Born in England, John Gerald Fitzgerald (1850-1925) attended seminary in Troy, NY, accepting his first assignment as a priest in the Diocese of Ogdensburg. Following pastorates in upstate New York, Father Fitz – as he was affectionately called – was given the daunting challenge of establishing a parish in Old Forge, in the Adirondacks.
In 1896, Northern Herkimer County was a heavily forested region dotted by tiny hamlets, scattered lumber camps, and remote railroad stations along the Mohawk & Malone Railroad. For the next twenty-nine years, he got off the Mohawk & Malone at stations like McKeever, Carter, Big Moose, Beaver River, Brandreth, Keepewa, Nehasane, and Horseshoe Lake, carrying his bible and sacraments from these stops to remote lumber camps on snowshoes, wearing his trademark coonskin cap and woolen mittens. His parish stretched over a 200 square-mile area.
Father Fitz organized lumberjacks to construct Holy Rosary Church in Big Moose, St. Henry’s in Long Lake, St. William’s in Raquette Lake, and St. Bartholomew’s Church in Old Forge. He raised money for his mission, advocated for his scattered flock, and regularly dropped all other tasks to administer last rites to a dying lumberjack struck by a falling tree, miles up a rugged trail. Upon news of his death, lumbering literally came to a halt as the Old Forge community and lumberjacks along the Mohawk & Malone gave tribute to their beloved priest in his Utica Observer Dispatch obituary in 1925:
“The uplifted ax comes slowly to the ground. The teamster halts his horses. The giant load of logs stops abruptly. Men slide down off their heavily laden sleighs. They gather in groups. They discuss the news. ‘Mon Dieu,’ shouts one of the Frenchmen – and he makes the sign of the cross on his body. ‘Padre Fitz – ‘ees dat! For sure he‘ees dat! He naw come here naw more! Mon Dieu!’ … Some, in their sorrow, weep and fall to their knees … Father Fitzgerald – ‘Padre’ as he was known to his French Canadian following of some years back, and the word somehow had clung to him – was called ‘the Apostle to the Lumberjacks’ for no idle purpose. He was not a sky pilot of fiction. He was a living, breathing, acting minister of God, sent into the camps of the woods to do His work.”
Father Fitz’s footsteps traced the perimeter of this logging territory as lumbering peaked in the Central Adirondacks in the 1900 to 1920 era. Like a fishbone, the logging railroads branching out from many of these stations along the Mohawk & Malone, reached into virgin forest. New spurs were built, and additional flag-stops opened for logging operations. Dwindling stands of white pine and red spruce were cut and taken south to the McKeever lumber mill – or north to the mill at Beaver River, until it closed about 1902.
Newly discovered hemlock stands had their bark harvested for the leather industry, but the major target in this era were hardwood and smaller diameter softwood timber for paper pulp production. River drives were already on the wane and the steam engine reigned supreme for log and lumber movement, despite the fire dangers it brought each dry season.
A Busy Hub at the McKeever Mills and Railroad Depot
By the turn of the century, train traffic through McKeever was substantial. A map of the railroad there shows McKeever on the Moose River as the southernmost station on the section south of Big Moose. Leased to the New York Central as its Adirondack Division, engineers had to coordinate two-way logging and lumber freight with the frequent trains transporting Gilded Age tourists to destinations like Big Moose. Lumber trains southbound to Herkimer’s Standard Desk Company ran daily. While the Moose River was still in use for spring river drives, the railroad was the cheapest and safest method for moving logs. In Logging Railroads in the Adirondacks William Gove explains:
“In 1917 there were 60 logging camps operating along the Adirondack Division, providing employment for three thousand men. The entire Adirondack region had over seven thousand men working in a total of 150 logging camps. Webb’s railroad had become a gateway to tremendous areas of merchantable timber and busy logging operations … The Adirondack Division of the New York Central became the trunk from which ten branch logging railroads were built between 1897 and 1936.”
Ads for Adirondack hotels filled Northeast newspapers with statements about the beauty of the Adirondack Mountains. Travelers from Boston, New York City, and the American West headed there by rail, with ten trains per day serving Big Moose by 1910. Jane Barlow highlighted a Friday night sleeping car open to passengers in 1919:
“It left New York’s Grand Central Station in five sections (five separate trains), all following one another, to the Adirondacks. Each train had ten to fourteen cars and could carry 350-400 passengers.”
