My uncle Frank Sherry taught my brother Tom and I orienteering, using a map and compass to navigate through the woods and find a remote pond or other location. We were teenagers and it was an exciting way to spend a Saturday.
On one of these adventures we were in search of Silver Dollar Pond to the east of Twitchell Lake in Northern Herkimer County,when we stumbled on our first lumber camp. The telltale signs were pieces of metal hanging from a tree and protruding from the ground, with old bottles half-buried in the forest floor. We made note of the location on our map, a half-mile from Twitchell, and returned to explore it. It wasn’t long before we located the camp dump, from which we dug up the items pictured here.
These and other objects triggered an active discussion on the date of this old camp, with an imaginative re-creation of what life might have been like for a lumberjacks living and working there.
A Lumberman’s Season at Camp
Local Forest Ranger Bill Marleau dated the arrival of lumbering in the Twitchell Lake area to the completion of the Adirondack Railroad in 1892, an event that put the nearby hamlet of Big Moose on the map: “Prior to 1892, there is no record of any lumbering in the Big Moose area with the exception of the Beaver River section. There were several reasons why. There were no roads or railroads, leaving rivers as the only way of moving logs any distance.”
My take on the objects my brother and I found in the dump at this first camp we found (I’ll call it Camp 1) led to a different conclusion. An penny set the earliest possible date for the camp in 1864, with the other items allowing a date any time between then and 1892. The horseshoe (and metal sled parts we found) put this in the old camp system, where timber was hauled by horse-drawn log-sleds on a skid road to a stacking area awaiting a spring river drive.
Clay pipe use trailed off in the late 1800s, with the three ink bottles pictured here left me favoring a time when lumbermen wrote letters to their sweethearts rather than blow their weekly pay in a Big Moose bar. Dr. Minard mixed up his camphor and turpentine-based ointment for soothing aching muscles in the 1860s, marketing his “Minard’s Liniment” in bottles like the one we found.
One way to narrow down a date for this lumber camp, is to link it to mills in Beaver Falls. It turns out there were only two timber operations capable of establishing a lumber camp this far up the watershed: The Norcross & Saunders complex, which was sold in 1885, and Theodore Basselin’s enterprise which began in 1872 with his purchase of 25,000 acres of forest land in Brown’s Tract. Beaver Falls was located about 36 miles downstream from Lumber Camp 1.
These lumbering firms hired a “jobber” or woods boss who selected the site for the camp in the fall of 1878 or 1879, eyeing its virgin spruce, close access to Twitchell Creek, and good drinking water. He then led a crew to cut a carriage road from the junction of Twitchell Creek and the Beaver River to the site, erecting a camp next to the stream on the hillside that would accommodate 20 to 30 men.
There were camps already in operation along that seven-mile side route off the Beaver River. Logs were cut for three rough cabins — a kitchen and bunkhouse with long rough tables for meals, sleeping quarters above; a barn for horse teams, hay, and oats; and a blacksmith’s shanty with forge and tools for shoeing horses, mending chains, repairing sleds, and sharpening axes.
The camp had a hollowed-out hillside where one of these buildings had stood, within a short walk of available timber, which took about three seasons to harvest. Noted photographer Henry Beach created a postcard, “Model Lumber Camp in the Adirondacks,” which pictures what this camp probably looked like. The best cook available was hired to attract veteran lumberjacks, who arrived early the next spring.
Their first job was to fell and skid the spruce, which then made up 10 to 15 % of the forest. The season was marked by the constant crash of these giants, accompanied by the chopping of the axemen using their tool of choice, the double-bit axe (the cross-cut saw had not yet arrived in the Adirondacks).
“Swampers” cleared skid trails to the downed trees, which the “spud crew” followed to lop off limbs using axe or bow saw, and peal the bark for better flotation in the river drive. A skidding crew then “snaked” each log back to camp, hauled by horse team and chains. Logs were slid down the steep embankment to the skid-road and rolled up two long runners onto a tall stack, awaiting snow.
Barbara McMartin fills in the administrative side of logging, describing a “scaler” who tallied each log, the market standard here being 13 feet long and 19 inches in diameter at the small end. Logs of smaller diameter were a fraction and larger ones a multiple of that standard. Five market logs would yield 1,000 board-feet of lumber at the mill. Finally, logs were stamped on each end with the marking hammer, either Basselin’s or the Norcross-Saunders symbol.
