The first of three major logging operations on Big Moose Lake in Herkimer County in the Adirondacks was headed by a veteran lumber company executive named Theodore Page. Page built palatial “Camp Veery” on Echo Island in West Bay, purchased from William Seward Webb in 1900. He arrived at Big Moose Lake from Oswego, NY, with many years of leadership in the lumber industry, importing timber from Canada for the Minetto Shade Cloth Company – one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of shade cloth, window shades, shade-rollers, and curtain fixtures.
It was a natural fit for him to manage the Herkimer Lumber Company’s logging operation at Big Moose Lake with Firman Ouderkirk and D.L. Strobel, harvesting virgin timber on “Lloyd’s Triangle” depicted on this 1912 map. Strobel was the business agent, Ouderkirk headed operations, and three well-known local lumberjacks were hired as field supervisors – George Harvey, Solomon Canaghan, and George Raymond.
This map of the Page Tract shown here highlights their lumber camps in red, two for Raymond and one each for Harvey and Canaghan – all on streams that fed Big Moose Lake, and Constable and East Ponds. Bill Marleau’s Big Moose Station offered many details on this Herkimer Lumber Company operation. The Thistlethwaite lumbering contract gave Strobel and Ouderkirk the right to cut all the softwoods over 7.5 inches in diameter, which “included spruce, balsam, pine and hemlock, cherry and ash.”
There were some big challenges to getting these huge logs over the six steep mountains on the east side of Big Moose Lake. The company even built a flume or log chute to move the logs down into the lake, though there is some question if it was ever used. The photo from 1906 included here shows a flume from a Long Lake lumbering operation. Herkimer Lumber Company adopted a practice other firms used to move logs over steep terrain, an elaborate system of cables and pulleys:
George Harvey, working for the Herkimer Lumber Company, put a hauling road up through a notch in the mountains. He cut all this prime spruce on the north side and using a system of pulleys, hauled it uphill and over the mountains, then down along Andes Creek to Big Moose Lake. The notch Harvey hauled the logs through was called “Harvey’s Notch.”
Loren Kellogg, third owner of the Lone Pine Camps on Twitchell Lake, hunted this area along the Totten & Crossfield line which passes just north of Twitchell, crosses a series of steep ridges, and ends up on the North Bay of Big Moose Lake. In the hunting seasons before and after 1910 he found some of the pulleys still fastened to the trees along these ridges.
Saloons were not allowed by wealthy camp owners or hotels on Big Moose Lake, so lumberjacks in these remote camps had to take a steamboat and buckboard out to Big Moose to unwind on the weekend. Tourists had to put up with their coming and going, drunk or sober. Entertainment came in many forms, according to Bill Marleau’s Big Moose Station (1986):
“Sol Canaghan, a legendary lumberjack, was foreman at the camp on Constable Creek. Sol was a celebrated logger who, whenever he took his boys to town, would jump upon the piano and play a tune on it with his caulked shoes. He had a brother Ab Canaghan that drowned on the river drive on the West Canada Creek.”
This 3672-acre parcel of land dubbed “Lloyd’s Triangle” changed hands four times by 1902, when Webb had wrested it away from sportsman Aaron Lloyd after two lawsuits predicated on disputed boundaries and fatal deeds. The northwest corner of Lloyd’s Triangle pivoted around an 1879 Verplanck Colvin benchmark discovered by this writer, marking the Totten & Crossfield line going southward and the Township 42-41 dividing line moving east. The hypotenuse of Lloyd’s Triangle, it turned out, was contested by two competing boundaries for the Herkimer-Hamilton County line – labeled here as the Bond and Koetteritz Lines – leaving a disputed gore of 600 to 1,500 acres.
The Thistlethwaite and Page deeds to Lloyd’s Triangle specified the Koetteritz Line, acknowledged by the state Forest Commission. That line was marked out in tree blazes for a 1903 start on the logging operation. But in 1902, the NYS Engineer’s Office hired Edward A. Bond to re-survey the Herkimer-Hamilton County line, marking “the Bond Line” 1,930 feet further west than “the Koetteritz Line.” The Bond Line eventually became the official state line. Apparently, these two state agencies were not communicating with each other, and a second generation of costly lawsuits was about to erupt.
