The spark that got me writing about Adirondack history was the personal question of how my family came into possession of a log cabin on Twitchell Lake in Big Moose, NY. Unraveling this mystery took a year’s research — searching newly discovered diaries and networking with genealogy contacts.
It turns out my connection began with a love story, which I told in the New York Almanack. That account included the accompanying photo of my grandparents’ wedding in Buffalo, NY, in 1908. This article will explore how the hamlet of Big Moose supported the growth of thriving summer communities on Twitchell and Big Moose Lakes, setting the stage for major logging operations on Big Moose Lake. Early in this era, 60 percent of Twitchell’s lakeshore was slated for major logging before going up for sale as summer lots.
The New York Central’s Adirondack Division (formerly known as the Mohawk & Malone) was not a small part of my family love story. My grandfather Norman met my grandmother Lucretia at a Lockport, NY, wedding in 1906, pursuing a long-distance relationship by letter. Her letter inviting him to come and visit her at the Twitchell Lake Inn got him to promptly take a brief vacation from his Troy grocery firm. This diary entry speaks to his 6-hour train trip and 1.5-hour horse-drawn buckboard ride to Twitchell, navigating the ruts and corduroy bumps in an old Dix lumber road from the station to the lake, that shook a rider’s guts, a similar buckboard pictured here:
“A busy morning; took 10:40 train to Albany & there Empire State to Utica, then changed, & north to Big Moose Station on Adirondack division about 4:15 pm. Here a queer heavy buckboard like vehicle, over a new road, a place in it vile to be called a road & before 6- about 2 ¼ miles reached end of Twitchell Lake, where boats ready to take us little way up lake to Covey’s Inn. Here were Lucretia Hayes & Miss Julia Michael (of Lockport) in a canoe to meet me; met latter at Chas Raymond’s wedding; Dr. & Mrs. Hayes here in a cottage near hotel, facing the pretty narrow lake” (Diary for Monday, May 18th, 1908).
On their fifth day together, this midlife bachelor who had given up on finding a mate proposed marriage while they were lost in the woods. Her “yes” did not come until Sunday, after they bushwhacked their way the five miles north to the Mohawk & Malone track, flagged down a train back to Big Moose, and informed Earl Covey they were “found.” Wedding plans were set for her birthday in September – Norman making three trips to Buffalo, Lulu one to Troy, in a short-term engagement. Their honeymoon brought them back to Twitchell Lake Inn on an overnight sleeper:
“Took 8 pm train east- having the State room on a through-car for Adirondack Division. SUN. Sept. 27th, 1908, Warm. Close evening train lost an hour in the night, so rose [at] 5, instead [of] 4, & reached Big Moose Stat. 5:35 AM where Ms. Covey was, to meet us as arranged. Almost four months to the day we are back to the scene from engagement, married. Smelled smoke of forest fires on train. Serious ones have been North of this, & no rain yet. But not even a smell of smoke here. We reached Twitchell Lake Inn about 6:15 am. & have the large cottage next to hotel or West [of the Inn]” (Diary for Saturday-Sunday, September 26th-27th).
Lucretia’s father was part of a family pulmonary practice, his first trip to the Adirondacks was in 1895 to look for a vacation spot where he could pursue his avocation, trout fishing. By 1900, he and the family were annual summer guests at Earl Covey’s Twitchell Lake Inn.
Twitchell Lake Pioneers & Land Speculators
In 1896, William Seward Webb sold New York State 75,000 acres of his Brown’s Tract holdings to add to its growing Forest Preserve, reserving for himself all the lakeside lots in Township 8 he planned to sell as hotel and cottage parcels. The map shown here of the Twitchell Lake Allotment shows the seven parties who purchased lakefront lots from Webb, by date, lot number, and acreage – two hoteliers (Skilton & Covey), three clergymen (Jordan, Noble & Stockdale), a banker (Holmes), and a real estate broker (Thistlethwaite).
The first purchase was made by Rev. Dwight Jordan, a Methodist-Episcopal pastor from Brooklyn, NY, who hunted deer with his wife for some seasons before purchasing two lots. He invited fellow clergymen, Eugene Noble and Fairbank Stockdale, to join him at Twitchell. A sermon by Fairbanks’ son George titled “The Ways of Trout and Men” was featured in Old Forge’s “Lumber Camp News” in August of 1940.
