One of the most satisfying pastimes for me at our summer home on Twitchell Lake in Big Moose in the Adirondacks in Northern Herkimer County), was taking the camp guide boat out for a spin. That privilege was earned by passing the family test, a solo swim across the lake, about the distance of a football field.
Weighing just over 30 pounds, this unique 14-foot wooden craft sped through the water powered by two oars. A cabin shelf still displays several awards for winning the annual guide boat race. I fondly remember the one-mile hikes to neighboring Oswego Pond, trailing my older brother Burt carrying that guide boat on his shoulders using a hand-carved yoke, my father in the lead bearing the oars and fishing gear.
I do not think we ever returned with less than the legal limit, ten native brook trout per person (dad and Burt pictured here with a sting of speckled beauties). Here I take out my children, Peter and Katrina, for a row. Sadly, our family guide boat now hangs in the rafters of one of the rooms in our cabin, a future restoration project. My father made the unfortunate decision to fiberglass the bottom when several of the ribs that had been cut from large spruce roots, rotted away.
Adirondack historian Alfred Donaldson attributed the origin of the guide boat to Mitchell Sabbatis, Abenaki guide from Long Lake. Recent investigation has more accurately pointed to two early builders, the first a “prototype” called the “Saranac boat” built by William M. Lenathen at Martin’s Hotel on Saranac Lake.
His 1851 version was a transom-built boat, flat on the back or stern end. A second style “alike at both ends” was then crafted by Caleb J. Chase of Newcomb, Essex County, in the early 1860’s. Both versions were built into the 1870’s, the latter preferred by guides because of its style and lighter weight. Chase’s design has been imitated by many boat builders, becoming the iconic Adirondack guideboat of today.
The Adirondack guideboat did not arrive at Twitchell Lake until late in the nineteenth century, but a growing trickle of sportsmen came to fish and hunt in the decades between 1840 and 1860. They would have used a much heavier boat carried over the six-mile trail from the Carthage-Champlain Road. The road was one of the early pressures on this remote lake, as sports and logging operations got closer and closer.
A Logging Race that Came from All Sides
A case can be made for the fact that lumber interests and industry approached Twitchell Lake from all sides during these two decades. The Beaver and Moose Rivers were the primary routes taken in this advance. State roads, railroads, and even canals were proposed as secondary – the first two of these not materializing for logging for many decades, and a canal scheme by Robert Fulton through the middle of Brown’s Tract never becoming a reality. Often land purchases preceded or accompanied these efforts to access the untapped timber and mineral riches of the Adirondacks.
The first approach was from Lewis County to the west. The clerk of Herkimer County recorded three deeds in 1850 for the purchase of Brown’s Tract from John Brown heirs – his grandson John Brown Francis by then having consolidated the eight townships. The grantee Lyman R. Lyon (1806-1869) became the largest landowner in Lewis County, and he included Twitchell Lake in his holdings, situated in Township 8.
A prominent official and businessman from Lyons Falls, Lyon engaged in the lumber and tannery industries early on, an 1855 map displaying his name as Brown’s Tract landlord, with three establishments he was running west of Twitchell, from left to right — Lyons & B. Tannery, L. & B. Lumber Mill, and a Silver Mine on a dead-end road. An 1856 deed has Lyon signing for “all the mines, minerals, & fossils” in his newly purchased Tract with an Ogdensburg developer.
Lyon ensured he could move all his mineral and timber-related goods to market as manager of State contracts for widening and deepening Lewis County rivers and harbors, and construction of locks and dams on the Black River between Carthage and the Erie Canal. His Lyman R. Lyon steamboat is said to have been the first to carry goods and passengers on a vastly improving water network.
Another scheme that would have brought logging to Twitchell much earlier arose in the east. (The map below shows four arrows aimed at Twitchell Lake which is marked as a yellow star.)
Farrand N. Benedict (1803-1880) was a University of Vermont professor of math and engineering who summered with his family in the Adirondacks as early as 1835. Charles Herr in his history of the town of Inlet called Benedict “the most intrepid scientific explorer of the Adirondacks until Verplanck Colvin,” describing his vision for a cross-wilderness route that would access and then export its timber resources to lumber mills:
“In 1846, Benedict submitted a report and maps to the legislature demonstrating that a combination 190-mile plank road, railroad, steamer and canal project could connect Port Kent on Lake Champlain to Boonville on the Black River Canal. This report, which would be referenced for over thirty years, would be the basis for early railroad planning in the region.”