On September 29th, 1905, Page and the Herkimer Lumber Company received a telegram from the state Attorney General which read, “I am informed you are trespassing on state land in Townships 8 and 41. Stop operations immediately.” Stealing timber from the Forest Preserve was a serious matter. The picture of logs frozen in Big Moose Lake in 1905 in the last article in this series were taken well before this cease-and-desist order was issued, driven to the Moulin mill in the annual spring river drive. All new logs put in the lake were impounded by the order. Seven state inspectors were sent to measure and mark stumps on the contested land, a trespass suit threatening to recover $300,000 for the 30,000 trees counted.
Action on this case – The People of NYS vs. Herkimer Lumber Company, Page, Raymond, Harvey, and Canaghan – finally reached a jury in October 1907. Ironically, Koetteritz was called as a witness for the state, but testified on Page’s behalf! Prosecuted by Webb Attorney’s Snyder and Cristman, The Journal & Republican announced the outcome with this November 11th, 1908, headline: “State Loses Timber Case.” The company clearly was harvesting logs on its own deed and land.
But this case was far from over. Strobel, president of Herkimer Lumber Company, filed suit with Albany’s Court of Claims in January 1911, seeking $73,017 “for damages alleged to have been due to the cessation of its lumbering operations in the Adirondacks,” its business losses estimated to be that sizeable sum. The final decision was declared on January 23, 1919, this case dragging on through several courts, an injunction issued that was vacated, and a suit for damages pursued which the State appealed more than once. The Herkimer Lumber Company award came to $72,924.98, with eight years of interest raising the total to over $102,000. The state was much too slow to settle its boundaries at the urging of lawyers in those earlier lawsuits in the 1890’s, with lack of coordination between state agencies a sad lesson from this lawsuit which dragged on and on for a full fourteen years. According to Marleau, this was “a hollow victory” for Strobel and his company, the final $180.35 award with interest never paid, a 1921 Court of Claims decision canceling the payment.
Logging Expansion Under New Owners (1912-1918)
Health concerns led Page to begin selling off Lloyd’s Triangle in 1912. Two prominent lumbermen purchased this 2500-acre “Page tract,” their deed keeping the Koetteritz Line as its eastern border, with hopes of adding to that acreage. While the Webb Covenant had been contractual in the 1902 Page deed and lumbering agreement, it was dropped in the 1912 deed with Dana Bissell and Peter Yousey:
“All lumbering operations of the parties of the second part [Bissell-Yousey] … shall be conducted according to the Forest laws of the State of New York; and [they] expressly covenant and agree that they will cut and lop off all the tops of trees and timber left upon the ground in their lumbering operations so that the same shall fall to the ground with the weight of the winter snow.”
Dana Bissell’s large lumber camp near the Mohawk & Malone railroad’s Horseshoe Station and Cranberry Lake was leveled by the 1908 forest fires, destroying thousands of logs, and putting forty-five lumberjacks in danger. Just a year later, the boiler in Peter Yousey’s sawmill on the Oswegatchie River near Carthage, NY, exploded, destroying his mill, side cars, and large quantities of lumber.
After these huge setbacks, both men attended the 1910 annual meeting of the Empire State Forest Products Association in Watertown (formerly the Adirondack Lumber Manufacturers and Shippers Association). Key topics of discussion were water storage dams in the Adirondacks and amending the law to allow selective lumbering on the state’s Forest Preserve. It is likely that the two lumbermen teamed up at this time to form the Bissell & Yousey Lumber Company, with the old Lloyd Triangle on Big Moose Lake a hoped-for launching point into a much larger timber operation:
“The Bissell & Yousey Lumber Co., of Cranberry Lake, has purchased 2,500 acres of timber at the head of Big Moose Lake and plans to put up a double sawmill to cut hardwood and soft-wood timber … If the constitution should be amended so as to permit the lumbering on State lands the Bissell & Yousey company would be placed in an advantageous position because of the thousands of acres of State lands surrounding its plot … There is no bit of legislation in New York which lumbermen desire more than this.”