Started as a construction camp for William Seward Webb’s railroad project in 1892, McKeever quickly grew into a major hub for the Central Adirondack lumber industry. It was strategically located just below where the north and middle branches of the Moose River merged, on this key rail route to Utica. The Mohawk & Malone’s trainmaster Robert Townsend McKeever was Webb’s cousin by marriage. This hub also headquartered the major lumber companies that milled lumber and produced paper.
In 1902, Glens Falls native and future New York State Governor John A. Dix’s Moose River Lumber Company completed his eight-year contract with Webb for logging Township 8 of Brown’s Tract, moving his lumberjacks from the Big Moose area to McKeever. This was one of three contracts Dr. Webb had included in his sale of 75,000 acres to New York State to settle a Stillwater lawsuit.
The following year a huge tract of timberland rich in hardwood was purchased, and a new logging railroad extended from the trunk line 5.5 miles eastward toward Woodhull Mountain.
This new line serviced six logging camps with up to forty men cutting logs into four-foot lengths and loading these onto flatcars for movement to McKeever’s Iroquois Paper Company, also owned by Dix. Four grinders prepared wood pulp for the manufacture of newsprint and wallpaper.
Over the next twelve years, McKeever’s hardwood mill was putting out 40,000 board feet of yellow birch and maple per day, producing quality lumber and veneer. Railroad ties of beech or maple were shipped to Rome to be creosoted. Bill Gove noted the high quality of timber being lumbered:
“One of the largest [yellow] birch logs sawn was squared off at thirty inches on the carriage and sawn into twenty-six-inch-wide lumber ‘clean as a hound’s tooth,’ according to the lumber grader Edwin Kling.”
The Mohawk & Malone Railroad opened many logging hubs like McKeever, with a “maximum timber drain” of 737.9 million board-feet reached in 1905. Northern New York logging was on a sharply rising trend from 1892 to 1905, even though the exhausted upper Hudson River watershed was in decline. This was due to robust logging from railroad hubs like McKeever. While statistics are sketchy, 1905 began a gradual drop in lumber production overall, increasing its rate of decline after 1912, obliging the pulp and paper industry to import 40 per cent of its pulpwood from Canada as early as 1904.
At its peak, McKeever counted 200 all-season residents in the employ of the mills, camps, and railroad. One McKeever highlight was Father Fitz’s twice-monthly visits to minister and hold Mass in the village schoolhouse. Other activities included a village baseball team and socials with a meal in a box at the mills; the first day of fishing in the spring was a special event.
The Old Forge’s Northeastern Loggers’ Association newsletter described another annual event that many participated in at the pond created on the Moose River by the dam: “Skating on the Moose River was always indulged in by many. The ice was cleared and the participants placed their lanterns in the snow. Those going home first picked out the best lanterns.”
Many folks in McKeever were engaged in conservation efforts, planting thousands of spruce seedlings in the cut-over forest lands to replenish the forest for another generation. These efforts can most likely be attributed to Bernard Fernow’s reforestation initiatives in Northern New York. Appointed chief of the US Forestry Division in 1898, Fernow represented one point of view in the debate over scientific forestry versus “forever wild.” He convinced the Santa Clara Lumber Company to establish a nursery to reforest some of its lands north of Tupper Lake.
According to Adirondack historian Barbara McMartin’s Great Forest of the Adirondacks, the New York State Forest, Fish and Game Commission picked up the reforestation project in 1902, concerned about “denudation” in parts of its Forest Preserve from fire damage, earlier logging, and abandoned farmland: “The first sales from State nurseries to private landowners were made in 1908; in 1909 one million trees were sold to individuals … By 1920, seven large nurseries supplied almost fifteen million trees annually. Reforestation continued through the 1930s, carried out in that decade mostly by Federal Civilian Conservation Corps workers.”
The accompanying photo shows two McKeever residents manning the wooden fire tower on Woodhull Mountain to the east, replaced by a metal one in 1915, to spot forest fires before they burned out of control. That logging decline with a significant economic downturn were factors forcing John Dix and the Moose River Lumber Company into bankruptcy in 1915 (just two years after his term as Governor ended), with an appraisal of assets that gives us another window on lumbering at McKeever.
Assets listed in Lowville’s Journal & Republican assessment for July 29th were the mill’s steam-heated 18.5-foot-high warehouse with a 90 by 300-foot rectangle holding equipment ($40,000); 35 million board-feet of standing cherry, birch, hard and soft maple and beech ($105,000); milled spruce and pine lumber ($86,361); a rapid loader ($1,460) and Brown hoist ($3,250); stock in the company store ($6,729); and fixtures and office furniture ($275). Fortunately, assets were slightly more than liabilities.
