Growing up as a Thacher, your name is tied to a certain amount of local history. Yet, as Tom Thacher discovered when doing research for his book his family history didn’t just include nature preservation, but secret affairs, hidden estates and many more mysteries.
Thacher is a Delmar native, first-time author, and great grand-nephew of John Boyd Thacher. He began his project five years ago as a personal journey to research his family line. Two years into the project, he began writing his findings down on a blog to keep track of his findings.
The blog quickly grew in popularity, reaching about 600 people per month from around the globe. Now, those published chapters will become a book called, ‘Fifty Acres of Beach and Wood.’
“I was beginning to lose memory of what I had already found. People reading the blog is something which I was not expecting,” he said. “It’s very much written in a way that describes the journey I took and how I put the pieces together.”
Thacher is currently raising money, through the online donation website indiegogo.com, to have his book published. One hundred percent of proceeds of the book’s sales will go toward the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts to benefit its 12 programs supporting young creatives in the Adirondack Lake region.
The campaign has already raised more than $2,000 in the first five days of its launch and has reached 20 percent of its $10,000 goal.
In researching to find out how a little red cabin was built on the land where Tom Thacher and his family have spent every summer since he was a child, Thacher discovered the cabin had been home to the very first year-round settlers of Raquette Lake. Matthew Beach and William Wood settled in the ramshackle hut around 1837 and built a life on those fifty acres, thus the namesakes of the book’s title.
Chapters include research Thacher found verifying legends of how the lake was named, tales of famous poets that visited the cabin in their travels and strange discoveries of Thacher heritage. This included a second family of John Boyd Thacher’s father George Thacher, which he had with his Irish maid Eliza Toomey. Both John Boyd Thacher and George Thacher sat as Albany mayor for a time.
“It’s all just funny now,” said Thacher. “I don’t hold the affair against him.”
No biographies published before this point have mentioned the affair. While there is no mention of an Eliza Toomey in George Thacher’s will, a sufficient amount of evidence, including an obituary for John Boyd Thacher naming two surviving half siblings under the name Toomey, points to the affair’s legitimacy.
Although Toomey’s descendants had long-known their lineage ties to the Thacher family, none of the Thacher family in this generation had known of the affair. The family is now in contact with their new-found distant relatives. Tom Thacher, the great, great grandson of George and Emily Thacher and Nancy Morris Tuthill of Lake Placid, the great, great granddaughter of George Thacher and Eliza Toomey, are friends.
After finding mention of Toomey in social papers from the 1880s, describing a fishing trip George Thacher had taken. Tom Thacher soon discovered Toomey had been very vocal of her affair with the local celebrity in the years following his death.
After the death of his first wife, George Thacher later married Toomey and the two had two children together. The discovery was a bit of a scandal in those days, and Tom Thacher believes his grandparents hid the information from their descendants to save face.
“Part of what was intriguing to me about the affair was that it became apparent that the Thacher family had a substantial cabin 1876 and 1878, which Toomey and her children used, but apparently disappeared without a trace. There are writings describing it, but no pictures.”
No one, even in Tom Thacher’s grandfather’s generation remembers the cabin being there. The Thachers are well known for their local ties to the Altamont region, with Thacher State Park, but no ties to the Adirondacks. Learning of the cabin was surprising.
What Thacher alludes to in his book is that the cabin became a place for his great grandfather and his mistress, Toomey, to get away to. And the Thacher family chose not to return to their land there after the affair.
Finding where the cabin stood was the most difficult part of the research for Thacher. He still remembers the moment where, after riffling through antique maps in local libraries, he finally found the Thacher name printed in a small section on one map, then disappear in the next year’s version of the same map.
Using written descriptions, as well as an analysis of the forest canopy to discover where clearings had occurred, Thacher finally narrowed the area down to a one acre plot on a 10-acre farm.
It is these “a-ha” moments in research Thacher said he will miss the most. His family, however, will be very glad to see more of him as the project nears completion.
Although Tom Thacher grew up in Delmar and much of his family still lives there, he now lives in Springfield, Mass. where he works for a non-profit organization. It is this work, he said, that inspired him to donate proceeds of his work to the Adirondack Lake Center for the Arts.
The campaign for ‘Fifty Acres of Beach and Wood’ ends in mid-October. Should all go according to schedule, the book should be in stores by May 15 of next year.
“Tom’s project about the past of his family’s cabin is much more than a book of memories,” said noted Adirondack writer William “Jay” O’Hern. “Turning the pages is like discovering some forgotten steamer trunk in the attic, one that is stuffed with treasures.”
If the project receives adequate funding, the book will be a stylized coffee table book, full of images of the documents and photos, which led Thacher to his discoveries.
The book will be published regardless of whether the entire $10,000 sum is reached, with less funding simply meaning a lower quality printing. They are aiming for a modest 500 editions, as Thacher believes that most of the interest in the book will be from locals.
“It’s one of those ‘it’s in God’s hands situations’ now. I would be able to sleep if there was anything more I thought I could do,” said Thacher.
To donate, visit indiegogo.com/projects/fifty-acres-of-beach-and-wood.com.