On almost every stream, pond or lake in the Adirondacks there is still evidence of lumberman’s dams and lumbering operations. In the mid-to-late 1960s however, there was a controversial plan to dam the Upper Hudson River in order to supply water and hydro-electric power to the parched, urban, metropolitan area of New York City.
In the early 1960s there had been a severe drought along the entire northeastern seaboard. One of New York City’s answers to the drought problem was to tap the Upper Hudson to supply its seemingly unquenchable need for water.
The Upper Hudson lands were nearly lost to the Gooley Dam proposal, were it not for Paul Schaefer of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks. Schaefer founded a new organization, the Adirondack Hudson River Association, and started the movement to prevent the construction of two dams. The first was the Gooley Dam and the second was known as the Kettle Mountain Dam.
Paul Schaefer and the Adirondack Hudson River Association used the same argument that had been used in battling the Moose River dams (Higley and Panther Mountain, 1945-1955) that construction violated the New York State Constitution, Article XIV, the “forever wild” clause. Schaefer had the very unique ability to gain support for an idea from very diverse interest groups.
In the case of the Gooley Dam, Schaefer was able to show that a 200-foot dam just downriver from the confluence of the Hudson and Indian Rivers was not a good idea to a variety of stakeholders. A dam that size would have been about the height of a 12- to 15-story commercial building. The proposed impoundment would have flooded 25 miles of the Upper Hudson all the way into Newcomb.
It would have included much of what is now the state-owned Essex Chain of Lakes and the Cedar River, as well as nearby Goodnow Flow, Wolf Creek, Harris Lake, Rich Lake and Catlin Lake. It would have created the largest reservoir in New York State. Depending on the amount of water used in the city of New York there could have been a seasonal draw-down of up to 55 feet of water, which would have resulted in extensive, and very messy mudflats surrounding the periphery of the proposed reservoir. In the spring the high water level would have been at about 1,610 ft (light blue on the accompanying map) and in late summer-early fall a low water level of 1,590 feet (medium blue, the present water levels of lakes and rivers are in dark blue).
Although less frequently mentioned, the other dam being considered at that time was a “sister” dam at Kettle Mountain. Kettle Mountain is located five miles downriver from the proposed Gooley site. This dam would have also stood 200 ft high. The proposed impoundment would have backed-up water to the foot of the Gooley Dam. It would have flooded all of what is known as the Hudson Gorge. Including the area of the Blue Ledges and OK Slip Falls, now among the most popular areas on the Upper Hudson River.
In combination these dams would have damaged some of the most pristine, primitive areas in the Adirondacks. Paul Schaefer wrote in 1968 about the uniqueness of the Upper Hudson River in his essay “The Impending Tragedy of the Upper Hudson”:
“The Hudson from the Indian River downstream is exquisite. It is a symphony of rapids and great dark pools, of water-sculptured rock banks and immense overpowering cliffs. From the trails leading to the river, the roar of the rapids can be heard in the splendid forests, which includes some virgin timber. The trails cross extensive winter yarding grounds of deer and some semiopen country, excellent big game range, which was recently acquired by the State. A glimpse of the river is one always to be remembered. It roars over boulders, swirls in great eddies and whirlpools, boils from hidden obstructions, and rushes away untamed to the next white-water rapids. The sand bars along quieter stretches are laced with the tracks of coon and otter and bird life. Deer and bear frequent certain shores. Banks of ferns and clumps of flowers grow in unexpected profusion. Great white pines and ancient cedars crown the heavy forests which encloses the steep banks and rock cliffs. Stunted trees cling precariously to tiny ledges high in the rocks. Hawks sore in the narrow sky visible above the river. Above the cliffs and the steep banks on both sides of the river, for the entire length of the proposed reservoir, are unbroken forests and numerous lakes and streams, many of which are State-owned. . . . Good trails penetrate the miles of rugged country between the existing state roads and the river. It is the kind of country big enough and wild enough to challenge most of us, yet it is accessible. It is the kind of country that is rapidly disappearing from the face of America. It is this kind of country that is needed desperately by a civilization which is rapidly becoming more restricted and more artificial.”
