Right out of college as a Civil Engineer, Frank Tweedy spent four seasons as part of Verplanck Colvin’s Southwest Division, producing six topographically accurate maps of the Beaver River basin and the important Totten and Crossfield Tract border with Brown’s Tract.
His maps and field books received high marks from his boss, and they recorded several moments of exciting discovery on his part, first as he closed ranks with the Eastern Division crew, completing a survey Line from Lowville to Lake Champlain; and then with shouts of victory at finding “The Great Corner” of Totten & Crossfield’s million-acre land Purchase.
Restoring the Corner of Townships 42 & 41
Verplanck Colvin referred in his reports and journals to incidents in which his guides and crew bucked him, or on occasion, plotted insurrection. I found no evidence of this in the three Tweedy field books I transcribed. Instead, what comes through is the influence of a quiet leader with drive and ingenuity, having good rapport with his crew. Tweedy did not refer to Lewis and Clark in these journals, but his autobiography confirms the lessons and inspiration he gleaned from their travels very early in his life. I believe his men picked up on his no-nonsense leadership.
Tweedy acknowledged 1879 as his last season in the Adirondacks, although Colvin did label a handful of survey field books in the 1880s with his name. This trek over the remaining 12 miles of the Totten & Crossfield line from Beaver River southward to Fulton Chain’s Seventh Lake is the one that most drew my attention. I actually inserted myself into this part of the adventure, as if on a quest for a difficult-to-find geocache, determined to locate the Corner of Townships 42 and 41 which Tweedy rediscovered and restored on his nearest pass by Twitchell Lake, where my log cabin is located.
Clearly this Corner near Twitchell Lake’s northern neighbor, East Pond, was important to Frank Tweedy. He expressed excitement about its discovery, took a whole day to carefully plan for its restoration, and described the details with diagrams in both of his 1879 field books. Colvin made a dedicated map of this corner in 1879 as shown here – complete with witness trees and my enlargement of the center post and cairn, Bolt No. 4 installed nearby. Colvin added hand-written notes to the map in 1895 about shifting compass bearings in that region.
The accompanying Table captures key points in this journey, inviting the reader to join in on the action which began on July 25th “where we left off work in 1878,” exactly 67,000 feet or 12.7 miles from the Great Corner, and beginning again with Station 0. The stone in our hamlet of Beaver River memorialized by Anne LaBastille in 1993 marks that starting point, with “TC, SNY, AdrSur, 1878, VC > F.T.” carved into a large rock, transcribed by Colvin biographer Nina Webb as follows:
“Totten and Crossfield Purchase, State of New York, Adirondack Survey, the year in which the work was done, 1878, and Verplanck Colvin. The directional arrow points toward the nearest measured corner in the survey, and F. T. are the initials of the survey’s Assistant, Frank Tweedy.”
Crossing the West Branch of the Beaver River, the Totten and Crossfield line took Tweedy to the top of what he called “Bird Mountain,” which afforded what all surveyors looked for, an unobstructed view to the wilderness around them (Station 133). His crew found two Corners as they tracked the Totten and Crossfield line along the border of Township 42, one a post for lots 71 and 70 (Sta. 101), the other for lots 71 and 90 just to its south (Sta. 165). Early owners of the Totten and Crossfield townships surveyed these into lots for anticipated sale to farmers.
In 1816 John Richards had a map published after he had subdivided Township 42 into 127 rectangular lots, each comprised of about 189 acres, and showing a dotted line for a road in from the township to the east (#38). The Sackets Harbor & Saratoga Railroad did not purchase this land until 1855, and so this Richard’s survey may have been funded by one of the other parties with lot ownership, such as lumber partners Kirby, West, and Loomis.
At Station 224, the crew crossed the “J. Lonis Trail to Twitchell Lake,” one of the early trails connecting my Lake with the old Carthage to Champlain Road and Chauncey Smith’s wilderness headquarters on the Beaver River. Clearly “Lonis” is a misspelling of “Loomis,” one of the lot owners in Township 42. The Smith complex of cabins was then occupied by hermit Carl Hough, to whom Tweedy made several payments. The discovery of multiple witness trees at Station 270, an exciting moment for Tweedy and his crew, pointed to the important Corner of Brown’s Tract Townships 5 & 8.
This second Table summary from the 1879 journal (Vol. 159) brings us to Tweedy’s important discovery of the corner of townships 42 and 41, and my quest for the monument he restored near East Pond. Station 340 actually refers to an Offset Line surveyed to nearby landmarks, run perpendicular off the Totten and Crossfield line to Twitchell’s north shore. At first, I thought Tweedy’s labeling of East Mountain as “Twitchell Mtn” was a mistake. On further reflection, I believe this may be a clue on how the lake was originally named. The top of that 2,445-foot mountain affords an excellent view of Twitchell Lake when the leaves have fallen.
