Theodore Roosevelt loved the great outdoors.
He explored it, hunted in it, wrote books about it. He was as well known for being a naturalist as for being a president. He so loved trees he only allowed a White House Christmas tree is it was the pruned tip of a larger tree. So of course, being born in New York City, he spent quite a bit of time in New York State’s largest expanse of wilderness – the Adirondack Park.
But for reasons other than it was his home state’s own park, the largest park in the Union (and still is outside of Alaska), and also the largest National Historic Landmark, the Adirondack Park held special meaning for Roosevelt. It was in the Adirondacks that Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States.
On September 6th, 1901, President William McKinley was shot twice by a man the press described as either a “a lunatic or an anarchist.” Roosevelt left his family vacationing in Vermont to go be with the President, but McKinley seemed to be improving. Not wanting to alarm the public, the family vacation continued near the small town of Newcomb, NY, at the Tahawus Club.
Being Theodore Roosevelt and being in the Adirondacks, what else was there to do on vacation but climb the tallest mountain around, Mount Marcy. As the family was descending from their hike, and resting on the shores of Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, Park Ranger Harrison Hall arrived with a telegram. McKinley, despite showing signs of recovering from his injuries, was in now grave condition.
The Vice President had just been to Buffalo, and didn’t want to go back just to be told to leave again. He decided to return to camp until he was truly needed. But waiting for him was another telegram: The President was dying of gangrene and Roosevelt must leave.
North Creek, the nearest town with a train station, was 35 miles away. On a good day with clear roads, strong horses and a buck board wagon could make this trip in seven hours. Roosevelt left just before midnight.
In two hours the future President and his driver had traveled only ten miles and made it to the Tahawus Post Office. With fresh horses they traveled another nine miles in two and a half hours to the Aiden Lair Lodge in Minerva. Again, fresh horses, new wagon and driver – Mike Cronin, owner of the Lodge. They departed at 3:30 am and made the final sixteen miles in record time. Roosevelt didn’t know it, but he was already the President. William McKinley had passed away at 2:15.
I have attempted, using Google Maps, to recreate the trip that Theodore Roosevelt took that night he became President. I have had to use modern day roads, so the distance between the towns is much closer than it would have been 100 years ago.
The markers represent:
- A: Camp Tahawus Club Camp (probably a bit farther up the road than it should be, but I wanted the entire journey to reach 35 miles). You can see from the above picture that it is in significant disrepair.
- B: Tehawus Post Office, near the town of Newcomb.
- C: Minerva, and the Aiden Lair Lodge. The Aiden Lair Lodge is still standing, but is also in disrepair. You can see a picture of it by searching for it online. I unfortunately could not get the rights to the picture.
- D: North Creek Train Station. This train station is still in operation today, mostly for fun and tourists. There is a plaque at the station that commemorates Theodore Roosevelt coming in by buckboard and learning from his secretary William Loeb, Jr, that McKinley had died during the night. North Creek is now most famous for being home to Gore Ski area.
This area of the Adirondacks is quite proud of their connection with the first President Roosevelt. In fact, every year on or about the anniversary of his famous midnight ride, the town of Newcomb celebrates with Teddy Roosevelt Days. The weekend includes wagon rides and TR impersonators. There are guided hikes of local peaks and guided tours of local historical buildings. Plus Adirondack crafts, and some fun kid activities as well.
You may just find the ghost of Teddy himself wandering the streets, proud of his legacy in the Mountains that made him President.
For information on this year’s Teddy Roosevelt Days in Newcomb, keep an eye out on www.adirondack.net, follow them on Twitter or Like them on Facebook. To check out what happened last year, go to http://www.adirondack.net/things-to-do/teddy-roosevelt-days.cfm .
For more information on the Saratoga and North Creek Railway, check out www.sncrr.com