Benedict not only planned and performed the survey work, but he enlisted financial partners in 1854 to buy up large tracts of land in the Totten & Crossfield Purchase for his own logging operations, including part of Township 41 and all of Township 40, where Raquette Lake was located.
The remains of Benedict’s last canal project for floating these logs to Glens Falls, where the price per log was the highest, can be seen near Raquette Lake. One reason his dream faltered was the strong opposition from Raquette River lumbermen to an outsider’s scheme that would compete with their log drives northward to Ogdensburg.
From the south, two entrepreneurial brothers spearheaded the push up the Moose River toward Townships 1, 7, and 8 in Brown’s Tract with their commercial lumbering operation. In 1848, brothers Henry S. Shed and Marshall Shedd, Jr., erected a gang mill at Moose River’s lower falls, just a mile from its Black River junction. The mill held 32 saws, enabling them to push out millions of board-feet in lumber per year.
Interestingly, the Shedd brothers hailed from Vermont where Benedict personally persuaded them to take up Adirondack logging, probably as potential partners. An 1851 editorial in The [Watertown] Northern Journal celebrated Lewis County’s vast waterpower and expanding commercial access to Albany, Troy, Boston, and New York, noting the following developments along the Moose River:
“The admirable lumbering establishment of Messers. Shedd, the extensive and well conducted paper mill of Messrs. Ager & Lane, the large tanneries of Williams & Lindsey and of Pratt — are but indications of what must inevitably follow when our communications with the great eastern marts are perfected by the completion of our Canal and Rail Road, which will soon be witnessed.”
If there had been a logger’s race to the interior, the northern initiative launched from the growing mill complex in Beaver Falls would have won the prize. But this Moose River southern arm boasting lumber, paper, and tanning mills, would influence Twitchell logging in the later decades of the century. By 1860, Twitchell was in a very real sense surrounded by logging enterprises intent on reaching its virgin timber.
The Lowell of Northern New York
Lewis County newspapers picked up a very striking phrase to describe their rising timber industry as “The Lowell of Northern New York.” The first reference I have found for this title applied the metaphor to Watertown in 1851 where early mills dotted the shores of the Black River eleven miles upstream from Lake Ontario:
“Nor can any one fail to believe that, with the Sackets Harbor and Saratoga Railroad to help circulate her trade and manufactures, she is destined to become the Lowell of Northern New York and the Canadas. Her foundries, tanneries, saw mills, paper mills, machine shops, and other factories, already in operation, are yielding handsome returns to their proprietors.”
It was a fact widely known at that time that Lowell, Massachusetts was the logging capital of the United States, having shifted from Bangor, Maine in 1830. As the logging industry moved up western Adirondack rivers, this phrase is more accurately applied to Beaver Falls, where actual Lowell entrepreneurs spearheaded the larger lumber operations.
The first of these was that of John M. Prince with his 1854 purchase of 15,000 acres of virgin timber in Totten & Crossfield’s Township 42, and the four mills marked on an 1857 Lewis County map — one in Croghan, three in New Bremen. Taking over the old Rohr’s mill on the north shore of Beaver River, Prince ran a sizable gang mill and manufactured lath and shingles with two Lowell partners incorporated as J. M. Prince & Company.
Prince became involved in Lewis County endeavors that would help get his wood products to market. Appointed in 1856 to chair a new company for steamboat navigation on the Black River — Lyman R. Lyon heading the Board of Directors — Prince immediately raised $10,000 “for the construction of a flat bottomed Steamboat, for the transportation of Freight and Passengers … delivered at Lyons Falls. The Engine and Boilers have been purchased, and the boat is expected to be done and launched about the 1 st of July. This project … will, without doubt, be the foundation of a profitable commercial enterprise and one of great utility to all kinds of business throughout the county (The Northern New York Journal, April 30, 1856).
If the Prince company did not earn for Beaver Falls “The Lowell of Northern New York” title, the firm of Norcross, Saunders, & Company did. On November 2, 1868, Isaac W. Norcross, Daniel Saunders, Jr., and Charles W. Saunders paid $35,000 to a city of New York agent for the exact parcels Prince sold a year or so earlier (excepting 50 acres owned by guide Chauncey Smith in Township 42).
