Frank Tweedy landed his dream job after graduating from Union College as Civil Engineer in 1875. Verplanck Colvin, Superintendent of the Adirondack Survey, needed a topographer to work under veteran forest surveyor Squire Snell in his Southwestern Division and so he hired Tweedy.
Colvin was taking a big chance on a tenderfoot surveyor, but for Tweedy this was the chance of a lifetime to learn from a renowned cartographer and his expert woodsmen. “Tenderfoot” became the subtitle of the autobiography Frank later penned.
For one thing, Frank was quite familiar with the rough Adirondack wilds despite having grown up in New York City:
“I was not a tenderfoot as regards not being inured to hardship, having spent many summers of my boyhood and young manhood in what was then called ‘the Adirondack Wilderness of New York State,’ he wrote. “It was a wilderness then and not as now – crisscrossed by wagon roads and railroads. I slept on the ground beside a camp fire, with no shelter and often no blankets, doing my own cooking and axwork.”
There was another reason this summer job in the Adirondacks was a great way for him to launch his surveying career. Since boyhood, Frank had been inspired by two early American explorers, Lewis and Clark. He called it “that memorable expedition across the Northern United States from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia and their return in 1804-06, and Hayden’s report of the wonders of the Yellowstone.”
Like a beacon from a fire tower, Frank saw himself following these trailblazers into “frontiers” like the Adirondacks and Rockies. He would make some interesting discoveries as he surveyed from two Adirondack base camps – one on a peak above the Beaver River and the other at Twitchell Lake in Big Moose, NY.
Surveying the Meandering Beaver River
Tweedy’s first task for the 1876 season was to run a survey line from Lowville to Raquette and Blue Mountain Lakes, roughly 69 miles. In those days, the path went through the hamlet of Number Four and easterly along the first trans-Adirondack wagon-route laid out in the 1840s, the Carthage to Champlain Road, which followed part of the Beaver River.
By then, Colvin had made substantial progress on his project to produce an accurate topographical map, having already triangulated the Eastern Adirondacks and his journals and reports document the exciting discovery of a handful of high points in the Western Adirondacks on which he constructed signal towers – Blue, Snowy, Bald, and Stillwater Mountains heading the list. Where visible, a ground location could then be triangulated with any one of his eastern or western peaks.
The rest of this western terrain was so thick and hidden from view of any peak that only the laborious task of laying out a survey line could accurately plot a meandering river and adjacent landmarks on a topographical map. But his biggest achievement had not yet been reached, linking the eastern survey work with the western across the Adirondacks.
During the 1876 and 1877 survey seasons Tweedy produced six maps of the Beaver River area covering 75 square miles, two of these depicting the river from Number Four all the way to Albany Lake, now Nehasane Lake. One of the maps drawn by Tweedy shows Beaver Lake at Number Four where the Beaver River exits northward toward the Black River and then into Lake Ontario. Colvin included this map in his Seventh Report to the NYS Legislature (1880).
The map shows the land and water topography with the survey line running between Beaver and Francis Lakes, labeled for Stations and Benchmarks (B. M.) 5 through 13 from which he ran perpendicular “offset lines” to a body of water or key shore points on the river. In this way, Colvin was able to gather the data from the field books of his cadre of assistants across the Adirondacks, plotting all the topography in relation to signal stations atop major peaks. Twitchell Lake does not show up at the endpoint of an offset line on these maps as it lay well outside the two-mile survey area. Two more maps complete the Beaver River set of three “surveyed and drawn by F. Tweedy, C. E.” These latter two maps are marked 1878 and based on his survey work in 1876.
In September of the 1876 season Colvin reported that his assistant in charge of the Beaver River survey had finished the first portion of his work, with this comment about challenges encountered:
“Nine miles of chained base-line having been carefully leveled and run with transit, and offsets measured therefrom, each offset averaging more than a mile in length, over and through a region of fallen timber and ‘wind-slash,’ which rendered the measurements extremely difficult.”
These were not the only challenges Tweedy faced that season. In an October field visit, Colvin sketched reconnaissance maps of many lakes south of Beaver River, including one of Twitchell Lake. On the 16th he made a surprise visit to his river survey party at the hotel outpost on Stillwater, finding Tweedy “much depressed” because his transit “had one of the adjusting (collimating) screws broken off,” a season-ender. His boss was able to repair that and restore a delicate “cross-wire” on the instrument from a spider’s nest in the cabin, surprising the woodsmen who had supposed a spider’s usefulness “was limited to the destruction of flies.” Relieved, Tweedy and party resumed their survey eastward and Colvin headed north to the headwaters of the Oswegatchie River.
