During a recent trip to the Adirondacks, I retraced Theodore Roosevelt’s historic midnight ride to the presidency. The once luxurious Aiden Lair was the last place Roosevelt would visit as Vice President. Because somewhere between there and North Creek, Roosevelt assumed the presidency when McKinley died on September 14, 1901, at 2:15 am.
Roosevelt’s Midnight Ride
On September 6, 1901, President McKinley was visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. While shaking hands, McKinley was shot twice by anarchist Leon Czolgosz.
At the time of the shooting, Vice President Roosevelt was just 400 miles away at Isle La Motte on Lake Champlain, attending a luncheon with the Vermont Fish & Game League. He immediately left and traveled to Buffalo to be near McKinley.
After an operation to close the bullet holes, McKinley’s condition appeared to be improving. Officials were concerned that Roosevelt’s presence in Buffalo would send the opposite message, so he was encouraged to leave on September 10.
Roosevelt then traveled to the Tahawus Club near Newcomb, New York in the Adirondacks.
Three days later, on September 13, Roosevelt decided to relax by climbing the state’s highest peak, the 5,343-foot Mount Marcy. While hiking, word was sent to the Tahawus Club that McKinley’s condition had suddenly worsened.
Club guide Harrison Hall was sent to deliver the message to Roosevelt. Roosevelt immediately returned to the Tahawus Club, where he rested in preparation for a return trip to Buffalo.
By midnight, Roosevelt grew impatient from waiting and, despite the advice of other Club members, decided to begin his journey. His destination was North Creek Train Station, a 35-mile trip that would take at least seven hours in daylight. It was from Tahawus that Roosevelt would embark on his famous “Midnight Ride to the Presidency.”
Roosevelt and his driver went ten miles to the Tahawus Post Office to change wagons and drivers. The pair traveled by buckboard wagon, which is a smaller, lighter wagon design that could move faster over the wet and slippery carriage roads.
Nine miles later, Roosevelt stopped at the famous Aiden Lair Lodge near Minerva. Upon arriving, Roosevelt quickly stretched his legs while a fresh horse and wagon were prepared. Those at the lodge urged him to stay until dawn as it was pitch black and the roads near impassable.
The unsuspecting president would have none of it and was determined to press on. However, unbeknownst to Roosevelt, President McKinley had passed away at 2:15 am around the time that Roosevelt was at Aiden Lair.
Aiden Lair proprietor, Mike Cronin, took over the driving duties and accompanied Roosevelt the rest of the way to the train station. The duo made the journey in record time, arriving in North Creek at approximately 4:45 am.
It was at the train station that Roosevelt received word of President McKinley’s passing earlier that morning at 2:15 am. The cause of death was undetected gangrene from an internal wound. Upon hearing the news, Roosevelt proceeded immediately to Buffalo on the fastest train.
After arriving in Buffalo, Roosevelt stopped at the house of Ainsley Wilcox to freshen up. The Cabinet wanted his inauguration to take place at nearby Milburn House, where President McKinley’s body lay, but Roosevelt refused out of respect for the President. He traveled to Milburn House to pay his respects to McKinley and his widow, then returned to Wilcox Mansion for his inauguration.
Roosevelt was sworn in in the small library of Wilcox Mansion with approximately 40 people in attendance, but no actual photographs of the occasion exist.
Brief History of Aiden Lair
The history of Aiden Lair begins around 1850, with the construction of a crude log cabin to house travelers and hunters going into the interior of the Adirondacks, at a time where the rugged region was only beginning to be more accessible. The cabin eventually burned down, and in 1893, the first Aiden Lair lodge was built, a grand Adirondack hunting lodge ran by an Irishman named Michael Cronin.
Aiden Lair’s brush with fate did little for its prosperity. Michael Cronin was hospitalized for personal issues, which an April 1914 New York Tribune article none-too-subtly announced with the headline “Roosevelt Guide Crazy.” The lodge burned a month later. Cronin’s family rebuilt Aiden Lair, but without his help. Michael Cronin, TR’s first presidential chauffeur, died soon afterward.
Aiden Lair soldiered on as a mountain lodge until the late 1950s. It has has been deteriorating ever since.
Planning Your Visit
You can find Aiden Lair along New York State Route 28 North near Minerva, New York 12851. Here’s a Google Map of the property, although it is marked as No Trespassing. I would be nervous about going inside, considering the building’s condition.
This piece of American history plus 68 acres with about 1300 feet of road frontage could be yours for just $99,900. Click here for the full real estate listing.