Support for this assertion comes from the scope and size of the logging operation planned by Bissell & Yousey, their “double sawmill” pictured here, designed to mill softwood into dimension lumber as well as hardwood for paper-pulp preparation. The complex when completed sited 20 buildings, including the large mill, a lumberyard, an onshore banking ground, loading dock, boarding house, blacksmith shop, icehouse, company office and store, Bissell camp, steam towboat, and transfer dock in West Bay. A crane loads dimensional lumber onto the truck here at the company’s West Bay dock by the Glenmore Hotel for transit to a Big Moose station sidecar. The taller of the two sawmill smokestacks in the picture was for the boiler that powered the huge circular bandsaw, 36 feet in diameter, the shorter one for the incinerator needed to burn up leftovers such as sawdust and chips.
“Lake residents objected especially to a whining sawmill, with its mill whistles and the noisy steamer that was to operate day and night to carry the lumber down the lake … The earsplitting whine of the saw dominated the area of the lumber camp and could be heard all around the lake.”
Grace Vander Veer McDonough remembered that “the sawmill would start about seven o’clock in the morning. Everybody had a fit on the lake because it made such a racket.” On the other hand, Roy Higby recalled with fondness the jingle of the brake chains and lanterns of the road monkeys moving up and down Mount Tom behind the mill complex.
But this was not what raised the greatest concern for Big Moose Lake camp owners, who banded together to counter or try to alter Bissell-Yousey plans, in their “Contest to Save Big Moose Lake”:
“The campers say that they have more than a million dollars invested in camps on the beautiful lake and to clear the hill at the eastern end and contaminate the whole lake with commercialized lumber operations will be the ruination of one of the finest lakes in the woods. The campers have petitioned the conservation commission to purchase the 2,500 acres, to condemn the land, or to make a contract with the lumbermen so that they will take only the larger of the soft wood trees and thus retain the forest.”
The planned harvest of soft and hardwood down to a ten-inch diameter did amount to clear-cutting, which lake residents opposed in a multi-pronged legal challenge. One news report suggested that Page was part of this push-back. Barlow covered these initiatives in depth, explaining their lawyer’s appeal to the Webb Covenant written into all lakefront deeds, blowing the whistle on the company’s planned collusion with the state Conservation Commission, and a last-ditch appeal in June 1913 to the state’s attorney general to take legal action against the Conservation Commission. In short, Webb’s covenant banned the use of lakeshore acreage for mill or other manufacturing operations, and the location of the Bissell-Yousey mill complex was viewed as a direct violation of that covenant, which NYS endorsed.
Because the group of property owners who had fought so hard refused to spend more money to force the state to do what they felt was morally and legally right, Bissell prevailed in the end. Big Moose Lake residents steeled themselves against the disturbances that were to come.
Ironically, the settlement of the Herkimer Lumber Company suit for damages from its work stoppage on this same tract, was decided in the same year that the Bissell-Yousey logging operation ceased. From 1914 to 1918, the entire slope of Mount Tom facing the lake was harvested, logs piled on skidways and corduroy roads constructed to move them to the mill. Softwood was cut into eight to twelve-foot lengths and boomed in the Big Moose Lake inlet before being milled to order, hardwood cut into four-foot lengths and stacked on the shoreline. The Bissell-Yousey playbook seemed to be the Forest Commissions 1902-1903 “Working Plan for Township 41,” not the Webb Covenant. The hoped-for amendment allowing lumbering on state land never passed, limiting Bissell and Yousey to the one part of Township 41 they purchased, Lloyd’s Triangle, with adjacent Townships 40 and 42 still “forever wild.” Bissell and Yousey sold their Township 41 parcel to New York State in 1918 after their mill burned to the ground.
The Webb Covenant Landed Thistlethwaite in Legal Trouble
To say that Big Moose and its biggest lake was “the capital of litigation” for the central Adirondacks from 1895 to 1920, is an understatement. Twitchell Lake was spared only because William James Thistlethwaite got bogged down in a major lawsuit on his Fourth Lake investment properties. This “Personal” published in The Commercial Advertiser of Potsdam Junction, NY, missed the extra “th” in his name as it announced Thistlethwaite’s purchase of all the lakefront properties in Township 8 of Brown’s Tract from William Seward Webb. The total sale came to 10,000 acres, the major lakes listed, the price set at $100,000, and the purpose clearly stated: “He will sell the same small tracts at private sale.” This was the largest Herkimer County sale of wilderness land up to that time.