By 1923 the Gould Lumber Company with its main mill complex at the mouth of the Moose River downstream in Lyons Falls, Lewis County, was in control of lumbering and paper production at McKeever, with annual river drives continuing to its mills below.
Dangers at the Minnehaha, Onekio, & Thendara Flag-stop Stations
In the early 1900s, a northbound passenger leaving New York City at 8:30 am would pass Albany at 11:20 am, Utica at 1:15 pm, and arrive in McKeever at 2:59 pm. The “f” on the schedule shown here indicated a “flag stop,” with a stage-coach link across the river to Moose River Village, where the rough old buckboard wagon-road branched off from the railroad line to the Fulton Chain of Lakes.
The Mohawk & Malone’s next station was 2.5-miles north to another flag-stop, the Minnehaha station, arriving at 3:08 pm. That station was followed by the Fulton Chain station, about 7 miles north of McKeever. Passengers arrived in Fulton Chain at 3:25 pm. In 1920, this station’s name was changed to Thendara. It became the departure-point for visiting the Fulton Chain of lakes.
Before the Mohawk & Malone was built in 1892, a passenger’s trip from Utica to Fulton Chain hotels or Raquette Lake fishing and hunting was “a formidable undertaking,” taking several days and multiple forms of transportation. That trip would include a train ride from Utica to Booneville on the Rome, Watertown, and Ogdensburg Railroad, a 26-mile cross-country wagon ride through rough country, passing frontier settlements at Moose River Village and Minnehaha to Fulton Chain, where another railroad link took the weary traveler to Old Forge.
According to Gove, in the earlier period this included “a ten-mile jaunt on the wooden-railed Minnehaha line, then a steamboat passage through the locks to Fulton Chain Landing, and finally two to three miles on the trail to Old Forge.” In Old Forge, another steamboat carried the tourist up the Fulton chain to the head of Fourth Lake, with an added 13-miles by steamer and stagecoach to Raquette Lake.
Additional travel was arranged if the sportsman’s destination was Big Moose, Blue Mountain, or Long Lakes. Webb’s Mohawk & Malone railroad cut this multi-day marathon down to just over two hours.
Footnotes on the train schedule indicate freight trains ran in the time slots between these passenger trains, leaving little room for human error. As if the lumberjack’s job was not treacherous enough, his jaunts on the Mohawk & Malone to a new lumber camp assignment up the line could add substantially to that danger. Newspapers in the one-year period from 1902 to 1903 reported two major train wrecks near the Minnehaha station, the first as two freight trains ran together head-on, “piling the cars up and doing great damage.”
The collision of two Adirondack & Montreal express trains in May of 1903 in a deep rock-cut on one of the Mohawk & Malone’s sharpest curves near Minnehaha, was much worse. The accident was attributed to a misunderstanding by the southbound engineer. Both trains were pulling eight cars, including two baggage and mail cars and an overnight Pullman, and traveling at speeds close to 60 mph.
Southbound Engineer Neville read the order, “Train 650 will meet train 651 at McKeevers,” to mean he (train 651) had clear track to proceed and pass train 650 several miles south at McKeever. But the order was supposed to have him switch onto the siding pictured in this photo of Minnehaha, to allow train 650 to pass him on the way north to Montreal. The Watertown Re-union described the accident scene:
“Five hundred feet south of the siding they came together. There was a roaring crash, a rending of iron and wood, a cloud of dust and splinters and the trains were a shattered mass … Scores of people were laid out on the ground near the cars. It was an appalling sight. Everyone was bleeding. Many were distorted.”
Surprisingly, there were only three fatalities, but most of the 200 passengers were injured, many seriously. Two female nurses on board provided emergency medical care before surgeons arrived by train from Utica and Malone several hours later. Reading any of the news accounts of this rail disaster is chilling. Rereading the order Neville received, assuming the Re-union reporter printed it verbatim, raised this question for me: Would I have interpreted his order any differently?
Fire Dangers Along the Mohawk & Malone
It is very fortunate this accident did not touch off another disaster that was present along the Mohawk & Malone and its logging railroad lines in 1903. Repeated seasons of drought occurred during this era, with widespread forest fires reported in the Adirondacks in 1899, 1903, 1908, 1910, 1913, 1915, and 1921.
