Nehasane Park, and the Brandreth and Whitney Preserves were three private parks that included logging railroads built to extract large stands of virgin timber in the late 19th century. Brandreth Preserve was the last of these to institute serious forestry planning.
Benjamin H. Brandreth (1808- 1880) emigrated from England in 1835 to better market the “Vegetable Universal Pill” invented by his grandfather. So successful was he as a pioneer in mass marketing his powerful laxative – bottled in hometown Ossining, NY – that the family name became a household one in the US.
Elected to the NYS Senate in 1850, he became interested in Totten & Crossfield parcels up-for-sale in the Adirondacks. Township 39 held scenic Beach’s Lake at its midpoint, reached by the old Carthage-to-Champlain Road.
Accompanied by Long Lake guide John Plumley, Brandreth’s plant manager visited and recommended the purchase. In 1851, Brandreth became owner of the first private park in the Adirondacks, paying just 15 cents per acre for this 24,000-acre township.
Two of the state projects Senator Brandreth joined in Albany – routing the Sacketts Harbor & Saratoga Railroad through Township 39 (1857) and improving the Carthage-to-Champlain road as it passed Beach’s Lake (1859) – were probably motivated by easier access to his remote Adirondack refuge.
Neither of these legislative efforts achieved that goal until William Seward Webb’s 1892 railroad transformed the Adirondacks transportation pattern. From then on, Brandreth heirs had a point of entry to their family enclave first from the Little Rapids flag stop on the Mohawk & Malone, then from the new flag stop just to the north, Brandreth Station.
The map shown here captures this Mohawk & Malone Railroad flag stop – village buildings marked in red and lumbering operations in blue. The first of the ventures located in this logging hub was that of Moynehan Brothers (1896 to 1910), followed by Mac-A-Mac (1912-1920) and Little Rapids Lumber Company (1925-1931). Orlando B. Potter and Donald Brandreth Potter’s Brandreth: A Band of Cousins Preserves One of the Oldest Adirondack Enclaves (North Country Books, 2011) offers a great description of the people populating remote Brandreth Station at this time:
“[This was] where all the logs from the interior of the Park met the main line of the railroad or the teeth of the saw in the mill. In its heyday from about 1912 to the early 1930s, it was a small village where scores of lumberjacks boarded and lived, a home for families of logging contractors, foremen, bookkeepers, engineers, brakemen, and station agents, not to mention the two caretakers, Sandy MacDonald and (later) Fred Sutton. These two watched over all the people, supplies, and mail coming and going and kept a wary eye out for trespassers down the track. This was the point of entry and exit for all owners and workers coming onto Brandreth Park.”
Just behind the Engine House (#5) was the School House (#6) which served up to 15 children. Saturday nights the desks were pushed to the side for dancing, then on Sunday church services were held, 9 am for Catholics, 11 for Protestants.
One pastor who ministered to the loggers at Brandreth Station in the School House or in the scattered lumber camps during the Mac-A-Mac operation was “Skypilot” Frank Reed, who went on to establish an important communication source for the lumbering industry when he founded The Lumber Camp News in 1939, still published in Old Forge as Northern Logger and Timber Processor Magazine.
The map shows a Wagon Road departing the village to the east and meandering the eight narrow dusty miles to the north shore of Brandreth Lake, crossing the old Albany Road (1812) by Albany Mountain and joining the old 1841 Carthage-to-Champlain Road for the last several miles.
Clustered about this “unspoiled gem” lined by century-old cedar trees and surrounded by glacier-rounded mountains are the 40 or so camps that make up this Brandreth compound. Eight generations and over 200 descendants of Benjamin Brandreth now “make regular pilgrimages … answering some inner summons to return to this small, magical corner of the backwoods in northern New York State,” according to the Potters.
This writer was privileged to visit and tour Brandreth Park in July of 2022. The purpose of the trip was to hike to the top of the north and south peaks of Albany Mountain in search of the remains of a 45-foot-high tower Verplanck Colvin Survey Division Chief H. Hubbard built in June of 1882, after clearing the peak of trees for an unobstructed view of other signal stations.
Descendant Justin Potter graciously guided us to the location of a fallen fire tower erected on the south peak circa 1912. Four bolts for this later tower were located on an eleven-foot base, but not the eye-bolts for the earlier tower. An axe head used in connection with one of the towers was unearthed.
Fire tower historian Fred Knauf noted that “either the Mac-A-Mac Corporation or the Brandreth’s ordered the construction of a wood fire tower atop Albany Mountain to provide a set of watchful eyes while the cutting and the hauling of logs occurred on their property.”