But the proposed Gooley and Kettle Mountain dams were not the first of the near losses. They were only the most recent episode in a long history of proposed dams throughout the Upper Hudson watershed. The Indian River (Indian Lake), Cedar River, Rock River, Essex Chain of Lakes, and Goodnow Flow were the subject of several dam plans, some of which came to fruition.
In Farrand N. Benedict’s report Report and Survey of the Waters of the Upper Hudson and Raquette Rivers (1874), there was mention of dams to built on Rich and Harris Lakes as well as dams on the Goodnow Flow and on the Chain Lakes to help provide water for the Champlain Canal through the Feeder Canal system in Glens Falls. Also in 1874 Verplanck Colvin’s Report of the Topographical Survey of the Adirondack Wilderness of New York State called for Upper Hudson River check dams and an aqueduct to follow the right-of-way of the Adirondack Railroad (1871) to “provide water for cities” (presumably New York City, Albany, Troy and Schenectady).
A few years before the completion the of the Indian Lake dam 1898 there were plans presented by State Engineer George Rafter, in the State of New York Report of the State Engineer, 1895 for dams to be placed on the Chain Lakes, Goodnow Flow, and the Boreas River. And in a 1908 report, Studies of Water Storage for Flood Prevention and Power Development in the State of New York, there was a call for additional studies for flood control dams to built on tributaries of the Upper Hudson.
Another report in 1912, the First Annual Report of the Conservation Commission, Division of Inland Waters, called for a dam on the Cedar River, a much larger Indian Lake Dam, and the first mention of a dams along the Hudson at Kettle Mountain. This plan not only included a dam, but underground tunnels or penstocks for water to flow to hydro-electric power stations.
In 1922 the New York State Water Commission issued an extensive report Water Power and Storage Possibilities of the Hudson River, where there was a mention of a Gooley Reservoir. There was also mention of proposed dams at Ord Falls on the Hudson, a Chain Lakes Reservoir, and again an increased Indian Lake Reservoir. In 1937, at the height of the great depression the Hamilton County News, reported a proposal for a 110 ft dam to be constructed on the Cedar River to impound the Essex Chain of Lakes.
All of these proposals from the 1870s to the 1930s met with economic, political, or engineering complications. After the depression, and the Second World War, and after the harnessing of the Raquette River as part of a Robert Moses power project, the idea of harnessing the Upper Hudson persisted. New York City and Westchester County lobbied for increased access to fresh water. Thus the Gooley and Kettle Mountain dam proposals of the 1960s were born.
In the 1960s the Gooley and Kettle Mountain dams were only one part of a larger dam scheme. There were also plans for two other dams on the Upper Hudson, one at the Glen and another at Hadley, for a total of four. Due to Paul Schaefer’s leadership, and the hard work of the Adirondack Hudson River Association, enough political pressure was brought to the New York State Legislature.
The Smith – Lane Act (State Senator Bernard C. Smith and State Assemblymember Clarence Lane) was passed in 1969 and signed into law by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The Act forbid construction of dams on the Hudson River from the village of Hadley north. The act was unanimously approved in both the NYS Senate (53-0) and Assembly (146-0).
A few additional notes:
There are at present several dams along the tributaries of the Upper Hudson River that we almost take for granted. There is the present Indian Lake Dam constructed in 1898. But there were two-predecessor lumberman’s dams one constructed ca. 1845, and the other constructed in the 1860s by Finch Pruyn Co. The length of Indian Lake in the 1860s was a little over three miles. But after the 1898 dam (the present dam) the length of Indian Lake grew to thirteen miles. There is also the Lake Adirondack Dam originally begun in 1909 and then reconstructed in 1937-1938 by the Works Progress Administration. There is also the Lake Abanakee Dam constructed in 1951.
On the Cedar River the Wakley Dam, originally a lumberman’s dam for almost a century, was reconstructed in concrete in 1964. On the Rock River there is the Lake Durant dam, a Civilian Conservation Corps project. (Originally Thirty-four Flow with lumberman dams built in 1850 and 1880). On the Sacandaga River there is the Conklingville Dam, constructed in 1930 creating the Great Sacandaga Lake. A dam on the Schroon River at Tumblehead Falls was planned, contemplated, argued, and not constructed (1895-1916).
Illustrations: Above, map by Richard Rosen; middle, rafting the Hudson Gorge at Blue Ledges (Photo by Mike Prescott).