Late summer began the lumberjack’s second job, preparing the skid road and building the dam for the spring river drive. “Road monkeys” graded and leveled this tote road to a width of about 20 feet, adding spots for two wagons to pass, and following the gentle slope of Twitchell Creek down to the banking ground, about three miles away. From my hikes to this site in the 1960s, I distinctly remember the corduroy road — logs laid side by side to cross a swampy spot – near where a dirt road crosses Twitchell Creek today.
William Fox, expert on New York lumbering, gives the context for dam construction in this era:
“After the merchantable timber along the main rivers had been cut, the lumbermen turned their attention to the more remote and inaccessible tracts on mountain slopes, where the streams were narrow, rocky and rapid. Then commenced the erection of “splash” or “flooding” dams, which were used to drive the logs out of the small streams, on the temporary, artificial floods caused by opening the gates; and, also, to reinforce the subsiding waters of the main streams.”
The splash or flooding dam for the camp spanned the Twitchell Creek valley where the tote road ended, a ten-foot-high structure with a sluice gate that impounded some five to seven acres when the gate was closed. Lumber could be placed beneath the dam, in the pond, or on the ice once frozen. Twitchell historian Paul Crouch witnessed the remains of this dam about a mile north of the Big Moose railroad station in the 1950s.
The job of getting the logs to mill began in late fall. After snowfall, a camp sled carrying a water tank packed and iced the tote road and sanded any steeper grades, to prevent the four to seven ton loads from crushing the horses and teamster. Log sleds typically had eight-foot runners and 10-foot platforms and made multiple trips each day. Lumber camps competed for the distinction of hauling the biggest load.
Bill Marleau captured the drama of this part of the lumbering operation:
“Men worked at night on the landings, using kerosene flares set on long spruce poles. What beautiful music could be heard on below zero nights. The tree popping with frost, the squealing of the sleigh runners on the frozen snow, the squeaking and jingling of the harness on the horses, their snorting with the cold, the men stomping their feet and beating their hands together to keep warm. Frozen words drifting out of men’s mouths off into the frigid night. The noise from one piece of pulp hitting another could be heard almost a mile on such a night.”
Two river drives commenced in late winter / early spring when the jobber gave the signal for the last and most exhilarating part of the process. As snow melted and water began to flow, the sluice gate in the Twitchell Creek splash dam was opened to unleash the main drive’s torrent that carried the season’s logs down to Beaver River, and then to the mill in Beaver Falls.
The camp cook then followed their lumberjacks for a follow-up “fly drive,” working its way down Twitchell Creek to clean the stray logs from the banks where they got lodged in high water. A select group of “river monkeys” had the dangerous job of breaking up logjams that formed. And then, just as one season was ending, a new one began:
“As soon as the men reach the main boom at the mill with the fly drive, they are paid off. After taking a few days to enjoy themselves and spend their money they start back for the cutting and peeling, which by that time will have just started. Thus the men go back to start a new year’s work which is divided into four parts as a year into seasons.”
Lewis County’s New Lumber King
The parents of Theodore B. Basselin (1851-1914) emigrated from France in 1854, when he was three years of age, establishing a homestead in the Lewis County township of Croghan. After his father’s death, Basselin helped his mother run the general store the family owned in Beaver Falls.
Croghan historian Lewis S. Van Arnam offered details on Basselin’s meteoric rise to become an Adirondack “Lumber King,” and Lewis County’s first millionaire. The 25,000 acres of forest land Basselin purchased early in his career included Townships 3, 4, and 5 of Brown’s Tract, bordering Lewis County, and the Beaver River parcel Norcross & Saunders owned in Township 42 of the Totten & Crossfield Purchase.
In 1885 Basselin purchased the Norcross & Saunders mill complex in Beaver Falls, milling the hemlock logs discarded by nearby tanneries. Later he moved his business downstream to the junction of the Beaver and Black Rivers. There he built one of the largest and most modern sawmills in Northern New York on an eleven-acre site, served by his own tram railroad and canal boats, and employing up to 200 men in his mill complex and another hundred or so lumberjacks in his camps upstream. At the peak of his business, he was turning out 25 million board feet of pine, spruce, and hemlock lumber annually, in addition to maple hardwood flooring and spruce piano sounding boards.