Early sources on logging camps in the family park sparked interest and research, expanding the Brandreth account on lumbering operations in the late-19th and early-20th centuries into three detailed chapters, the third covering logging after this 1900 to 1920 era.
The first campaign was none other than Moynehan Brothers in conjunction with this company’s 1897 Nehasane Park “Working Plan,” as they crossed the southern border with Brandreth permission to harvest about 600 virgin spruce, later cutting these white pine giants of the forest (four to five feet in diameter) in their 1904 to 1910 campaign, along Shingle Shanty Stream.
The 1897 Moynehan Monthly Time Book for the April 26 to August 29th season on Brandreth Lake Road listed 98 lumberjacks cutting in May, twenty-five of them with Irish surnames, a handful of brothers listed as working together in the forest, and lumberjack Hugh McDonald receiving $24.50 for his June cutting – a typical month’s wage at the time. Other ethnic groups logging at Brandreth were the Swedes, Germans, Italians, Poles, and French Canadians.
The picture shown here captures ninety hungry loggers sitting down at mealtime, the noise of their forks and knives echoing through the rustic dining hall. After supper the lumber jacks played cards, wrote letters, swapped stories, smoked pipes, or as the Potters point out, “listen to someone play a violin or sing a few ballads.”
Recreation and free time were a premium for loggers, with the dangers and challenges of this way of life always present. A Fred Mosher remembers the lumberjacks de-lousing their clothes at the Boarding Houses near to the School House in Brandreth Park, boiling water in a 55-gallon drum and adding kerosene before immersing their clothes in the solution.
The Potters’ Brandreth commentary added several telling details about scientific forestry, the first one regarding Moynehan ambivalence on its rigorous methods for logging.
For example, Gifford Pinchot and Henry Graves’ Nehasane Park working plan called for trees to be cut close to the ground in the winter, which assumed lumberjacks with their crosscut saw had to clear a four-foot radius of deep snow around each tree before cutting, a practice Patrick Moynehan called “damn foolishness.”
Pinchot admitted in his autobiography Breaking New Ground, speaking of Moynehan: “Before long self-interest as a lumber contractor got the better of him, and he violated the provisions of his contract.”
The next point called into question the very assumptions of the popular school of conservation scientific forestry was based on. Moynehan’s 1897 Brandreth cut was done in a carefully studied forest plot on which “stem analyses” were measured for 298 spruce trees.
The rate of growth for those trees was found to be between 0.08 and 0.14 inches per year, with 7 to 10 years needed for one inch of growth. Forester E. F. McCarthy returned to this Brandreth plot in 1917 to see if Pinchot’s plan for sustained spruce growth had been achieved.
On the contrary, he discovered and reported in the Journal of Forestry, that the fast-growing canopy of hardwoods closed over the spruce so quickly “as to make their recovery brief, and to have added very little extra volume to even the larger diameter [tree] classes.” Apparently, prime spruce softwood trees do not fare as well in a mixed forest as Pinchot had predicted.
The second and largest Brandreth lumbering campaign was launched by John MacDonald and Benjamin McAlpin in 1912, hence their “Mac-A-Mac” Corporation. It commenced in 1912 with the construction of the Mac-A-Mac Railroad that extended from Brandreth Station twelve miles northward toward Whitney Park, for logging a full 28,000 virgin acres of softwood between Shingle Shanty Brook (to the west) and Brandreth Lake (to the east).
Running four lumber camps and jack works, employing between five and six hundred men, and dividing the acreage up between seven subcontractors, the Mac-A-Mac operation delivered an estimated 300 to 350,000 cords of pulpwood to the St. Regis Lumber Company in Deferiet, NY during its eight-year operation, ending in 1920.
Interestingly, there were actually 50 different lumber camps during the century of logging in the Park, each peopled by a cook, blacksmith, cutters, teamsters, sled tenders, road monkeys, sharpeners for axes and crosscut saws, and whistle punks who rode the sprinklers or train loads to warn others of trouble.
In January 1914, the Watertown Daily Times published a long feature article on the operation, calling it “the biggest lumbering job in the Adirondacks” (January 29, 1914). Log movement from the forest to the paper mill one hundred miles away in Deferiet was described thus, including a steam-driven chain new to logging:
“When convenient the logs are run out on the frozen surfaces of the lakes, and then towed to a landing where they are taken up into the railroad cars by means of what is known as a Jack works. This makes it possible to have log hauling by the trains going on throughout the year. In the winter the operations are devoted to the inland sections where snow hauling is absolutely necessary. A Jackworks in spring is a beautiful and wild sight with thousands of logs tossing and heaving on the bosom of a lake, as they are urged toward the endless chain that picks them up and runs them up to the flat cars.”
