From early in the nineteenth century, lumbering was one of the primary economic activities of the Saranac Lake region.
As It Is Now Carried On In The Adirondacks.
Scenes of Waste and Desolation Are No More—The Work Now Done In a Scientific Manner.
Drowned Horse Shanty, Long Pond, Township 20, Franklin Co., Jan. 24-- The lumbering business in the Adirondacks is conducted in several different ways. Years ago is was the almost universal custom to chop down every merchantable stick of timber, so that when the lumbering was over, nothing but a barren waste of land was left, on which it was not worth paying the taxes. In this way, thousands of acres have reverted to the State. Nearly all of this property has since become valuable. The timber has again grown to marketable size, vastly increased facilities are now furnished for getting the logs to the mills, and, what is of still greater importance, the Adirondacks have become famous throughout the land as a health and pleasure resort. There are nearly 1,800 very beautiful lakes and ponds within this domain, and many of their shores are now of great value as hotel, cottage or camping sites.
This destructive method of getting out pulp of timber is still practiced in many parts of the wilderness. Occasionally I have run across big wood jobs, where all the hard wood, splendid beech, maple and birch trees, was being slashed down and converted into fire wood. Sometimes a thin forest of tamarack, hemlock, and a few scattering spruce and balsam are permitted to remain, but more often do they become "back fallows," where are raised buckwheat and potatoes.
There are other lumbermen, I am glad to record, who get out their timber judiciously, and more in accordance with improved forestry laws. These men have learned by experience that lumbering on one's own lands cannot be carried on with profit without the regard to the preservation of the forests.
The Upper Saranac Association has been lumbering for a number of years on Township 20, which it owned. It has always been and now is the policy of this association to protect the forests. It is to its particular interest to do so. This company claims that it does not pay to cut down a tree less than ten inches in diameter, three feet above the ground for its lumber, because it does not yield enough after passing through the mill to repay the cost of felling, hauling and sawing it. The result of this policy being carried out is that it is difficult for an inexperienced woodsman, in passing through the forest in Township, to point out where the lumbering has been done and where it has not. It is an acknowledged fact that no finer hunting and fishing country can be found in all the "North Woods" than on this same township.
Mr. D. W. Riddle, manager of the Saranac Inn, usually has cut and sawed between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 feet of lumber annually. He has a saw mill and lumberyard located on a 150-acre lot in the adjoining township (21). He sells considerable lumber, lathe, shingles, novelty siding etc., to Branch & Callanan and other local builders, while many thousand feet go into summer camps and cottages on the shore of the lake each year.
This season but a small amount of timber is being cut by the association, perhaps not more than 500,000 feet mostly long pieces, for the reason that they have a large quantity on hand. But a small number of men and teams are engaged in this work, the most of which are employed all through the year by the association.
But here, as elsewhere in this region may be found the pulp wood men. The township is covered with a splendid and valuable forest containing spruce, birch beach, maple, hemlock, cedar, balsam, tamarack, pine and cherry. Much of this territory was cut over by Mr. Christopher F. Norton some thirty years ago but no small trees have been allowed to be cut (except spruce down to five inches in diameter at the tip, this season), since the property came into the hands of the association, and now much of the forest is again matured. Lumbering has been profitably conducted here for several years, It would thus seem that in this township, after the matured spruce and pine have been removed, it requires from 20 to 25 years for enough young trees to mature to make it pay to lumber the same territory again.
Only a small proportion of the original contract for pulp wood from this township is likely to be cut, however, as the property has but recently passed into the hands of the State. I am informeded that the Upper Saranac Association entered into an agreement with Mr. Benton Turner, of Plattsburgh, last summer, whereby the former agreed to deliver 40,000 cords of spruce on the shore of Long Pond, 5,000 cords of which were to be delivered each year for eight consecutive years. The territory having since become State property, and no promise having been made whereby the former owners were allowed to remove any of the standing spruce, the association was obliged to annul their contract with Mr. Turner, and to pay damages for failure to fulfill agreement.
Between 5,000 and 6,000 cords, equal to about 3,000,000 feet of lumber, were, however, cut at the time of the sale and this is now in process of delivery. This wood was cut previous to December last on lots 29, 31, 32, 33, 40, 41 and 42. Mr. Peter Kantle has the contract for delivering the logs. Mr. Kantle originally came from Plattsburgh, lived at Floodwood last year but now has his entire family in the little log shanties at Mountain Pond. Besides the Mountain Pond camps, there is one at Slang Pond in charge of a Frenchman by the name of Seguin and one in Spring Bay, Long Pond, bossed by Mr. Peter Abare.
There has been about twenty-two inches of snow in the woods here, but the recent thaws and rains have caused it to settle to about a foot. Eighteen teams are employed in the drawing which began about the tenth of January and which is likely to require [illegible] about the middle of March.
