Eagle Bay lies in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains of New York State at an elevation of 1,720 feet above sea level.
Situated just north of 4th Lake and about ten miles east of Old Forge the small hamlet (one of 94 in the Adirondacks) has seasonal activity consisting of winter snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. Summer events focus on the various surrounding lakes, ponds, mountains, and hiking trails.
The Town of Webb, in Northern Herkimer County, encompasses this Eagle Bay area and claims to be the state’s largest town in terms of square miles. Just east of Eagle Bay is the Town of Inlet, which is a town in Hamilton County, which has the smallest population of any county in the state.
Indigenous People, Land Development & Ownership
Settled after most of the rest of the state, Northern Herkimer County had few people besides guides and sportsmen for much of the 19th century. Indigenous presence – Algonquin tribes of Northern New York and Canada, and the Iroquois or Hodenosaunee or “People of the Long House” to the south – was sparse although they walked on narrow trails through the mountains searching for game,m or vying with each other during times of conflict.
Between 1975 and 1978, some Mohawk people, striving for traditional values, native customs, practices, and culture, occupied the former Moss Lake Girls’ Camp land on Big Moose Road. They lived there year-round until New York State made a deal in which they moved to Clinton County. The old girls’ camp is now a State-operated campground. This episode is thoroughly covered in the 2009 book Indian Givers: True Story of Moss Lake.
The French bowed out of the area with its defeat in 1763 at the end of the French & Indian War, leaving the British as the leading colonial power in North America. The Adirondacks had been a sort of a “buffer” between the English (and before them the Dutch) settlements in the Mohawk and Hudson River Valleys and the French communities along the St. Lawrence River.
However, King George claimed all lands east of the Mississippi River so land ownership and sales were complicated by King’s favorites receiving land grants, shady transactions, and the colonial wars.
The region around Eagle Bay, longtime Mohawk Indian territory, changed in August 1771 when Joseph Totten and Stephen Crossfield and associates signed a deed to purchase what’s called the Totten and Crossfield Purchase from two Mohawk leaders for $6,000.00.
This was really the Jessup Purchase as Totten and Crossfield, two Manhattan shipwrights, were “frontmen” for Edward and Ebenezer Jessup. The Jessup brothers wanted much land in northern New York, and were influential friends of Sir William Johnson, John Murray (Lord Dunmore), and William Tryon, loyalists all.
This purchase was 1,150,000 acres of land running west from Port Henry on Lake Champlain. Agents for the Totten and Crossfield purchase paid the King $40,000 to grant the land back to them.
The 1779 Bill of Attainder required “forfeiture and sale of the estates of persons who had adhered to the British cause” during the Revolutionary War. Many loyalists, as a result, fled to Canada so the State of New York became owner of this vast mountainous region including most of the state west of Lake Champlain. So the state began to sell or give away the land, by 1810 about 15 million acres.
The land in the Adirondacks had virtually no roads, was largely unexplored by Europeans, and not considered desirable to farm as compared to state lands in central and western New York which were disposed of easily.
Speculators abounded at the time, and many wealthy folks engaged in buying and selling Adirondack lands. All the land grants were divided into towns running from 20,000 to 30,000 acres.
Owners of lands around Eagle Bay were, in order, Alexander Macomb, William Constable, Samuel Ward, John Greenleaf, and William Seward Webb. The Eagle Bay parcel was 210,000 acres, and since then has been known as “John Brown’s Tract.”
Greenleaf had a mortgage on the land, and Brown bid $33,000 for it in 1798. Ireland-born Macomb had bought 3,670,715 acres in 1791 from New York State.
All the lands in Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence, and Franklin counties were in Macomb’s Purchase plus portions of Herkimer and Oswego counties. Macomb lost money on the lands, and during the Panic of 1792 he was taken to debtors’ prison with over $300,000 in debt.
Wealthy Providence, Rhode Island merchant John Brown, due to poor business acumen on the part of his son-in-law, John Francis, wound up with 210,000 acres of the former Macomb Purchase in 1792.
Macomb was involved with William Constable and David McCormick in a 3 and ½ million acre chunk of the mountains which included the Brown Tract.
The Eagle Bay area became Township 8, called Regularity, of the Brown Tract which Brown decided to develop. Many others who bought Adirondack lands simply desired to hold and then sell later when values had increased.
