Voices of Faith:  Isle Church Still Holds Services

by Fay Carmichael,  BS

 

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1890  "...Like pinions moving, the oars are plied the church to reach...."

 

1893  "...A small chapel of graceful design stands on this island, and, with its parsonage, forms an interesting feature of the locality." 

 

c1892 Stoddard photo of Good Shepherd

 

In the summer of 1957, my parents were paddling their canoe through a group of islands on Raquette Lake when Mother glanced over her shoulder.  “That must be the island church that we’ve heard so much about!” she exclaimed.  The place had not been used for worship for nearly 20 years, but many people in the North Country still fondly remembered it.

My father, the Rev. Ralph M. Carmichael, had been the rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal at the corner of Main and Madison avenues since 1955, and Albany Bishop Frederick Barry would soon appoint him priest-in-charge of the Church of the Transfiguration, a summer chapel in Blue Mountain Lake, 12 miles from Raquette Lake.

My parents loved to camp...our family had done so in 46 states...and had been staying at the Golden Beach State Park on Raquette Lake while Dad was preaching at the Church of the Transfiguration.  But the possibility of having a roof overhead was a treat...especially for my three younger brothers and Penny our Springer spaniel.

St. Hubert (638-727) after laying down his bow and arrow forever

My parents, along with my brothers Paul and Andy, pulled up their canoe, and went exploring.  What was originally known as Bluff Island had been renamed St. Hubert's Isle in honor of the patron saint of hunters.  Imagine their surprise when, after struggling through over three acres of brush, they found the island church in excellent shape.

The site also included a three-story rectory, guest cottage, ice house, workshop, Necessary House, gazebo and boat house.  But trees that blew down in a huge 1950 storm damaged buildings and still blocked almost every path.

It wasn't always like this.  Back in 1879, William West Durant (1850-1934) decided he needed something to encourage families to purchase his new Adirondack camps and a church would be just the thing.  He met with William Croswell Doane, the first Episcopalian Bishop of Albany, who agreed.  

The Raquette region is an important point; not only because travellers and visitors are increasing in number, and because the railroad will soon open it for settlement, but because many guides are gathered there, and the population is entirely uncared for.  [3]  

St. Hubert's was sold for $1 to the Diocese of Albany, and a fund appeal was sent out for the “Mission Church of the Good Shepherd,” listing Durant as Warden and John Boyd Thacher (1847-1909), Treasurer. [4]   Mr. Thacher was later state senator and then Mayor of Albany as was his father George before him, and later his nephew, John Boyd Thacher II.  The land for Thacher Park outside Albany was donated in 1914 by his widow, Emma Treadwell Thacher.

Published in a 1900 Delaware & Hudson Railway brochure

Bishop Doane dedicated the church on September 12, 1880.   Durant built the rectory in 1882, also donating the solid granite baptismal font, the bell manufactured by the Meneely Bell Co. of Troy, NY, and the 1873 Estey pump organ from Bennington, VT.  The church and rectory were dedicated to the people of Raquette Lake.  Services were held each Sunday as well as Morning Prayer on weekdays, usually from July through September.  

Members of the Stott family, who owned a camp on Bluff Point, played a major role in the property's upkeep. [5]  Francis and Elizabeth Stott also donated the Tiffany windows in 1883 in memory of two of their 10 children.  In December 1894 the Rev. William Brown-Serman was appointed priest-in-charge of both the Stotts' home church, St. Barnabas in Stottville, and of Good Shepherd on Raquette Lake.  The Brown-Serman family would remain the driving force there for 46 summers.

St. Hubert's was the perfect central location for the only church within 25 miles.  There were no major roadways until 1930 therefore up through 1900 most of the boat traffic on Raquette Lake was between the settlement of Durant on Long Point and either (1) the Marion River Carry to Blue Mountain Lake, (2) the carry between Brown's Tract and Eighth Lake to Fulton Chain Station (Thendara) or (3) the Forked Lake Carry on to Long Lake - all had to pass by St. Hubert's Isle.  