For perspective, a typical 2,000 square-foot American home today requires 16,000 board-feet of lumber to frame, in addition to plywood paneling. At 754 board-feet per mature pine or spruce, about 22 trees. On average home square-footage has tripled since 1950, with that average in 1900 at 700 to 1,200 square-feet. Using a 1,000 square-foot figure — or 8,000 board-feet — Basselin’s mill would be able to produce 3,125 homes in 1900.
On Barbara McMartin’s chart “Connections Between Adirondack Lumber Companies” (shown here), Basselin had controlling interest in three lumber companies (shaded yellow), founding the Beaver River Lumber Company in 1890 with T. H. McGraw and Henry Patton, the latter an officer in the three orange-shaded lumber companies (note the color shading, locations, and arrow on this McMartin illustration were added by me).
With a sphere of influence in one-third of these companies, Basselin deserved the title “Lumber King.” His influence extended all the way to Albany, where he promoted an 1886 State contract to erect a dam on the Beaver River at Stillwater, as a guarantee of adequate water for his river drives. Article Two of his Beaver River Logging Company’s constitution and bylaws states the following:
“[The corporation is formed] to carry on … the business of manufacturing lumber of every kind and everything made from lumber or wood … including the cutting of timber and sawing of logs or procuring the same to be done, and also including the contracting for purchasing, holding, selling, conveying, mortgaging, and managing of such real and personal property and estate as may be necessary or desirable to enable the said company to carry on its operations.”
Per the bylaws, Basselin and his officers signed contracts on up to 70,000 additional acres with the Adirondack Land and Mineral Company for cutting and removing logs. This company was formed in the 1880s by members of all the lumber firms shaded in yellow, orange, and green on McMartin’s illustration, Basselin being a key player.
A true lumber conglomerate, this firm purchased over 306,000 acres in 1889 of “virgin pine and spruce, plus hemlock and hardwoods” from William West Durant’s Adirondack Company, which had taken over the 1848 Sacketts Harbor & Saratoga Railroad’s charter in 1863. Brown’s Tract Township 8, where Twitchell Lake is situated, was part of all these land transfers. My money has “Lumber King” Basselin as overseer and operator of the came my brother and I found near Twitchell Lake.
Pressures Around Twitchell Lake
To Twitchell’s west, several major transactions took place for Brown’s Tract during and just after the 1860 to 1880 era, as Lyman R. Lyon, its owner, bequeathed significant parcels to his three daughters, Florence Merriam, Mary Fisher, and Julia DeCamp. The three were also members of the Forest Land Company established by their father to profit from its timber resources (shaded pink in the illustration).
DeCamp received a sizable tract in Townships 1 and 7 through which the Moose River meanders. Charles Herr tells of the legal battles she and her husband fought with two lumber companies — Gould Paper Co. (in grey) over crossing their tract by railroad and Moose River Lumber Co. (in purple), disputing a fee per log to drive its timber through DeCamp land. Fisher received Townships 4 and 5, traversed by the Beaver River, buying out her sister Merriam for parts of Townships 2 and 3. She took New York State to court when the dam at Stillwater flooded her Township 5 holdings, and the State contested her timber contract with the J. P. Lewis Co. (in gray), claiming it had true title to her Beaver River land.
Besides anticipating a decade of lawsuits, this era spelled disappointment on a trans-Adirondack railroad. The Sacketts Harbor & Saratoga Railroad went through several reorganizations, each one promising completion as chartered. New York State had incentivized this in cheap land sales and lumbering firms like Prince and Norcross-Saunders were depending on it for better access to virgin stands of timber in the interior. The northern route would have taken this rail line along the Beaver River five miles north of Twitchell. The following newspaper clipping picked up on this theme:
“A deed conveying the right of way of the old Saratoga & Sacketts Harbor Railroad Company to the Adirondac Company, was lately left for record at the Lewis County Clerk’s office. The consideration is $3,500,000, and the deed bears $1,000 worth of revenue stamps. Whether this company really means to build a railroad up into the “great woods,” time will determine. We hope it has both the will and ability to construct one; but this part of the State has been so often humbugged with abortive railroad projects, that we would advise our friends not to go into ecstasies on the subject yet awhile.”
In 1860 this railroad was reorganized as “The Adirondac Estate and Railroad Company,” and Lyons sold it the balance of his Brown’s Tract land (including Twitchell Lake), but not one track was laid. 1863 would see the Charter (with Twitchell Lake) passed to “The Adirondack Company,” Union Pacific Railroad’s Thomas C. Durant at the helm. By 1871 a track was laid by this new corporation from Saratoga to North River, but no further. The Beaver Falls and Moose River lumbermen would experience no moments of ecstasy until the last spike was driven into a Big Moose railroad tie for William Seward Webb’s huge railroad project, in 1892.