Besides extreme dry conditions, a federal Bureau of Forestry Report attributed the source of the 1903 fires more to human carelessness and disregard of fire laws than to obvious natural factors. The 1903 fires caused $3.5 million in damage to 600,000 acres of forest land.
A New York Times recap of this study listed additional causes: White pine and spruce slash left by loggers – up to ten feet deep, sparks from steam locomotives not fitted with fire arresters required by law, and recklessness by Adirondackers upset by the Forest Preserve’s timber prohibition (May 1st, 1904). A map of the Mohawk & Malone in the Big Moose area clearly shows a whole string of fires triggered by locomotives, when a US Forestry Service fire map is superimposed on it. These 1903 fires in red follow the line from McKeever all the way up to Tupper Lake, and along some of the logging spurs as well.
More shocking than this widespread negligence was the federal charge arson – “incendiarism” as it was then termed – associated with the 1903 fires. First it was found that there were hunters, berry pickers, and ginseng collectors setting fires to intentionally open woodland to make their activities more profitable. Then there were the disgruntled sportsmen who set private parks like Nehasane on fire because they were angry their prized fishing and hunting grounds were now posted with no-trespassing signs. And then there were those fire fighters whose two dollar pay-limit per day prompted them to set fires to increase their workweek and salary. These findings put great pressure on lawmakers for necessary reforms.
The Minnehaha stop on the Mohawk & Malone gave access to Nelson Lake, although this lake had also been an unlisted logging stop just south of Minnehaha before lumber ran out. The Nelson Lake and Minnehaha areas were burnt over in the severe 1915 fire, started, according to the Watertown Re-union, when a fisherman “dropped a match into the dry tinder-like undergrowth near McKeever.” The Ogdensburg Republican Journal blamed careless campers for 1920 fires around Copper Lake, Thendara, Old Forge, and Stillwater. In 1908 fires were responsible for scorching 350,000 acres of forest land.
A lantern slide of the 1908 Long Lake West – Sabattis fire, also on the Mohawk & Malone line, shows just how devastating these preventable forest fires were. Reform finally came with passage of the laws of 1909 authorizing the hiring of fire patrolmen to monitor logging operations, setting up fire observation stations or towers with telephone lines, and enforcing of the existing fire prevention laws. Lumberjacks were required to lop off all branches left on discarded treetops and train companies mandated to clear their rights-of-way of all flammable materials.
Effective in 1910, the Forest, Fish and Game Commission required railroads operating in the Adirondack Forest Preserve to replace coal burning with oil apparatus for powering steam engines. Increased costs for that conversion were estimated at about $50,000 per year. Ash-pan sparks from locomotives were found to be the cause of 40% of the 1908 fires, not 75 to 90% alleged in the popular press. Oil usage for train engines was mandated from April 15 through November 1 between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm.
South of Big Moose, the Mohawk & Malone paralleled the northern and middle branches of the Moose River all the way to McKeever, crossing the river at Minnehaha and just north of Nelson Lake. Gove describes logging activity on both sides of the track here and for most of the line up to Tupper Lake:
“In those early years of the Adirondack Division, the forest land would literally become alive with activity about the first of May for several miles from the railroad. That’s when the pulpwood-peeling season began; spruce and fir logs were at that time peeled on the ground right at the stump.”
The principal landowner along this part of the Mohawk & Malone was William S. deCamp, who inherited his wife Julia’s 32,000 acres in Brown’s Tract when she died in 1895. He contracted out substantial tracts of timberland he owned in Townships 1, 6, and 7 to be lumbered. In 1901, he hired the Brown’s Tract Lumber Company to erect a mill, boarding house, and barns, and to lay out 2,000 feet of railroad side track as storage ground for up to 7 million feet of logs. At the time, deCamp had 1.5 million feet of logs laying in the Moose River’s middle branch waiting to be banked at this new station 1.3 miles north of Minnehaha.
Named Onekio, this station was not listed in the New York Central schedule but, according to the Essex County Republican, became a flag-stop for “a considerable number of persons connected with the lumber mill.” In a 1903 deed, deCamp granted lumbermen Firman Ouderkirk and Daniel F. Stroble timber rights to log spruce and balsam in the Thendara area. Balsam and other softwood species were being added to paper pulp harvest contracts as supplies were growing scarcer. The Mohawk & Malone closed this station in 1912 after the Onekio mill had processed large quantities of lumber and pulpwood for a nine-year run. This is a perfect illustration of how a lumbering operation created a new railroad flag-stop and station widely used until the supply of logs or contract ran out.
