this spot. 3rd September 1845.”