Meanwhile, tension was also building to Twitchell’s east. Farrand Benedict’s bold scheme of a rail and canal route to access virgin timber in Totten & Crossfield Townships was all but forgotten, his land purchase of Raquette Lake in Township 40 transferred to family and business associates, and then by nonpayment of taxes to the State of New York in 1871. This was a pattern also repeated by Adirondack lumber companies, which extracted white pine, spruce, and hemlock logs from the parcels they picked up dirt cheap in a tax sale, then by tax default let the land revert to the State. McMartin called this a “vicious circle”:
“There was a lot of untouched forest to the north and no lumberman wanted to keep, care for, and bear the expense of taxes on land from which the accessible merchantable spruce had been removed. This situation promoted the practice of cutting and abandoning land, which gave obvious advantages to the lumbermen in the form of almost State-subsidized timberlands.”
Interestingly, one beneficiary of a Township 41 tax sale – a 2,240-acre parcel known as “The Triangle” – was Aaron Lloyd, son of sportsman John C. Lloyd who adopted the Big Moose Lake area for his hunting and fishing trips. Son Aaron would soon find himself embroiled in two lawsuits, Nehasane Park owner William Seward Webb disputing the legitimacy of Lloyd’s tax deeds, and Lloyd bringing action against the Moose River Lumber Company (in purple) for damming and threatening to flood and clog Big Moose Lake with timber in its upcoming spring log drives.
Added Pressures From A New Industry
To the south of Twitchell Lake, several lumber operations were slowly vanishing, with two new ones emerging to take their place. By 1880, Lewis County tanneries were exhausting the hemlock stands. The picture here of an Oswegatchie River tannery shows the enormous amount of hemlock bark needed to tan leather. The five house-shaped structures to the left are huge stacks of bark stripped from hemlock trees. McMartin succinctly sums up this industry’s decline: “The average large tannery exhausted the hemlock in a ten-mile radius over a twenty-year period, the average life span of most tanneries.”
Enter the wood pulp and paper industries. As tanning and lumber production were waning, these new companies were rising, a shift that would bring significant added pressure on the Adirondack forest. Watertown became a center for paper-making in the western Adirondacks – led by St. Regis Paper Co. (in blue), with Lyons Falls on the Moose River hosting Gould Paper Company (also blue).
Lewis Van Arnam tells the story of how a Beaver Falls entrepreneur named James P. Lewis pioneered these revolutionary changes, first for wood pulp and then for paper production (the J. P. Lewis Co. in gray). In 1840, a German named F. G. Keller had perfected a method for reducing wood to pulp by grinding it on rough stone and combining those loosened fibers in a water “slurry” to produce a crude sheet of paper on a rag or felt sheet. Keller employed H. Voelter to build a machine to shred the wood fiber into pulp, pass that through press rolls, and deposit it on a felt sheet to dry. Chemicals for removing the lignin that bound wood fibers were not used in the Adirondacks until the 1920s.
With partners, Lewis launched his Pulp Company in 1882, selling wood pulp from New York into New England. In 1887, his Riverside Mill was said to be the second in the United States to use a new hydraulic grinder, attracting national interest from paper manufacturers. At the suggestion of New York Governor Roswell P. Flower, Lewis expanded into paper production, joining his brother-in-law in 1889 to establish the “Lewis & Slocum Paper Mill,” then incorporating in 1894 as “The J. P. Lewis Co,” shaded gray in the McMartin illustration, and logging in the Moose River area. It marketed the following:
“The products were wood pulp, wood pulp board, waterproof building paper, and moth-proof carpet paper. Two thousand tons of these materials were produced annually. Fifty men and ten teams were employed by the company.”
Floors in homes of this era were covered by carpet, with a paper product underneath to seal cracks and smooth the rug, cedar bark often added in the paper for scent and moth-proofing. Cedar was harvested from limestone-rich areas of Lewis County. By 1890, there were ten pulp and paper firms on or near the Black River. Basselin’s Beaver River Pulp Co. and the International Paper Company mill in Watertown were added after 1900. Demand for newsprint skyrocketed from 1869 to 1898, the cost of a newspaper plunging from 14 to 2 cents per copy. Today, International Paper still harvests wood pulp in the Big Moose and Stillwater areas.