Moulin & Carter Stations Created by the Lumbering Industry
The next northbound station on the Mohawk & Malone is shown on a Gove railroad map, but not listed in the New York Central schedule. Moulin, French for “mill,” was about halfway from Thendara to Carter, as seen on the railroad map. This was another flag-stop station created by the lumber industry. The Moulin stop had a major lumber mill that was erected for the Herkimer Lumber Company, before its incorporation in 1903 “to buy and sell standing timber, timberlands and lumber.” The first Directors were well known in the central Adirondacks — Firman Ouderkirk, D. L. Strobel, and C. S. Millington. By 1903, the Herkimer Lumber Company had logged large parcels of forest around Beaver River, Carter, Lake Rondaxe, and McKeever.
One of the early ventures the Herkimer Lumber Company initiated was a Memorandum of Agreement “to cut and remove all the merchantable spruce, pine, hemlock, balsam, cherry, ash and cedar lumber” on Totten & Crossfield’s Township 41 which incorporated a portion of Big Moose Lake (November 21st, 1902). This was the 2,500 acres of prime virgin timber Webb had sold to his administrator William Thistlethwaite in 1901 after he had misappropriated it from sportsman Aaron Lloyd through an exhausting seven-year litigation battle.
The contract included the right to float logs across Big Moose Lake through May of 1906, with a clear river drive from the outlet through Darts Lake, Lake Rondaxe, and Moose River’s north branch to the Moulin mill. This tract had to be surveyed and trees blazed before cutting, to avoid trespassing on the state’s Forest Preserve. Interestingly, Thistlethwaite turned around and sold this same parcel to a Big Moose Lake landowner, Theodore Page, less than a month after his purchase (December 15th). Page headed up logging in the Big Moose Lake area in partnership with Ouderkirk and Strobel.
Immediately after its borders were blazed, the lumberjacks went to work cutting and banking logs. Before the ice went out in 1904, they employed a new method for moving logs across the lake to its outlet for the river drive, described by the Lowville Journal & Republican of April 14th, 1904:
“The Herkimer Lumber company has a gang of men at work sawing a channel, 80 feet wide and two miles long, through the ice on Big Moose Lake, so that the logs which were put into the head of the lake may be run down before the water drops to the summer level, as the ice will not go out until the latter part of this month or the first of next. This is a novel way of running logs in that part of the mountains, but it has been tried with success in other parts.”
The accompanying photo captures Big Moose Lake full of logs frozen in the ice, waiting to be driven to the Moulin mill next to the Mohawk & Malone. These red spruce and white pine giants were cut under a Thistlethwaite logging contract, on the parcel Theodore Page owned, by lumberjacks from the Herkimer Lumber Company.
The last stop before reaching Big Moose was Carter Station, known as “Clearwater” until 1912, when, according to the Watertown Daily Times, town officials got tired of being the butt of jokes about the sign on the spring near the station: “This Water is Not Fit to Drink.” This stop opened a new spur to Raquette Lake. The Raquette Lake Railroad deserves its own book, with Charles Herr’s Fulton Chain offering the best history to date. This 1907 railroad ticket shows stations between Clearwater and Raquette Lake at Rondaxe, Bald Mountain, Fairview, Skensowane, Eagle Bay, and Uncas Road.
In 1897 Lowville’s Journal & Republican argued for this railroad spur to better transport tourists to hotels at the head of Fourth Lake than the existing steamboat system was able to do. Interestingly, from 1906 through 1922, this new spur transported trainloads of ice from Raquette Lake to the New York Central for sale in the Manhattan market.
As concluded by Charles Herr, a collection of unlikely players experienced big wins in this complicated railroad drama. John Dix had thousands of logs cut for his Webb lumber contract he could not get to the Moose River Lumber mill in McKeever, blocked by the deCamps who contested the legality of a river drive through their wilderness park. Webb and his agents sold deCamp the land that became Clearwater junction, so he could establish another large lumbering center there.
DeCamp sold Charles Durant, Jr. – Raquette Lake Great Camp owner – the rights-of-way for the railroad across his land to benefit his Great Camp friends. Gove referred to this as “a deceptive maneuver,” because Durant immediately turned around and conveyed this legal access to Dix, who had a two-mile logging spur built to rescue his logs at Lake Rondaxe for delivery by rail to McKeever. By 1900, that railroad was extended to Raquette Lake, Webb providing legal rights-of-way through his Township 8 allotment on the north shore of the Fulton Chain of lakes.
