In 1876, Frank Tweedy was a tenderfoot surveyor right out of college. By 1878, he had two years’ experience under his belt, mentored by veteran surveyor Squire Snell heading the Southwestern Division of the Adirondack Survey.
Frank successfully led a dozen-man crew up the Beaver River from the hamlet of Number Four past Raquette Lake, producing three maps of that 29-mile trek for his boss, Verplanck Colvin.
Thick wilderness and hardships were not the only challenges in the Western Adirondacks. Colvin had early ascertained that all the old survey lines for counties, townships, and land purchases were fast disappearing and plagued by “the stigma of unreliability and uncertainty.” Thousands of deeds and legal contracts were based on these lines. If he could rediscover these old lines and triangle them to a signal tower like Stillwater Mountain or link them to Tweedy’s Beaver River data, he could correct them and include them on his final topographical map.
One of the most important public borders in the Western Adirondacks was the line between the Totten and Crossfield purchase and Brown’s Tract. Tweedy produced a series of three maps of that boundary line in his last two seasons. Colvin’s Seventh Report announced his important decision in 1878 to join his Beaver River crews in search of the true division between Browns Tract and the Totten and Crossfield purchase, beginning at its northwest corner:
“Aged forest surveyor [Snell], who more than 20 years before had seen the marks and followed a portion of the line, was now to verify its accurate restoration, and commenced his search under my direction…the aged surveyor could not find the line…[On July 11th ] we were rejoined by the aged surveyor who, greatly fatigued, alarmed us by the statement that, notwithstanding the most anxious search, he had been unable to ﬁnd the line. Fire had years since swept over the section where he had hoped to discover it, and the old marked trees were gone.”
After studying “the old field notes of the ancient surveys,” which his Assistants carried along with them for their regions, Colvin led Tweedy and Snell northward beyond the “Old Burning” in search of the northwest line and “the Great Corner.” This is the most exciting reading for me in all the Colvin reports and journals. The adjective “great” referred to the total acreage this corner “anchored down,” to include two of Alexander Macomb’s “Great Tracts,” the James Watson Tract, and the Totten and Crossfield purchase, totaling over 5 million acres. St. Lawrence County also radiates out north and east from this corner.
I can just picture the legendary surveyor bushwhacking 12 miles north with about a dozen men, discovering the Totten and Crossfield line as it crossed Hawk and Wolf Lakes. Heavily laden with equipment and supplies they swept on northward through “much fallen timber” with wolves howling in the distance (and only one rifle), seeking that Great Corner. After a severe thunderstorm, Colvin had to be rescued from deep mud by Tweedy. Then the account’s climax from Colvin’s July 16th journal entry, also depicted in my favorite of Colvin’s illustrations, most certainly drawn by him:
“Making an early start and leaving our packs at the camp – for I judged that we should reach the corner today – we traced the line northward still, but with great difculty; for many of the marks were not only a century old, but the trees themselves prostrate and decayed… Here the line was obscure, and we crept through a dense windslash. Now it crossed a brook, then ascended a hill, and I hurried in advance, as the corner must be near. Entering a level, partly swampy [area], the line ceased, and as I looked again, some singular hollows, sunken places and contortions in the bark of the surrounding trees caught my eyes. They were evidently ancient witness trees, blazed on one side only, each blaze pointing toward the centre of the glade in which I stood. A glance showed a crumbling stake, having three small stones, moss-covered, at its foot. It was the long sought for corner, the great pivotal point on which all the land titles of nearly ﬁve millions of acres depended. In a few moments the rest of the party had joined me, and the old surveyor recognized the stake by which he had replaced the mouldering fragments of the original corner post! The shouts of the party showed their joy at reaching the end of an exhausting journey; and during a brief rest and lunch their several duties were explained, together with the method to be pursued in restoring the ancient line, so as to make it permanent, and render it available as a topographical base-line with which to connect the lake and mountain work in that section.”
Snell’s disappointment on not finding the Totten and Crossfield line and Tweedy’s shouts of exaltation upon discovering the Great Corner with his peers mark real highs and lows in a surveyor’s season, and career. In the illustration of that exciting find, Colvin appears to be holding the steel chain at the newly installed post, as Tweedy pulls the leveling pole taut on the bearing being called out by the gentleman behind the rock with the theodolite. A crew guide marks one of many witness trees with his axe and another crew member chisels an arrow in a stone pointing to the corner post. Not pictured is the nickel-plated copper bolt or benchmark (No. 1) for that season, which was mounted in a hole drilled in that rock. Interestingly, these characters wearing hats appear to be identified by labels I cannot decipher, although “Verplanck” is legibly scratched under the man in the center of the action.
Tracking Totten & Crossfield’s Ancient Boundary Line
For unstated reasons, Colvin tasked Tweedy and his crew with following the Totten and Crossfield line from the Great Corner southeast to where it crossed his Beaver River line in the 1878 season, and then pick it up there in the 1879 season, surveying it all the way south to Seventh Lake in the Fulton Chain. That was a wilderness trek of about 24 miles. This decision is what put Tweedy on my radar, as this survey work brought him less than a mile from Twitchell Lake, where one of the most important township corners in this area is located. This second major task took up half of Tweedy’s Adirondack surveying career.
Tweedy’s 1878 field book announced the start of this enormous project resurveying the western Totten and Crossfield boundary line: “Nickel plated copper bolt (No. 1) set in rock 11.7 ft from spruce, 6.1 ft from rock with arrow cut into it.” The first station was on top of that Great Corner’s spruce post; station two 50 feet SE, on a bearing he would follow for the next two years, South 28° East. At station ten (500 feet) he placed a maple post in the ground, noting the line had deviated by 2° at that distance. At station 35 he corrected a mistake made by one of his chainmen. At station 68, he found a hole drilled in a large rock sitting halfway across the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River. And at station 479 he noted that his total distance at that point (27,376 feet) was 20 feet longer than what Snell had recorded for the same stations in 1854.