Before the wood pulp industry, lumberjacks took only the “two-log trees,” each log at thirteen feet in length, leaving all that were less than twelve inches in diameter “on the stump.” Furthermore, the old industry limited their harvest to merchantable species — white pine, spruce, and hemlock — which left more than 75% of the forest growing and reproducing.
Much smaller trees were logged for pulp and paper and when rail access arrived in 1892, hardwood as well as softwood was cut. The shorter four-foot logs this new industry took were easier for skidding, hauling, and river driving, but Fox brings out the downside: “This close cutting of the spruce and other kinds left no provision for future growth, and thinned the forest so severely in places that further damage was inflicted by winds and ice storms … As the demand for woodpulp increased, the stumpage became more valuable for that purpose; all the spruce timber, both large and small was cut.”
McMartin adds to this assessment, pointing out that hardwood harvesting went from virtually zero in 1880 to six million board-feet within just ten years, Tupper Lake mills (in green) were leaders in this new branch of the industry. The new logging began where softwood had already been cut, sometimes multiple times, “so that hardwood crowns had closed in and inhibited the growth of softwoods, greatly reducing the number of softwoods available for succeeding cuts” – a permanent loss to the forest economy.
Black River lumber companies were uniquely positioned to make “conversions” to pulp and paper, because they already had the capital necessary for the extensive machinery needed. This new industry, as opposed to the fading timber and tanning companies, was in it for the long haul. Stewart Holbrook clarifies this key point:
“Little or nothing was done about forest management until the coming of the pulpwood industry. The sawmill outfits had cut out and got out; they either migrated or liquidated, but wood-converting plants could not pull up stakes and move on because they had large investments in site, power, water sources, buildings and specialized equipment. Wood supplies must be assured for a long operating life. A forest becomes the first essential to the capital structure of such an enterprise. It must be an immense forest, and it must be under management.”
The Formation of the NYS Forest Preserve
In the spring of 1985, a special issue of The Conservationist celebrated 100 years of New York State’s Forest Preserve, DEC Director Norman VanValkenburgh penning these words for the occasion: “The Forest Preserve of New York State – all 2.7 million acres of it – is a unique treasure in the world. Encompassing the largest wilderness region east of the Mississippi, it is the only such area specifically protected by a state constitution. Its birth and subsequent history have been beset by turbulence and controversy.”
Several individuals are worthy of mention in the lead-up to this momentous event, which came to fruition in the turbulent decades of the 1870s and 1880s. The lawsuits that were looming in the Twitchell region pitted a diverse group of Adirondackers against each other, including residents, sportsmen, guides, private park owners, lumbermen, mill owners, canal and railroad executives, and more. Truly, the conservation movement in America and the preservation of the Adirondacks in particular, were borne out of a conflict of interests, the State wrestling with logging conglomerates, residents, and influential sport tourists to try to adopt and implement Europe’s approach to scientific forestry.
In her seminal book The Great Forest of the Adirondacks Barbara McMartin describes the dangerous dance during these decades between New York State and the changing forest industry. It was an “intricate intertwining” of events that led to what she termed “the revolution” of 1892. That revolution resulted in the Forest Preserve and later the establishment of the Adirondack Park. The latter grew to its present 6-million-acre size from large private land holdings combined with the State-owned Forest Preserve.
Interestingly, at first this Preserve grew by accident, from a mere 23,562 acres in 1871 to a sizable 634,512-acre total when it was established. This increase came from three sources: the lumber companies “cut and run policy,” land too far from any river to log, and tax sale land the State got stuck with. New York State was accumulating more and more land tracts, and loggers were cutting more and more timber from smaller and smaller parcels.
Two of the heroes in Adirondack preservation are the “Father of American Forestry” from Lowville – Franklin Hough – and the person New York State hired in 1872 for an accurate survey of its “Great North Woods,” Verplanck Colvin. Interestingly, these two partnered together at one of the important milestone events leading up to the Forest Preserve, a meeting called by the State Legislature in the winter of 1882 in response to “the indiscriminate cutting of timber, the stealing of it and the peeling of bark in the Adirondacks [as] a great evil for years.”