The accompanying map shows the Prince mills now operated under “D. Saunders.” Isaac was part of Lowell’s Norcross cartel credited with design of a new circular sawmill and the innovative “Norcross planer.” Brother Nicholas G. was widely known as “The New England Timber King” for his lucrative lumbering operations in Maine, New Hampshire, and Canada. Much of the city of Lowell was built from lumber cut in the huge Norcross gang mill, fitted with upright and circular saw-blades.
A January 1, 1869 Lewis County Democrat short announced the Prince mill sale to Norcross & Saunders with this comment: “They propose to remove the old mills and build larger ones, with a capacity to manufacture twenty to thirty millions of [board feet of] lumber a year.”
A reporter who wrote for the same paper under the moniker “TROUT” offered pros and cons on the Beaver Falls lumber industry, citing its lack of diversity and questionable business morality. Criticizing ten of the companies in operation there for their limited production of lumber, lath, and shingles, Trout raised this interesting question in 1871:
“There is no reason why our merchants should depend on Utica, Syracuse, Clayville and New York for their tubs, pails, butter bowls, sugar boxes, scythe snaths, axe helves, ox bows, etc. … [when] the forests in this region contain a quality and variety of lumber that could be used in the manufacture of all or nearly all articles manufactured from wood.”
In another article, Trout held Norcross & Saunders up in a most favorable light, with mention of Yankee ingenuity, commitment to quality, and a purse big enough “to overcome the many serious obstructions to driving logs on Beaver River.” His detailed description is worth quoting at length:
“This enterprising firm has taken the bull by the horns with genuine Bay State pluck, and if they can succeed in taming the “critter” without being hooked they undoubtedly have ample purses to overcome all obstructions. But one thing is certain: with a few hundred dollars they have made more and better improvements on Beaver river than the State has done with its appropriations of thousands. The past season they erected a first class saw mill at Beaver Falls, with a capacity of sawing 50,000 feet of lumber in twelve hours with a proper head of water.
“This mill is built in the very best of modern style, and nothing in the line of machinery seems lacking to work every part of a log into something of value, unless it is the sawdust and bark. There are two gangs of thirty-three saws each, a post saw capable of slabbing the largest log that can be floated down Beaver river in high water, an edging saw, two butting saws, a shingle machine, and a saw to cut shingle blocks, and, besides these the company are talking of putting in a large circular saw and a machine for manufacturing broom handles and curtain sticks. After a log travels through these different branches of machinery the parts thrown away would furnish a very limited stock for shoe pegs or Connecticut oats.
“The shingle manufactured here are cut lengthwise of the grain, rendering them more valuable than cross sawed shingles and as smooth as if dressed with a plane. The manufacture of all lumber in this mill is under the direct superintendence of Henry and Aaron Austin, under the firm name of Austin Bros. These men are ‘up to snuff’ in their business, and don’t allow themselves to be rated second to any men living, in the manufacture of lumber. They have always been engaged in the lumber business for themselves and others, and now own and operate a large mill situated, I think, on the Rackett river, for which they have procured a heavy stock this past winter. Their manufacture of lumber is much sought after by the Albany lumbermen on account of its evenness and beauty of finish.
“Norcross and Saunders have hit the nail on the head in securing the services of these men, which, with the superiority of their mill, will enable them to furnish their customers with a first class article. Beaver river affords canal navigation to within a mile of their mill, and the company are now about to build a tram road from their mill to the head of navigation on this river at a cost of $1,800. This will give them perfect connection with all the eastern markets for shipment of all their lumber.”
The Norcross & Saunders mill complex operated in Beaver Falls until about 1880, when Theodore Basselin purchased their Lewis and Herkimer County properties. Their improvements on the Beaver River did enable an ample supply of logs for a two-gang mill (33-saw blades per gang). They added to the lumber camps Prince had used for harvesting timber in Township 42 and hired men to deliver logs cut each season by the following spring’s river drive to their mills. Perhaps the measure of a lumberman’s greatness was shown when a steamboat was named for him. Lewis County chronicler Franklin Hough noted one such event, a steamboat moved by donkey up the Beaver River for the VanAmber Lumber Co.:
“The little steamer I. W. Norcross, built at Phoenix, Oswego county, came in from the canal in the spring of 1858, and was employed one season as a packet, making a trip from Carthage to the falls and back daily. She has since run on the Erie canal.”
