In the late nineteenth century, Adirondack VIP tours were arranged to assess water damage from state-sponsored dams that kept lumber mills powered and barges floating up and down the Erie Canal. Judges like Truman Fuller exhorted the New York State Forest Commission to get an accurate upstate map completed, to head off all the lawsuits.
The state’s decision to increase its forestry holdings forced it into negotiations with powerful men like William Seward Webb. Theft of timber on those tracts had to be investigated. The right-of-way for a cross-wilderness railroad needed legal finessing to pass through state-owned forest and private parkland. Fish and game laws awaited approval to ensure that the new tourists would enjoy what earlier sportsmen and women had championed. And agents of new state forestry agencies needed to be issued firearms before they arrived in New York’s wild and woolly frontier. This was the setting in which the Adirondack Park was established in 1892.
Distrust between local Adirondackers and state officials after the formation of the Forest Preserve in 1885 had increased to the point of violence, with death threats aimed squarely at agents like John Koetternitz for his attempts to honor and enforce state forestry and game laws. The following letter expressing frustration to his state employer shows just how dangerous this had become in the Big Moose:
“The [state] agents … are threatened and molested, every accommodation, like boarding, putting of horse in barn, etc., refused. During this winter my wife received five threatening letters from different quarters, telling her that I never would return alive if I dared to come in the woods again and offering for my transfer to another world a variety of routes viz: by hanging, shooting and by putting me in a hollow tree (Letter to NYS Deputy Comptroller, 1886).”
Clearly this was not an isolated case. Karl Jacoby’s important expose in Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (Univ. of California Press, 2014) captures the dark side of the conservation movement, with law and lawlessness the twin axes around which this movement developed. NYS conservationists were trying to implement the European environmental model of scientific forestry which George Perkins Marsh championed as early as 1864 in his classic Man & Nature. Jacoby’s ear to the ground uncovered a counter narrative – a “law of the woods” which local Adirondackers lived by. He cited an 1897 quote of Raquette Lake guide Alvah Dunning to express this neglected but widely and passionately held point-of-view:
“Times is different now. In them days nobody said a word ef a poor man wanted a little meat an’ killed it, but now they’re savin’ it until the dudes get time to come up here an’ kill it an’ some of ’em leave a deer to rot in the woods, an’ on’y take the horns ef it’s a buck, or the tail ef it’s a doe, just so’s they can brag about it when they go home, an’ they’d put me in jail ef I killed a deer when I needed meat.”
The ability of wealthy “dudes” like John A. Dix and William Seward Webb to leverage (and change) state laws to their advantage had to exacerbate local resentments. Big Moose and other lawsuits magnified these tensions, pressing the state legislature into action.
The establishment of the Adirondack Park is an amazing story, well told by Frank Graham, Jr., in his The Adirondack Park: A Political History (Syracusse Univ. Press, 1991). The map here compares the original 1892 Blue Line (light blue) consisting of 2.8 million acres, just over 500,000 acres belonging to the state (dark green), with the substantial 2017 increase in both Park (dark blue) and Forest Preserve holdings (light green). Long before the formation of the Forest Preserve in 1885, New Yorkers had debated two schools of thought on how to preserve largely undeveloped areas like the Adirondacks and Catskills.
Gifford Pinchot represented the school referred to as “scientific forestry.” Hired by Webb to manage his Nehasane Parkland, Pinchot had recommended selective cutting of older spruce so that younger seed-bearing trees could regenerate the forest over a period of about twenty years. Two Lewis County notables had held a similar view – Franklin Hough envisioning logging and mining companies balancing their interests with forest preservation, and Theodore Basselin, a Board member of the Forestry Commission, approving many lumbering leases on Forest Preserve lands, raising considerable revenue for the state. Interestingly, that Commission had proposed leases for Totten & Crossfield Townships 40 and 41 in its Working Plan, which would guide later logging in the Big Moose Lake area. Recommendations were “that the Constitution be so amended as to provide for the practice of conservative forestry on State Lands … and the sale of dead, dying or mature timber under proper safeguards.”