Thistlethwaite was an important part of establishing the hamlet of Old Forge, incorporated in 1903, “providing water, sewer, fire, police, street lighting and maintenance, electricity and even a health officer for its nearly 200 residents.” Thistlethwaite’s Adirondack Development Corporation combined his real estate dealings and lumbering interests, by which he set in motion both major logging operations on Big Moose Lake. In the meantime, he prepared the rest of the vacation lots listed in this Personal for sale, beginning with his Fourth Lake property in Eagle Bay known as “Eagle Point.”
Like his mentor and former boss, Thistlethwaite intended to maximize his profits from this huge land investment, the Webb Covenant facilitating that by maintaining an attractive frontage and banning activities like lumbering on the parcel. As stated by Webb – the Grantor of the deed for all the lakefront properties marked in red on the map of Township 8 included in my last article, “Big Moose as a Lumber & Tourist Hub” – “The lands conveyed shall be used solely for permanent forestry, hotel, camp or cottage purposes, and shall not be used for commercial, agricultural or manufacturing purposes.”
Thistlethwaite calculated that he could benefit doubly from this business deal. On March 6th, 1905, he contracted the Hinckley Fibre Company located on West Canada Creek to cut timber on his 130-acre Eagle Point parcel – all softwood four inches and all hardwood ten inches in diameter, two feet above the ground. After the NYS Forest, Fish and Game Commission learned of the operation, it took action in March 1907 against Thistlethwaite and his lumber company, securing an injunction restraining any further cutting on the contract. A summary of the initial investigation found the following:
Under this contract the Hinckley Fibre Company entered upon the land in question and proceeded to strip it of practically all growing timber thereon.
The trial of The People vs. Thistlethwaite commenced March 19th, 1907, at the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court located in Rochester, NY. Attorney John K. Ward represented the state, Charles Snyder argued Thistlethwaite’s position. After three hearings, the judgement of the court-appointed Referee was handed down November 17th, 1909, the people “entitled to an injunction restraining any further cutting under the said agreement or sale.”
Pictured here in his passport photo, Thistlethwaite maintained his logging did not violate the Webb covenant, on the grounds “that the sale to the Hinckley Company was permissible by way of preparation of the tract for use and sale for hotel, camp and cottage purposes.” Enough trees were left to constitute the lots for sale as forest land, the logging thus not constituting a commercial enterprise. The Forest, Fish and Game Commission disagreed, finding the Eagle Point contract in violation of the covenant between the state and the original owners of the land. Trial expenses were to be paid by the defendant, Thistlethwaite.
A Journal & Republican article titled “Forest Preservation” affirmed this victory for NYS, stating that it “will nip in the bud the plan of speculators to cut off the timber from land bordering on the lakes in township 8 of Brown’s Tract”:
In this territory are some of the most beautiful lakes in the Adirondacks, including Big Moose, Twitchell, Dart’s, Silver, Cascade and Second, Third and Fourth of the Fulton Chain. Nestling in the woodlands along the borders of these lakes now are hundreds of camps, hotels and cottages.
This victory of The People of the State of New York over Thistlethwaite spared Twitchell Lake the kind of logging his Hinckley Fibre Company carried out at Eagle Point as they “prepared” the lots for sale. Thistlethwaite held 122 of the total 171 lots of the Twitchell Lake Allotment, highlighted in yellow on the Brown’s Tract Township 8 map in my previous article. Forty-one of those lots were sold to Patrick Harney in 1907, the log cabin my family owns situated today on one of them. It was only the “stop lumbering order” the Attorney General served Thistlethwaite in 1905 that prevented Hinckley logging of all these lots before they were sold. Each Thistlethwaite deed carried the Webb Covenant, with the following exception clauses added:
“Reserving to the party of the first [Thistlethwaite] … the right to float logs, timber and pulpwood down and through said lake and past said premises … together with the right of [Thistlethwaite] to dam up the waters of said lake whenever desirable for the purpose of driving logs either above or below said lands, such damming, however, not to exceed the natural highwater mark, doing no unnecessary damage.”
Had the Forest, Fish and Game Commission not intervened, the contracted hardwood timber on our Sherry shoreline would have been cut and driven down Twitchell Creek to the old Lumber Camp #1 tote road, the softwood further downstream to a log boom near the old splash dam used by that camp.