Truman Skilton ran a Winstead, CT, business that marketed fishing products – reels, lures, fly rods, and tackle – direct and by mail order, followed his passion for trout fishing and preservation. On his 217-acre 32-Lot purchase he built a family lodge and a resort “let out to the ‘sports’ who sought peace, tranquility, and trout in the solitude of the Adirondack wilderness.” Rufus Holmes, also from Winstead, was probably the banker for Skilton’s Fishing Tackle business. Earl Covey purchased 23 lots on Twitchell’s southwest shore, building Twitchell Lake Inn in 1898. His father Henry had opened the first hotel on nearby Big Moose Lake, Camp Crag, purchased from Webb in 1897, but settled in 1880 as a camp for sportsmen on the large point of land near the lake’s outlet.
Each of these deeds incorporated the Webb Covenant, crafted to maximize the value of his real estate sales. Expressed in one paragraph, it aimed to keep logging operations away from the lakeshore, exclude commercial, agricultural, and manufacturing projects from the area, guarantee public trail use over private land, and prevent anything that would cause a forest fire. William Thistlethwaite purchased all the remaining lots highlighted in yellow from Webb’s Nehasane Park Association in 1902, 102 lots or well over 400 acres of Twitchell lakeshore. His interest was the same as Webb’s, a profit on vacation lot sales. Thistlethwaite thus owned 60% of Twitchell’s prime shoreline lots.
After “reading law” for Franklin Cristman, a partner in the Charles Snyder Herkimer law firm, Thistlethwaite went on to serve as land agent in Webb’s real estate offices during the 1890s. He settled in and became a “founding father” of Old Forge, NY.
The 1892 map here shows Webb’s Township 8 holdings in Brown’s Tract, the yellow acreage sold to New York State, the waterfront lots highlighted in red sold at a huge discount to his lawyers – Snyder receiving Cascade Lake, Cristman getting most of Moss Lake, and the land from Lake Rondaxe to Darts Lake going to all three – a nice reward for their work on his railroad and Nehasane Park projects, not to mention the two lawsuits orchestrated to appropriate land owned by Big Moose Lake sportsman Aaron Lloyd.
Thistlethwaite also had a strong connection with the logging industry in the central Adirondacks. In 1902 he extended a lucrative cutting contract to the Herkimer Lumber Company on land Webb had taken from Lloyd and sold to him. In 1906, he was a key player in the founding of the Adirondack Lumber Manufacturers & Shippers Association in Utica, NY. Local historian Charles Herr adds a third item to this list:
“In the same year  that Thistlethwaite started the West Canada Lumber Company, he purchased the remainder of Dr. Webb’s Fulton Chain holdings outside of the Nehasane Park. These lands were 10,000 acres on the shores of Second, Third and Fourth Lakes [The Old Forge Company].”
This 1903 Thistlethwaite purchase included all the lakefront lots here marked in red, excluding those that went to the Snyder Law partners. Thistlethwaite’s lumber dealings would land him in a major lawsuit with the State of New York later in the decade.
Later Twitchell Lake pioneers purchased their land from Skilton or Thistlethwaite. Two noted Adirondack guides – Low Hamilton and Francis Young – bought their lots from the former (1901), the Shattock’s (1904), Slayton’s (1905), and Holy Cross Club (1900) from the latter. In 1907, Thistlethwaite conveyed 41 of his 122 lots to P. J. Harney of Fulton Chain, NY. Harney was probably trying to pay off a big insurance debt incurred when a fire at his shoe factory in Lynn, MA, destroyed 14 buildings in that city. Hemlock harvest for leather tanning may be what attracted him to New York State, before he married Thendara’s Superintendent of Schools, Laura F. Brooks.
Which returns me to the Sherry Twitchell connection. After Lucretia’s father died in 1916, her mother Ellen had Earl Covey build her a family camp and guest cottage, purchasing three lots from Harney in 1919. A prized piece of “fungus art” shown here includes “Beaver Lodge” drawn by Ellen’s son Francis Hayes in 1921. Six generations now have benefited from her foresight and legacy.
