Stagecoach Rock

by Jeffrey G. Kelly | History

Throughout 2019, in celebration of Adirondack Life’s 50th anniversary, we’re sharing an article per week from our archives—one for each year since 1970. In 1986, Jeffrey G. Kelly, who was editor of Adirondack Life from 1984 to 1988, wrote about the history of a landmark along Route 73 between Keene and Lake Placid. 

The Stagecoach Rock,
as it has come to be called, is an inspira­tion that drew four men together and added a bit of history to a dramatic stretch of road. Adirondacks who know of the rock cher­ish it. The rock’s enemies have been acid rain, road salt, graffiti, and the harsh weather of a mountain pass.

Gradually, the engraving of a stagecoach driver, three passengers, and four horses is being worn away, and because of this de­terioration, individuals have suggested moving it to a museum. As a result of those suggestions however, letters have been printed in various newspapers spawning a “leave it where it is” campaign. And so, Stagecoach Rock remains where it is.

In 1938, the rock rumbled off Pitchoff Mountain, blocking the Cascade Road (Route 73) just west of the Cascade Lakes in the town of North Elba, a few yards from the town line of Keene. Donald D. Rogers, a sensitive and sensible man, was the Essex County highway assistant in charge of clearing the road.

He and his crew nudged the seven foot tall boulder to the northern side of the road. After the effort, Rogers may have lit his pipe, looked at the rugged pass, and then stared at the big rock. Sometime later, he made his decision to commemorate the Keene to Newman (now Lake Placid) road with a carving of a stagecoach on the rock.

More than a year later, an artist’s draw­ing was sandblasted into the rock. Rogers called the result “The Stagecoach Memo­rial Stone in Cascade.” The artist was Lewis Stacy Brown, who unknowingly had just begun a career of drawing horses. The engravers were Fred Carnes and his son Wilfred, who is now known as Tombstone Willy because of the family cemetery busi­ness he runs in Ausable.

Since the time of the Stagecoach Rock drawing, Brown has dedicated himself to a scientific approach to studying and drawing the horse. He published the book The Anatomy of the Horse and for 25 years worked as a curator for the Museum of Nat­ural History in New York City. In a 1952 issue of North Country Life, Marjorie Por­ter, who did not realize Brown had drawn the sketch for Stagecoach Rock, said Brown was “… on his way to becoming one of this country’s foremost artists on the horse.” Brown has now retired to Kingston, New York.

Looking back, Brown isn’t sure the legs of the horses “… were doing what they were supposed to be doing,” and he said he definitely drew the wrong kind of coach. It should have been a Concord with big leather slings to soften some of the bum­piness. Instead, he drew a fancier British type, which probably required springs.
The location of the monument may also be historically misleading in that many sta­gecoach routes existed in the Adirondacks prior to 1900, and the main route into Lake Placid was not through the Cascade Pass. The first road from Keene to Lake Placid was the Old Military Road, which climbed from the Shackett Road in Keene Valley through beaver ponds to the Mountain Road in North Elba. Yet, stagecoaches un­doubtedly did pass the spot Stagecoach Rock commemorates, due in part to the nearby location of a hotel, the Cascade House.

In the same pull-off spot that exists to­day, Wilfred and his father camped in the back of their 1931 Model A flatbed truck, under a makeshift canvas tent. They roughed it for three days and two nights while they jury-rigged a new template with rubber cement and used a new method of sandblasting.

When they were finished, they had trou­ble pulling off the stencil, and ended up pulling off some thin chips of rock. The Carnes wanted to return to smooth out the surrounding surface and work down the curves above the Stagecoach so they would look like clouds. But in a letter dated May 23, 1940, Rogers said to do nothing more. He liked the rustic look.

The spirit of the drawing is appealing, with a gentleman in mittens and top hat waving from the back, while the four horses prance forward. (One local family uses it as a Christmas card.) A copy of the three foot long drawing is at the Adirondack Center Museum in Elizabethtown. The Carnes family has records of every job, and in their files is Brown’s original crumpled sketch of the stagecoach. Before the rock’s enemies succeed in erasing the drawing, perhaps Carnes and Brown should be re­united to deepen the Stagecoach Rock en­graving and keep Roger’s inspiration alive.

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