Hinckley lumberjacks would then have banked the logs for winter sledding to Big Moose Station’s siding on the Mohawk & Malone. And Twichell Lake’s shoreline would have lost the “forever wild” look and feel. The only cutting on lots there has been done or building the camps, or users for firewood.
Four Serious Preservation Challenges in the Big Moose Area
Major changes came for New York’s state agencies in 1911, when the Forest, Fish and Game Commission was reconstituted as the Conservation Commission, a Division of Lands and Forests created within it to oversee state Forest Preserves in the Adirondacks and Catskills. The Conservation Commission’s name was changed again in 1927 to the Conservation Department, and in 1970 to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which now oversees the Forest Preserve. What has not changed was the ongoing debate over how to manage these vast wilderness areas, the alternative approaches still revolving around the opposite poles of “forever wild” and scientific forestry.
The former approach was enshrined in the NYS Constitution as Article XIV, Section 1, aiming for the preservation of the Forest Preserve “in as nearly the condition of nature as possible.” The latter sought to apply sound principles of conservation to maximize usage of those forest lands for recreation, health, and supervised timber harvesting.
This era from 1900 to 1920 experienced three major challenges to Forest Preserve holdings in the Big Moose area, each in anticipation of a constitutional amendment to the “forever wild” provision to allow logging on Totten & Crossfield Townships 5, 6, 40, and 41. The rest of the Forest Preserve parcels acquired from Webb in 1896 were also fair game. Challenge #1: The original “Working Plan for Township 40” commissioned by Gifford Pinchot at USDA’s Bureau of Forestry anticipated combining all four of these Totten & Crossfield townships for a rectangle of virgin forest that would attract high bids by lumber contractors, and a handsome income for the state:
“After a long and thorough examination of this large tract with reference to its conditions, the forester in making his report deemed it proper opportunity to indicate the large revenues that could be obtained annually from this forest under an intelligent, conservative management in case the State Constitution were amended at some future time so as to permit the adoption of such a plan. The Commission on its part improved the opportunity to obtain for its information and guidance the valuable data giving in detail the amount of standing timber, the different species, the rate of growth, the topographical features of the tract, and other valuable items showing the condition and value of the property.”
The 1901 “Forest Working Plan for Townships 5, 6, and 41” followed the format of the 1900 “Plan” for Township 40, attracting immediate interest of the lumbering associations and companies like Thistlethwaite’s Hinckley Fibre Co., Page’s Herkimer Lumber Co., and the Bissell-Yousey Lumbering Co. Clearly, this first challenge represented federal and NYS intention to trump the “forever wild” philosophy ensconced in the state Constitution and institutionalize scientific forestry’s open invitation to the lumber and paper-pulp industries.
The natural way to move virgin timber to mills from Township 41 and Lloyd’s Triangle was through Big Moose Lake and down its outlet into the Moose River. The spruce harvest from all of Township 41 alone would keep a lumber company in business for a good number of years. Reading from this Yield Table, Bissell-Yousey could expect lumbering for spruce on 19,839 merchantable acres, each acre with an average of 28 trees at a diameter of a foot or more, for a cut of well over 500,000 Standard Logs – defined by the Old Scribner Rule as “a log 13 feet long and 19 inches in diameter on the large end.” That would have been a huge win-win for the company and for New York State.
These reports also included Yield Tables for white pine, balsam, hemlock, tamarack, cedar, yellow birch, beech, sugar maple, soft maple, black ash, and black cherry. These logging enterprises read tables like this in anticipation of a potential lumbering bonanza. Foresters like Gifford Pinchot and Ralph Mosmer, the NYS scientific forester partnering on both these survey studies, sold the plan based on present and future harvests, spruce stands reproducing about every 39 years.
Challenge #2. The next challenge to “forever wild” came from Thistlethwaite’s lumbering contract with the Hinckley Fibre Company, which had its eyes on State Land Parcel C bordering the Eagle Point lots it was lumbering for Thistlethwaite when the Attorney General shut down its operation. The Journal & Republican article reporting on the results of that lawsuit added this insider information:
“In his defense Thistlethwaite received the assistance of land speculators who had gained control of other land, bordering on the lakes, and it is the belief of the forest, fish and game commissioner that the contract with the Hinckley Fiber company was the entering wedge by which these men would gain the power to cut away timber around the lakes in the entire section. This would not only destroy the beauty of the region, which is recognized as one of the most picturesque parts of the Adirondacks, but would lay the forest preserves of the state open to forest fires.”
