Monument on Herkimer-St. Lawrence county line proves tough one to locate
By Tom French
My first attempt to find the Great Corner Monument along the Herkimer and St. Lawrence County line in the mid-1990s was a failure, and I nearly lost my wife. We made it to the ruins of an old hunting camp as described by Barbara McMartin in her Discover the Northwestern Adirondacks, but then fumbled about on different compass lines until Carrie said she wasn’t taking another bushwhacking step. We’d hiked over six miles, and I wasn’t about to give up so easily, so I left her and said I’d “pick her up” on the way back along the compass line. Fifteen steps later, she was out of sight, having disappeared into the understory, and when she didn’t respond to my calls, I turned around. I found her right where I’d left her. Fortunately, she didn’t divorce me.
I’m fascinated by those who came before and tread “this ground.” And when it’s miles from nowhere, where few have stood, and related to the colonial history of the Adirondacks, the notion is even more intriguing.
The 1772 survey for the Totton & Crossfield purchase created a 60-mile line from the south that turned east to established what is now the St. Lawrence/Herkimer/Hamilton County line. During a resurvey in 1903, a small, granite monument was placed at the corner.
The Aldrich Pond Wild Forest offers convenient paddling and fishing on Streeter Lake, biking and skiing on an old railbed, plus other vestiges of history at places like the Jackworks along the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie and mines in Jayville. Explorers can also find a nutrient-depleted experimental potato field, the “Central Park” of the Adirondacks, and an arrow engraved into a rock by Verplanck Colvin’s survey party in 1878.
My perennial Adirondack accomplice, Doug Miller, and I made our way to Aldrich, a former lumber town that once had several hundred houses, a railroad, two churches, and a mill. Turn left onto the Streeter Lake Road, an old railbed of the Newton Falls Paper Company that leads to the Jackworks. There are several nice car camping sites along the way.
After 4.5 miles, you’ll reach the crumbling gate of the Schuler estate. If you’re exploring the Jackworks trail, park here. Otherwise, drive through the gate to the parking area opposite the Streeter Lake Canoe Launch.
Andrew Schuler was a potato chip magnate who purchased the property in the 1940s, built several buildings, and established an experimental potato field. That intensive cultivation devastated the soil and is still evident today. The nearly 100, moss-covered acres are more reminiscent of a burn area than forest. Go straight at the top of the hill past the parking area to see the potato patch. You’ll rejoin the main trail in 400 yards.
The trail is also part of the Motorized Access Program for People with Disabilities (MAPPWD) established by the DEC to provide “uncommon access to activities such as hunting, fishing, camping and wildlife observation.”
According to the DEC Map, the Streeter Lake Access provides about 4 miles. Unfortunately, downed trees crossed the trail within 1.5 miles and a beaver dam at 2 miles prevents any extended ATV access.
One hundred yards past the potato fields, an accessible lean-to appears above Streeter Lake with views through the trees. An ADA-approved bathroom is nearby and the ground is relatively level to the front of the lean-to.
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A quarter-mile further, the fork to the Schuler Mausoleum veers right – the short detour is highly recommended. Built in 1956 after Andrew Schuler’s father passed, it’s difficult to approach the fence-lined walkway, cross the small, manicured field with gardens, and witness the mausoleum and nearby plaques and benches without pondering one’s own mortality within the more eternal essence of nature.
Unfortunately, signage indicates the trail to the mausoleum is not MAPPWD approved, which is too bad. It’s clearly maintained for vehicular access.
Past the fork to the mausoleum, the trail becomes rough and more like the woods road one would expect. It trends uphill past Crystal Lake, then rolls down to the outlet of Pansy Pond where the previously mentioned beaver have set up shop. We walked the bikes across the 50-yard dam without getting our feet wet. A third of a mile later, the road crosses a causeway over an unnamed tributary of Tamarack Creek.
When we reached the split between the Francis Hill Road and an easier route along the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie, Doug announced he wanted to take the high road. He quoted the ADK guide, “trail grades are mostly rolling.” If we’d bothered to look at the topo map, we would have known differently. We were soon walking the bikes.
Near the top of the hill, we came upon a cairn. An old sugar shack is reportedly somewhere on the hill. We spotted at least two fresh bear scats. The ride down was exhilarating. I flew past the junction with the low road (Doug didn’t even see it) and rolled onto the bridge across Bassett Creek.
Stymied by a swamp
This marks the end of Wild Forest where bikes are allowed and Forest Preserve, where they are not. It is also technically the end of the MAPPWD trail. We ditched the bikes and continued on foot across the lowlands. We found signs of a hunting camp with tarps, beer cans, and a lean-to structure (and fresh moose dung). Then our path rose into the thickest forest of the day and least discernable path, perhaps because the old Jeep trail hasn’t seen motorized vehicles for decades. We passed an old truck that I recognized from thirty years ago when the cab was intact and the paint green; now it was crushed by a fallen tree.
Finally, at 6 miles, we came to a swamp which we were not prepared to cross. The horse flies were out-of-control and sciatic nerves pinched. Stymied again, we ate a quick lunch and headed back.
The trail around Francis Hill was a gem, mostly downhill and rolling through grassy fields of open hardwood forests. Even Doug, a former wildlife technician with the DEC, was taken aback by the lushness of the forest. We stopped a couple of times to check out this remote section of the Oswegatchie – accessible to only the most dedicated of paddlers.
From a MAPPWD perspective, this trail would have been a better choice for the designation. It was in much better shape. If the DEC is serious about maintaining accessibility, it will require significant maintenance, and they should consider making the trail around Francis Hill a MAPPWD loop.
My dream of finding the monument was dashed again with only a few hundred yards between us and our goal. Perhaps if we’d investigated more closely, we would have found easy passage around the swamp. But between bug bites and nerve pain, we didn’t even discuss it. We retreated.
I began to think that with the decline of human presence along with the recovery of beaver populations, no one would witness the monument again soon. Perhaps it would become lost to time and the only image I would ever know is the grainy black and white photo of Francis Rosevear crouched over the monument, compass in hand, in McMartin’s book.
Another hiker finds success
A quick internet search revealed that William Hill of Edwards had successfully found the monument in May 2020. Hill trekked into the woods with his wife in the midst of the Covid pandemic. After crossing the “wet spot,” they found Bassout’s camp with the stone fireplace. Five-hundred feet further, an iron stovetop leans against a yellow birch. An arrow chainsawed into the bark gives a bearing. The monument stands a few hundred yards into the woods.
Hill posted pictures. The monument appears to be in a clearing sticking out above low grasses. Hill squats next to it, a wry smile on his face.
McMartin wrote that it was about 500 feet at 135º from the “collapsed camp” at the third blue marker past Bassout’s; a 1990 ADK Guide to the Adirondacks Northern Region simply says “the old stone marker… is seen in the middle of a small opening on the L.” Don’t believe it. It’s not as easy as it reads. More recent editions say “the going is rough” and reference the 135º heading and 200 yards from “the last demolished outbuilding.” Hill found it at 44.05044, -75.06269. On his blog, he writes, “This is a deep woods hike, and help isn’t a phone call away. You should take this pretty seriously before choosing to hike this one.”
Of course, I’m frustrated over being denied twice. Before seeing the pictures of Hill, I was prepared to give up. But not now. It’s a quest to find this little bit of history and stand where few have before. I know I’ll be trying again soon.
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