Recently I have been corresponding with R.J. Potter, a member of the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society who currently resides in Vermont. Although he lives on the other side of Lake Champlain, he still is fascinated with his family ties to the area.
Potter has been kind enough to share his research with the Historical Society, and we have enjoyed learning his family’s history. We want to thank him for his hard work and for allowing us to share his research. The anecdote I am sharing today, which is written by Potter, ties his great, great grandfather, Harvey White (1808-1895) to Cascade Pass.
One of the more prominent Adirondack roads to Lake Placid in the early pioneer days was the Northwest Bay Road, which ran from Westport, NY on Lake Champlain to Lake Placid, to Hopkinton and beyond. The most difficult reach was a rutty, high-crowned, treacherous, pock-marked wagon trail that threaded a gorge north of Pitchoff Mountain between Keene and Lake Placid known as Old Mountain Road, said to be “six miles, six hours.”
The entire route required an all-out effort from horses, where sometimes stagecoach passengers had to get out and walk. It had degenerated so much that in 1858 the state legislature awarded a $2,400 grant to the Town of Keene to build a parallel road, now Route 73, through the scenic valley of Edmonds’ Ponds, later called Cascade Lakes. That daunting job went to Harvey White of Keene Valley, said to be an ‘engineer of sorts’ and a respected contractor, who built bridges, barns, houses and moved many buildings in the region. In some of his enterprises, he would use his prized, big blue oxen to haul heavy loads.
The Cascade Pass road had turning out places as often needed for teams to pass one another, which meant the driver had to look and listen or someone would have to back up in order to pass an oncoming rig. When completed the Cascade Pass supplanted Old Mountain Road as the main thoroughfare, although it’s said that in December 1859, when John Brown’s body was returned to “molder in his grave” in North Elba, the funeral entourage traveled Old Mountain Road. Cascade Pass was primitive and hair-raising, sure enough, but still an improvement over Old Mountain. The latter continued to be used for a long time, but mostly by farm wagons and buckboards. Until 1893, when the railroad came to Lake Placid, the stagecoach was king on the Northwest Bay Road all the way from Lake Champlain to the Adirondack resorts.
Today, stands a boulder that commemorates the building of Cascade Pass. In 1938, a big rock fell from a cliff and blocked the road. One of the men working on the road had an idea for to carve a stagecoach into it. An artist named Lewis Stacey Brown, who was a curator at The Museum of Natural History in New York City, did the drawing, and it was sandblasted into the rock, not carved. The etching was done by the Carnes family — owners of a granite and memorial company in Ausable Forks.