Surveyor D. C. Wood’s famous 1892 map of Brown’s Tract Township 8 shows two more large state parcels surrounding Fourth Lake, E and F, the three parcels totaling just over 10,000 acres. These were part of Webb’s sale to NYS in 1896, all accessible to five stations on the Raquette Lake Railroad, terminating at Clearwater Junction on the Mohawk & Malone and the other station stop at Raquette Lake as shown in this photo. The 1901 Forest Working Plan proposed adding a lumber mill, logging roads, and another rail spur to access and process timber on “the entering wedge” to these state lands.
Challenge #3. The next “forever wild” challenge came from Page and the Herkimer Lumber Company, logging on the old Lloyd Triangle in the northwest corner of Township 41, the portion located in Herkimer County. Lumbering commenced in 1903 after marking trees on the Koetteritz Line, Page having until May 1st, 1906, to complete logging on the contract. This case pulls back the curtain on the complex relationship between local owners in a company like Herkimer Lumber and state agents like Governor Francis W. Higgins and his Forest, Fish and Game Commissioner James F. Whipple.
Higgins took office January 1st, 1905, charging his attorney general to prosecute all cases of state timber theft to the full extent of the law. Under the old policy, a company reimbursed the state for the value of the timber illegally cut. As noted by Whipple: “The State might as well begin the sale of timber on State lands, at so much per log.” The AG’s June “stop lumbering order” was followed up that summer with seven inspectors from Whipple’s office on site at Big Moose Lake counting stumps and estimating the theft at 30,000 trees. At $10/tree, this $300,000 fine would make this the biggest trespassing case in New York State history.
It was what happened next that shrouds this whole incident in mystery. One of the many news stories on this looming trespass suit titled “Mr. Page’s Novel Way,” suggested a legal stunt was performed: “One of the most novel complaints ever made in connection with trespass upon state lands has come to light in the work of inspectors along the shores of Big Moose Lake. Theodore N. Page, a wealthy manufacturer, whose home is in Oswego, and who spends the summer in camp on Big Moose Lake, became satisfied that the state land was being lumbered. Then he entered the state forest preserve and proceeded to cut enough timber to make a violation of the forest preserve law. Following this Mr. Page made a complaint against himself and while the inspectors were at work investigating the operations of Mr. Page, they could not overlook the work going on in the vicinity and to which the Herkimer Lumber company has been made a party to the prosecution.”
At this point, Page had less than a year left on his contract, the logs floating in Big Moose Lake for that season impounded by the state, and the fine probably as much as his total lumbering profits. One of the two lawsuits that ensued – The People of NYS vs. Herkimer Lumber Company – dragged on from 1906 to 1909 and eventually, Page was exonerated. Page was able to show from his 1902 deed that the land between the Bond and Koetteritz Lines did in fact belong to him.
The two pictures here show lumberjack Vic McPhee and crew loading and then sitting atop a sled stacked with 5,781 board-feet of massive white pine logs. Noted photographer Henry Beach caught these 1905 photos of this rough and tough lumberjack who lived in a log cabin on Main Street directly across from Big Moose Station. He worked locally and it is likely he logged for the Herkimer Lumber Company. The “Forest Working Plan” for Township 41 reported significant stands of virgin pine that would access huge trees like these on the sled.
Page’s other lawsuit began in November of 1905 in New York’s Supreme Court, under the title “Page vs. Herkimer Lumber Co.” Perplexing questions about this litigation pop up immediately. Was this Page’s complaint against himself? How did he “become satisfied” illegal logging was being done? Where exactly were these trees cut? How was this company a “party to the prosecution?” And the big question: Why would Mr. Page sue the lumbering company he oversaw? Bill Marleau offers a clue in Big Moose Station: “The company has also cut over the north line of Township 41 into Township 42, which was the property of New York State. This line runs from the northwest corner on the Totten and Crossfield line, east across the tops of six mountains … It was this action of cutting state timber that caused my grandfather, John Potter, to quit Herkimer Lumber Company.”
