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. In 1914, Brandreth Park gained the rare distinction of having the biggest log sled load in Northern New York.
Nehasane Park, created by William Seward Webb on Lake Lila, included 115,000 acres (including the Adirondack Railroad).
Nehasane was ground zero for the preservation debate, advocating Gifford Pinchot’s “scientific forestry,” the stance which dominated the practice of conservation in the first decades of the 20th century. The alternative point-of-view could be found expressed in Article 14 of the NYS Constitution, the “forever wild” provision, which was often challenged and considered a candidate for repeal or amendment.
Webb’s association with Pinchot began in 1896 with a two-year forestry experiment, the results published as The Adirondack Spruce: A Study of the Forest in Ne-Ha-Sa-Ne Park (1898). These two men were introduced through Webb’s brother-in-law George Vanderbilt, who had hired Pinchot in 1892 as resident forester for the family’s Biltmore estate in North Carolina.
Upon his appointment as the fourth Chief of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Division of Forestry in 1898, Pinchot immediately set out to counter the overly academic approach of his predecessor, Bernard Fernow, targeting private owners of forestland.
Adding together the smaller farm woodlots with large tracts of timberland controlled by lumber companies amounted to more than all the federal and state forest holdings in the US put together.
USDA Circular No. 21 invited these private owners to submit applications to the Bureau of Forestry to partner on a brand-new approach called scientific or “conservative forestry”:
“[We offered] advice and practical assistance to farmers, lumbermen, and others in handling their forest lands, with a view to bringing about the substitution of conservative for destructive methods. This offer provided for the preparation of working plans with full directions for work and practical assistance on the ground.” (USDA Yearbook for 1899).
By the end of 1898, 123 applications had been received from 35 states for Working Plans requesting help to manage 1,513,593 acres, 48 of these applications by parties owning large forest parcels.
USDA Bulletin No. 26, “Practical Forestry in the Adirondacks,” became the instruction manual for all these contracts, with Pinchot’s Nehasane project manager, Henry Graves, appointed as the new “Superintendent of Working Plans” for the Division of Forestry. The model for all these contracts with private forest owners throughout the United States was the Nehasane Park Working Plan:
“[Among the first] were applications from Dr. W. S. Webb for a tract of 40,000 acres in the Adirondacks and from Hon. W. C. Whitney for an adjoining tract of 68,000 acres. The forest work was organized on these lands without delay. On the former no preliminary work was necessary, for during the previous year a complete working plan, which was subsequently published in “The Adirondack Spruce,” by Gifford Pinchot, had been prepared. On account of the similarity of conditions between the two tracts it was found that this working plan could also be applied in its main features to the Whitney Preserve.”
And thus, early in this era Nehasane Park with its Working Plan became “ground zero” in forestry preservation and conservation. While Working Plans for private property were discontinued after 1905 when Congress passed the Transfer Act – moving national forest oversight from the US Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture – the policies continued.
Supported by President Theodore Roosevelt, Pinchot railed against “gigantic and lamentable massacre of trees,” while offering a clarion call to sustainability. Managing forest resources should be done in such a way that future harvests are guaranteed. The practice of scientific forestry, he argued, would be profitable to the lumberman and beneficial to permanent forest health.
Confidence was so high for this new approach that Graves could predict a repeal of New York’s “forever wild” provision: “Undoubtedly the constitution will in time be changed so as to permit conservative lumbering on the State preserve,” he wrote in “Practical Forestry.”
That was good news, indeed, for firms like Moynehan Lumber and it attracted others like Herkimer Lumber and Bissell-Yousey Lumber Company, to the Big Moose area of the Adirondacks.
The map shown here of Nehasane Park was created by William Seward Webb’s surveyor D. C. Wood and published in Graves’ “Practical Forestry” bulletin. It shows the earlier logging campaigns of 1896 through 1898, my red circle noting the subsequent lumbering done from 1899 to 1906 in areas north of the Mohawk & Malone rail line.
Webb hand-picked the Moynehan Brothers – Patrick and his son Daniel – for their willingness to follow the scientific forestry rules laid down in the Pinchot Working Plan, with a shared division of labor. Webb paid USDA foresters for the laborious task of marking all merchantable spruce trees to be logged, twelve inches in diameter or greater. Forty to fifty seed trees/acre were to be marked and left in place to guarantee a future spruce yield, preferably trees whose crowns were exposed to ample light from above.