That same year, New York State’s “Champion Load of 1914” was captured by noted photographer Henry Beach on the Mac-A-Mac job in Brandreth Park – holding a huge load of 27+ cords. All of this tonnage was from almost 200 trees cut to a 16-foot length, pulled by one team of horses through the snow.
The volume of spruce and balsam cut by Mac-A-Mac was four times the combined volume of all the other Brandreth pulpwood operations combined, with annual harvests of 1.3 million board-feet. In fact, spruce was two times as plentiful in that earlier period of 1898 to 1899, than it was in 1920, with most of those harvested virgin spruce over 200 years in age.
A Latecomer to Forestry Planning
It would not be until 1960 that Brandreth Park came under the services of a forester and a long-range plan for timber harvesting as then demanded by New York State Law, specifically Real Property Tax Law 480A.
Lumbering by Moynehan Brothers and the Mac-A-Mac Corporation at Brandreth was completed in this era without regard to the strict procedures of scientific forestry, which included tree-size limits and reserving seed trees for a “sustained yield” in a much shorter time frame that that expected under standard lumbering practices.
Brandreth’s “go-in-and-cut” logging methods had a much more pragmatic motivation, admitted the Potters in their Brandreth account:
“Clearly the engagement of a contractor was driven more by contractor initiative and the annual need for funds to pay taxes and upkeep than by any systematic planning. Probably no other aspect of the Park’s early history more accurately reflects its lack of effective organization than the lumbering history for, unlike our neighbors, the Whitney, Nehasane, and Litchfield Parks, and the Adirondack League, Brandreth Park has never had professional management.”
Pinchot and Graves had formally requested that their Brandreth Park neighbor to the south apply for a USDA Working Plan in 1898. That proposal had outlined a procedure very similar to the Working Plan adopted by its northeastern neighbor, Whitney Preserve. Brandreth Park declined the offer.
This 1910-20 period saw two developments at the close of the era for Brandreth Park and the Mac-A-Mac operation. The first was the huge six-fold increase in value of pulpwood at the mill as the First World War approached, a handsome windfall for owners and investors in a firm like Mac-A-Mac (p. 98).
And second, Brandreth Park received a visit from “America’s greatest soldier since the days of General Grant,” according to the Tupper Lake Herald of October 24, 1919. Accompanied by six distinguished military officers, General John J. Pershing spent two weeks deer hunting in the Park, the party’s gear transported by the Mac-A-Mac Railroad from the Station to his lodging on Brandreth Lake.
After a breakfast of venison, the party paused in a nearby cove for rifle practice, and then was guided down the trail by Ivan Stanton. The General used Miss Pauline Brandreth’s 40-65 Winchester and thanked her for her wise hunting advice:
“The General spent the morning talking with his hosts and looking across the beautiful panorama of lake and mountain tops, swinging full across the face of the camp … It was Miss Brandreth who gave the General a parting word of advice on the matter of Adirondack deer hunting, and the General thanked her prettily before he got ready for the trail.”
The Potters tell this whole story in full detail, the Brandreth family connection coming through Major General Fox B. Conner, Pershing’s Chief of Staff, who had married Virginia Brandreth in 1901. The results of the hunt? Pictured here, Pershing “dropped a ten-point buck at 125 yards on a snap shot with Pauline’s 40-65 Winchester.”
Illustrations, from above: Three Private Preserves in the Adirondack Mountains, Matthews-Northrup Works, ca. 1912 (NY Heritage); Brandreth’s Laxative Pills (National Museum of Natural History); “Map & Layout of Brandreth Station (1895-1960)” in Potter & Potter’s Brandreth, with labels added by Noel Sherry; John Sasso (left) and Peter Sherry (right) atop south peak of Albany Mountain by the fallen 1912 fire tower during Brandreth Park tour on July 10, 2022; “Meal Time in a Lumber Camp,” ca. 1900 (Adirondack Experience); “The Champion Load of 1914” on the Mac-A-Mac job at Brandreth Park, photo by Henry Beach (Adirondack Experience); and General John Pershing with his whitetail deer killed at Brandreth Park, from “The Mentorship of Gen. John Pershing” (The George C. Marshall Foundation).