A prominent group of state officials met in Colvin’s Albany office to address this worsening situation, Hough repeating his call for an Adirondack Forest Preserve. Senator Frederick Lansing reviewed the State’s forest holdings in Herkimer, Franklin, and St. Lawrence counties, with an action plan to save these lands from further “spoilation,” citing the growing concern of Watertown lumber firms that the destruction of the forests was leading to Black River water supply depletion and canal transportation shutdowns. A Constitution with Bylaws was drafted for a New York Forestry Association, with a State representative elected to attend the annual National Congress of Forestry in St. Paul, MN.
Colvin and Hough’s collaboration had begun as early as 1872 when both were appointed to a State Park Commission to explore the viability of a forest preserve in the Adirondack’s twelve counties. Hough’s influence came as he rose to national prominence as the Department of Agriculture’s first Division of Forestry Chief (1871). Colvin’s impact began in 1870 as an eyewitness to “the chopping and burning off of vast tracts of forests in the wilderness,” with this recommendation of prompt action:
“The remedy for this is the creation of an Adirondack Park or timber preserve, under the charge of a forest warden or deputies. The “burning off” of mountains should be visited with suitable penalties; the cutting of pines under 10 inches or one foot in diameter should be prohibited.”
Almost 15 years of local, state, and federal effort finally paid off. In January of 1885, the 108th Session of the State Legislature enacted the Forest Preserve into law, with this core declaration:
“All the lands now owned or which may hereafter be acquired by the state of New York, within the counties of Clinton … Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Saratoga, St. Lawrence, Warren, Washington, Greene, Ulster and Sullivan, shall constitute and be known as the forest preserve. The lands now or hereafter constituting the forest preserve shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be sold, nor shall they be leased or taken by any person or corporation, public or private.”
With this law a three-member Forest Commission was appointed to oversee a staff of wardens — to have “care, custody, control and superintendence of the forest preserve.” One of those officials was Theodore Basselin, which invited immediate conflict of interest charges. The New York Times was quick to raise questions in its article titled “He Serves Two Masters: Forestry Commissioner Basselin’s Queer Position” (January 7, 1891).
Allegations were aimed at plans to cut larger logs on Forest Preserve lands for a fixed time-period, setting the Park’s ‘Blue Line’ to benefit his Beaver River Lumber Company, and more. A State Assembly investigation took up much of 1891. The New York Herald went so far as to suggest that “the Forest Commission’s motto ‘Protect the Forests,’ should be extended to read ‘from Theodore B. Basselin’.” McMartin adds, “His appointment was equivalent to the proverbial placing of a fox as guard to a henhouse.” Basselin’s cozy relationship with Governor David B. Hill in Albany, a logging-politics connection, popped up in several of these news accounts — a theme that repeated itself throughout the 19th century.
Twitchell Lake’s Guide and His Copenhagen Connection
In this era of 1860 to 1880, civilization was beginning to close in on Twitchell Lake, with its first logging camp, looming lawsuits, and a potential railroad in the offing. This marked what local historian Tom Thatcher called a “second wave,” a flood of sporting tourism. Guide Chauncey Smith placed this 1864 advertisement in W. Hudson Stephens’ 1864 book on the settlement at Number Four. With two of his sons-in-law – Arettus Wetmore and Losee B. Lewis — he offered the following services: “Home entertainment, guides, keep of teams, boats, fishing tackle, guns, traps, etc., etc. … Livery, for freight and parties, into, from, and beyond No. 4, at reasonable rates, on notification, by mail.”
Chauncey’s wilderness hotel “beyond No. 4” is shown on the map here 18 miles east at “Little Rapids” on the Beaver River. He is the likely candidate for cutting one or more of the three early trails to Twitchell from the Carthage-to-Lake Champlain Road five miles to its north – the earliest from Rock Shanty (in red), the next a wagon road (in blue), and the latest from his hotel directly to Twitchell’s north shore (in yellow).
Chauncey’s shanty was built in 1859, he was appointed as fire warden to guard John Prince’s Township 42 timber holdings about 1861, and then an actual deed for his 50-acre parcel was on record by 1866. A letter to his son William Warren, written January 26, 1864, reveals the growing impact sports tourism was having along the Carthage-to-Lake Champlain Road, for the larger lakes like Raquette and for the side destinations like Twitchell, Woods Lake, and the Red Horse Chain:
“I have had 25 customers in one night mostly from city’s … and 3 ladies in the party but that was more than I could accommodate comfortably but frequently have a dozen. I had ten hunters there for a month or more the fore part of this winter, they was from Madison Co. and from Rome … We killed 22 deer and a large panther (January 26, 1864)
Chauncey’s direct link to Twitchell helped establish his family connection there. Another son-in-law, Hiram Burke, built the first log structure on the NW corner of the lake in 1870 to host his fishing and hunting parties, some that were booking annual trips. Technically a squatter, Chauncey may have put in a good word with The Adirondack Company, the owner of the lake at that time. Burke became a kind of “patron guide of Twitchell Lake,” adopting it for his sporting clients.