The Raquette Lake Railway had one of the most distinguished board of directors of any in the United States, with names like Webb, Vanderbilt, Huntington, Morgan, Durant, and Whitney convinced the restrictions for timber cutting on state land would soon be lifted. They were aware of the state Forest, Fish & Game Commission’s 1901 “Forest Working Plan” for Townships 40, where Raquette Lake was located. That plan was put together jointly by state and federal forestry agents in the hope of passing an amendment to the “forever wild” provision in the New York State Constitution.
That agency’s recommendation “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,” was expected to result in a substantial Raquette Lake timber harvest and freight income for their new rail line. While that plan was never realized, it offered another powerful motive for building this railroad spur, besides access to their camps. Herr sums up the aftermath of these turn-of-the-century events:
“The Dix lumber railroad began operation in 1898. The line to Raquette Lake was ready for use by its millionaire owners’ private cars by September 1899. It opened to the public July 1, 1900, after bitter court battles with the competing Old Forge Company, Fulton Chain Railroad, and the Crosby Transportation Company steamer line.”
Three Significant Challenges to the NYS “Forever Wild” Provision
The “Steamboat War” added to the big lawsuits of the 1890s which spilled over into this new era, with logging and tourism interests locked “in bitter court battles.” The conservation vs. preservation debate continued as new associations formed to advocate for scientific forestry, selective cutting on state Forest Preserve land, and water-storage dams for “taking care of the millions invested along the [river] banks.” The first challenge concerned water-storage.
While the American Guides Association enjoyed the annual sportsman’s show in Madison Square Garden, logging companies met at the Grand Hotel nearby to form the “Forestry, Water Storage and Manufacturing Association of the State of New York.” Lumberman Patrick Moynehan and “Lumber King” Theodore Basselin two of the fifty present “representing the control of several hundred thousand acres of Adirondack timber land and most of the paper and lumber industries on Adirondack streams.” Their advocacy for water storage dams contributed to an amendment to the Constitution’s “forever wild” provision in 1913, with the following additional wording:
“The legislature may by general law provide for the use of not exceeding three per centum of such lands for the construction and maintenance of reservoirs for municipal water supply, and for the canals of the state (Article XIV, Section 2).”
This exception was passed by the Legislature under the title “Burd Amendment,” followed in 1915 by “the Machold Storage Law” creating several independent water regulating districts which had power to independently create reservoirs and regulate river flow in upstate New York. Historian Ed Pitts points out that “the political power of those in favor of new and bigger dams was formidable,” with the promise of hydroelectric power added to the perennial need for flood control and waterpower for downstream mills. These legislative acts were a major legal challenge to the ”forever wild” provision in the state’s Constitution.
The second challenge to “forever wild” came from the US Department of Agriculture. Gifford Pinchot had moved from Webb’s 1896 Nehasane experiment in scientific forestry referred to in an earlier article to chief of that department’s Bureau of Forestry in Washington, DC. New York State’s Forest, Fish & Game Commission was staffed by advocates of this scientific approach to managing the Forest Preserve, appropriating money from the legislature in Albany to fund a joint study of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, a first in federal-state cooperation on conservation. Assumptions gleaned from the Nehasane and other research projects guided all advocates of this approach, as evident in this introduction to their Working Plan:
“Lumbering of the softwood timber under forest management is safe, practicable, and can be readily made profitable financially; that lumbering under the rules incorporated in the present working plan would tend to improve the condition of the forest, and increase its productive capacity; that such lumbering would remove overmature trees which by deterioration and decay offset the production of the forest in sound timber, and that all this may be accomplished wholly without interference with the water-supply or with any of the other objects of the Preserve.”
Totten & Crossfield’s Township 40 was selected for its virgin forest cover, sustainable water-supply, easy access to mill and market, and profitability for lumber interests on immediate and on future cuts. A lumberman’s focus was generally on today’s cut, forestry personnel interested in future harvesting.