Two Lumber Mills Supplied Logs for Twitchell Cabin Construction
Most of the seventy plus camps on Twitchell Lake today are log cabins, built in various styles. Earl Covey learned his half-log palisade method of construction from his father Henry at Big Moose Lake’s Camp Crag. This technique of erecting half-logs on a milled timber sill is believed to have been brought to the Central Adirondacks by French-Canadian lumberjacks. The half-logs were milled by two men, a top sawyer pulling a cross-handle or crosscut saw up along a log firmly attached to a raised log platform, a pitman responding on the downstroke until the log was halved. Sometimes this “pit-sawing” was accomplished with an actual hole dug into the ground for the pitman, a handkerchief tied over his head to keep the sawdust out of his eyes.
Earl would have started out this way, adding a gasoline-powered circular sawmill about 1910 to the twenty-plus structures already part of his Inn complex. That mill on Lots 7 and 8 gave the name “Sawdust Bay” to that lake cove. Up to twenty of the cottages on the lake were built by Covey in this style, including the two for the Sherry-Hayes family, a main and a guest camp. The Skilton’s also had a sawmill for constructing its lodge and cottage compound at the other end of the lake.
A third hotel was added to Twitchell Lake’s two by Low Hamilton’s wife Myra, who got him to make her a tearoom above their boathouse. Ownership of the Lone Pine Camps later passed to the Hamilton’s son-in-law Fred Elmers, who transported guests and delivered mail in a boat called The Dutchess.
There were good foot trails that led to Big Moose Station, Big Moose Lake and Beaver River as well as to the other lakes and ponds in that area. People came from all over to eat lunch at the Lone Pine Tea Room and Myra’s idea turned into a profitable venture.
This camp named “Homewood” was built by Earl Covey for the Herben family on Lot 50, Beatrice Slayton marrying George Herben at Twitchell Lake on June 19th, 1918. All the structural logs and decorative trim were milled from local trees, a granite mantle and cut stone brought in from a quarry in White Lake to Big Moose station and over the ice by horse and sled in winter. Lighting was by kerosene lantern, fresh spring water brought down the mountain by pipe, refrigeration supplied by a weekly chunk of ice from the Inn ice-house, refuse dumped in a designated spot away from the camp, and sewage disposed in a log-covered cesspool. Care was taken not to attract black bears, raccoons, and deer. Firewood for camp and campfire use was cut from nearby woods.
The first Hayes camp was dubbed “Beaver Lodge” because of the beaver house on the shore. Great grandmother Hayes had Earl Covey remove it by dynamite after beavers cleared her shoreline of trees. She dickered with Covey to put up a guest cottage within her budget, after comforting him on the recent loss of his wife, having lost her husband a few years earlier:
“My dear Mr. Covey: Your letter was duly received. I have been considering the building. It requires more money than I want to put into it … Can’t you figure a little closer and make things a little less solid than you usually do and make my plan for the $2000. The cheapest kind of fireplace Cobble stones or brick or anything will do. If you can do it for $2000 you may go right to work. Put it as far back as you can and not cut big trees … I am glad Mildred is getting along so nicely. I do hope you can plan things comfortably and though I understand how lonely you will be, you still have quite a family to look out for and as you stay keeping busy helps.
That is just why I planned the [guest] camp. I just had to have something of my own to look after. You will be as I am more & more thankful that you have such nice children. They are a comfort” (Letter mailed from Troy, NY, dated October 30th, 1920).
Tourists & Lumbermen at Big Moose Station
Bill Marleau served as a Forest Ranger for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation from 1948 to 1983, stationed in Big Moose, NY. The map shown here depicts the mid-section of Webb’s Mohawk & Malone railroad, this big bend in the tracks where the station was located, the connection point for Twitchell and Big Moose Lakes to the rail line. Marleau’s folksy book Big Moose Station offers a good description of the hamlet of Big Moose where he was born in 1922:
“I was born when this dying hamlet was full of life and people, when the Adirondack branch of the New York Central Railroad was in its heyday, when the station wagons and buses from the hotels around Big Moose Lake, Darts and Twitchell Lakes [were] used to meet every train and return loaded down with “summer people,” city people with money, come to spend a week, month or all summer in the mountains. The permanent residents were guides, cooks, hotel keepers, teamsters, lumberjacks, railroad men and saloon keepers, good men and bad, good women and bad, men of the cloth and men of the bottle. Regardless of their vocation, they lived in the woods by choice. They loved the forest.”