Local historian Jane Barlow noted in Big Moose Lake that the state’s Forest Working Plan for selective lumbering led to a battle that “raged for years between ‘forever wilders’ and ‘scientific foresters’” (Barlow, p.116). Scientific forestry gradually fell from favor, with the discovery that heavy cutting opened enough sunny, warm areas in the forest that the shade and cool temperatures necessary for spruce to reproduce, vanished. “[Thus] the supply of valuable spruce declined steadily,” permanently changing the character of that forest.
Governor Roswell Flowers dismissed “Lumber King” Basselin, signing the Adirondack Park Enabling Act in 1892. Article XIII of Chapter 707 of the Laws of 1892 outlined its purpose:
“Such park shall be forever reserved and cared for as ground open to the free use of all the people for their health and pleasure, and as forest lands, necessary for the preservation of the headwaters of the chief rivers of the State, and a future timber supply, and shall remain part of the forest preserve.”
Within less than a year Flowers revealed his bias by passing what was dubbed “The Cutting Bill,” authorizing the new Commission to sell timber in the Preserve to fund further purchases of forest land. One of the staunch opponents to this was the governor’s own chief forester, Bernhard Fernow, who came to represent the other school in the preservation camp, which has been called “Forever Wild.” Both men graduated from state forestry duties to national positions, Fernow replacing Pinchot as chief of the US Forestry Division in 1898. Jacoby made this important observation about preservation and conservation in the Adirondacks:
“The ultimate result of these actions [formation of the Forest Preserve] was to turn the Adirondacks of the mid-1880s into the most advanced experiment in conservation in the United States. Many of the people who would later lead the national conservation movement – Franklin Hough, Bernhard Fernow, Teddy Roosevelt, and Gifford Pinchot among them – gained their first insights into the challenges of American forestry in the woods of northern New York … Inspired by the example of the Adirondacks, several prominent conservationist organizations, including both the American Forestry Congress and the federal Division of Forestry … held up New York’s Forest Preserve – this first attempt at making a reality of forest preservation – as a model to be emulated nationwide.”
These two schools also represent a national debate that continues today, scientific forestry linked to conservation, “forever wild” with unspoiled wilderness preservation. Per this Venn diagram, conservationists allow some recreation, logging, and mining in the forest, while preservationists prevent almost all human activity. The John Muir Wilderness in California, for example, invites hikers to experience the wildness of nature in its untouched beauty. It is gratifying to realize that the Adirondacks have had such an impact on American conservation, and the central-western Adirondacks a substantial impact on the rise of Adirondack conservation.
There is more to this story, after a Garden & Forest editorial warned, “It would seem that the time has already come when the Park ought to be preserved from the preservers.” New York State’s sixth Constitutional Convention convened in Albany in 1895, with a late initiative to draft an amendment on Adirondack preservation. A successful Syracuse attorney who had camped and fished on the upper Beaver River’s Smith Lake since 1883, was a delegate-at-large who made a crucial one-word addition before that amendment was approved.
Pictured here, William P. Goodelle had witnessed the impact of unscrupulous lumbermen and the “vast sea” of dead trees brought on by the state’s dam on the Beaver River, after Webb had built his Nehasane Park, renaming Goodelle’s favorite fishing spot Lake Lila. Now locked out by Webb, Goodelle joined other sportsmen to form the Beaver River Club in 1892. Ed Pitts highlighted points made in Goodelle’s persuasive speech at the Convention:
“This addition was necessary because the lumber industry was constantly lobbying the legislature to allocate public money to build new dams in the Adirondacks to provide water to float great rafts of softwood logs to their mills. Using the situation of the Beaver River as an example, he described the thousands of trees killed and left standing by the 1885 and the 1893 Stillwater dams. Goodelle believed that if the constitution prohibited not only the cutting of trees but also their destruction by other means such as flooding, then building new dams that would flood hundreds or even thousands of acres would be forever prevented … During the past few years, the Forest Commission itself was systematically manipulating the water released from the Stillwater dam to benefit the downstream logging business of Theodore Basselin, one of the three Forest commissioners.”
