There is very creditable evidence
that a tribe of people with skills more advanced than
the Indians lived at Raquette Lake around 12-1300 AD.
Pottery shards and an axe dated to that time frame
indicate a number of cultural skills the Indians did not
The Mohawks frequented the lake
to hunt, trap and fish and had an encampment on what is
now called Indian Point. Their hunting and
trapping parties were frequent visitors until the late
In May of 1776, Sir John
Johnson, son of Sir William Johnson, fled from Johnson
Castle with a number of retainers and Indian followers
to escape the Revolution. The group took the old
Indian trail from Fish House to the then unnamed
Raquette Lake. There was still snow on the ground
when they left, but the spring thaw overtook them and
they had to abandon their 'racquettes' (French for
snowshoes). They piled them in a great heap on a
knoll where South Inlet joins the lake. The
pile remained visible until just a few years ago.
While there are other theories as to how Raquette Lake
was named, the pile of racquettes was a land mark and
became a reference for the lake.
In 1790, when New York
State came into being, Governor Clinton recognized a
number of landowners and land claims. Robert G.
Livingston was recorded as the sole owner of Township 40
which covers almost all of Raquette Lake.
In 1832, the State
declared Livingston had not paid his taxes (a finding of
fact disputed by Livingston) and the Township was sold
at tax sale to David Reed a canal developer from
Vermont. Reed and his fellow faculty member
Professor Farrand Benedict, a mathematician and
surveyor, were tasked to develop waterways from Raquette
Lake and Raquette River to the Hudson River. The
goal was to facilitate economic expansion, and
facilitate the development of the natural resources of
In 1837, William Woods
and Mathew Beech decided to homestead together, and they
built the first permanent structure on the lake shore on
Indian Point. William Wood was one tough
guy. In 1850, he froze both his legs while walking
his trap line and the Indians had to amputate both his
legs and nurse him back to health. He continued to
hunt, walk a trap line several miles long and fish using
his knees with pads on them as feet.
In the 1850s 'sportsmen'
started exploring the "wilderness" in upstate New
York. Many of the area guides
established campsites and some built lean-tos or open
camps for the comfort of their clients. In
1855, Samuel Payne moved his family to Raquette and
opened a 'Hunting Lodge' at the foot of West
Mountain. Soon other hotels followed and
Raquette became a destination for wealthy
sportsmen. The hotel era peaked in the 1940s
and the last hotel had closed by the mid- 1960s.
Among the early sportsmen were
Dr Thomas Durant and his son William West
Durant. Dr Durant was one of the key figures
behind the Transcontinental Railroad. In
1863, Dr Durant reorganized the Adirondack
Railroad as the Adirondack Company and became
President. In 1876, Dr Durant challenged
William West to develop the area, and he built the
family summer 'camp' on Long Point. This
camp would become Camp Pine Knot and evolve into the
first Adirondack Great Camp. During
the 1880s to 1900, numerous camps, both great and small
were built around the lake. WW would become an
designer of camps for the elite, and Raquette Lake would
be the site of many of them and become the playground of
the rich up until the great Depression of the 1930s and
World War II.
In 1880, WW also built
the first church, an Episcopal Church on St.
Hubert's Isle, and in 1890 to serve the majority of the
local workers, he built St. William's Catholic
Church on Long Point. He was Raquette Lake's
first Post Master in 1889, having filled out the
petition for Raquette Lake to be recognized as a
In 1900, the Post Office
was moved from Long Point to be near the
railroad. The present hamlet evolved at this
location. Raquette Lake continues to have one of
the few mail boats to deliver the mail to the many water
access only camps during the summer.
Also in 1900 the only
store in Raquette Lake moved from Long Point to the
Railroad Station. In 1908, the Raquette Lake
Supply Company came into being and continues to operate
the main commercial complex in the hamlet.
Ice harvesting was big business in the early
1900s. The railroad transported the ice to New
York City where it was stored and provided refrigeration
during the summer. The lake ice is still
harvested in the same manner it was, but today it
provides ice for the coolers used by campers at nearby
During the 1970s the hotels and
several of the great camps were divided into lots and
sold. Today the lake shore is still mostly
undeveloped since the State of New York claims about 80%
of the shoreline. The rest is private camps and
some businesses most of which are water access only,
creating a unique water traffic environment.