Warren County Historical Society Presents …

“REWIND”

April 16, 2014

 

 The Adirondack Northway, Stagecoaches and a Constitutional Amendment  

Northway route through Warren County, NY.

Northway route through Warren County, NY.

The idea of putting a highway through northern New York, connecting Albany and the Canadian border was originally proposed by Governor Thomas E. Dewey in 1954. The decision about the route  such a roadway should take caused much consideration and debate.  Following World War II, Congress was interested in building interstate highways throughout the country that would allow the military to move men and machines quickly should the borders need defending. In 1958 the highway officially became part of the federal Interstate Highway System, giving  it the name of I-87 and providing federal money for the construction. State taxpayers paid about 10% of the cost of the highway; the federal government provided the rest of the funds for the $208 million.

Northway, between exits 19 & 20, Queensbury.

Northway, between exits 19 & 20, Queensbury.

Before the advent of the Northway, Route 9 was the main thoroughfare for those traveling north and south. Everyone used Route 9: trucks from Canada and the US, visitors and locals. Slow traffic through the City of Glens Falls was legendary. The least little disturbance could cause lengthy tie-ups. The condition of the road was not good. Neglected during the Depression and World War II, the  road was plagued by potholes, washed-out shoulders, fallen boulders and bumps. Discussion had begun at the federal level of putting in a major highway that would connect Albany and Montreal, but area community leaders in Warren and Essex counties felt the need to do something. The poor condition of  the road had a major effect on the local economies all over northeastern New York.

Northway at Exit 24 - Riverbank, Warrensburg & Bolton.

Northway at Exit 24 – Riverbank, Warrensburg & Bolton.

In her book, The Schroon River: A History of an Adirondack Valley and its People, Ann Breen Metcalfe reported that when Governor Averell Harriman called Route 9 “a deer path,” community leaders took action. They made the decision to pay the Governor a visit. They did it in a stagecoach!  Arthur Benson, founder of “Frontier Town” in North Hudson provided a nearly one hundred year old genuine stagecoach for the trip to Albany. On December 15, 1955 a group of eight headed to Albany in the stagecoach. Included in the group were Aletha Haley, secretary of the Schroon Lake Chamber of Commerce; Leila O’Connell, owner of the Wells House in Pottersville; Edwin Ovenson, representing Frontier Town; Charles Hinds, owner of  a car dealership in Schroon Lake; Chestertown was represented by Gladys Najer, a realtor, Paul Stapley, a banker, and attorney Charles Leggett. Driving the coach was Bob Downs of South Schroon. Their purpose was to protest the condition of Route 9. The media followed the protesters and were waiting at each town the stagecoach visited. In Lake George, the meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors at the old courthouse was interrupted while members of the board joined the protesters outside. The supervisors gave the stagecoach riders a petition for the governor demanding an improved road. In order to save the coach and the four horses, a flatbed truck and some horse vans carried the coach overland for most of the route. According to Ms. Breen’s account, the protesters explained that Route 9 was in such bad shape that even a stagecoach couldn’t navigate it. Arriving in Albany, the protesters road the coach, accompanied by the media and Albany police, to the capital building where they were met by Governor Harriman. The Governor shared his  intention to improve the road. Within a year, funding was available and work started on the Adirondack.

Color Promo Photo of Frontier Town Stage Coach.

Color Promo Photo of Frontier Town Stage Coach.

Another group of Route 9 local business men and women later met with Governor Nelson Rockefeller and convinced him to name the road, “The Adirondack Northway.” Their thinking was that drivers on the highway would be reminded that it offered a gateway to the vas Adirondack Park and that it was not built as a bypass highway to Canada.

Debate about the route the road would take provided many heated arguments. Politicians first couldn’t decide whether it should go east or west of Saratoga Springs. There were contingents that believed it should go closer to the Vermont border, and that would be fine with those who believed it should not go anywhere near the Blue Line – the Adirondack Park border.

Exit 26, Northbound at Pottersville.

Exit 26, Southbound at Pottersville.

While many possibilities for the ‘route’ were bantered about, there were three that were in the final consideration: 1) Albany to Whitehall, up to Ticonderoga, missing the Adirondack Park and joining the current Northway at New Russia; 2) Follow the Schroon River Valley up the west side of Schroon Lake ; and, 3) From Saratoga Springs to Lake George, passing through Queensbury and then following a  similar route up the west side of Schroon Lake. The last two choices would need to encroach on Adirondack Park land, so a 1959 election included a constitutional amendment that would allow the  Adirondack land to be used. Local Assemblyman, Richard J. Bartlett of Queensbury wrote the proposed constitutional amendment. The amendment passed and construction continued on the Northway in In Ms. Metcalf’s book, it is noted that in 1954 Assemblyman James Fitzpatrick of Plattsburgh and Senator Gilbert Seeyle of Saratoga County introduced a bill that identified the route of the highway in the eastern Adirondack, going north from Albany near Lake George Village, through the Schroon River Valley, the Bouquet River Valley, Elizabethtown, Keeseville and Plattsburgh to the Canadian border. It  was the same route that Warrensburg State Senator James Emerson fought for in establishing Route 9 in 1911-1913 in order to accommodate the first cars in the Adirondacks.

I87 towards South, from atop Prospect Mountain.

I87 towards South, from atop Prospect Mountain.

Construction on the Northway began in 1957. The first section in Warren County opened in 1961 with Governor Rockefeller coming to Queensbury to officiate; the next section, between Warrensburg and Pottersville opened in 1966, and finally the entire highway was finished in time for the World’s Fair opening in Montreal in 1967.

On a rainy day, Governor Rockefeller opened the Northway at exit 19 in Queensbury, NY with Assemblyman Richard Bartlett on his left and Vice Chairman of the Adirondack Northway, Nathan Proller on his right. Photo courtesy of Queensbury Town Historian

On a rainy day, Governor Rockefeller opened the Northway at exit 19 in Queensbury, NY with Assemblyman Richard Bartlett on his left and Vice Chairman of the Adirondack Northway, Nathan Proller on his right.
Photo courtesy of Queensbury Town Historian

 

Award Winning section of Northway at Exit 22, America's Most Scenic New Highway of 1966 by Parade Magazine.

Award Winning section of Northway at Exit 22, America’s Most Scenic New Highway of 1966 by Parade Magazine.

References:

Ann Breen Metcalfe, The Schroon River: A History of an Adirondack Valley and its People, Queensbury,  NY: Warren County Historical Society, 2000

Ann McCann, Warren County Historian, article from Warren County, New York, a commemorative bicentennial magazine, 2013, page 13.

Article prepared by Stan Cianfarano and Gary Evans for the Warren County Historical Society.

© April 16  2014, Warren County Historical Society

 

 

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