The Goodelle addition to Article VII, Section 7 (now Article XIV, Sec. 1) was the word “destroyed.” Known as the “Forever Wild” provision, this gave future conservationists a valuable tool for wilderness protection, one that cannot be undone by any agency or legislative action. It can only be overturned by a statewide majority in a public election. This revised text was adopted in the only unanimous vote of any state Convention, 122 to 0, and then approved in that year’s November election, with this wording:
“The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed (NYS Constitution’s Forever Wild clause.”
My uncle Francis Hayes Sherry worked as a reporter in Troy, New York, writing feature articles on the Adirondacks for his upstate readership. One of his articles reported on Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s “Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks,” under the title “Commission Recommends Ways to Preserve Adirondack Park.” His 1971 quote here on land classifications for the state’s portion of the Park, as recommended, reflects this ongoing debate over conservation versus preservation:
“A major element of the study commission’s report is proposed land classification: 43% wilderness to be inviolate; 5% primitive, also practically inviolate; 52% wild forest with no commercial exploitation, but permitting hunting, fishing, hiking, ski touring, recreation that will not impair the atmosphere; and less than 1% to be used for campsites, boat launching sites, ski areas and memorial highways.”
Half of the state’s forest was to be “untouched” save for hiking usage (forever wild), the other half “allowing for recreational uses” other than commercial (conservation). My uncle’s article reported increasing “people pressures” on the Park, with this Commission stance emphasized: “There should be no participation by the federal government in the management of state or private land in the Adirondack Park.” People pressures continue to increase on all land classifications in the Park, calling for conservation vigilance per this “Forever Wild” Article in the NYS Constitution. More on that to come.
Local Conservation Initiatives Around Twitchell Lake
My thesis for this series of articles has been this: Logging and mining – which began to push from the perimeter toward the center in 1800 – clashed with the wilderness tourism that peopled lakes like Twitchell mid to late-century, creating the conservation movement which helped to preserve gems like Yosemite, Niagara Falls, and the Adirondack Park.
While the preservation-conservation debate continued, it is important to bear in mind that protection of the Adirondack Park has come from the top down via the State of New York and the bottom up, through local initiatives. A brief look at those initiatives as they arose in this era around Twitchell Lake will illustrate this.
Dr. Webb’s forestry experiment in Nehasane Park with Pinchot could be one grassroots example, though the Webb Covenant clearly reflected his own business interests in guaranteeing the greatest profit on his Brown’s Tract cottage and hotel sales. A much better example comes from the earliest of the private parks in the Adirondacks, Brandreth. That will be explored in the next era (1900 to 1920) as Brandreth Park extended its Mac-A-Mac logging rail line in from Webb’s Mohawk & Malone Railroad for selective cutting (conservation) and a host of new and innovative preservation initiatives.
One of the reasons Hiram Burke took his clients to fish and hunt on the smaller ponds surrounding Twitchell Lake was a noted decline in both the fish and game available where his cabin stood. Some of the methods being used were depleting a once plentiful supply of both fish and game. One sportsman complained to the editor of Forest & Stream about what was becoming the worst-case scenario for many sportsmen and their guides:
“Having returned from a camp out on the Beaver River in the Adirondacks, I will report in relation to the same and the working of our present game law. The first half of last month was spent in exploring the country north and west of [Big] Moose Lake, taking in Twitchell lake and the country drained by its outlet. Until recently this section has been noted for its abundance of game, chiefly owing to its being inaccessible for most parties to reach by the ordinary way of travel. Deer could be seen at all times of day during the summer and fall months feeding in and around the lakes and many ponds, and the trout were so plenty that the sport often became monotonous within a few hours … But what a change. I visited Twitchell on the 18th of last month and … heard the baying of hounds on the hills south of the lake in pursuit of game … In fact that whole country has been completely stripped of its game, but not by the still-hunter [December 3rd, 1886].”