The current trail loop to East Pond and around the mountain crosses the Totten and Crossfield line twice, first near Tweedy’s 85,325-foot mark, where that body of water becomes fully visible through the trees to the left (or north). At this point Tweedy decided to extend his survey chain from that Station (#364) to the shore, measuring and recording that “Line to East Pond” as 548 feet on a bearing of S 75° E. This East Pond sketch labels the Totten and Crossfield line, this “Line to East Pond,” and a point on the pond’s southern shore from which Tweedy took the three distance readings to get this sketch (p. 59, Vol. 247).
Reading out of Squire Snell’s 1854 field book for this part of the Totten and Crossfield line (Vol. 152), Tweedy knew he was getting very close to this important corner. The next topographical feature he looked for was a 2-foot wide stream that ran northerly into East Pond’s inlet, where he recorded Station 384. Tweedy’s next statement was one that threw me a curve ball in my search for this Corner: “Ran a line down to East Pond in sight from the [Totten and Crossfield] line 548 ft., about 40 rods beyond found the corner of T42 & T41 T&C” (p. 60, Vol. 247). At 16.5 feet to a rod, that equals 660 feet.
These two measurements launched me on my search. Colvin wrote explicit directions in many of the field books he gave his assistants on how to restore a corner, to avoid the errors of the “old compass surveyors” with their axe-blazed marks: “The Engineer in charge of a leveling party will see that the B. M. is placed upon rock or other permanent object.” Tweedy’s narrative field book gives a timeline for his restoration, with a Thursday, July 31 st installation of benchmark no. 4 “in the solid rock” near the corner at station 390 (Vol. 247).
While they overnighted in camp #9 near the stream they had just crossed, Tweedy “made a plan for the corner,” cut a 5-inch diameter spruce post, and collected extra stones from the stream to bolster the rotting post Snell had built on August 2, 1854. On Friday, August 1st, Tweedy drove the post eight inches down to solid rock, surrounded it with stones, and ran the chain up the hill over that post to the next station.
Tweedy followed his boss’s instructions but did not specify in detail where he drilled the hole in “the solid rock” to anchor that copper bolt with molten lead. After 1880, Colvin asked his surveyors to write down the angle and distance between the B. M. and the Post. Here, Tweedy recorded a Table of “Witness Trees around Corner of T42xT41,” to include ten trees blazed by Snell and re-blazed by his crew, and three new ones he added–one of them a beech tree an inch in diameter, 16 feet from the Corner, and bearing S 86° E (p. 35, Vol. 159). That tree could still be standing. Tweedy referred to a bolt or benchmark interchangeably, and no. 4 at this corner will look something like the series Colvin designed for his 1873 season pictured here.
Searching for Benchmark No. 4 and a Lost Cairn
My deep dive into these survey Field Books motivated me to find a genuine copper Verplanck Colvin benchmark. When I discovered Tweedy placed one just off our East Pond trail at this important Totten & Crossfield Corner, I just had to find it. This decision began my Frank Tweedy adventure, with five hikes to East Pond and a dozen Twitchell Lakers participating in the search.
My main strategy was to assemble the clues in Tweedy’s field books. Like pieces of an old puzzle I was confident that this would lead me to the prize. After an exploratory hike with Bruce Steltzer, one of the men maintaining that trail, I rolled up two spools of twine and crafted a rough survey instrument to try to follow Tweedy’s 548-foot “Line to East Pond” on his bearing back to the Totten and Crossfield Line, and then lay out the second 660-foot spool down that line (or my best estimate of its bearing) to where he said the corner was located.
The five men shown here lunching in the lean-to (from L to R) are Ed Corrigan, Bruce Steltzer, John Deasy, Burt Sherry, and Dan Conable. They helped lay out these lines of twine on the East Mountain slope as straight as possible. The second spool of twine ran out about 30 feet short of the stream Tweedy crossed to discover the corner. That was my first disappointment, but our crew crossed that stream in a 50-foot spread along that line up to the top of a small hill, looking for the waste-high cairn. We shifted our search of the terrain several times, back and forth.
When my search line fell apart, I went to my backup plan. Nate Vary, who maintains one of the best collection of maps of the greater Stillwater Reservoir region, helped set up my iPhone with the Map Plus APP, and a good selection of older KMZ maps to access without cell service. He placed a GPS bullseye where he guessed the Corner to be on one of them. After giving up on Tweedy, we circled and crisscrossed that target area, still without success. A few of my companions speculated that after 140 years, that pile probably had fallen or been buried by a fallen tree. That is when it hit me: We were looking for the proverbial “needle in the haystack.”
Back at camp I scoured the Tweedy field books again, noticing one of his drawings that I had missed (p. 38, Vol. 159). As a sketch of the terrain around the corner, it offered promising new clues. In the middle of a swampy area, a small stream exited toward East Pond just as we found on site, with a beaver pond below us and a gradual ascent up a hillside to where that corner should be. That map matched the terrain we searched, suggesting that the corner was where we were searching. I just had to keep at it.