The Most Dangerous Job in a Logging Company
It is quite possible that the J. M. Prince & Company launched the first log drive the full length of the Beaver River, after it was declared a “public highway” by the State in 1853. The estimated distance from Prince’s timberland in Township 42 to Beaver Falls was about 36 miles, logs transported in the annual spring melt over rocks and rapids, around sharp bends, and down a series of waterfalls, finally arriving at a Beaver Falls collection area.
The painting shown here of a Hudson River log drive depicts one of the most dangerous tasks in the whole logging operation, the annual log drive (generally April to June) dependent on factors like winter snowfall, spring rain, and temperatures warm enough to melt ice and snow. Too little water delayed log delivery by up to 3 years, too much pushed logs over the riverbank. Good water conditions moved a log from 1 to 3 miles per day. Logging was not only dangerous, but it was also a very risky way to make a living when log supply faltered.
The chief danger came from logjams, which occurred often and could back up a river for miles. A crew of 30 to 40 “river pigs” worked sunup to sundown to prevent a backup or to break one up after it formed. The first New York State improvement of the Beaver River did not come until 1864 when $5000 was spent to erect a dam at the outlet of Smith’s Lake (now Lake Lila) for pushing logs down in the spring, blasting rocks along its course below, and straitening river bends to create better drive channels.
Log drivers developed a skill called “birling,” riding a floating log as it rolled down the river, wearing boots specially crafted for traction. The “Croghan boot” was the preferred footwear because of its thick soles held together by small wooden pegs and studded with metal calks set into the soles and heels. Tales of perished log drivers were frequent human-interest stories in contemporary newspapers, the tragic dark side of Adirondack logging lore.
Accidents were common on the drives and falling out of the boat or off a floating log, and into the river often meant certain death. A combination of cold water (hypothermia) and a river full of logs made it difficult to get back out of the water once you fell in.
Clearly, the J. M. Prince & Company was not the only logger active on the Beaver River early in this era. The 1857 Beaver Falls map (above) lists a lineup of lumber, tanning, and paper mills running their own river drives under names like Farney, Lefever, and Nuffer. A NYS law mandating a “logging mark” for each company ensured that the mass of timber caught by the Beaver Falls “sorting boom” would get to its owner’s mill for processing. The logging marks here were created by a blacksmith and represent prominent companies in operation throughout the Adirondacks at this time.
Prince’s 12-year tenure in Beaver Falls did not end well. There is some indication that Prince left his home near Lowell, MA to open his Beaver Falls mill on the promise of a cross-Adirondack railroad that was in the works. His New England experience would have taught him that moving timber by rail was far more dependable than a dangerous log drive, the latter offering seasonal delivery lasting but a few months.
At any rate, a brief 1862 notice in Lowville’s Journal & Republican announced the three-party breakup and liquidation of the J. M. Prince & Co. To be profitable, lumber companies depended on a huge supply of logs, with a sure means of getting timber products out to market. Businesses often failed on either end of this receiving and shipping cycle.
The successful lumber companies had to have deep pockets to weather the inevitable years of low rain and water levels, which meant canceled log drives. It was this fact of life that led in the next era to the big dam on Beaver River at Stillwater, and others like it. The lumber lobby in Albany was organized and effective, pushing the idea of multiple dams to ensure mill and canal water.
