First News Report of The “Forever Wild” Amendment to the NY State Constitution in 1894

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It is ironic that the same act which has protected the Adirondack Forest Preserve for over one hundred years actually took away the similar protection from a different region of the state.  Beginning in 1821, Article 7 Section 7 had read “the Legislature shall never sell or dispose of the salt springs belonging to this State.”

This constitutionally protected the Onondaga Salt Springs near Syracuse which from the late 1790s through most of the 19th century produced the majority of salt used throughout the U.S.  The State wanted to protect this vital economic resource.  That is until cheaper sources of salt in Michigan and Canada made the Salt Springs an economic drain on the State treasury.  Hopefully the economic value of the protection of the Adirondack Forest Preserve will remain unequivocally positive for the State of New York.

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Here I re-publish one of the first newspaper articles detailing the “Forever Wild” amendment which was unanimously approved by the convention delegates on September 13, 1894 and later approved as part of the new constitution by the state voters in November of that year.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle title

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The Triangulation of Verplanck Colvin

Few fully understand what the Adirondack wilderness really is. It is a mystery even to those who have crossed and recrossed it by boats along it avenues, the lakes; and on foot through its vast and silent recesses…In this remote section, filed with the most rugged mountains, where unnamed waterfalls pour in snowy tresses from the dark overhanging cliffs…the adventurous trapper or explorer must carry upon his back his blankets and heavy stock of food. Yet, though the woodsman may pass his lifetime in some of the wilderness, it is still a mystery to him. 1

 Verplanck Colvin, Superintendent of the Adirondack Survey

 Colvin oval photo

 

Between 1872 and 1900, perhaps no man traversed the Adirondacks more than Verplanck Colvin.  Russell Carson said, “With limitless enthusiasm and boundless devotion, he was exploring, surveying, mapping, and sketching the mountains, valleys, lakes and streams of the region, and writing voluminous reports and papers about them.” 2  Through his sheer personal will, he succeeded in lobbying the state legislature to appropriate funds for the Adirondack Survey and appoint him to the task. His explorations led to the discovery of Lake Tear of the Clouds as the source of the Hudson River and the first accurate elevations for Mt. Marcy and dozens of other regional peaks.

To map and describe this wonderful region, correcting the errors of early surveyors, and thus furnish a most important contribution to the physical geography of the State, is of course the primary purpose of undertaking the survey. But Mr. Colvin’s elaborate and interesting reports have been largely instrumental in calling the attention of the public to the attractions of the Adirondack wilderness both for the sportsman and the general tourist, and to the importance of taking any measures that may be necessary to preserve it forever as a mammoth pleasure ground. 3

1880 Editorial in The Cultivator and Country Gentleman

Indeed, Verplanck Colvin’s speech at Lake Pleasant in 1868 is credited as the first public advocacy for the preservation of the region as a state park. His later correspondences and reports illustrated his argument:

The Adirondack wilderness contains springs which are the sources of our principal rivers, and the feeders of the canals. Each summer the water supply for these rivers and canals is lessened…The immediate cause has been the chopping and burning off of vast tracts of forest in the wilderness, which have hitherto sheltered from the sun’s heat and evaporation the deep and lingering snows, the brooks and rivulets, and the thick, soaking sphagnous moss which, in times knee-deep, half water and half plant, forms hanging lakes upon the mountain sides…It is impossible for those who have not visited this region to realize the abundance, luxuriance and depth which these peaty mosses – the true source of our rivers – attain under the shade of those dark northern evergreen forests…The remedy for this is an Adirondack park or timber preserve. 4

While Colvin’s impact on the creation of the Adirondack Park is his most lasting achievement, his development of new survey techniques and technology should not be overlooked. It his efforts to unravel the mystery of the forest through detailed mapping that I find fascinating.

Triangulation is the process of determining the location of a point by measuring angles to it from known points at either end of a fixed baseline, rather than measuring distances to the point directly. Colvin used this method to map the Adirondacks using a series of mountain top signal stations.

Colvin was not one to avoid harsh and arduous effort in his attempts to map the Adirondacks. Notably, he did not retire to his Albany office in the dead of winter but rather used the frozen lakes to his advantage.

Raq baseline old

In February 1877, he came to Raquette Lake, as described by The Colvin Crew based on his field notes,

to establish a horizontally measured sub-baseline that could be used to strengthen his primary triangulation network of the Adirondack Mountains. This necessitated finding two points on the shore of Raquette Lake that would allow for the longest possible distance measured. Additionally, both points had to be visible from West Mountain and Blue Mountain. Following standard procedure, Bolt 69 was set on the south shore of Raquette Lake at a location known as Otter Point. With the ice cleared of snow, vertical wood stakes were set into the ice to act as guides in keeping the tape straight.   The 1,000 feet long steel “ribbon” was then stretched northerly with metal “ice blocks” being used at the intermediate chaining points for a total distance of 14,571.95 feet. The northerly terminus of this line was marked with a copper plug set in a small rock located at the northeast end of Needle Island. 5 [approximated in the author drawn map shown below]

Raq baseline google earth

Observations from the end point of such baselines to the mountain top signal stations required Colvin to devise two tools that advanced the accuracy of his methods. The Stan Helio is a spinning pyramid of shiny tin plates that reflect sunlight, providing a bright flash that could be seen in the daytime from twenty-five to thirty miles away with the naked eye and even farther through a telescope.

stan helio

Being able to see the mountain top signal stations from wherever his surveying teams were working was one piece of the puzzle. The other is for the surveying teams to accurately know exactly where they were when they observed the nearest signal station.