There are two ways by which these logs may be transferred to market. Had the [illegible] not been as [illegible] the logs would be floated down from Long Pond into Floodwood, then into Little Square Pond, Fish Creek, Upper Saranac Lake, Round Lake, Lower Lake, Saranac river and thence to Plattsburgh. But this would involve considerable expense in preparing and building dams, etc., and for so small an amount as 5,000 or 6,000 cords, it doubtless will be subject to transport then by rail to Floodwood.
I tramped considerably over a number of lots in this township, and was greatly impressed with the beauty of the country. The lumbering has in no way apparently damaged the forest, and I found abundant proof that the place is well inhabited by deer and other game. It was nearly dark when I arrived at "Drowned Horse Shanty," on the shore of Long Pond. The place is perhaps better known as Dr. Ward's summer camp, and I will tell you later how it came by the former, somewhat suggestive cognomen. I found here four men just preparing to gather 'round their festive board. They were J. Ben Hart, the well-known and popular assistant manager of the Saranac Inn, Willard Boyce; who is general superintendent of all the outside work at the hotel, and who lays out the work for the "bosses;" M. McClusky, foreman for Ben Turner, and J. Wesley Wood, who superintends the culinary department for these gentlemen at this particular camp. This is the headquarters for general information for the men in the woods, and these men are getting the measurement of the logs, Mr. Hart for the association, and Mr. McClusky for Mr. Turner.
The spruce cut ranges from 5 inches to 30 inches in diameter, is 12 feet long and is worth about $3.50 per cord at Floodwood. Nothing but spruce has ever been taken except some big hemlock which were cut for the bark. These hemlock are still lying as they fell, are perfectly sound, and Mr. Hart tells me they would be hauled to the mill and sawed into lumber.
Long Pond Mountain looms up nearly 900 feet above the pond, and it is on this mountain that much of the 5,000 cords of spruce has been cut. It is a sight to see the logs being hauled down the steep toboggan-chute-like track. Of course the men are obliged to load light on the mountain, but when the better grade is reached, from 50 to 60 logs are drawn to a load. The ice is not very good on Long Pond; and Mr. Kantle had the misfortune to lose a team through the ice a few days ago. It was the day before Christmas, and some of the women and children belonging to his family were suffering with hard colds down at the Floodwood camps, when he decided to bring them all over to the shanties at Mountain Pond, where they might receive better care. Mr. Kantle is a kindhearted, generous man, and was very good to me, and willing to answer all my questions. He told me there were eight children and three women in the load when the ice gave way and every one was in the water. Assistance was near, and all were hauled out of the icy deep and walked to the camp, nearly a mile away, their garments frozen stiff before reaching the cabins. Mr. Kantle said to me: "I thought for sure I have three, four corpse; it seem almost too wonderful to believe, but the next morning they all feel just like one peacocks". The sleighs were afterward drawn out, but the horses went to the bottom, right in front of Hart's camp, hence the new christening. The carcasses will be towed ashore and buried as soon as the ice goes out.
In walking over to the Mountain Pond camps from Long Pond, I met a kindly disposed Frenchman, who gave me considerable valuable information. After a little conversation regarding the ice in the ponds, the wood roads, the lumber on the mountain., etc., he suddenly turned to me and asked: "You go to shanties?" "Yes." "Wall, you keep right along on dis road you be drowned." I told him I preferred not to be drowned, and he directed me as follows : "You go up dis roads little way, turn lef' han' go up tudder, way top little ridge, you see one little footpaths. Those go right down my shanty." It is, perhaps, needless to say that I obeyed his instructions implicitly.
There, are about forty handsome camping and fishing lakes and ponds in the township, the shores of nearly all of which are lined with splendid forest. The view from Long Pond Mountain, is particularly fine. At no point did I observe that the lumbering had been a detriment to the forest, and as a sporting resort I should say that it compares favorably with any section of the Adirondacks.
In a few days I will tell you something of the transfer of this magnificent property to the state.
Plattsburgh Daily Press, March 22, 1937
DAM CONSTRUCTION RECALLS HUGE SARANAC LOG DRIVES
Captain Pliny Miller's Activities 125 Years Ago, Later Dwarfed by Succeeding Operators, Presaged the Legislative Drive to Halt Devastation of the Adirondacks.
SARANAC LAKE — The construction of the new $10,000 dam across the Saranac river at the Paul Smith's building on Main street, replacing the 125-year-old structure built by pioneer lumberman Captain Pliny Miller, recalls to the memory of many old time residents of the village the time when the annual spring log drive was the most important event in the village's calendar.
Although Captain Miller erected the dam and a sawmill at the site in 1822, shortly after his arrival in the "settlement-on-the-river," the Saranac river was not declared a public highway until 1846, 40 years after the Salmon river in the upper part of the county was thrown open for use by the state. Nevertheless the Saranac river was a highway for the lumbermen of the region long before the state took official notice of its use.
