Hidden Historical Treasure

The Point

There is an awesome peninsula extending north into Lake Champlain from its western shore. Today this peninsula is called Willsboro Point and it is approximately 3 miles long, maybe a mile or so wide at the widest points. This section of the Town of Willsboro sits outside the hamlet area which predominantly rests on the banks of the Boquet River. The peninsula creates a protected bay to its west, very popular with sailors seeking safe moorings and harbors. The dramatic Adirondack Mountains rise abruptly across the bay. The eastern shoreline faces Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains of Vermont. There is a ridge running north and south through the length of the point. As you might imagine, sunrises and sunsets are spectacular from this vantage point.

Early Settlement

After the Revolutionary War, Willsboro began to see some settlement, a good share of it along the banks of the Boquet River. Though America may have declared its independence in 1776, the Lake Champlain Region remained an off and on war zone for years. Certainly the British did not want to relinquish this coveted “blue highway,” or acknowledge America’s independence for that matter. Pioneers began to arrive and settle this area, those interested in industry settled along the river banks for the water power, self- sustaining farmers settled in the surrounding fields and hills of abundant potential farmland.

In the 1920s a little one room log cabin was discovered sitting on the ridge on Willsboro Point. It is called the Adsit Cabin and some suspect it may be one of the oldest log cabins existing on its original location. I ventured to the Willsboro Heritage Center Museum to meet up with Ron Bruno, the Town Historian, and learn what I could about this historic cabin. 

How Old?

Some speculate that the cabin was built in 1778, but accurate records of that time period are rather scant. Historians rely heavily on family genealogy recordings, early census records, and even legend. What is agreed upon is that this old log cabin was originally built by Samuel and Phebe Adsit who came here to settle from Dutchess County, New York, over 200 years ago. Ron told me that the Adsits probably constructed the cabin in either 1794 or 1795. He bases this theory on the first United States Census of 1790 which listed Sam and Phebe as residents of Dutchess County and subsequent genealogy records which indicate their second son was born in Willsboro in 1794. Regardless, the cabin is old, very old, one of the oldest in the country. Ron also provided me with a little book entitled Adsit Cabin Notes written by Tim Tefft in 1998.This booklet is a wealth of information and is available at Willsboro Heritage Center Museum

Squatters

I learned Samuel was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. The views and sight distance from the cabin’s location may have been what motivated Samuel and Phebe Adsit when they chose this plot of land on the ridge. You can see for miles in any direction, a definite advantage during times of conflict. The Adsits were considered squatters. There were no real estate transactions conducted, but the connotation of that term seems undeserved for that particular time. Huge tracts of land had been granted to some who had served King George III. The entire area was still pretty much wilderness, and after the war settlement was being encouraged. It wasn’t like these settlers were freeloading on well-developed properties. Their undertaking was work, very hard work, just to survive. Many settlers assumed the land would become available for purchase at some point, or the British interest would dissolve with America’s independence.    

Unexpected Find

It is estimated that the property stayed in the Adsit family for more than 100 years, passing from father to son(s) and then may have been owned by relatives. Much later, in 1926, deed recordings indicate the property transferred to an Earl Van Derwerker of New York City. His plans were to demolish the rather dilapidated buildings on the land and build a summer “camp.” As workers were dismantling one of the  larger structures, they alerted Mr. Van Derwerker of their discovery. A little cabin was found encapsulated inside. Secured from the weather elements over the years by additions surrounding it, the little cabin was protected and had managed to survive. It was obviously very old. Mr. Van Derwerker opted to preserve and attempt to restore the historic cabin rather than demolish it. 

Home to a Large Family

How many members of the original Adsit family had lived in the little one room cabin at one time remains unclear. Some reports claim as many as 16! I grew up in a rather large family of seven, but had we all been enclosed in one room through an entire Adirondack winter, I am certain we would not all have survived. Samuel and Phebe had several children throughout their marriage. Some historical reports claim nine, some claim 14. How many were born, or still lived there, before the addition(s) were built appears to be uncertain. Regardless, the little hand-built cabin was home to one of the regions founding families and offers a rare glimpse into Adirondack pioneer life.

Now a Museum

The Adsit Cabin was eventually deeded over to the Town of Willsboro which worked diligently to find and oversee a $70,000 historical restoration project. Contractors skilled in historical building preservation painstakingly refurbished the structure using hand tools of the time. Adsit Cabin was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. The cabin has been furnished with period items and artifacts from its descendants. Visit the Adsit Cabin on weekends during summer months from 10 until 4. In cooperation with the 1812 Homestead Museum and the Willsboro Heritage Center Museum, the cabin is staffed by volunteers who help explain the history there. Contact 963-4598 for more information.

Tip:  While in Willsboro don't miss the opportunity to dine at the Turtle Island Cafe!

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