Why was Our Area an Adirondack Stagecoach Center?

In 1886, the Lake Clear Lodge & Retreat began as a stagecoach inn, livery, post office, and trading post. Built by the Otis family, when Lake Clear was known as Otisville, our area became America’s first prominent nature-based tourist destination.

An Original 1800s Adirondack Stagecoach Postcard found at the Lake Clear Lodge & Retreat.

Editor's note

The 18,000 Acre St. Regis Canoe Area

The only wilderness canoe area in New York State, was a natural gathering habitat.  Through the uses of portages, you could travel from Lake Ontario literally right to Lake Clear. 

Lake Clear itself is known as a “crescent lake” as the waters on the west side of the lake flow north and west to the St. Lawrence River and from our shore, waters tend to flow east and south to Lake Champlain.

It was the travel route from the 1800’s metro areas of New York City and Boston, that created the demand for stagecoaches.

From NYC, the path was mainly water coming up from the Hudson River into Lake Champlain, the doorway into the Adirondacks was the same if you were coming from Boston: the Saranac River.

But the Saranac River only took you so far before it became difficult to navigate. The Franklin Falls area became the site of Paul Smith’s first hotel, who later built the famous hotel that bore his name in our area.

As the Lodge was in the middle of the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe region, we were in between the Grand Hotels of Paul Smith’s College and the famous Saranac Inn Resort, the largest hotel ever built in the Adirondacks. We were also relatively close to Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. Finally, our immediate area became known as the Adirondack Great Camp destination as many were built here.

Initially, a natural waterway destination as well as a seemingly well traveled Native American  route, the pioneering roads seem to have been built next to the waterways developing a transportation corridor. Waterways were also a key source of transportation for the Adirondack lumbering industries and roads and water became closely aligned. Let’s not forget, the Great Camps, like the Lodge, were situated in wilderness and on water as well. These wagon and stagecoach paths became the roads and the trains followed.

Stagecoach Varieties & History

In doing extensive research on stagecoaches, we discovered that, like Adirondack guideboat builders, there are not many left who construct them. We tried to find one that may have resembled the type that existed here at the Lodge in the 1800s.

While there were many varieties, stagecoaches seem to have been designed to be slightly smaller with wider wheels. These became known as stagecoach mud wagons built for shorter distances, perhaps more rugged and not quite as tall or wide. Unlike the plains of the midwest, 1800s Adirondack roads were narrow, curvy, hilly and in the middle of wilderness where fallen trees or hanging ones would have played havoc with a stereotypical stagecoach where people could ride on top! “Stay inside and keep your hands in!” must have been the motto! However, I will say, Adirondack Experience (formerly the Adirondack Museum) had an authentic stagecoach - and sure enough - there were seats on top! 

The History of Our 1800s Stagecoach

Since we could not find a stagecoach builder in the Adirondacks, our stagecoach came from Oregon. According to Jim and Mary Jensen of Oxbow Trade Company where it was purchased, it was built in the 1880s (like I said, we tried to be as authentic as possible as the Lodge was built in 1886!) by Henderson Coach Company in Stockton, California. It’s early life was the route between Mt. Shasta (when we heard this, we had to buy it as there is a geological connection between that mountain and St. Regis which is the magnificent mountain prominently displayed in front of our beach! What? Adirondacks and a California connection how can that be? You will have to wait for that blog!) and Weaderville, California. The Jensen’s state that it was restored by Phelps Wagon and Buggy Shop but Pat Phelps died before it was completely finished. The Jensen’s then purchased it and finished the restoration. It is all new wood using the original iron/metal parts with painstaking detail to match the original framework including paint, upholstery and even leather suspension, team pole and equipment to harness the horses!

Our Stagecoach Rides are provided through Lucky Clover Farms who did a wonderful job last winter providing lantern-lit sleigh rides through our nature trails with authentic kerosene lanterns guiding your way with jingling bells on draft horses and a beautifully lit sleigh.

4 generations of our family looks forward to seeing yours.

Stay tuned for our next blog in this four part series about Stagecoaches: “Stagecoaches in the Adirondacks.”

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