Book reveals stories behind state’s oldest long trail

Review: “From Northville to Placid: Place Names of New York’s Oldest Long Trail”

My first Adirondack trail guide was a glossy booklet published by the state Conservation Department, “The Trails to Marcy,” by A. S. Hopkins, in 1961. It gave me, hefting my Trapper Nelson canvas pack, directions from Adirondack Loj to Indian Falls and the top of Marcy. I bought my last trail guide four years ago in preparation for doing a section of the Northville-Placid Trail with a wonderful hiking partner who has since passed away.

In between those guides, on a shelf in the basement near the snowshoes and camp stove, are too many others to count.

Although “From Northville to Placid,” by the experienced and knowledgeable Erik Schlimmer, might initially sound like a trail guide, it isn’t. The author does provide a short history of the 140 mile trail (which will soon mark its 100th year) and 29 photos, but his interest is not the route or hiking gear, it’s the “Place Names of New York’s Oldest Long Trail.” The 70 toponyms he explores include waterways, ponds, waterfalls and locales.

Schlimmer has researched the etymology of each of these place names, and at first one might wonder, “Why? Who cares?” But Schlimmer is like Bill Bryson in his Appalachian Trail book, “A Walk in the Woods.” His curiosity is boundless, and his conversation educational fun.

For example, Schlimmer writes that Tirell Pond, which is near Indian Lake and where my partner and I camped, was settled by a 300 pound Italian Catholic priest from Whitehall named Olivetti. In 1851, he led a group of Irish immigrants from Ticonderoga to the pond. They cleared an area, built a church and 16 log cabins, and named the pond after their foreman, Pat Tirrell. Schlimmer tells us the settlement survived only two years and Rev. Olivetti not much longer. He got mugged and murdered in Port Henry.

These Northville/Placid place names, from Abner Brook to Woods Lake, both in Hamilton County, are arranged alphabetically. Maybe it would be better to group them by type — the waterfalls together, for example. But Schlimmer provides two discrete indices, one for names of people mentioned in his book, one for names of places.

Erik Schlimmer has a gift for asking questions we sometimes ignore, and a healthy obsession in seeking and sharing the answers.


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