Marleau’s maps of the hamlet show its central feature, the Mohawk & Malone Railroad oriented west to east at this point, the train station at mile post number 69 opposite a long siding for loading logs, and a nearby “wye” – a triangular junction with railroad switches at each corner for turning an engine around. To make the long northbound climb from Thendara to Big Moose, a helper engine had to be added to each train, then decoupled, turned around, and returned to Thendara for the next trip.
That wye was enlarged in 1912 to accommodate a larger helper engine, on a parcel of land purchased from retired railroad engineer James C. Irwin, who purchased Silver Lake from Webb in 1898 for his summer camp (H. C. Wheeler “Map of Big Moose Station,” February 1913). A road to the north paralleling this wye passed the church Father Fitz built with the help of lumberjacks in 1896. This dirt road extended up to the LaFave Lumber camp which was operating until 1917. The road to Stillwater was surveyed and cut in 1927, opening trucking access for International Paper Company’s pulp and paper harvesting.
Main street in Big Moose featured a schoolhouse, several hotels and boarding houses, a general store, a bar, log cabins built by its pioneers, and a post office – all on real estate purchased from Webb. This pencil sketch shows two young girls crossing swampy land from the station to the Temperance Hotel. An enormous amount of fill had to be brought in to lay rail across “the Big Moose swamp.”
While the railroad put Big Moose on the map, logging and tourism fueled its boom in this era. Two dirt roads exited on the west for transporting summer guests to Twitchell and Big Moose Lake hotels. One followed the old lumber road used by John Dix to complete his 1894 to 1902 contract with Webb, sledding logs in winter to the siding for loading onto freight cars. This is the road Norman Sherry took to meet Lucretia Hayes at Twitchell Lake in 1908. After 1902, lumber operations moved south to McKeever, north to Buck Pond and Wood’s Lake, and west to Big Moose Lake.
The other road connected the hamlet with Big Moose Lake’s West Bay, a growing hub that supported the lake’s eight hotels, summer camp owners, year-round residents, and Herkimer Lumber Company operations. The map here shows the path log rafts took from their north shore source to the outlet, with the key business that supported all these activities on the shore of West Bay – the Big Moose Transportation Company. Barlow described the many tasks managed by this prosperous enterprise: Besides the steamboat, there were teams of horses, carriages, buckboards, freight wagons, road-maintenance equipment, a house on the Glenmore for managers and teamsters (still known as the “Transportation House”), and a building at the Big Moose Station that served as a boarding house and storage facility at the railroad end of the enterprise.
The Transportation Company’s steamboat SS Big Moose is pictured here at the Hotel Glenmore dock. It had capacity for carrying thirty-five guests to and from the hotels and camps on the lake, getting lumberjacks to their north shore camp, and moving cargo and delivering mail to the twenty-two stops listed on a Big Moose Transportation Company ticket from 1913.
Interestingly, this writer’s cabin at Twitchell Lake had crude furniture crafted from old shipping boxes, one of which became a wood bin for firewood and kindling. This picture shows that wood container now incorporated into a set of drawers, with this inscription: “Big Moose Supply Company, New York Central, Big Moose, NY.” The Big Moose Supply Company was part of the enterprise, which grew into a big business during this era, serving residents, summer tourists, and lumber company personnel.
From Railroad to Automobile
Twitchell and Big Moose Lakes were located about the same distance from the railroad station at the center of the hamlet of Big Moose. While Big Moose Lake was abuzz with logging activity during much of the 1900 to 1920 era, Twitchell Lake was spared the spring flooding, log rafting, and river drives that visited its larger neighbor.