A Railroad Dream that Never Came True
Information on the infamous Sackets Harbor & Saratoga Railroad — which never got built, except for a short run from Saratoga to North Creek — is voluminous. Multiple sources must be pieced together to get the full story, and even then, the reason for its failure is illusive. Every public promotion of this project touted vital reasons for its completion. From the Report of its chief engineer Bryant Tilden in 1851 to Governor John A. King’s address to the State Legislature in 1857, this route through the wilderness would shorten shipping between Boston and New York with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River by a multitude of miles and many months. Rail was soundly beating canal transportation in this era by savings in time, money, and distance. Governor King’s address was typical, if a bit crass:
“This wilderness country [of Brown’s Tract] has been penetrated from all sides, for its lumber and mineral products, nearly as far as they will bear the expense of transportation by the ordinary means of conveyance. The lumber and ore of this region is every day becoming more and more important to the surrounding country, but has gradually receded from the reach of the public from the fact, that lumber and iron (Its principal mineral) will not bear the expense of transportation on common roads to exceed twenty or thirty miles, and to this depth the tract has been penetrated by lumbermen and settlements on all sides … The people want the iron stored in those granite hills — the cities and villages of the Empire State want the cherry, the pine, the oak, the birch, the spruce, and hemlock which stand in their primeval solitude and grandeur over this wilderness domain. Pioneers are ready to enter and reduce this savage country and fit it, for the habitation of man. A railroad built through the heart of this tract might ultimately pay for its construction, but capital is timid and hesitates to venture in so hazardous a field without encouragement from the State.
Encouragement from the State was all-present from the granting of this railroad’s charter in 1848 and it’s incorporation in 1853, right up to its sale to the Lake Ontario and Hudson River Railroad Company in 1857, a few months after the Governor’s inaugural address. 250,000 acres along its selected route was for sale at the bargain price of five cents per acre; its charter and building deadline received several extensions; notables from Boston, Albany, New York City, and New Bremen (Lyman R. Lyons) served on its Board; railroad magnet William West Durant assumed oversight of the new company in 1857, inheriting its 1848 Charter and mission; and public support ran high, with capital stock of 3.5 million dollars subscribed and taxes waived until the time when Saratoga was connected to Sackets Harbor.
Its relevance here has to do with one of its proposed tracks, the northern route, which would have located this 180-mile cross-Adirondack line less than six miles north of Twitchell Lake. Planning followed Benedict’s 1846 report recommending a route through Brown’s Tract to access the mineral and timber wealth of the Central Adirondacks. The Township 42 map here of Totten & Crossfield’s Purchase is shaded green for John Prince’s 8591 acre-purchase in May 1854, through which this new railroad would be passing. Prince paid $2.67 per acre for this large parcel to an agent for three businessmen, one from New Bremen, the others from Watertown: Charles Loomis, James Kirby, and DeWitt West. In June 1853 these lumbermen and vocal boosters for the Sackets Harbor & Saratoga Railroad teamed up to purchase this same parcel from the State at the bargain price of $429. That’s a huge profit over Prince’s $3,221 purchase price.
Earlier that same year, the State approved a route change for the railroad (to the north), following S. H. Snell’s 26-mile survey that plotted a route the length of the Beaver River from the hamlet of Number Four. The remaining lots shaded red were then purchased by the railroad company from the State in 1855, along with Townships 6 and 43.
It certainly looks like Prince purchased a mill in Beaver Falls and prime timberland up the river based on this route decision. In 1851, hope still ran high for this railroad dream which one reporter described romantically as “making the wilderness echo with the tread of the rotative feet of the iron horse and the steam whistle of the modern leviathan of locomotion and progress.”
Successful planning and execution by the owners of the Sackets Harbor & Saratoga Railroad would have given lumbermen access to cut and transport Twitchell Lake’s virgin timber to mills in Beaver Falls at least thirty years earlier, radically altering our history and landscape. The map here shows three proposed routes for this railroad, the northern route finally adopted and hand-drawn on this map by an unknown draftsman. Twitchell is marked by the red star.
The chosen route passed by the southern shore of Lake Brandreth. Interestingly, in 1851 Dr. Benjamin Brandreth, having inherited his grandfather’s fortune from “Brandreth’s Universal Vegetable Pills,” purchased Township 39 (just east of Township 42). A member of the State Legislature at the time, his influence may have led to the 1853 decision on routes, maneuvering for a railroad stop on his own private reservation.
As it turned out, the tread of the iron horse and whistle of this modern leviathan would not be heard until the last spike had been driven into the tracks just north of Big Moose on October 12, 1892, when William Seward Webb’s company completed a cross-Adirondack railroad. Charles H. Burnett has chronicled the company’s amazing achievement, with this assessment of this earlier failure:
“If there ever was a railroad which was favored by the State of New York, which had the backing of able and influential men, and which was managed by experienced railroad builders, it was this Sackett’s Harbor & Saratoga Railroad, and yet the dreams of its promoters were never realized … The wilderness had again defeated the most efficient and ambitious efforts thus far marshalled against it.”