1880-1900 fired each Sunday morning from Bluff Point to alert residents that church boat was coming

Each Sunday morning from 1880-1900 the Stott women (likely Elizabeth Stott and her daughter) fired a small cannon [now at the Adirondack Museum] on Bluff Point to let everyone on the lake know that the “Church Boat” was approaching.

In 1921 Alfred Donaldson's "A History of the Adirondacks" included the entry:  "The scene of a bright Sunday morning, when the boats gathered from far and near, filled with worshippers in gay apparel, was highly picturesque and gave church-going the novel charm of a devotional outing to a shrine of God-tinged beauty." [6]

The Brown-Serman family held services through 1941, but nearly 20 years later when my family encountered the place, paths had to be cleared, roofs replaced, the old icehouse and workshop knocked down before services could resume in 1959.  

1885 Edward Bierstadt          2005 Church of the Good Shepherd

In 1960 my parents purchased St. Hubert’s from the Albany diocese, and in 1993 the property was put into a trust.  Over the years, volunteers have done much of the work on the Island.  In 1968 and 1969 Boy Scout Troop 400 from Syracuse under Jack Eckland repaired the leaking roof and rebuilt the foundation in time for the rededication of the church by Bishop Barry.  In 1980 the church exterior was restored by Troop 400...using old photographs...to as close to the original as possible for the 100th anniversary. [7]

Boy Scout Troop 2 from Albany, under the leadership of Bob Conklin and earlier his father, has been up many times to clear brush, cut wood and sweep the paths.  We are now holding a building fund drive, hoping to repair the stone foundation and the roof.

Since 1959, we have held a vespers service on the first Sunday of August at 4 pm [changed to 3 pm in 2007].  It is evening prayer using the old hymnals and prayers books.  For 28 years the Echo Camp girls choir led the music, then two brass quintets from Baltimore from 1977-1995.  Last year we had folk music.  Next Sunday [2002], Michael Salvatore from St. Peter’s Episcopal in Beverly, MA, will perform period reed music on the 1873 pump organ.  The Rev. Nancy Rosenblum, deacon at St.. Paul's Episcopal in Troy, will preside.  The service is ecumenical and open to all. 

Free transport is available from the Raquette Lake Village dock beginning at 3 pm.  For information call 315.354.4267 or visit www.sthubertsisle.com/

~~~~~~~

Carmichael was for many years a professional trombonist in Baltimore and is now a band director with the Troy Public Schools.

Published 27 July 2002
Times Union, Albany, NY
Voices of Faith:  Isle Church Still Holds Services
Section E, page 1


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NOTES

[1]  The Rev. Edward Octavus Flagg.  "Adirondack Poems, St. Hubert's Isle, Number One."  Earlier and Later Poems.  (New York City: Thomas Whittaker. 1906).   123-124.

[2]  State of New York Annual Report of the Forest Commission for 1893.   vol. 1.  (Albany State Printer: James B. Lyon. 1894).  259.

[3]  New York State Museum at Albany.  Letter from "William Croswell Doane, Episcopalian Bishop of Albany, to William West Durant."  (1879).  Copy of letter in possession of Carmichael Family Trust.

[4]  Notice sent to the public by William West Durant and John Boyd Thacher.   (1879).  Copy of notice in possession of Carmichael Family Trust.

[5]  Craig Gilborn.  Durant: The Fortunes and Woodland Camps of a Family in the Adirondacks.  (Utica, NY: North Country Books, Inc. 1981).   Appendix B, 150-153.  

[6]  Alfred L. Donaldson.  A History of the Adirondacks.  (New York: Century Co. 1921).  Vol. II.  94.

[7]  Unknown.  "Boy Scouts Give Island Church A Facelift."  Syracuse [NY] Sunday Post-Standard.  (July 1980)

 


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2009-08-30 14:50:02