William Seward Webb’s name played a prominent place in Eagle Bay and Adirondack history starting in 1870 when Webb bought several of the townships of the former Totten and Crossfield Purchase.
Webb, a railroad mogul, also owned much of Eagle Bay in the 1890s and into the 1900s. Early 20th century developers of the Eagle Bay Park were William J. Thistlewaite and Howard Clayton Weller.
The New York Times reported on January 31, 1895 that Webb had assembled the larger portion of Adirondack lands through his firm, The Nehasane Park Association, which owned 112,000 acres of the former John Brown’s Tract towns numbered 37, 38, 41, and 43.
The article went on to state that portion of Township 8, Regularity, (area around Eagle Bay) and land bordering on Second, Third, and Fourth Lakes of the Fulton Chain has been allotted in camp sites of an average width of 200 feet and are on the market.
Further, “Many of these beautiful camp sites have been purchased by people desirous of establishing a summer home in the woods, who were influenced, doubtless, by their accessibility.”
Today in Eagle Bay Park a camp owners association has control of a water system and the beach area. Many camps in the Park have been winterized for year-round use.
Geology, Forests & Farms
Most folks who live or visit in the Adirondacks have read that these mountains have some of the oldest rocks on earth dating from their formation one billion
Some 10-20 million years ago doming, erosion, and drainage started to remove the sedimentary layers and left the present dome exposing the old crustal rocks. While not the oldest rock formations on earth, the Adirondack bedrock is in the oldest era, called “Precambrian” meaning prior to the time of multi-celled animals.
The natural harbor of Eagle Bay, and the sand plain terrace, mainly rock-free, on which the Eagle Bay Park camp lots sit, are other geological features. Glaciers covered the entire area and withdrew leaving today’s topography of contours, mountains, lakes and streams.
While geologically old, the Eagle Bay and Town of Webb area have a much shorter political and economic history.
With few clearings or flat, level areas, the mountains are a wilderness, which causes numerous challenges year-round to inhabitants and visitors alike. Hiking or bushwacking through the woods can be a formidable task. Waterways break up the woods and were for many years the main way to travel via canoe or guide boat.
This region was cold in the winters, forested, had lots of water in lakes, creeks, and rivers, held a potential for mill sites, and maybe had various minerals.
Poor soil and extreme weather variables from summer highs of 90 to winter lows of minus 40 pose difficulties all the time.
Farming, after initially attempted by hoteliers and others, slowly was abandoned by the mid-20th century. It just wasn’t worth it as trucks and trains could bring fresh produce each day from Utica, 55 miles south.
From the advantage point of Rocky Mountain or Eagle Cliff one looks down on the changing colors of the seasons as the bright foliage of the mixed-deciduous forest dominates the landscape except for the blue or azure waters of 4th Lake.
Summer green changes to fall reds, yellows, and oranges. A winter scene with snow gently painted on the boughs of the evergreen and bare hardwood trees on a bright sunny day with blue skies is unforgettable.
The Fulton Chain Lakes one to eight are artificial as they really are dammed up sections of the middle branch of the Moose River which flows from upper reaches of Herkimer and Hamilton Counties to the Black River in Lyons Falls. From there it flows to Lake Ontario through Watertown. The entire Eagle Bay area drains into the Black River watershed.
How did people, tourists, trappers, hunters, camp owners arrive in Eagle Bay? The answer: by foot, by guide boat, by steamboat, by canoe, by trains, by horse and wagon, sleigh, and by a motor vehicle depending on which decade of the 19th and 20th century.
Beginning in 1883 Jonathan Meeker ran a steam boat between Old Forge and Eagle Bay. In fact much of the forest which was in the Eagle Bay Park was cut for fuel for The Hunter by Meeker.
In 1892 William Seward Webb completed the Malone & Mohawk railroad through Thendara (Fulton Chain) and Carter (Clearwater) near Eagle Bay. When rich Raquette Lake camp owners desired an all-rail connection from the big cities, they formed a corporation which built the Raquette Lake Railroad from Carter Station through Eagle Bay to Raquette Lake following the Uncas Road in 1900.
The railroad ended in 1933, but the old Eagle Bay railroad station still exists in rundown condition. It was used in the 1960s as a restaurant Koppe’s Last Stand and later by Pat Fogarity as a tavern. In the past 45 years it has been a private residence and a place to house the owner’s heavy equipment.