That season’s survey of the Totten and Crossfield western line began on July 18, 1878 and ran through August 1th, 29 days, ending with station 1413 at the Beaver River where he set up a 30-foot-tall red flag as a signal. At that point, his crew had traveled 60,460 feet or 11.5 miles from the Great Corner. An early end to the 1878 season was forced “on account of high water” After fording a swollen Beaver River, Tweedy continued another several thousand feet, crossing the old Sackets Harbor & Saratoga Railroad bed (1600 feet further) and the Carthage to Champlain Road (a half mile further), where he set a B. M.
The map included here captures the central portion of Tweedy’s Beaver River Map No. 2, showing the Totten and Crossfield line crossing all three of those east-west features. This map reveals just how meandering Beaver River was, with an old riverbed as part of that Totten and Crossfield line intersection and with Alder and Blue Joint Grass surrounding the Beaver River as second growth following earlier forest fires.
Only in his boss’ record do we learn that Frank and crew had literally faced starvation on this stretch of the Totten and Crossfield survey. In Colvin’s own words:
“Much difficulty was, however, encountered owing to the extremely unfavorable weather – repeated and heavy rainstorms – and the non-transmittal of dispatches, by which a failure of provisions in their camp in a remote portion of the forest was brought about. A brief period of real starvation was followed by the arrival of plentiful supplies. The lowlands, however, were ﬂooded by the torrents of rain, but despite these obstacles the measurements were continued to a point south of Beaver river, connecting with our surveys of that stream made in 1876.”
Joseph Totten and Stephen Crossfield’s names are forever attached to this million-acre purchase bordering Big Moose, but two early lumbermen were key parties to the deal – Edward and Ebenezer Jessup. This transaction was complex and shrouded in some mystery, with land speculation in Northern New York heating up, due to promises of handsome profits. The King of England held power over land grants. Native American tribes — specifically Mohawk and Caughnawaga, who considered the entire North Woods their hunting grounds – probably received the short end of this transaction.
The earliest map of this Totten and Crossfield purchase I have discovered has the following title statement:
“A PLAN OF THE Lands Purchased for the Benefit of Joseph Totton & Stephen Crossfield and their Associates As Surveyd by Ebinezer Jessup and his Assistants in the Year 1772 by order of the Several Persons Interested therein And to be Returned to Alexander Colding Squire Surveyor General, By Me the Said Eben Jessup.”
This map was a real discovery, informing me that when Native American hunters and trappers were still fishing and hunting in Big Moose, a British surveyor ran a chain less than a mile from Twitchell Lake – Archibald Campbell covering the border and Jessup dividing the tract into 50 Townships following the old “rectangular survey system.” Campbell’s 1772 survey of the western Totten and Crossfield line referred to land quality as poor, middling, or good in agricultural terms, with frequent references to Indian names supplied by his Native American guides. In his survey field book he identified “a Large Spruce Tree N 12” and “a Small Lake” near the “Townmarker for XLI & XLII” (pp. 224-246). The Roman numerals here refer to the important Corner for Townships 42 and 41 near Twitchell’s northern neighbor, East Pond.
The Revolutionary War and formation of a new nation shuffled Totten and Crossfield ownership, with the Loyalist Jessup’s fleeing to Canada and new proprietors attaching their names to the Townships. In 1787, a handful of new investors purchased land, with Alexander Macomb taking title to Townships 38 and 41 near to Brown’s Tract. In 1851, Benjamin Brandreth — producer of the famous pills by that name, took ownership of Township 39, renaming his prized Smith Lake in honor of his wife, Lake Lila. And in 1855 the Sackets Harbor & Saratoga RR bought Townships 6, 37, 42, and 43, hiring Squire Snell to survey the best route for a cross-Adirondack Railway. That never came to fruition except for the North River line. A New York State patent granting 45 of the 127 Lots in Township 42 to lumbering partners Charles K. Loomis, Jacob B. Kirby, and Dewitt C. West, is held by the State Archives, dated June 17, 1853.
Most of the early Township owners hoped to attract settlers to a central village surrounded by farm lots, selling those lots at a profit. It took years for these speculators to realize you cannot really farm in the Adirondacks. That was the original vision for most of the townships, with a private preserve, a cross-Adirondack railroad, and extensive lumbering planned later. The lineup of maps shown here proves that Jessup’s 1772 survey was not the only one made – John Richards (1816) and Squire Snell (1854) surveyed this western line long before Frank Tweedy did, and certainly others.
Most interesting to me, their maps of Township 42 all include East Pond in the SW corner of Lot 111 in Township 42, with reference to “a post and beech tree” to mark the Corner on Richard’s 1816 Map. Tweedy frequently referred to their field books in his survey work. It seems clear now that East Pond was explored and mapped long before Twitchell Lake was even discovered, a huge surprise to me!
Illustrations, from above: Frank Tweedy’s 3 T&C Line Maps, NYS Archives- B1405-96_2B01, B140-96_2B02, and B140-96_2B03; Plate 21 Lithograph of the 1878 discovery of “The Great Corner” in Colvin’s Seventh Report, 1880; Selection from Frank Tweedy’s Map #2 of Beaver River from the Adirondack Survey, 1878; and Lineup of 3 maps showing T&C Township 42 with East Pond in SW Corner, prepared by Noel Sherry.