A Few Sportsmen Reach Twitchell Lake
Twitchell Lake retained its wild status through most of this era (1840 to 1860). At least three major logging schemes had failed to reach its shores, and now sports tourism was just beginning to increase to a trickle. Early news accounts and widely read publications were inviting hunters and fishermen to visit the Adirondacks, the first roads having opened its interior.
One of these publications, The Adirondack or Life in the Woods (1849), was written by Joel Tyler Headley, Farrand Benedict’s cousin, after spending three summers exploring the Adirondacks led by Abanaki guide Mitchell Sabattis. Raquette Lake camp owner Tom Thatcher credits Headley with inspiring “a first wave of tourism.” Headley can be added to the list of people calling for the preservation of this wilderness, his passion for nature here almost akin to a statement of faith:
“I love nature and all things as God has made them. I love the freedom of the wilderness and the absence of conventional forms there. I love the long stretch through the forest on foot, and the thrilling, glorious prospect from some hoary mountain top. I love it, and I know it is better for me than the thronged city, aye, better for soul and body both … It is one of the open books of God, and more replete with instructions than anything ever penned by man. A single tree standing alone, and waving all day long its green crown in the summer wind, is to me fuller of meaning and instruction than the crowded mart or gorgeously built town.”
New York State maps of this era trace two State-mandated roads in the vicinity of Twitchell — the older “State Road from Albany to Ogdensburgh,” a north-south route completed in 1815 and the east-west “Carthage to Lake Champlain Road” (C-C Road) – finished by 1845 (see map). The older one was shortened to “Albany Road” and had largely disappeared except for a bridge over the lake it gave its name to, Albany Lake.
Jervis McEntee’s sketch is shown here, drawn on his artist’s trip along the C-C Road in 1851, guided by Asa Puffer. News of his journey was published, spreading word about the scenic views that road afforded. Lawyer Nelson Beach, one of the land agents for the hamlet of Number Four, was contracted to survey a route for the C-C Road in 1841, his journal including the first public mention of “Twitchell,” in this case the stream his party explored as a possible route for the C-C Road.
My alternative theory for the naming of Twitchell has an early guide or Lewis County surveyor naming this Road’s crossing by “Twitchell Creek” after one of the pioneering members of that family which settled in Copenhagen, NY in 1805. A land purchase, hunting, or fishing trip in the 1820’s or 30’s could have provided the occasion for that event, with a guide then tracking the creek to its source and naming that “Twitchell Lake.”
Another early public mention of Twitchell dates to a December 3, 1856, article in the Lewis County Banner titled “Melancholy Occurrence.” Guide Amos Spofford was in search of a missing hunter named Briggs Wightman, when he “discovered the hat of the missing man together with his rifle, lying on the ice in Twichell lake,” the body found in the freezing water below. The “eight sturdy hunters” Spofford recruited to carry the body out to Lowville used the rugged six-mile trail off the C-C Road, the only access at that time. Wightman was a member of an Oswego County group using the C-C Road for its annual fishing and hunting trips. They were part of the vanguard of this first wave of sportsmen, Twitchell Lake their preferred fishing and hunting ground.
Edwin Wallace, editor of the annual Descriptive Guide to the Adirondacks, called this Oswego group “builders and architects” of a rock shanty along the C-C Road by the Twitchell trailhead (see map) and added that they “assisted Uncle Chauncey Smith in rearing his woodland structure at South Branch.”
Beginning in 1859, Smith put up sportsmen (and women) in this shanty on the C-C Road as they traveled to Raquette Lake — the largest natural lake in the Adirondacks — and one of the preferred destinations for sports. Other early destinations near Smith’s summer abode were Albany (now Nehasane), Smith (now Lila), and Beaches Lake (now Brandreth).
An 1852 news item announced Lowville lawyer L. C. Davenport’s catch of a salmon trout weighing over 23 pounds in Beaches Lake. News like that traveled fast, however most of the Adirondack news from this era was published as longer travel journals like that of McEntee’s, recounting an art, fishing, or hunting trek using the recently constructed C-C Road.
An 1847 series of five articles by the title “The Wilds of New York” took the reader on a wild adventure from Carthage to Lake Champlain and back, guided by William Higbie (Watertown’s Northern State Journal). “Records of a Summer Tramp” ran as an eight-part series in the Journal, and included a Mt. Marcy climb and a sojourn with the first Raquette Lake settlers, Matthew Beach and William Wood.