East Mountain stood at Twitchell’s northeastern end sheltering it from Page and Bissell-Yousey Lumber Company excursions into the virgin stands of timber on nearby Townships 41 and 42. Thistlethwaite’s legal tangle with his Hinckley logging contract at Fourth Lake prevented him from lumbering his Twitchell lakefront lots, before preparing them for sale as summer cottages. Norman’s “tramps” with children took him into woods logged under the Webb contracts, with a favorite hiking destination to Lumber Camp #2 to the northwest near the east shore of Oswego Pond.
The Webb Covenant certainly did provide a blanket of protection for the two Twitchell hotels listed in this NYC ad from The NYC Evening Post that announced, “two trains daily, direct from New York” to “the most delightful and picturesque lakes in the Adirondack Region” (July 25th, 1905). Brook trout and lake trout fishing would have been a big draw for Gilded Era New Yorkers to any one of these six hotels, but “speckled trout” was a misnomer, a species found only in saltwater.
One of the most important aspects of the Big Moose Transportation Company, was its stagecoach line for transporting tourists, summer residents, and lumberjacks from Big Moose Station to lake hotels and logging camps for the season. That practical function was emphasized when the company was incorporated in 1905, notwithstanding the misspelling of Twitchell in this news report from the Lowville Journal & Republican:
“The Big Moose Transportation company, whose principal office is to be in the town of Webb, Herkimer county, has been incorporated with the secretary of state. It will operate steamboats on Big Moose lake and its outlets and also will operate a stage coach line from the steamboat landing on Big Moose lake to Big Moose station, Twitchel lake and Eagle Bay. The capital stock is $6,000.”
When my grandfather Norman B. Sherry met his wife-to-be, Lucretia C. Hayes at Twitchell Lake in May of 1908, his transportation from the train station to the lake was handled by Earl Covey, the proprietor of Twitchell Lake Inn and one of this company’s stagecoach drivers. This 1910 photo shows two stagecoach drivers posing on the bridge over Twitchell Creek – Earl Covey and John Denio – with members of their families. Many riders preferred walking to this rugged form of transportation.
Norman’s travel from his home in Troy to Big Moose and back, began with the New York Central Railroad’s Adirondack Division, his later diary accounts detailing travel in the age of the automobile. It is most interesting to compare these two modes of transportation, using his detailed records that have been passed down.
On that first trip in 1908, Norman took the train from Troy to Albany, boarding the “Empire State” to Utica, where he switched to the Adirondack Division train north to Big Moose Station, a 5-hour 35-minute trip on a very hot day, the year of the devastating summer forest fires that affected the Adirondacks. Obtaining these early diaries has been an incredible gift enabling this writer to tell these stories and recount the history in a personal and vivid way.
By 1921, Norman and Lucretia were married with four children and a dog, his grocery business enabling him to purchase an automobile. The artist’s depiction here shows the 1921 Reo he described in that year’s diary, forerunner to the Oldsmobile. In his May 11th entry, he humorously described their first trip to Twitchell Lake in the Reo. It is worth quoting in its entirety, “Lu” affectionate for his wife Lucretia:
“WED. May 11th, 1921, 7 AM 44 degrees, To Twitchell Lake- Wonderfully bright & calm continues.
“Packing about completed last night. Children left with Mr. Smith. Loaded Reo up with bundles big & many, scientifically directed by Lu. Mother & Margaret in rear with such bundles piled between they couldn’t see each other. Lu & I in front seat & each of us had to climb over door as couldn’t open it [on] acct. of grips for lunch basket on each step. Got off at 8:55 am. At Little Falls turned off & over long up grade; stopped to lunch on the uplands at 12 when engine seemed overheated & gas “spit” out at muffler. Then thru’ Fairfield & at Middleville came with the Herkimer road [we] usually take; one tried was new way, Lit. Falls nearby, to Fairfield, & saves about 4 miles, but found it too hilly. Made fine time in pm after Old Forge. Road very dusty, little rain there in 2 wks. Reached Covey’s at 4:45 pm. Got the people & bundles over to camp & with provisions brought, put [on] our own supper. Find mice had raced over the house, chewed loose papers &c. Found nest of mother & 5 little mice in a drawer. Has been wonderful day for the ride- 162 miles in 6 hrs 25 min. or 25.27 miles per hr” (Norman Burt Sherry Diary, 1921).
