John Brown farm – North Elba NY
Google maps link- https://www.google.com/maps/place/John+Brown+Farm+State+Historic+Sitefirstname.lastname@example.org,-73.9789188,14z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x4ccae23237d84d95:0x5c629be415792cd1!8m2!3d44.2519313!4d-73.9715803
I would imagine that most people have heard of John Brown, and probably of Timbuctoo as well. John Brown’s name is synonymous with Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Timbuctoo is usually used to describe some out of the way destination. It might surprise you that both have roots in nearby North Elba, which most people refer to as Lake Placid NY.
There is so much history concerning the life & times of John Brown, that I could fill dozens of books on the subject. For our purposes though, I hope to keep to things that are perinate to his farm, but a little background is vital to the story.
John Brown, 1800-1859, and was born in Connecticut. He lived in several locations around the country including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York. He worked in the tannery business, as his father did. Upon moving to Springfield Massachusetts in 1846, Brown became greatly interested in the abolitionist movement. The abolitionist’s main objective was to see the end of slavery. Their means to do this varied greatly. The underground railroad was an important means to aid slaves in gain their passage to the free states of the north.
The laws of New York state at this time, required African American men to own $250 worth of property to be qualified to vote. Another abolitionist by the name of Gerrit Smith was a land baron owning great amounts of land in the Adirondacks. In 1846 Smith divided 120,000 acres of virgin wilderness in the North Elba region into 40 -acre plots. This was known as Timbuctoo. These plots were granted to some of the 3000 free African American families in New York State. Upon settling and working these lands, they would achieve the right to vote in the state. Fellow abolitionist John Brown purchased 250 acres there to help the families assimilate to the rural life in the Adirondacks. This was no small task, and ultimately the idea failed. Many of the families had never worked at farming or lived in the forests and were ill equipped for this new life. By 1855 Timbuctoo’s African American families had mostly moved to more civilized surroundings. Brown and his family remained there, though he traveled in support of the abolitionist movement.
Brown’s legacy is viewed differently by many. Some thought of him as a heroic martyr, others as a terrorist or madman. While his intentions were just, sometimes his means were bloody and violent. He was involved in several armed skirmishes, including the Pottawatomie massacre in Kansas. Brown also worked in the east garnering funds to finance the movement in the pre-civil war years. His final mission was the raid on the armory at Harpers Ferry WV. He had campaigned heavily to gather troops for this raid. Brown felt that the raid would cause southern slaves to rise up and join in the fight for their freedom. The armory held upwards of 100,000 firearms, which he would use to arm the slave rebellion. The original plan was for a battalion of 4,500 men. Brown had 21. The October 16, 1859 raid initially went as planned, but soon went bad for Brown. The first man killed by Brown’s forces was ironically a freed former slave by the name of Hayward Shepard. Brown’s forces took refuge in the armory’s engine house, which became known as Brown’s fort. Hostilities continued and 10 of Brown’s men were killed including two of his sons. On the morning of October 18th, 1859 Brown refused the offer to surrender and was soon captured. Brown’s trial for the charges of murder, treason and conspiracy began on October 27th, and lasted one week. With only 45 minutes of deliberation he was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death by hanging. On the morning of December 2nd, at 11:00, Brown was led to the gallows where the sentence was carried out. Browns body was sent by train back to Timbuctoo for burial. Forty years later several of his followers killed at Harpers Ferry were moved to there to be re-interred. Today the farm and graves are a New York state historic site. There is a small charge of $2 to go in the farm house, but the grounds and trails are free. There are several informative signs along the paths, and the barn has plenty of displays to help tell the story of John Brown and Timbuctoo.
The physical address to John Brown’s farm historic sight is 115 John Brown Road Lake Placid, NY 12946.
From the North or West, follow NYS RT 86 to the intersection of County RT 35 (old military road). Head Southeast for 3.1 miles to the Old John Brown road on your right. This road leads to the farm in about one -half mile.
From the South or East, follow NYS RT 73 (Cascade road) to the county RT 35 intersection, turning left onto the John Brown road. The farm is about a half mile ahead.
You can park at the farm site, or at a small parking area just before the circle drive. The ski jump trail begins from the later, although there is only a few hundred yards between the two parking areas.
On the trail
We started at the parking area at the beginning of the ski jump trail, next to the Adirondack sleigh ride cabin. This 9/10th of a mile loop trail leads through an open field, working closer to the 90 and 120-meter Olympic ski jumps. These are quite impressive at a distance, and even more so as you get closer. The trail enters an evergreen forest and leads right next to the jumps. It is certainly a very unique experience that probably won’t happen on any other trail. It continues along to the farm. This is definitely worth checking out. They are open at certain times to enter the buildings, for a small fee. The most recent trip there for us was in the winter, and the buildings were closed.
From here we went South on the potato loop trail. This trail soon worked uphill through a very nice hardwood forest. Before long the trail splits off to the left (South) for the maple grove trail or straight to continue on the potato loop trail, which we stayed on.
At around a half mile from the farm (or 1.4 miles from the start) a short spur trail leads West for a few hundred yards to a large field. Here we found some of the most amazing Southerly views of the MacIntyre Mountain range. This consists of Wright, Algonquin, Boundary and Iroquois mountains. There were mountains on every horizon here. Back on the main trail, we soon started down hill heading North. There were several spur trails along the way but following the map (see link below) we didn’t have any problems. We chose an un-named trail that came out in a field directly West of where we parked and started. Our total mileage for the day was 2.9 miles. The trails were easy to follow, well cleared, and never overly steep. We used snowshoes, but the trails were hard packed, so we probably would have been OK without them. I’m sure it would be an equally enjoyable trek in the snow-less seasons. I hope to get a chance to do this again when the leaves are changing in the autumn.
This makes for a nice easy hike and has some important pieces of our history along the way. Even though this isn’t that well known it is well worth the trip. If you are not up to the hikes, the paths to the farm house, gravesite, barn and monuments are very easy and informative. With your back to the farm house, you will be greeted with the same view that John Brown saw every morning- Whiteface Mt. to the North. I hope you enjoyed this and learned something as well. Please feel free to share this with others, that they may enjoy it as well.
NYS parks, recreation and historic site Trail map PDF
Credit & References
NYS parks, recreation and historic preservation
About the Author
I am a life-long resident of the north country, calling Edwards my home. I have always had a passion for the outdoors, and for local history. I recently started this site to share places that have been part of our local history and heritage. I hope you get a chance to hike some of these trails for yourself and reflect on the rich history of those that walked here before you. And if not, sit back and experience these from where ever you are right now. Either way, enjoy!