An elaborate list of “Rules for the Lumbermen” betrayed just how challenging it was for seasoned lumberjacks to learn new ways to do their job. No trees were to be cut that were not marked and all marked trees were to be cut, except the seed trees; no spruce were to be used in building bridges, corduroy roads, skids, or slides, except for those needed for building camps, dams, and booms; all remaining treetops were to have their branches lopped off to minimize fire danger and to facilitate Webb hunting parties; and damage from felling timber on younger trees of any species was to be strictly avoided.
A lumber company operating its own camp in the Adirondacks routinely cut for pulp all trees down to 5 or 6 inches in diameter at the stump, with an estimated 75 years needed before a second crop equal to the first could be obtained.
Frank Graham’s The Adirondack Park: A Political History, raises the question about just how sincere the Moynehan conversion to scientific forestry was:
“Perhaps Pinchot’s most satisfying convert, however, was Pat Moynihan, the rough-and-ready leader of a famous Adirondack lumbering family. There were, it was true, moments of backsliding on Moynihan’s part, during one of which a scientific forester named Gene Bruce, according to Pinchot, ‘beat him up severely as an inducement to follow the rules.'”
The problem with compliance was even greater for the long list of subcontractors Moynehan Brothers employed on the Nehasane job, with ten of these placing up to 43 orders for food and supplies during the logging campaign.
Nevertheless, the USDA reported very satisfactory results for the 1898-99 seasons under the Working Plan, with 42 13-foot spruce logs harvested/acre on the highlighted 4,331 acres, in addition to white pine, balsam, and cherry.
This brought a handsome profit for the Moynehans and to Webb, who sold this right to lumber his land and charged for the cost of shipping lumber on his freight cars.
In total that spruce harvest amounted to over 11 million board-feet, or at $1.75/thousand board-feet, a handsome profit of $19,250. To put this in perspective, that quantity of lumber could produce 1800 homes, each at 1,000 square-feet.
The Nehasane Working Plan noted that “four camps were operated, two by the contractor and two by the subcontractors.” Webb’s publicist Charles Burnett described these as “model camps,” comfortable, with the most modern equipment, and serving good food. “Intoxicating liquors – the principal weakness of the lumberjack and the enemy of efficient operations — were not allowed on the job,” Charles H. Burnett wrote in Conquering the Wilderness: The Building of the Adirondack & St. Lawrence Railroad.
A huge collection of Moynehan receipts however, includes more than a few orders of very expensive cigars and spirits. Nehasane Park was very favorable for forest management, crossed by the Mohawk & Malone Railroad and with sawmills to the north at Tupper Lake and just to the south at Beaver River.
As noted in The Adirondack Spruce: “East of the railroad a large part of the Spruce can be floated directly to the jack works near Keepawa, and the hardwood can be hauled on the ice in winter to the same point.”
For the logging that continued into early 1900, Webb had the Partlow Logging Railroad built. This line branched off the Mohawk & Malone between Webb’s private Keepawa and Nehasane stations. The map shown here shows that new line extending north into virgin forest around Partlow Lake and ending at the Partlow Mill Dam.
Adirondack historian Barbara McMartin noted that the 1915 Nehasane cut “removed between 75 and 85% of the volume of the standing timber,” with harvest of balsam (6” and above), spruce (9” and over), and all hardwood with at least one 16-foot log 12” at the small end.
Interestingly, in 1914 F. A. Gaylord was employed as forester at Nehasane Park, with the revealing news of what happens to spruce growth after a railroad like the Partlow has opened up a parcel to heavier timber harvests of soft and hardwood.
According to Bill Gove’s Logging Railroads in the Adirondacks: “The eventual results were not favorable … their forestry practices failed to establish a thrifty young spruce forest. As land managers were to experience time and again in succeeding years, spruce cannot often be perpetuated in northern hardwood forest types after heavy cuttings.”
The forest fires along the Mohawk & Malone were such a threat to Nehasane in 1903, that Webb added to his arsenal a Fire Service Train. Dry seasons in 1908, 1910, 1913, 1915, 1920, and 1921 kept the fire threat current and concerning. The 1915 fires took out nearly a third of the forest remaining after that year’s harvest of spruce, balsam, and hardwood.
“Every effort was made to see that the railroad did not set any fires, and was prepared to assist in extinguishing any that might start close to the right of way. To this end extra-fine screens were installed in locomotive smokestacks, some of the locomotives were fitted with powerful pumps and reels of hose, and trains with tank cars, shovels, axes and other fire-fighting equipment were held in readiness at strategic points.”