It is difficult to imagine Page not contesting the state over the 60,000 trees cut on his land, his 1907 lawsuit successfully litigating that dispute. My read of the two lawsuit transcripts and the numerous news accounts in NYS papers offers two possibilities: Page did have a reputation for being very concerned about Adirondack preservation and conservation.
If he discovered that his company was in fact logging illegally in Township 42, as Bill Marleau alleged, then he could have blown the whistle, seeking compensation for past damage to his land and prevention of future trespassing by the company he was charged to run.
I think this so-called legal “stunt” on Page’s part targeted actual trespassing by his company on Township 42, not the state’s allegation of trespassing on his Township 41 land. If Page was banking on the permissive policy whereby the state paid out on the value of the cut timber, his maneuver could have aimed for a quick settlement before his contract ran out. How his “complaint against himself” would trigger that, is still a mystery to me. But assuming this to be the case, the state inspectors “could not overlook the work going on in the vicinity,” which triggered huge fines under the strict new policy for the 60,000 stumps they measured and counted on this gore the state was claiming possession of. At any rate, this challenge illustrates the complex interactions in an era when the state, hotel owners, tourists, and lumber companies were all trying to benefit from the Adirondack Park.
Challenge #4. The most serious challenge to the “forever wild” provision was posed by Bissell-Yousey, who cut their company’s logging costs way down by building a mill complex right on Big Moose Lake and delivering dimension lumber by truck directly to the Mohawk & Malone railroad siding at Big Moose Station a few miles away. Their collusion with the state to gain access to Forest Preserve timber was not a matter of guesswork. Jane Barlow did the detective work, assembling testimony from a series of local Big Moose Lake informants. Theodore Cross, the Utica attorney hired by camp owners to push back against Bissell-Yousey grand plans, presented the case to the state Conservation Commission.
The most damning evidence came from West Bay resident George Burdick, whose dock is pictured here – busy with Adirondack guide boats – the inlet, East Bay, and Mount Tom visible in the distance. Burdick reported a direct conversation he had with Bissell in February 1913, both next-door neighbors at the time:
“Mr. Bissell [sic] tells me that the state has offered him if he would go on and cut timber on the State Lands that they would commence action against him and make a test case of it, and that they would pay him all expenses and a good commission besides, just to find out if it cannot be done, as they want to dispose of a lot of their soft timber. If this be so I don’t see where we would stand a bit of a show in any way with them. But you know they are a lot of grafters, and a party outside of their clock does not stand much show.”
Even without an amendment to the state’s “forever wild” clause, the Conservation Commission in this era was still testing whether the courts would allow logging on Forest Preserve lands like Townships 40, 41, and 42. Many of the Commission members were just waiting for their “Working Plans” to be implemented. Bissell essentially became the “guinea pig” for what lake residents called “skullduggery” and state-sponsored “graft.” Here was collusion to the highest degree.
The best response Attorney Cross received for his many efforts on behalf of his clients was a joint meeting of company and state officials with lake residents. The company did agree to site its mill complex in North Bay, a more isolated location, with timber harvests limited to mature soft and hardwood, but in exchange Bissell-Yousey required logging roads to replace lake transport of lumber to West Bay. The prohibitive cost of that construction project would be on lake residents, of course. In the end, Cross found the Conservation Commission to be unreceptive to the host of lake concerns.
If Bissell was a Commission “test case” in 1913, it is very possible that Page was angling for a similar deal from state forestry officials with his “legal stunt” of 1905. Page was certainly a successful northern New York lumber company executive, who had the pulse of the local, state, and federal forestry situation.
This could be key to the mystery in the Page case, which would put all three Big Moose Lake logging endeavors solidly in the scientific forestry camp, in determined opposition to “forever wild.” The detailed federal “Forestry Working Plans” crafted at the request of NYS had companies like Bissell-Yousey poised at the doorway to what they viewed as a lucrative contract. If a legal maneuver could unlock that door, the concerned parties here would certainly take the risk of “turning the key.”