In this era, Lowville newspapers were reporting these excursions into the Great North Woods, with short clips and longer travel logs. What is striking in these accounts is the connection between Copenhagen, NY — 50 miles to the west where the Twitchell family owned a dairy farm — and the lake that bears their name. Third generation Charles Twitchell was a trumpeter in the famous Copenhagen Cornet Band, which performed regularly at the Losee B. Lewis Hotel in Watson, near Number Four.
Guiding members of the Chauncey Smith family would have discussed topics like fishing and hunting at locations like Twitchell Lake. It is highly likely that Charles assisted Hiram Burke in building his log shanty on Twitchell’s north shore. Edwin Wallace, editor of the annual Descriptive Guide to the Adirondacks, made these curious comments in his 13th edition in 1888:
“Twitchell L. (2 x 2/3), is an interesting body of water, beautified by several islands and islets, and encircled by densely wooded heights … It received its unpoetic title from a settler, rejoicing in that name, who once made a clearing near by … Hiram Burke, (P. O. Lowville), the very efficient guide, has erected a substantial hunting lodge on the N. shore of Twitchell L., where sportsmen are entertained and furnished with the best fare that the forest affords.”
The only clearing and logs in the early 1870s were for the Hiram shanty and the only settler who would have “rejoiced in that name” would have been a Twitchell, so that would put Charles Twitchell and Hiram Burke together on a building project. Edwin Wallace over-nighted with Chauncey and knew the people and area well. While a bit mysterious, his words and knowledge of Twitchell Lake was firsthand.
If this is too speculative, the second example is not. In 1874 the Lowville Journal & Republican published a long travel account about a party of six who spent nine days in Hiram’s shanty on Twitchell Lake in quest of recreation, health, and fishing. Titled “North Woods,” the writer and member of the party hid the group’s identity, except for a collection of political, literary, and poetic clues.
Written up in The New York Almanack as “A Mystery Writer’s Tramp to Twitchell’s Lake,” I was able to piece together his clues and positively identify him as John “the writer” Wright, President of the Lewis County Teacher’s Association, Lewis County official, and longtime Copenhagen resident. This and several groups described as “Copenhagen parties” made annual treks to Twitchell Lake, often with Burke as their guide.
This second wave of sports tourism was reaching its peak. And to my surprise, I found Wright’s farm on an 1857 Lewis County map situated right between three members of the Twitchell clan. There is a substantial connection between the hamlet of Copenhagen and Twitchell Lake, a key clue in the naming of the lake. Long a mystery, the naming of Twitchell Lake for this Copenhagen family is linked to one of two events – surveying the Totten & Crossfield line or a hunting trip on the Creek by this name in the early 1800s.
Verplanck Colvin visited the Twitchell Lake region on two occasions during his Adirondack Survey, first in 1873 to check on progress along the Beaver River and then in 1876 to visit his two Southwestern Division surveyors – Squire Snell of Martinsburgh, NY and Assistant Frank Tweedy of Plainfield, N.J.
During the latter trip he repaired survey equipment for Tweedy, led both surveyors in search of “the Great Corner” on the Totten & Crossfield Purchase’s NW, discovered and named a pond near Twitchell “Hackmetack” (today South Pond), and over-nighted in the Burke shanty. On October 19, 1876, the following day, he made a reconnaissance map of the lake, which I described in detail in an article titled “Verplanck Colvin’s Survey of Twitchell Lake.” Then in 1879 Tweedy used the Burke shanty as one of his base camps for a resurvey of the western Totten & Crossfield line that passes less than a mile to Twitchell’s NE. Tweedy’s Adirondack survey work is also written up in the New York Almanack, with my discovery of an important benchmark he set in rock marking the corner of Totten & Crossfield Townships 41 and 42.