A “valuation survey” was undertaken in 1900 to inventory all merchantable trees in Township 40 by species, recording counts in sample rectangles of 66-by-660 feet. 1,080 acres of varied forest types were checked, avoiding mountain peaks and Raquette Lake shoreline. Rate-of-growth data was gleaned from nearby Brandreth Preserve lumbering. This USDA Forestry Bulletin then offered a host of volume and yield tables for soft and hardwood timber, generating the volumes of data that supported scientific forestry. Here are a few of the interesting findings gleaned from pages 21 through 39:
*Spruce, balsam, and white pine were recommended as the most marketable timber harvest
*A 12” diameter limit was recommended for spruce, as more economical than 10” or 14”
*Present spruce stands stretched over 14,919 acres, with an average of 23 trees/acre
*The total count of 12” diameter spruce yielded 306,908 Standard Logs (13’ long, 19” at the top)
*A future spruce stand would take 39 years to mature, growing an average of 0.1425” annually
*Stumpage or a money return on that future cut @ 60 cents/Standard Log equaled $196,973
This Bureau of Forestry Bulletin offered detailed information on the logging operation, with suggested river drives to Piercefield/Tupper Lake, or log delivery by Raquette Lake Railroad to Clearwater Junction, the lake starting point shown here. New York State should offer the stumpage for sale to the highest bidder rather than run the operation, recommended Pinchot.
This federal survey was the source of the high expectations for logging on state land shared by lumber companies, logging associations, and Raquette Lake millionaires. What is most surprising is that the state of New York resisted all the lobbying for an amendment to the “forever wild” provision, given this high-powered proposal by Pinchot and the US Bureau of Forestry:
“Township 40 is so favorably located for lumbering cheaply that the State would be justified in expecting the highest stumpage prices that are being paid locally at the time it is lumbered.”
A third challenge to “forever wild” came in 1906 from a newly formed logging association. Forty state lumber firms met in Utica to organize the “Adirondack Lumber Manufacturers & Shippers Association (Lumber Association),” upset about a New York Central Railroad decision to base freight rates for logs on tonnage rather than measurement in feet. They charged this would favor Canadian lumber shippers, and successfully opposed the change. Founding members included Dix’s Moose River Lumber Co., Basselin’s Beaver River Lumber Co., Gould’s Pulp & Paper Co., and Ouderkirk’s Herkimer Lumber Co.
At this organization’s 1909 annual meeting in Watertown, these representatives were joined by Thistlethwaite in passing resolutions for a tax exemption on all lands devoted to reforestry, establishment of a school of forestry in northern New York, water storage for the Black River, and “repeal [of] the present law compelling lumbermen to lop off the top branches of all felled trees as a preventative against fires.”
The first two of these resolutions had real merit, the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University established by the Laws of New York in 1911 (Chapter 851). Its Empire Forester pictured here was published annually with research and best practices on scientific forestry. An earlier experimental forest at Tupper Lake for Cornell University’s 1900 School of Forestry had been deemed a total failure. Clear-cutting an Adirondack forest to replant seedlings rubbed both “forever wild” and scientific forestry advocates the wrong way. The Watertown Daily Times reacted to that action succinctly:
It does seem strange that the Cornell college of forestry should have found it necessary to denude forest land in order to replant it. There are great sections of land already denuded which need replanting (January 24, 1902). Lumber Association plans for water storage dams and fire prevention repeals countered both the letter and spirit of “forever wild” advocates. State delegates to the 1915, 1938, and 1967 Constitutional Conventions in Albany reaffirmed the 1894 forever wild mandate.
Gove’s Logging Railroads in the Adirondacks sums up the conservation vs. preservation debate in the 1900 to 1920 era well:
“It was a contentious era that brewed the never-ending debate over the proper forest policy for the now 2.8 million acres of state-owned forest land within the 6-million-acre Adirondack region; should this vast acreage remain forever wild and untouched, or should the forest be intelligently managed for improved forest growth to benefit the industries of the state? The debate still goes on.”
The next stop on the Mohawk & Malone Railroad was Big Moose, a logging town that survived and supported major logging operations at Big Moose Lake during this 1900 to 1920 era. The hamlet of Big Moose was one of Father Fitz’s favorite mission stops, and the location for his first area construction project, Holy Rosary Church. This is also the era that put my family in a Twitchell Lake log cabin, as railroading and buckboard travel gradually faded with the advent of “the automobile age.”