Roads of sand, gravel, slate, Macadam, and dirt – sometimes sprayed with oil to keep dust down – made for slow going and left a car dust-covered. After this trip, Norman used a sponge to apply a product called “Gebhart’s Top Dressing” on the roof of his Reo, a specialty compound for renewing weathered car roofs. On Norman’s August 8th return to Troy, he took the eastern route via the Raquette Lake ferry, a 161-mile trip that took him 8-hours 5-minutes. On another trip up into the mountains, passengers had to debark and push the loaded vehicle up the hill.
Having gasoline “spit” on the muffler, a spring snap in two, a tire explode, and brakes fail, were just some of the driving experiences he put into words. While Norman continued to put his family on the train for their summer stay at Twitchell Lake, his automobile excursions for holiday weekends were dubious advances over the ease and speed of his earlier railroad trips. Enter the automobile into Adirondack tourism (a story told by John Warren here) and the lumber truck into the logging operation.
While Twitchell Lake was spared the extensive logging Thistelthwaite had planned, Norman could count the white pine and red spruce stumps on Twitchell’s trail network, with active logging still going on near the East Pond and Buck Pond trails. The logging operations of the beaver however, never ceased. The 1900 to 1920 era would see three major lumbering operations centered around and on Big Moose Lake, harvesting virgin timber on the old Lloyd Triangle which crossed the lake on the eastern end. Each of these endeavors would be visited by challenges from local lake residents and state officials. And each would represent a significant challenge to the “forever wild” provision in New York State’s Constitution.
Illustrations, from above: a wedding picture of Norman Burt Sherry with Lucretia Caroline Hayes, from Esther Sherry photo album (September 26, 1908); horse-pulled buckboard wagon on Twitchell Road, from the Herben family photo album (1907); Map of the Twitchell Lake Allotment color-coded by Noel Sherry to show first seven lot owners after Dr. William Seward Webb (David C. Webb, 1896); Map of Township 8 of Brown’s Tract highlighting Webb parcels sold to NYS in yellow, lakeshore lots sold to Thistlethwaite in red (David C. Wood, 1892); Homewood Camp built by Earl Covey on Twitchell Lake, from Herben family photo album; Lumber Company Railroads Spawned by Webb’s M&M Railroad, Created by Noel Sherry from William Gove Maps, Big Moose Section; Temperance Hotel, 2nd hotel in Big Moose, pencil sketch by Noel Sherry, from Bill Marleau’s Big Moose Station, p. 72; Map of Big Moose Lake drawn by Frank Carey for Jane Barlow’s Big Moose Lake on p. XXII (2003); Steamer “Big Moose” at Glenmore Hotel Dock, Big Moose Lake, Courtesy of the Adirondack Experience (ca. 1910); Bench drawers in Sherry Cabin made from shipping crate for The Big Moose Supply Company (ca 1918); Big Moose & Twitchell Lake Hotels advertised in The New York Evening Post (July 14, 1906); Postcard photo of stagecoach drivers Earl Covey & John Denio with family members on Twitchell Creek Bridge (1910); and Linn Photo Company artist’s drawing of 1921 Reo, Courtesy of the National Automobile History Collection.
Sources: Norman Burt Sherry I Diary (1908); “The Trade Reels of T. S. Skilton” in The Reel News (September 2006); Charles Herr, “The Old Forge Company: Defeat and Decline” in The Adirondack Almanack (July 10, 2014); “Fire insurance notes from Boston & vicinity” in The Spectator (p. 291, December 13, 1906); Letter from Ellen Hayes, living at 35 Myrtle Ave. in Troy, NY, to Earl Covey at Big Moose, NY (October 30, 1920); William R. Marleau, Big Moose Station: A Story from 1893 to 1983 (1986); H. C. Wheeler Map of Big Moose Station (February 1913); Jane Barlow’s Big Moose Lake: The Story of the Lake, the Land, and the People (Syracuse University Press, 2004); and Norman Burt Sherry Diary (1921).