As traffic increased on the C-C Road, and camping spots on the larger lakes filled up, Lewis County guides took their parties on the network of side-trails off that main road, eventually building shanties and leaving a guide boat with oars on their favorite lake or pond. The first log structure on Twitchell Lake is believed to have been built by a Smith son-in-law named Hiram Burke, who would help shape a second wave of sports tourism.
In the words of Big Moose Forest Ranger Bill Marleau: “In 1870 Hiram Burke, a thirty-one-year-old native of Lowville, built the first permanent building there, a log cabin on the upper north shore for the ‘sports’ he guided. He packed his fur, venison and other game back through the woods to Lowville, and in the winter months he made fur and buckskin gloves which he sold to finance his trips back to Twitchell Lake.”
The Dream of Preservation Arises from an Unexpected Quarter
By 1860 the trickle of guides and sportsmen accessing Adirondack fishing and hunting was becoming a flood, spurred on by writers who were reporting their Adirondack adventures, men like Joel Tyler Headley, the 1859 “Lakes of the Wilderness” article written anonymously by Jervis McEntee, and Samuel H. Hammond’s Wild Northern Scenes (1857). News shorts on huge trout and abundant deer, with the longer travel journals describing the beauty and health benefits of the wilderness, garnered the attention of men (and women) throughout the Northeast.
Access at the western border from Lowville via the C-C Road and the old road to Old Forge and the Fulton Chain of Lakes from Boonville, provided relatively easy access to “sports heaven” by horse and wagon. This era from 1840 to 1860 saw a concern for conservation arising from an unexpected quarter, as sportsmen reflected on hunting and fishing practices that would quickly diminish the once-abundant wildlife the Adirondacks was famous for.
Six of the 35 news clippings I have collected for Adirondack expeditions of this period offered a curious phrase repeated in the conversations of these sportsmen around the campfire. For example, an 1847 article titled “Northern N. York” described “tall, rugged, and picturesque mountains, clear and sparkling lakes, limpid streams, and immense forests of grand old trees,” and then added this: “The disciples of old Izaak Walton will find there the finny tribe in countless numbers. The speckled trout, particularly, are in abundance.”
The question here is, how did an old English writer by the name of Izaak Walton (1593-1683) come to have an impact on the preservation of the Adirondacks? It would take a book to track his line of influence fully. A brief outline will suffice here.
Walton’s best-known work is titled The Compleat Angler, and it remains the most reprinted English-language book after Shakespeare and the Bible. The lithograph here identifies its main topic as angling, but it was much more. Walton did train his readers in the art of angling, but he wove that instruction together with poems, songs, illustrations, and recipe’s, highlighting the virtues of friendship and nature at a time when England was embroiled in bitter civil war.
Lewis County Historian W. Hudson Stephens in his 1864 write-up on the settlement of Number Four, called its oldest pioneer, Orrin Fenton “a faithful disciple of Walton – he has quietly pursued his gentle avocation of the fisherman and hunter, remote from busy haunts, and secluded beyond most men from the world, far above the average of life.”
Sportsmen in America adopted Walton’s book as their Bible, with a club organized in Philadelphia before the Revolution, the Cincinnati Angling Club in 1830, and the famous New York Sportsman’s Club in 1844. The North Woods Walton Club began as The Brown’s Tract Association in 1857, purchasing and setting up its own camp on the 3rd Lake in the Fulton Chain. Following our Civil War, this movement of sports clubs multiplied in many parts of the country, with a new focus on conservation:
“Where the earliest clubs had existed primarily for social reasons, these new clubs included among their members energetic fish culturists and game managers, and they campaigned vigorously for more scientifically based game laws and management of habitat. They preached good sportsmanship and moderation of harvest in an era already suffering badly from the excessive kills and abusive land-management practices of previous generations. The great club movement of the 1870s marked the coming-of-age of American sportsmen. Nowhere was that new maturity more needed than in the Adirondacks,” according to The American Fly Fisher (Fall, 1995).