Map No. 1 depicts the first half of the Beaver River survey with many interesting details. On the west, Tweedy labeled “The Slough” and “The Eddy” just before the River entered Beaver Lake. “The Long Rapids” appears where the Moshier Ponds drained from the north, ten other rapids marked with trails for carrying boats around them traced along the River. On the southwest shore a large area called “Burnt Timber” identified serious forest fire impact from 25 years earlier. In sight of “Burnt Hill” lay the scenic “Gulf” at the bottom of 12-foot “Great Falls,” a favorite trout fishing hole. Then on the east side of the map, the River leveled off and became “Stillwater,” with an outpost on Stillwater Pond then run by William Wardwell and family. Tweedy marked that “Hotel” near where Twitchell Creek entered Beaver River, now meandering through marshland. Tweedy even labeled a “hawk’s nest” in a pine tree at that River bend next to “Wild Man’s Pond” and “Tuttle Lake.” The Carthage to Champlain Road passed by that hotel and over a makeshift bridge spanning Twitchell Creek.
Map No. 2 continued the Tweedy Survey eastward, beginning with “The Stanton Meadow,” probably named for Copenhagen, NY, doctor Lyman Stanton, whose sons fished in the vicinity. Next the outlet from the Red Horse chain of lakes emptied into Beaver River. Tweedy marked two of the three trails to Twitchell Lake on this map – one from where the North and South Branches flowed into Beaver River (left side), the other a “road” departing from a “hotel” at “Little Rapids” (right). That hotel is where noted guide Chauncey Smith had built his wilderness outpost for hunting and fishing “sports,” then run by a Carl Hough. The earliest trailhead to Twitchell is not marked on Map No. 1, but it began just east of the Twitchell Creek crossing. Map No. 2 ends with “The Albany Rapids” below the outlet to Albany Lake.
Beaver River was traversed by an important boundary line dividing two early Adirondack Purchases – Brown’s Tract to the west and the Totten & Crossfield Purchase to the east. Not pictured on this sampling of Map No. 2, it crossed just to the west of the midpoint. Tweedy did not realize it at the time, but that line would occupy his last two seasons with the Adirondack survey (1878-1879). On October 26, 1877, Tweedy met the survey party from the Eastern Division near Lower Saranac Lake, “closing the long line from the shore of Lake Champlain at Westport to the clearings at Fenton’s in Lewis county, on the western side of the wilderness.” This long-sought goal was celebrated by Colvin’s surveyors.
Interesting & Artful Field Books
After maps, it is survey field books that introduce us today to the pioneers who surveyed the myriad of peaks, lakes, ponds, and streams – the amazing topography – of the Adirondack wilderness. I’ve found 445 field books held by the New York State Archives, 20 of them in Frank Tweedy’s name.
Interestingly, I have not found any Tweedy Field Books for his survey work during 1876 and 1877. My sources of information so far have been Colvin’s 1880 Seventh Report and these three detailed and well-executed Tweedy maps. Colvin made sure to include quotes from the field books in each of his reports (one of the reasons these have been such a popular read ever since). After the equipment repair in 1876, Colvin referred to his Oswegatchie excursion as follows: “Scores of new lakes were discovered, amid those circumstances of adventure and romance which form the charm or exploration.”
My transcription of three of Frank Tweedy’s field books for the 1878 and 1879 seasons capture this sense of adventure with the record of measurements. His field books utilized the best survey practices of the time, dating to the time of Jefferson and Adams according to C. Albert White’s History of Rectangular Survey System. An 1881 manual of instructions for surveyors issued by the Commissioner of the General Land Office includes the following instructions on keeping field notes:
“The deputy surveyor will provide himself with proper blank books for his field notes, or same will be furnished to him by the surveyor general, and in such books he must make a faithful, distinct, and minute record of everything officially done and observed by himself and his assistants, pursuant to instructions, in relation to running, measuring and marking lines, establishing corners, &c., and present, as far as possible, a full and complete topographical description of the country surveyed…The description of the surface, soil, minerals, timber, undergrowth, &c., on each mile of line, is to follow the notes of survey of such line, and not be mixed up with them. The date of each day’s work must follow immediately after the notes thereof.”