This groundswell of concern began at the local level among the sportsmen and their guides. Chauncey Smith’s local residence in the hamlet of Number Four and his wilderness hotel 18 miles to the east made him a veteran wilderness guide for the Beaver River watershed. His family virtually became a guiding dynasty, with sons Marcus and Charles following in his footsteps, and the following four marrying into the family business: Losee B. Lewis, Arettus Wetmore, James Lewis, and Hiram Burke. The Adirondack Guide Association was organized in 1891 with surveyor Verplanck Colvin as its honorary president. Interestingly, its founder and first president was Fitz G. Hallock, who was hired by Webb in 1892 to serve as superintendent of Nehasane Park, supervising a few dozen guides.
Regional groups such as the Brown’s Tract Guiding Association was formed in 1898 because area guides like those on Beaver River did not belong to the state AGA. Debates on fish and game practices were fierce. The following list of questions I have framed from a perusal of their animated discussions: “Is it taking unfair advantage to use hounds to hunt deer or to spread a gill-net to snag the bigger trout? Are these methods related to depletion, or are we just fishing out our favorite lakes and ponds?”
Even before this era sportsman clubs were popping up across the state, debating similar questions and advocating for local, regional, and state laws that would preserve and renew the supply of fish and game. Twitchell Lake’s patron guide is a good illustration for how the conservation movement arose on a grassroots level. We know through local historian Bill Marleau that Burke supplemented his meager guiding pay “by packing 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.” But Burke had another source of income, helping enforce season limits on deer hunting to perpetuate the population, with the set of fish and game laws the Lewis County Sportsman Association had pressured the state to pass:
“The Lewis County Sportsman’s Association is active and energetic in its pursuit of violators of the game law. There’s probably not another Association in the State that is doing such good work to prevent the killing of deer out of season as this club; and for it they are entitled not only to thanks, but in the pecuniary assistance of wealthy sportsmen in their noble work. A few days since the officers of the association received trustworthy information that a Philadelphia party of four, with two guides, were killing deer at Twitchell lake. F.C. Schraub, Esq., the prosecuting attorney for the club, issued the necessary supreme writs, and the Deputy Sheriff Finch, with guide H. Burke, started on Tuesday morning last with the legal documents and found the “deer slayers” in camp, with a saddle of freshly killed venison hanging out for a sign. He also discovered, in addition, four hides of deer lately killed (Lowville Journal & Republican, July 23rd, 1879).”
John F. Reigers in his important American Sportsmen & the Origin of Conservation (Oregon State Univ. Press, 2000) countered the prevailing theory that preservation arose solely as a state reaction to logging industry abuses at the turn of the century (1900). That certainly was one of the pressures calling for change, but these clubs and associations had been pushing for stricter conservation laws thirty years earlier, advocating in national newspapers like American Sportsman, Forest and Stream, and Field and Stream.
Increasingly, they looked upon themselves as members of a fraternity with a well-defined code of conduct and thinking. To obtain membership in this order of “true sportsmen,” one had to practice proper etiquette in the field, give game a sporting chance, and possess an aesthetic appreciation of the whole environmental context of sport that included a commitment to its perpetuation.
Pressures that led to formation of the Forest Preserve in 1885 and the Adirondack Park in 1892 largely arose from the groundswell of local and regional voices, to include guiding associations, sportsman clubs, and national magazines that rallied support for wilderness conservation. It is true that the state agents first sent to enforce game and forestry laws encountered conflict and even violence with local Adirondackers. However, this era saw a dramatic change as locals – frustrated with wealthy sportsmen and park owners who abused game laws – supported the Forest Game Wardens. A St. Lawrence County Forest Ranger made this observation:
Cooperation between state and local authorities was evident in 1899 when Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of NYS, invited representatives from both the Adirondack and Brown’s Tract Guide’s Associations to Albany to discuss needed amendments to the conservation laws. Ultimately, it was NYS which has preserved the Adirondacks’ wilderness character.