The next two hikes took on a new tack, on the assumption that a hundred years or more had erased any sign of Tweedy’s corner cairn. The first thing I did as we arrived at the Totten and Crossfield trail marker hammered to a tree where the twine crossed the East Pond trail, was to assemble my metal detector. We would search directly for Colvin’s No. 4 B. M. on the stones scattered between the stream and the top of the hill depicted on Tweedy’s sketch. Hike number three with Ed Corrigan yielded zero hits on the detector except for the high iron content in several of the boulders, and a lost laser pointer!
Another question emerged as I compared all the older maps of the East Pond neighborhood, having found no sign of my prize. The Totten and Crossfield line varied by as much as 12 to 15 degrees over time and on the various maps. Colvin added the following 1895 hand-written notation on his 1879 map of this corner: “The Magnetic Meridian…was S 27° 48’ in 1879, changing by over a degree in 16 years (1895).” I checked and found that Magnetic North is now – 13° or 13 degrees West of true North in this region, 5 degrees further West than in 1879. The fact is, Earth’s magnetic field is constantly changing, accounting for many of the errors Colvin found on the old surveys and maps. My Totten and Crossfield bearing walked out those 660 feet could have been significantly off. We widened our search area, with a familiar refrain: Zero hits, no cairn, more frustration.
On a fourth hike, Mike Ingham and his brother-in-law Roy Case spotted a large stone which we thought was near Nate’s bullseye, roughly on our Totten and Crossfield line, and uphill from the streambed. That could be the stone with benchmark no. 4. The problem was, its crown was covered by a 12-inch yellow birth, anchored by 3-foot roots wrapped around each corner of the stone.
I made sure to show each of my crew members the remote, wild, and beautiful shore of East Pond just a few minutes beyond our search Line. With a low water shoreline after this dry season, we observed what we thought were moose and bear tracks, and those of a collection of smaller mammals. I decided to make my last search attempt with a chainsaw when my sons Peter and Luke, and nephew Bob, held our annual father-son weekend.
It suddenly dawned on me that Tweedy’s left-hand table stations corresponded precisely with his right-hand sketches. Thus, if the stream on our line was at station no. 384 and the long-sought corner at station no. 390 (plus 4 feet indicated in the table), simple math put the distance from the stream to the corner as 6 x 50 feet, or 304 feet. Tweedy had measured it with his chain, the equivalent of our tape measure. I found a 280 foot spool of string in my local hardware store and we unwound that from just beyond the stream up that hill on our Totten and Crossfield line bearing, and commenced checking each stone in the vicinity with the metal detector. Again, negative results.
But on the way back to our trail for a lunch on the shore of East Pond, Peter called out, “Dad, come and look at this pile of stones!” And there it was, about 20 feet southward near the end of our string, a good dozen stones surrounded by leaves and moss, distinctly man-made. Luke helped to carefully clear the debris around the stones and stack them to see how high the cairn had been. The picture here shows what the Tweedy monument would have looked like in 1879, minus the pine post which had rotted and disappeared.
Eureka, we found it! Turns out, it is just several hundred feet off the center of Nate’s bullseye at 43.86053, -74.86357. We never touched that birch tree as the stone it sat on was well short of the 300-foot mark prescribed by Tweedy.
My “plan for the corner” of Totten and Crossfield townships no. 42 and no. 41 is like Tweedy’s. Next summer I have proposed a campout on East Pond with a search for the nearby benchmark. Snell shows a stone just to the left of the cairn, Tweedy said he attached it “in the solid rock.” There is a ledge just feet from our find. With multiple surveys from as early as 1772, there could be other stone marks present. I will cut and prepare a 5-inch spruce post to sink to bedrock and build up the cairn around it with Tweedy’s rockpile. The amateur archaeologist in me will look for signs of the rotted post.
I have trail markers ready to mark the Totten and Crossfield bearing back to the East Pond trail. How exciting it will be for others to hike here and view this historic memorial. Interestingly, my estimate of where the Totten and Crossfield line came down from Tweedy’s station no. 364 to the stream was off by only 20 feet, while the distance from that station to the corner was actually 1,270 feet, twice Tweedy’s 660 feet or 40 rods. Other than that, the Tweedy Field Books led us right to the corner, after the puzzle pieces came together.
Illustrations, from above: Map of the Corner of Townships 42 & 41 on the T&C border created by Verplanck Colvin, 1879; Sketch of East Pond from Frank Tweedy’s Vol. 247 Field Book, 1879; Series of Benchmarks designed by Colvin pictured in his Report to the NYS Legislature, 1873; Picture of Twitchell Lake men after East Pond search, lunching near Lilypad Ponds, Noel Sherry; Sketch of the Township 42-41 Corner from Frank Tweedy’s Vol. 159 Field Book, 1879; Picture of Mike Ingham & Roy Case in a search of Benchmark No. 4, Noel Sherry; Picture of Luke Sherry by the stones found at the Corner of Townships 42-41, Bob Sherry.