A very curious set of maps attributed to Colvin follow the same western Totten & Crossfield border with a detailed accounting of the timber quantity and quality found along that line. Four of these maps are held in the NYS Archives, dated circa 1870 to 1899, and marked “Private copy from private papers of Verplanck Colvin.” The sample here shows timber inventory at the corner of Townships 41 and 42, in board-feet and cords, as follows:
Spruce 7000 [board-feet]
Beech & Maple 500
85,000 [total in board-feet]
Cordwood 20 cords
What is clear is that these maps were not produced by Tweedy or Colvin. It is possible that Squire Snell or his son Sidney was hired by the Beaver River or Moose River Lumber Company to create these maps in hope of future logging operations. However, it is more likely a surveyor less familiar with the terrain – who did not know the water body here was East Pond – was hired for a lumber company survey some time before the departure of Forest Commissioner Basselin. These maps may have come into Colvin’s hands during Herkimer County Superior Court litigation at which he testified in the 1890s. Clearly, they fit a time-frame when softwood and hardwood was being harvested for paper production, with the mention of cordwood referring to the standard four-foot length cut for that industry.
A Tribute to the Camp #1 Lumberjacks
By the late 1870s, lumbering had finally reached Twitchell Lake. Life in the lumber camp put somewhere around thirty men in close living quarters under the toughest of work conditions. And as campers know today, after the black flies leave, the mosquitoes, “no-seeums,” and deer and horse flies arrive.
Bill Gove described the mix of nationalities in a typical lumber camp, with immigrants from Norway, Sweden, Russia, Lithuania, Romania, Germany, and Italy, although he asserts that most of the Adirondack lumberjacks were French Canadian.
At any rate, when a long working day was done, they sat around a rough log-hewn table smoking, reading, singing, and playing cards, before climbing the ladder for another night’s rest in the attic. The three ink bottles found in the camp dump speak to letter-writing during long seasons of isolation before Big Moose offered weekend distractions.
Gove captures my thoughts by way of tribute to these men: “The North County lumberjack had to be not only strong physically but strong in self-reliance, hardy, and dependable as well. He had to be content living under conditions that most people would consider deplorable, for months at a time. The lumberman was a true character of American history whose deeds are part of rich folklore.”
This is the fifth in a series of essays about logging and conservation in the Adirondacks around Twitchell Lake in Northern Herkimer County. You can read the entire series here.
Illustrations, from above: illustration created by Noel Sherry for nine objects dug up in a lumber camp about a half mile east of Twitchell Lake; map of Twitchell Lake’s Lumber Camps, created by Noel Sherry; Henry M. Beach’s Photo-Postcard of “A Model Lumber Camp in the Adirondacks,” held by Town of Clifton Museum, ca 1910; Flood-dam in Rock River in the Blue Mountain Wild Forest, courtesy Adirondack Experience; record sled load of George Bushey’s Wood’s Lake crew at Camp 4 ca. 1921, the scaler with book recording a load of 15,140 board-feet, in Bill Gove’s Logging Railroads in the Adirondacks (p. 82); Barbara McMartin’s Figure 25, “Connections Between Adirondack Lumber Companies” (color coding by Noel Sherry) in her Great Forest of the Adirondacks (Utica, NY: 1994); Basselin mill complex in Beaver Falls, purchased from Norcross & Saunders, in Lewis S. Van Arnam’s Beaver Falls Cavalcade (1979, p. 22); photo of “The 3 Lyon Sisters,” courtesy Lyons Falls History Association; Henry Beach photo of hemlock bark stacks at Jerden Falls Tannery, ca 1884; the J. P. Lewis Co. paper machine in Van Arnam’s Beaver Falls Cavalcade (p. 46); “Pulp Wood in South Bay, Big Tupper Lake, Going to the Piercefield Mill,” in Jon Kopp’s “Tupper Lake: Images of America;” picture of Verplanck Colvin from “Anne LaBastille Rediscovers Verplanck Colvin,” in Adirondack Almanack, Aug 2, 2011; Chauncey Smith Guiding Ad included in Stephens’ Historical Notes on the Settlement of No. 4, Brown’s Tract (1864); map showing three early trails to Twitchell Lake from the Carthage-Champlain Road, created by Noel Sherry; Ligowsky & Taintor Topographical Map of Lewis County (1857) with closeup of the homesteads of John Wright with the Twitchell’s; map showing the T&C western border accounting of timber quantity and quality, New York State Archives, Map B1405-96_71A; and photograph taken by Noel Sherry of blacksmith items from the Lumber Camp.