New Building Methods Introduced in Big Moose
The two lumberjacks in this pencil sketch by the author are engaged in a Woodsman’s Field Day competition at Tupper Lake. Their tool is a razor-sharp crosscut saw, introduced into the Adirondack logging industry in 1890. It not only increased logging output and avoided wasted chips from the double-bit axe but was one of the tools of choice for a favored building method called pit sawing. This method originated in France and probably came to Big Moose with the arrival of French-Canadian woodsmen, who imported this palisade style of architecture for building log cabins.
Henry Covey built every structure in his Camp Crag, Big Moose Lake’s first hotel, using this method, and that included a main lodge and general store, cottages for guests, woodsheds, outdoor privies, an ice-house, and a large boathouse on the shore of Big Moose Lake. The photo here is from Jane Barlow’s book and shows Danforth Ainsworth as “top-sawyer” ripping a log with “pitman” Ed Martin on the down stroke, accumulating a big pile of half-logs nearby.
Derived from the Latin word palus for “stake,” these half logs were set up side by side on an elevated sill or platform – bark side out, milled side in – to form cabin walls, the inside space finished with thin battens, the outside chinked with sphagnum moss. Henry used only trees and stone from his land, building with local help and that of his son Earl, who mastered the technique and went on to build many half-log camps in the palisade style on Twitchell and Big Moose Lakes. Incidentally, Henry had to purchase the 101 acres of land he had been squatting on from Webb in July of 1897.
The first hotel on Twitchell Lake was Earl Covey’s great camp with eighteen bedrooms shown here, and a similar collection of structures to that of Camp Crag. Covey purchased his lake shore lots, 1 through 23, from Webb on November 19th, 1898, building a guest cottage on each lot. The rest of Twitchell Lake was sold by Webb to his employee Thistlethwaite and to its earliest camp owners. At least a quarter of the cabins on Twitchell would be erected by Earl using that same palisade half-log style, including this writer’s camp.
Interestingly, the story of Sherry ownership of a cabin on Twitchell Lake traces to a May 1895 trek to the Adirondacks on Webb’s Railroad by my great grandfather Francis Mason Hayes, a Buffalo lung doctor with a keen interest in trout fishing and preservation. The exact destination on his two-week trip is uncertain, but by 1907, the Hayes family name shows up each summer in the Twitchell Lake Inn Logbook.
Most of the early hotel owners had logging experience and like the Covey’s used this pit saw method or, in the era to come, maintained their own lumber mills using steam or motor-powered circular saws. It is striking to realize that had Webb absorbed our Big Moose lakes into his park, the subsequent sale of that park to NYS would have rendered Twitchell Lake as untouched Forest Preserve.
The 1880 to 1900 era for the central Adirondacks saw enormous changes. Barbara McMartin identified a “revolution of 1892” in this time frame, with its intricate interweaving of logging advances with preservation milestones. Webb’s railroad with its logging spurs brought major harvesting first to the virgin softwoods (spruce, white pine, and hemlock of a foot diameter or more), then to all the hardwood species of almost any diameter. Lumber and leather harvesting declined while pulp and paper production exploded, “Lumber King” Basselin shifting to the latter after his big mill fire.
Private parks and preserves grew to almost rival the state’s forest holdings, individuals and companies still owning the largest piece of the Adirondack pie, as shown in this McMartin graph. The lumber river drive was on the decline, as Lewis County historian Paul Schneider explained:
“Pulp mills preferred their wood cut short, and as the four-foot “pulp stick” gradually replaced the thirteen-foot “saw log” it made life difficult for the river riders. Even if a company found a decent supply of big timber, it was not a good feeling to ride a log down the river smoking a nice bowl of tobacco and find yourself surrounded by pulp sticks. There was no way off; a stick four feet long and five inches around won’t hold a man up.”