There were two different kinds of field notes in the Tweedy collection. Two volumes (158 & 159) were set up with a table on each left-hand page marking stations every 50 feet on the line, fore- and back-sight bearings recorded, total distance covered from the starting point, and periodic temperature and barometer readings noted – that is until his glass barometer broke on August 5, 1878. Tweedy set up a post every thousand feet and clearly marked the end of each day’s work and each mile-mark reached. His crew “with flag and chainmen, choppers, guides and packmen, ten all told,” covered an average of 2,300 feet a day in what he called a “course of stations,” or just over half a mile.
Of particular interest to me are his frequent mentions of older survey markers they discovered and restored from the work of John Richards (1816) and Squire Snell – who had surveyed this territory for the Sackets Harbor & Saratoga Railroad in 1854. The right-hand side of each page exhibits a detailed sketch of the topography for stations covered in that left-hand table–noting streams and ponds, trails, swamps, ascent and descent, direction, timber, vegetation type, geology of cliffs or ledges, camp locations, township or lot corners, and more. What I didn’t realize at first is that the stations in the left-hand table correspond exactly with topographic points of interest on the right-hand sketch. Though his records are technical, the sense of excitement over discovery of a long-lost corner, a rotted post, or a new topographical feature comes through loud and clear.
For example, on the 30th of July in 1879 the crew came upon a major corner of Brown’s Track Townships 5 and 8, bordering Totten & Crossfield’s Township 42 (the Tweedy sketch here is from p. 79 in Vol. 247). Tweedy identified 17 “witness trees” blazed around that corner, adding 4 new ones. He drilled a hole in a large stone 2.7 feet from the corner, set B. M. No. 3 in place with molten lead, and made a two-foot cairn on top of that large stone. John Brown’s 1796 survey of his 210,000 acres and 1799 subdivision of the tract into eight townships was done by Nathaniel Smith and Cliff French, with John Allen, Arnold Smith, and Elkanah French re-surveying it in 1805. One or more of these men originally marked that stone and blazed those trees.
The other kind of field book in the Tweedy collection (Volume 247) offered a chronological or narrative account of the 1879 survey season with sketches of over two dozen ponds or lakes. He surveyed from two base camps in these four years, first from a mount on the north side of Albany Lake, sketched here by Tweedy and named after his guide Lewis Wormwood. His later survey work was headquartered from the Hiram Burke shanty on Twitchell Lake. These three Field Books complement each other, with a few glimpses of just how “wild and woolly” Tweedy’s Adirondack survey work was. To comprehend that, we must turn to his boss’ official report:
“Both the ﬁeld and map work have been executed by Assistant F. Tweedy, C. E., whom I placed in charge of this division, and the results are very satisfactory and extremely creditable to him. His experiences in effecting the ﬁrst survey of this wild and romantic stream have been varied and remarkable, and the labor severe. The measuring of the offset lines through the tangled windfalls of fallen timber, the exposure to the heat of summer and the snows of winter were borne unﬂinchingly, and success secured in the face of many difﬁculties.”
“Inured to hardship” describes Tweedy perfectly. I don’t hear a shred of grumbling in his notes, only comments about challenges like the following from 1879: “Slight ascent, small timber, log jams [and] small old burning or windfall… fallen timber, tangled brush and witchhopple.” When his narrative reported two arrest warrants served to members of his crew during that season, he recorded them matter-of-factly (His guide was charged with illegal fishing and hunting practices on Twitchell Lake and his crew was accused of triggering a forest fire by failure to extinguish its campfire at Beaches Lake (October 17); the latter was followed up by a letter threatening a lawsuit, signed by Ralph Brandreth (October 20).
A weekly event in Tweedy’s narrative record was the reception of a letter from his boss “on progress and expenditures,” picked up in Number Four with other supplies by his guide, who also mailed Tweedy’s weekly response. His map making, diligence in surveying, interesting and artful field books, and toughness in the wilderness, drew the attention and admiration of his boss. Frank Tweedy may have been a tenderfoot when he started in 1876, but after two years on the Beaver River he was well on his way to becoming a seasoned topographer.
Illustrations, from above: Picture of Frank Tweedy, courtesy of Special Collections, Schaffer Library, Union College, 1875; Frank Tweedy Map of Beaver Lake, 1876-79, in Colvin’s 7th Report to the NYS Legislature, 1880; Beaver River Map No. 1 with enlargements, Albany, NY: NYS Archives, NYSA_B1405-96_275, 1878; Beaver River Map No. 2, selected views, Albany, NY: NYS Archives, unknown ID number, 1878; Frank Tweedy sketch of Brown’s Tract with Notes in Vol. 237 Field Book, 1879; Frank Tweedy sketch of Camp Wormwood from his Vol. 247 Field Book, 1879.