Eagle Bay lies in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains of New York State at an elevation of 1,720 feet. Situated just north of 4th Lake on the Fulton Chain, and about ten miles east of Old Forge, the small hamlet (one of 94 designated hamlets in the Adirondacks) has seasonal activity consisting of winter snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. Summer events focus on the various surrounding lakes, ponds, mountains, and hiking trails.
The Town of Webb, in Herkimer County, the state’s largest town in terms of square miles, encompasses the Eagle Bay area. Just east of Eagle Bay is the Town of Inlet, which is in Hamilton County, which has the smallest population of any county in the state. The area was settled after most of the rest of the state.
Between 1974 and 1978, a branch of Mohawk Indians, striving for traditional values, native customs, practices, and culture, occupied the former Moss Lake Girls’ Camp land on Big Moose Road. They lived there year-round until New York State made a deal to move them to Clinton County. Now the old camp is a State campsite. A couple of people were shot, troopers manned road blocks during the occupation period, and much excitement and controversy surrounded the occupation. Animosity grew, but further violence did not occur. This episode has been recently and thoroughly covered in the book Indian Givers, True Story of Moss Lake (2009).
Early Land Speculation
Land speculators in the Adirondacks hoped to buy and hold large areas of land until prices increased naturally, or due to development, and then sell at a profit. Sometimes the economy soured or personal misfortune or miscalculation lead to foreclosures. All of these things happened to the land where Eagle Bay is now located, in what was the southeast corner of the Macomb Purchase, later Township 8, called Regularity, of the John Brown Tract.
In 1792 Irish immigrant Alexander Macomb, along with William Constable and Daniel McCormick, were granted a patent for 1.9 million acres of Northern New York. This was soon extended to 3.8 million acres, including all of what is now Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence, and Franklin Counties, and parts of Herkimer and Oswego. Macomb was hit hard by the Panic in 1792 however, and went to prison for his over $300,000 in debt.
He sold his share in the Macomb Purchase to William Constable for 50,000 pounds, who turned around and sold about 1.3 million acres to Col. Samuel Ward for 100,000 pounds. He retained about 640,000 acres and his son built what is now known as Constable Hall in Constableville, Lewis County in 1810-1819. The Constable family also held onto lands at Raquette Lake, Hamilton County, where a point bears their name to this day.
In 1793, the very next year after Macomb had gone to prison, and Constable had divided the Macomb Purchse with Samuel Ward, a Russian-born London financier, John Julius Angerstein, bought 200,000 acres at what would become Eagle Bay. The next year Angerstein sold this tract to Aaron Burr, and in November 1794 Samuel Ward sold 210,000 acres to James Greenleaf for 24,000 pounds. Greenleaf was involved with Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris and other speculators. In the July 1795 Greenleaf gave a mortgage on what became John Brown’s Tract to prominent New York merchant Phillip Livingston for $38,050. Wealthy Providence, Rhode Island merchant John Brown acquired the acreage by buying that mortgage for $33,000 on December 29, 1798.
Brown’s tract included about 210,000 acres of the earlier Macomb Purchase. Most of the Brown Tract, about 167,000 acres, was located in what would become Herkimer County, about 40,000 acres were located in today’s Lewis County and 3,000 in Hamilton County. The deed was not filed in the Lewis County clerk’s office until February 1804, some five months after Brown’s death. Upon Brown’s death Township 8 (Regularity) was left to his son James. At that time it contained about 30,000 acres, a fraction of the original purchase.
William Seward Webb’s Development
William Seward Webb owned much of what is now Eagle Bay beginning in the 1890s. Webb’s Mohawk and Malone Railroad went through Thendara, then called Fulton Chain, about ten miles away in 1892. In 1895 The New York Times reported that the area around Eagle Bay and the land bordering Second, Third, and Fourth Lakes of the Fulton Chain, was for sale by Webb, who had it laid out in 200 foot wide sites for summer camps. “Many of these beautiful camp sites have been purchased by people desirous of establishing a summer home in the woods, who were influenced, doubtless, by their accessibility,” the Times said. Dwight Sperry bought a lot from Webb to erect a hotel, which was built in 1897. (It dominated the bay until a disastrous fire on August 7, 1945.)
A new rail line from Clearwater Station, today’s Carter Station, came through Eagle Bay in 1900, part of the Raquette Lake Railroad to Raquette Lake. (The railroad stopped running in 1933 after the state highway, today’s Route 28, was built through Raquette to Blue Mountain Lake). In 1903, Webb sold his Eagle Bay lands to his land agent, William J. Thistlethwaite, a Little Falls attorney. Thistlewaite bought 10,000 acres around the shores of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lakes. He also bought Moss Lake, Rondaxe Lake, and land around the north branch of the Moose River with a partner.
Turning to Old Forge, which had become an incorporated village in 1903, Thistlewaite became president of the Old Forge Co., which owned the Forge House Hotel on the pond. He was at first a director, owner of 666 shares of stock, and became company president in 1915. In Eagle Bay his company was Adirondack Development Company, and he hired civil engineer Harold C. Weller to survey the lands and make a map. Thisetlewaite had other ambitions and served one term in the State Assembly in 1931-33. (He died in 1968 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Old Forge.)
Howard Clayton Weller (1882-1943) was a 1908 graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a civil engineer, and licensed surveyor. He went on to buy Eagle Bay land as early as 1905 and laid out the roads and a water system for Eagle Bay Park. (That included East, Central, and West, Lakeview Drive, Forest Lane, Eagle Creek Road, and Eagle Point Road.) In 1909 Weller bought about 12 1/2 acres from Thistlethwaite to sell as lots to summer campers and businesses. A sandy beach front area was set aside for a common waterfront for those who bought from Weller.
Weller built a log cabin land sales office which was used in the 1960s by realtor Bill Cusack. It was located on Big Moose Road just off Route 28. Weller built a cottage for himself called “Graysides” near the common beach. It still stands today.
A 1947 tourism brochure, printed by the Eagle Bay Association, promoted Eagle Bay as “The Friendly Community” and home to the largest seaplane base in the Adirondacks on 4th Lake, between present-day Eagle Bay Villas and Clark’s Marina.
In 1996, the Utica Observer-Dispatch described Eagle Bay as a “scene of tranquility” with a headline “Eagle Bay Gives Refuge From Rat Race.” Eagle Bay has a permanent population of about 300, spread out among 968 housing units of which 838 were seasonal.
Eagle Bay Map Courtesy Adirondack Atlas.