Illustrations, from above: Rev. John Fitzgerald, pastor of Bartholomew’s Catholic Church in Old Forge courtesy Goodsell Museum in Old Forge (ca. 1920); southern portion of Lumber Company Railroads spawned by Webb’s M&M Railroad, created by Noel Sherry from William Gove Maps; sketch of McKeever Depot & Moose River Lumber Company Railroad from Bill Gove’s Logging Railroads in the Adirondacks (Map 4, p. 74); Pulp Mill & Dam at McKeever, NY, Henry Beach courtesy Adirondack Experience (1910); interior of Pulp Mill at McKeever, Henry Beach courtesy Adirondack Experience (1910); total 1905 timber cut in the Adirondacks in key categories, published by Harold K. Hochschild in Lumberjacks & Rivermen in the Central Adirondacks 1850-1950 (pp. 67-69); Wooden Fire Tower on Woodhull Mountain in “Lumber Camp News” (September 1949, p. 6); Waiting for a Train in Minnehaha in 1913 courtesy Goodsell Museum; Adirondack Fires of 1903 from Bureau of Forestry map superimposed on William Gove map of M&M Railroad courtesy Noel Sherry; Burned ground after 1908 fires at Long Lake, Lantern Slide courtesy Adirondack Experience; logs frozen in Big Moose Lake, Theodore Page, courtesy Robert & Elizabeth Smith (ca. 1905); railroad ticket for the Raquette Lake Railroad (October 5, 1907); Union Station at Carter courtesy Adirondack Experience at Blue Mountain Lake, with note this is a “Photo Montage, the crowd artistically added from other images” (ca 1910); Raquette Lake Railroad Station & Steamboat Wharf, Durant photo in Gifford Pinchot “Forest Working Plan for Township 40,” USDA Division of Forestry (p. 14); and NYS College of Forestry @ Syracuse University’s Empire Forester cover for the 1918 Issue.
Sources Cited: Roy Crego’s “Father Fitz: Missionary to the Adirondacks,” in The New York Almanack (April 11, 2020); Father Fitzgerald’s obituary “Padre Fitzgerald, Dead at Old Forge, Carried God’s Word Over Snows and Mountains as Lumberjacks’ Apostle” in The Utica Observer Dispatch (March 6, 1925); Bill Gove’s Logging Railroads of the Adirondacks (Syracuse University Press, 2006); Jane Barlow’s Big Moose Lake: The Story of the Lake, the Land, and the People (Syracuse University Press, 2004); Harold K. Hochschild, Lumberjacks & Rivermen in the Central Adirondacks 1850-1950 (Adirondack Museum, 1962); Edwin M. King’s article “McKeever in the ‘Teens,’” in Old Forge’s Northeastern Loggers’ Association Lumber Camp News (September, 1949); “Receiver Appointed: Bankrupt Concern of Former Governor Dix Will be Run by J.P. Cloonan,” in the Lowville Journal & Republican (July 29, 1915); “Score Maimed in Adirondack Wreck: Fast Trains Meet Head On, Killing Three Persons, Engineer’s Blunder,” in Watertown Re-Union (May 13, 1903); “Many Big Adirondack Fires Were Incendiary, Federal Forestry Bureau Says Fire Fighters Started Them,” New York Times article summarizing DOA’s Bureau of Forestry Report “Forest Fires in the Adirondacks in 1903,” on deadly fires that year (May 1, 1904); NYS Forest Ranger Service’s “Pictorial History Part 1 – 1885 to 1912,” (http://nysforestrangers.com/rangers-pictorial1.htm); “Road Would Close Its Station at Onekio” in The Keeseville Essex County Republican (October 11, 1912); “Must Burn Oil in Forests. Public Service Commission Issues Order to Railroads Operating in the Adirondacks – Effective in 1910” in Watertown Re-Union (April 7, 1909); Jane Barlow, Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks (Syracuse University Press, 2004); Ed Pitts, “A Short History of the Beaver River Club” in The Adirondack Almanack (August 20, 2016); State of New York, Sixth Annual Report of the Forest, Fish and Game Commission (Albany, J.B. Lyon, 1901); Gifford Pinchot, “A Forest Working Plan for Township 40, Totten & Crossfield, Hamilton County, NYS Forest Preserve,” Bulletin #30, USDA Division of Forestry; Charles Herr’s Chapter 10 titled “Building the Clearwater to Raquette Lake Railroad” in The Fulton Chain: Early Settlement, Roads, Steamboats, Railroads and Hotels (2017); “The Forest Preserve: A Chronology” in The Conservationist (May-June, 1985); “Report & Recommendations Concerning the Conservation Article in the State Constitution” (The NYS Bar Association, August 3, 2016); and Barbara McMartin’s Great Forest of the Adirondacks (Utica, N.Y., 1994).
Roy Crego says
Nice to see Father Fitzgerald get some more well-deserved recognition.
Noel Sherry says
Yes, Roy, you started it. It was a privilege to highlight his mission and ministry to loggers, and your writings helped me to gather info to make sense of it. Very inspiring!