The main highway to Eagle Bay wasn’t paved until 1925, but was used as a dirt road prior to then. Most people arrive today via personal vehicles, and most commerce arrives via trucks. The two-lane State Route 28 sleeps during the winter and spring, but takes on a much busier tone between May and October.
The sportsman, the trapper, the guide, merchants, tradesmen, and the tourist became the main population: some transient and a few permanent settlers
in Eagle Bay. Wild animals for hunting and fishing attracted wealthy men and women from the 1830s on, and eventually a cadre of hotel keepers, boat owners, and shopkeepers developed to handle the tourist and second-home trade.
In the 20th century with improvements in access to Eagle Bay via steamboats, and after 1900 the railroad, seasonal tourism provided the economic engine for settlement of private camps, hotels, and children’s camps on the many lakes in the area, which Joseph Grady described as “gleaming like earthly satellites across a firmament of forest.”
A 1947 tourism brochure, printed by the Eagle Bay Association, promoted Eagle Bay as “The Friendly Community” and home to the largest seaplane base in the Adirondacks on 4th Lake between present-day Eagle Bay Villas and Clark’s Marina. Additionally it called September the “Golden Month” and listed the four highest peaks in the area: Bald, Black Bear, Rocky, and Becker’s Outlook.
Log and bough lean-to shelters remain on state land and campsites, but many tourists now reside in second-home, owner-occupied or rented facilities. Public and private campsites allow temporary camping in tents, Recreational Vehicles, and trailers.
State Route 28 brings thousands each year to Eagle Bay with some cars stopping for a meal, a beer, or a loaf of bread. Others keep trucking through to destinations farther north and east such as Lake Placid.
The former dominance of the hunter and trapper in Eagle Bay has been eclipsed by the dominance of those seeking a resort in which to hike, to climb, to
reside, and to eat.
Recreation plays a big part in Eagle Bay with many trails to hike, lakes to cruise, and mountains to climb. Snowmobiles in the winter season run the lakes and the trails. No public beach exists in Eagle Bay for tourists as the Eagle Bay sandy beach is reserved for property owners and families.
The dam for 4th Lake sits on the edge of Old Forge Pond and backs water up to 5th Lake in Inlet at depths up to 50-60 feet according to the charts. Fishermen know where the deeper areas are and can catch perch and brown trout. When the smelt run in the spring ice breakup, some of the best brown trout can be caught.
Although not in the media as much as neighboring Inlet or old Forge, Eagle Bay gets some coverage. The Utica Observer-Dispatch in September 1996 described Eagle Bay as a “scene of tranquility” with a headline “Eagle Bay Gives Refuge From Rat Race.”
Five years later an Observer-Dispatch article called Eagle Bay “A very friendly hamlet where time seems to slow down and the hustle and bustle of daily life seems to go away.”
In what governmental jurisdictions has Eagle Bay resided through the years? In 1791 Herkimer County was formed and includes the area of Eagle Bay. In 1836 Eagle Bay was in Town of Wilmurt, which was formed May 3, 1836 from land in the Towns of Russia and Ohio. The Town of Webb was formed January 25, 1896 and Eagle Bay was a part. (In 1918 the Town of Wilmurt was abolished and the land added to towns of Webb and Ohio.)
The Eagle Bay Volunteer Hose Company began in November 1948 with a jurisdiction originally of that part of the Town of Webb within three miles of the hamlet of Eagle Bay. Now the fire district goes north to Moss Lake, east to the Inlet town line, towards Old Forge, and between the former Camp Eagle Cove and the Petrie Road on the South Shore Road. All of this area is in the Town of Webb.
The fire house has served since 1948 with additions more recently. It originally was a garage of Dan Doran and later a Lauterbach. Some recent chiefs have been Dick Bock, Gary Sheer, Fred Bean, Charles Hansen, and Robert Hansen, Peter Leszyk, Bill Morgan, and Jeff Beauchamp.
About 20 active members enthusiastically volunteer their time and talents to protect the community from fire, emergencies, medical calls, and disasters.
The Ladies Auxiliary of the Eagle Bay Hose Company formed from the Ladies Community Club of Eagle Bay in 1955 and continues today with social events, children’s parties, and a Memorial Day sale.
Illustrations, from above: Eagle Bay; Herkimer County NY 1912, and Map of Eagle Bay (provided by Adirondack Atlas).