A vigilance for wildlife included concern for logging abuses as these impacted animal and fishing habitat. A Lewis County hunter bemoaned the unethical practices of “the deer slayers,” with this urgent call: “Let us organize — let some gentleman of the Walton Club move in this matter and he will find responses enough to the call to form a society in Lewis county, men who would scorn to chase down the deer in the last of winter, when weak and feeble, when the snow is deep, and brain them with a club, or float the streams in early May, destroying the dams, and starving their offspring.”
Many members of these privileged Sportsman Clubs had political clout, and so by about 1857 new State laws were minted, this one (above) banning a host of harmful fishing practices. The Lewis County Sportsman’s Association soon was in operation, with guides like Hiram Burke supplementing their income by leading the sheriff on his game-law enforcement trips.
Building My Own Guide Boat
Building a guide boat was never one of my ambitions, but when a member of my church asked if I knew what an Adirondack guide boat was, I immediately replied, “Yes, I do!” And so it was, on Saturdays over the next few years, that we used plans he obtained from a wooden boat magazine to construct two guide boats, one for each of us.
In the process I came to appreciate this craft all the more, learning new skills such as scarfing and gluing planks to the bottom board and then on up to the decking, bending wood strips for gunwales in a steam box, and measuring and attaching ribs, seats, and oarlocks. The left side of the picture here shows our “strong-back” or frame upon which the boat was assembled, upside down. My finished boat on the right is 17 feet long and heavier than older models. I have paddled, rowed, and adapted my guideboat for sailing.
By 1860 Twitchell Lake had become the favorite fishing and hunting spot for a few New York sportsmen using a much heavier boat lugged the five plus miles south from the C-C Road. Logging schemes had failed to reach its remote location. Prince, then Norcross & Saunders, were harvesting timber up north along the Beaver River.
The next era (1860 to 1880) would see the first lumber camp set up near to Twitchell Lake. That operation would be run by Theodore Basselin’s Beaver River Lumber Company, after he purchased the Norcross & Saunders mill in Beaver Falls. The twin thrusts of logging and sports tourism would intensify, with another big railroad scheme in the works, which, if successful, would become a game-changer for both pressures.
This is the fourth 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: Family photo of Noel rowing Peter & Katrina in the camp guide boat (September 1979); Family photo of my brother Burt & Dad with a string of Trout from Oswego Pond, ca 1955; Selection of Lyman R. Lyon operations from an 1855 Map of the Adirondacks east of Lyons Falls; aerial photo of Farrand Benedicts abandoned canal project taken by Rick Rosen; Arrows for four logging initiatives shown on the 1893 William Fox “Map of Tracts, Patents, Land Grants,” Noel Sherry; Prince & Company mills along the Beaver River on “A Topographical Map of Lewis County, NY, from Actual Surveys,” by Ligowsky & Taintor, 1857; Norcross & Saunders marked as “D. Saunders” on an 1870 map of Beaver Falls, Lewis County Historical Society; Picture showing the “Hiram & Wilber” canal boat pulled by a donkey on the Beaver River for the VanAmber Lumber Company, Lewis County Historical Society (https://historicallylewis.org/township_history/new-bremen/); Watercolor painting of an early log drive on the northern Hudson River, Noel Sherry; Selected log marks for Adirondack lumber companies, from William F. Fox’s “History of the Lumber Industry in the State of New York,” in 6th Annual Report of the Forest, Fish and Game Commission of the State of New York (Albany, 1901); Loomis, Kirby, & West parcel in Green shown on John Richards’ 1816 Map of Township 42 in the T&C Purchase; Three routes proposed on A. F. Edwards’ “Map of the Sackets Harbor & Saratoga Rail Road Routes: With Water and Railroad Connections” (1853); State Roads on Map of NYS in Asher & Adams Atlas (1871); Jervis McEntee’s sketch “Ruins of Bridge, Albany Lake” from “Lakes of the Wilderness” article published in Great Republic Monthly (Apr 1, 1859, p. 340); Carthage to Lake Champlain Road Features Highlighted by Noel Sherry on “Map of the Adirondack Wilderness” by W.W. Ely (1879); Paul Schullery’s “’A Sportsman’s Paradise:’ Fishing at the Adirondack League Club” in The American Fly Fisher (Fall, 1995); and A picture of the guide boat made by Noel Sherry & Sandy Scott, the left its frame, the finished product on the right.
Leave a Reply