Logging contracts routinely specified a lumberjack’s duty to drop axe and saw and join the fire brigade at the outbreak of fire in the forest, and this precaution was a standard part of the what is known as the Webb Covenant, restrictive clauses which were used in Brown’s Tract summer cottage and hotel deeds.
The Nehasane ‘Window’ on the Adirondack Forest Preserve
In his preface to The Adirondack Spruce, Gifford Pinchot acknowledged the sad history in which a lumberman was described as “a vandal whose inordinate greed called for constant denunciation.” He followed this with a stunning statement:
“Since that early day lumbermen and foresters have been drawing together, and much progress has been made toward the right opinion, which may be expressed by saying that lumberman and forester are as needful to each other as the ax and its helve. Without the ax the helve has little weight; without the helve the ax is lacking in reach and in direction.”
While later observations brought into question some of the assumptions of scientific forestry, there is no question that this 157-page study of Picea rubra – the botanical name for the Red Spruce – offers an invaluable window into what virgin forests in the early Adirondacks were like.
And the bottom line, if the scientific forester and lumberman were to work in partnership, was a forest’s “yield” over time, being able to predict future crops of timber after a current logging job harvested trees to an agreed-upon diameter. The Webb-Pinchot experiment reported results on 1,046 test acres for expected yield in board-feet in ten, twenty, and thirty years after cutting trees down to a diameter of ten, twelve, or fourteen inches, respectively.
Setting the complexity of Volume, Valuation, and Yield Tables aside, this was a novel idea for the lumber industry, that the scientific management of their forestland could guarantee a new crop and profit over time, justifying the costs of land taxes and road maintenance, keeping timberland accessible for logging in the future.
Instead of waiting out the 75 years after a 5-inch cut, Nehasane could count on a new harvest in 20 years by preserving all trees under fourteen inches in diameter, 25 years for a twelve-inch cut, or 37 years for a ten-inch cut. Pinchot’s Working Plan recommended dividing the Park into six areas for staggered annual logging (and annual profits) on twelve-inch spruce trees.
Pinchot’s analysis identified the following mixed species in its virgin forest: Spruce, birch, hard and soft maple, beech, balsam, hemlock, white pine, tamarack, cherry, black and white ash, poplar, and bird cherry.
Four distinct forest types were described — swamp land (22%), spruce flats (10%), hardwood land (42%), and spruce slopes (26%). Four merchantable species were present, an average per acre of 31 spruce trees, 4 balsam, .18 white pine, and .08 cherry. Spruce was the most desirable.
Centuries of struggle among tree species in a virgin forest rendered the trees condition “not good,” marketable timber crowded and suppressed by old spruce and “unsound, worthless, and scrubby trees.” Spruce needed a good seedbed and ample light to reproduce, and it was found that after forest thinning in a logging operation like that of Santa Clara Lumber Company in Franklin County, suppressed spruce showed a 20% increase in growth between a first and second cut of six years .
Thinning by judicious lumbering, it was assumed, would enable the forest to pay dividends and bring it to a healthier condition. Pinchot’s view of forestland as a “wood factory” to be conservatively managed rendered the following conclusion:
“The present working-plan is based on the fact that the Spruce above an average diameter of twelve inches can be removed without injury to the forest, and that a satisfactory reproduction can be brought about by the cutting.”
While Moynehan Brothers attempted to abide by this USDA Working Plan under the direction of Webb, it also lumbered for Nehasane’s neighbor to the south, Brandreth Preserve, unrestricted by the tenets of scientific forestry.
The reader can only imagine the backroom banter among Moynehan lumberjacks and subcontractors.
Illustrations, from above: Three Private Preserves in the Adirondack Mountains, Matthews-Northrup Works, ca 1912 (NY Heritage); Painting by an unknown artist titled “Gifford Pinchot, First Chief of the U.S. Forest Service,” in Forest History Society’s “Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946); Map of Nehasane in Practical Forestry in the Adirondacks by Henry S. Graves, Bulletin No. 26, USDA Division of Forestry, 1899; Partlow Lake Logging Railroad in Bill Gove’s Logging Railroad in the Adirondacks; Photo of Nehasane Park Fire Services Train near Lake Lila, ca. 1903 (courtesy Town of Clifton Museum); Red Spruce (Picea rubra) in Tessie K. Frank watercolor from Fern & Pine collection in the Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University, ca. 1895-1935; and “William Seward Webb on Horse,” ca. 1900, in front of Forest Lodge, Webb’s log mansion (Great Camp) on Lake Lila showing some of manicured lawns he had “skinned and the sod taken”from four acres of land in the city of Herkimer (courtesy of Adirondack Experience).