Cutting of the towering mountain trees took place in the winter. Crews of lumberjacks, mostly French-Canadians, entered the forests in the late fall and set up rough camps preparatory to cutting. The scene of operations usually was on a hillside so that the logs could be rolled into the river. Skidways were built to the water's edge, where the logs, in 13 foot lengths, were marked with the owner's sign.
The lumberjacks were experts, able not only to negotiate swift rivers but the sluggish lakes as well. On the lakes, with no currents, it was frequently necessary to rig a crude sail on the logs, which had been "boomed." Night driving was a common practice. The drivers were men of steel, able to open a jam or ride logs through rapids. The dexterity of the men in riding logs is still a topic of conversation in the communities of the region.
The day the ice went out was usually a period of celebration in all the lumbering camps of the region. Many of the lumberjacks could tell within a day or two when the ice would give way. Bets would be made and pools formed on the ability of the men to predict the crackup. Frequently these pools would run into several thousand dollars. The winner would treat the whole camp as soon as they reached town and there would be a "jamboree" which on occasion took all of the, winnings.
Every lake, river, and stream large enough to flow a log could tell part of the historic story of the lumber era of the Adirondacks if they could but speak. The big operations, however, centered around the longest rivers—the Hudson, the Racket [sic] and the Saranac. Lumbering on the upper reaches of the Hudson began in 1810 and 1811, and for three quarters of a century the maws of the great lumbermills in Glens Falls, Fort Edwards, and Sandy Hill absorbed millions of feet of virgin Adirondack forests.
The Racket also was the scene of lumbering activity shortly after the beginning of the 19th century. Extensive cutting on the Racket, however, did not extend back into the mountains until 1850 or thereabouts. From 1850 until the beginning of the 20th century the Racket boomed with the sound of rolling logs and big sawmills. During that period a total of 102 trade marks, each indication of a different company, were registered in Albany.
The Saranac river [was] used even earlier than the other two streams. In 1787 an English sawmill was built at the mouth of the river at Plattsburgh. Penetration into the mountains was gradual and it was nearly half a century before the headwaters of the river in the Saranac lakes were reached.
Captain Miller, the militiaman of the War of 1812, erected his sawmill and dam near the bend of the river where the Paul Smiths company later erected its power plant. The dam built by the captain formed the present Lake Flower, and has been in continual use since then, though his sawmill was torn down at the time the company took over the property.
The captain's operations were on a small scale, however, compared to what was still to come. Orson Richards, in 1887, purchased the area around Lower Saranac lake. His foreman, Almon Thomas, who later was to become a large operator in his own right, had charge of the first drive down the Saranac. The first great drive consisted of 50,000 "markets" or 10,000,000 feet of wood. This first big drive was to be repeated year after year for nearly 50 more years until the state, after many bitter legislative struggles, passed laws setting off the great Adirondack park, which put a stop to the devastation of the forests.
Among the many firms and men who operated along the Saranac river a few of the better known were the H. O. A. Tefft, Loren Ellis, J. H. & E. C. Baker, The Maine company, Thomas and Hammond, and the lumber king, Christopher F. Norton. Norton reigned over the area for the 20 year period from 1860 to 1880 and at one time controlled practically every mill along the river. He is still recalled by old time residents of the village as a man of great vigor and energy. He died, broke, in 1890.
Today the only scene of intense activity in the lumbering industry is to be found in Tupper Lake where several industries still use thousands of feet annually. The manner of lumbering has changed however, and the great drives are a thing of the past in the Adirondacks. Today most cutting is done deep in the woods and sleds or trucks are used to haul the wood out.
The drive for legislation to control the ruthless devastation of the forests, coupled with the number of sportsmen who sensed that a great natural park was rapidly vanishing, brought a halt to the intense activity. The Adirondack League club bought up thousands of acres of land and leased thousands more. The appeal of fishermen and sportsmen also brought results from the state government.
In 1872 the first legislation towards preservation of the forests was passed when a commission to survey the region was established. In 1883 a law was passed forbidding the sale of state land in Franklin, Essex, Clinton, St. Lawrence, Fulton, Hamilton, Lewis, Herkimer, Saratoga and Warren counties. This was the first effective step toward control. In the same year an appropriation of $10,000 was made for purchase of lands. In 1892, after a struggle of 20 years on the part of proponents, the Adirondack park was created.
Since that date lumbering as a large scale industry in the mountains has been steadily on a decline. The state has bought more timberland each year until in 1937 more than 50 per cent of all timberland within the Adirondack park is owned by the people of the state, a heritage for future generations.
- Daniel Ames
- John R. Booth
- Peter Comstock
- Bartholomew Disco
- Louis Kendall
- Israel Kent
- Guy T. Lake, Jr.
- Pliny Miller's Sawmill and Gristmill
- Myron Skeels
- Tekene Branch
- Triangle Lumber Company