Updating the “Forever Wild” Versus Scientific Forestry Debate
While Adirondack lumbering output declined after 1905, logging activity along the New York Central & Hudson Railroad’s Adirondack Division continued and increased. Mills near stations in Moulin and McKeever were part of that output, with the Bissell and Yousey Lumber Company building a mill complex right on Big Moose Lake in anticipation of logging the virgin timber described in the Forest “Working Plans” for all NYS-owned Totten & Crossfield townships nearby. The “forever wild” provision enacted as part of the state Constitution in 1895 was clearly controversial. The likelihood of its being compromised or overturned was very high in this 1900 to 1920 era. Jane Barlow explains:
Some state officials who were directly responsible for enforcing [this provision] actively opposed it and sought to undermine it. The superintendent of forests himself, Colonel William Fox, and others on the State Forestry Commission, along with Gifford Pinchot (earlier engaged by Seward Webb and then of the U.S. Forest Service), believed that for their long-term health, the state forests should be managed not preserved. This meant that lumberers should be able selectively to harvest trees that had a commercial use. Thus, scientific forestry was much in vogue, and many private Adirondack preserves had developed what initially appeared to be a successful lumber-management plan.
In fact, private estates like Nehasane Park, tracts owned by corporations like Gould Paper Company, and New York State itself, were discovering that forest management “was easier in theory than in practice.” For one thing, hotel and camp owners were firmly committed to a “forever wild” Adirondack Park. And then state and commercial interests were beginning to note the concerning decline in prime spruce and the long gap in time required for a second harvest. The last article will offer analysis on why the “forever wild” position in the end prevailed over the coalition of powerful forces committed to scientific forestry. The next two articles for the 1900 to 1920 era will follow the railroad tracks north through Wood’s Lake and Beaver River, as far as Nehasane and Brandreth, where stations, flag stops, and logging spurs kept harvesting soft and hardwood well beyond 1920.
Illustrations, from above: Totten & Crossfield Triangle in northwest corner of Township 41, Logged in 1903 & 1914, on p. 313 in Bill Marleau’s Big Moose Station; Robinson’s Mill at Clear Pond to Long Lake Flume Log Chute, Courtesy of Adirondack Experience (1906); Dana Bissel’s Sawmill on Big Moose Lake from p. 318 in Bill Marleau’s Big Moose Station (1914-1918); Dimensional Lumber at West Bay for Transfer to M&M Railroad, Courtesy Richard Widdicombe (ca 1915); Article about Thistlethwaite deed to Township 8 parcels in Brown’s Tract, p. 5 in Potsdam Junction, NY Commercial Advertiser (January 28, 1903); William James Thistlethwaite, Passport Photo (1922); Yield Table from “Forest Working Plan for Township 41,” in 8th & 9th Reports of the Forest, Fish and Game Commission of the State of New York (Albany, NY, 1903); Raquette Lake Railroad Station & Steamboat Dock, Henry Beach Photo, Courtesy of Adirondack Experience; Henry Beach photos of Vic McPhee Sled loaded and moving with 5781 Board-Feet of white pine, Courtesy Clifton Museum (ca. 1905); and Henry Beach photo of Burdick’s Dock on Big Moose Lake, Courtesy of Adirondack Experience (1917).
Sources: Theodore Page as Head of Minetto Shade Cloth Company in lawsuit reported in New York Court of Appeals, Records & Briefs (1944); Bill Marleau’s Big Moose Station (1986); Bissell & Yousey Lumber Company purchase on Big Moose Lake announced “In Central New York” in The American Lumberman, Part I (February 24, 1913); Appeal to Bissell & Yousey “To Save the Woods” in The Watertown Herald (February 22, 1913); A history of “Webb Town” on Living Places @http://www.livingplaces.com/NY/Herkimer_County/Webb_Town.html; Referee judgment in People v. Thistlethwaite, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, 4 th Division, 134 App. Div. 876, (Rochester, NY, November 17, 1909); “Forest Preservation: Milton H. Merwin, as Referee, Renders an Important Decision in Favor of the State” in The Journal & Republican (April 30, 1908); Exceptions to Deed Executed in 1907 by William Thistlethwaite to Patrick Harney for Lots 130-171 on southwest Shore of Twitchell Lake (Book 193, page 407, June 5, 1907); Karl Jacoby’s Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (University of CA Press, 2001); “Page vs. Herkimer Lumber Co.” in Reports of Cases Heard in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Vol. 109 (1906); and George Burdick Letter to Arwed Retter regarding lumber company situation at Big Moose Lake (February 19, 1913).