Increased loss of forest cover combined with the people pressures of sports fishing, hunting, and mass tourism, fueled the preservation movement. The Forest Preserve act of 1885 and establishment of an Adirondack Park in 1892 guaranteed that a good percentage of wilderness would be set aside for future generations. The Forest Commission identified 38% of the Adirondacks as “lumbered with soft timber removed” in 1888, increased to 54% by 1902. “Virgin forest, unharmed and untouched” was rated at 54% in 1888, with a decline to 34% by 1902.
Trespass by companies on state land, widespread land title abuses, and the host of lawsuits over flooding and timber rights, had to add gasoline to the fire, forcing the debate over conservation versus preservation to its unexpected conclusion, the 1895 “Forever Wild” amendment now secured in the state’s constitution. Nevertheless, vigilance would be needed from 1900 to 1920, and continues to be necessary today.
The next era (1900 to 1920) would see many of the negatives of people pressure for the 63.9% of private land ownership in the Adirondacks exacerbated. The state’s 36.1% share by this graph would continue to be challenged by some significant threats, but its land legacy would increase substantially in that new century. McMartin’s excellent analysis of this revolutionary 1880 to 1900 era ends with some real optimism:
“It is amazing that so much of the State’s public land should have been accumulated in a period of such great turmoil in the private sector. It is equally amazing that there were so many threats to the public land both from within and without government, and that these threats ultimately did not affect the integrity of the core of public lands. After 1890, the dichotomy between public and private lands became more and more pronounced. Timber on the already protected portions of the Forest Preserve was poised to grow so that all signs of past history would be obliterated in the next hundred years. And, as the next chapter shows, the private lands were about to be logged in a way that would require centuries before they would again resemble the great forest with which they were once covered.”
Illustrations, from above: Entering Adirondack Park sign photo credit, Eric Meier; Adirondack Park Agency Map of the Park and Forest Preserve Lands for 1892 and 2017 (October 2017); Venn diagram from Haresh Banbhaniya’s “Conservation vs. Preservation- a Brief History” (July 14, 2022); William P. Goodelle, in Dwight Hall Bruce’s, Onondaga’s Centennial, Gleanings of a Century, Vol. 2 (1896); “Forever Wild” Article 14, Section 1 of the NYS Constitution, from its Senate Website; banner picture on the Forest & Stream Magazine’s front page (August 1873); Woodsman’s Field Day in Tupper Lake, a Pencil Sketch by Noel Sherry of Photo in The Central Adirondacks; Ed Martin & Danforth Ainsworth Pit Sawing at Camp Crag ca 1900, courtesy of Robert & Elizabeth Smith; picture of Twitchell Lake Inn taken by George Duffy (1970); and Adirondack Park Land Ownership in 1902, Fig 31 in Barbara McMartin’s Great Forest (p. 115).
Sources: John B. Koetteritz, Letter to Hon. Thomas E. Benedict, deputy comptroller (January 31, 1886); Karl Jacoby’s Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (University of CA Press, 2001); Frank Graham, Jr.’s The Adirondack Park: A Political History (Alfred A. Knopf, 1978); New York State’s Sixth Annual Report of the Forest, Fish and Game Commission (Albany, 1901); Professor Charles S. Sargent’s editorial “Lumbering on State Lands,” in Garden & Forest: A Journal of Horticulture, Landscape Are and Forestry (April 18, 1894); Ed Pitts’ “William Prevost Goodelle, Esq.” in Annals of the Beaver River at https://beaverriverhistory.blogspot.com (February 10, 2022); Frank Sherry’s Troy Record article “Commission Recommends Ways to Preserve Adirondack Park” (May 8, 1971); Letter to the Editor of Forest & Stream magazine titled “Deer in the North Woods” (December 3, 1886); Ed Pitts’ “Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau and Fitz Greene Hallock at Little Rapids” (August 27, 2021); “The Philadelphia Sportsmen” in Lowville Journal & Republican (July 23, 1879); John F. Rieger’s’ American Sportsmen & the Origin of Conservation (1900); and Paul Schneider’s column “Along the Black River” in the Lowville Journal & Republican (December 22, 2015).