Determining a location’s longitude and latitude whether by the arc of the sun in day or by stars at night requires that one know the precise time of observation. The accuracy of Colvin’s surveying depended on all of his field teams synchronizing their timepieces to Albany’s Dudley Observatory time.

Here my research took an interesting turn when I discovered that Colvin’s solution to time synchronization involved my family. In August 1876, Colvin established an observation station on Thacher Island on Blue Mountain Lake. It was from here that he first observed the use of a nighttime powder charge flash signal that would communicate the accurate time to surveyors far afield. As he described

A supply of powder for the signal station time-flash had been sent to the mountain, and at a little before 9 P.M. we took up our station on a point commanding in the day-time view of the distant peak, and prepared to compare our watches with the chronometer signal. As we counted the seconds a bright flash illuminated the darkness, showing the mountain-top fairly, as lit by distant lightning. We found our time accurate, and were now satisfied that this method of distributing the Observatory time to the parties would be an entire success if the atmospheric conditions were favorable. 6

flash-signal

I was intrigued to know why Colvin would have used Thacher Island, when a point along the shoreline would have served just as well and eliminated the effort of rowing boxes of equipment out to the island. I knew that Colvin was from Albany, but did he know the Thacher family? My early hopes of a connection seemed dashed by viewing Colvin’s Reconnaissance Map of Tallow or Blue Mountain Lake, which incorrectly spelled our name as Thatcher. A family friend would never commit such an error.

Thatcher on map

I delved deeper into the accuracy of the map and found that the spelling was an inaccurate correction made by the printer. In Colvin’s own handwritten field notebooks, he repeatedly spells the name correctly.

Thacher in Colvin notes

Triangulation uses math to discover what cannot be readily seen and measured by comparing different points in relation to a baseline. I wondered whether an analogous method of drawing connections between points in time in the lives of Verplanck Colvin and the Thachers might answer my question.

The history of Albany provided the first clues. Verplanck Colvin and John Boyd Thacher were both born in 1847. Colvin’s father Andrew J. Colvin was the State Senator from Albany in 1860-1861 (the same seat occupied by JBT twenty-three years later) at the same time that George Hornell Thacher was the Mayor of Albany; both were prominent Democrats. 7  So their fathers were clearly acquainted, but did the boys know each other? Hilary Johnson King, archivist of Albany Academy, discovered that both boys were classmates in a group of forty students for three years (1858-1861). 8

The Thachers began to explore the Adirondacks in 1862 and established their summer home on Blue Mountain Lake in 1867. Verplanck Colvin began his explorations of the region in 1865. We have no correspondence or other evidence that John Boyd Thacher and Colvin were more than acquaintances in their youth. Colvin does not make reference to the Thachers in describing his earliest camping trips to the region, and yet it is hard to believe he did not consult with the first family from Albany to establish a base in the region.

I found that JBT’s and Colvin’s lives repeatedly intersected throughout the years.

JBT and Colvin timeline2

All of these intersecting points prove that the two men knew each other, but were they friends? Only after JBT’s death do I find evidence that it would appear so.

In 1869, Colvin was the first to bring national attention to an area of scenic beauty and scientific value with his writing and hand-drawn illustrations in Harper’s Magazine 14

To those who desire to escape for a day from the oven-like city in summer; who wish to enjoy a scramble among the romantic cliffs, in shady woods, beside cool mountain brooks and waterfalls; to view spots sacred to legends of wild Revolutionary days, of Tory and Indian depredation, naming place, precipice, and mountain…

One might think that Colvin was once again writing about the Adirondacks here, but the quote continues…

to gather the fossil corals and shells… to visit and explore known caves… among the cliff ledges, the “Indian Ladder” region of the Helderbergs offers superior inducements.

Verplanck Colvin Escarpment Illustration

The Helderberg Escarpment lies about twenty miles to the west of Albany and a two hour drive in 1869 when Colvin used the site as his training ground. The cliffs and fields served as a laboratory where Colvin perfected the self-taught surveying techniques that he applied to the Adirondacks. 15

Beginning in 1903, John Boyd Thacher purchased 300 acres along this escarpment to preserve its invaluable fossil record and intrinsic scenic beauty. After his death, JBT’s wife, Emma Treadwell Thacher, donated the lands to create what today is known as John Boyd Thacher State Park. 16

We might easily assume that Colvin influenced JBT to preserve these lands. However, unlike my previous “triangulations”, no assumption is required here. Within the 1915 annual report of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, a description of the 1914 Dedication Ceremony for the park lists Verplanck Colvin as one of eight dignitaries who enjoyed lunch with Mrs. Thacher at her Altamont estate prior to the ceremony. 17

This is notable for two reasons. None of the numerous daily newspaper articles describing the ceremony mention Colvin’s presence, and he did not speak at the ceremony itself. Having been unceremoniously and a bit scandalously fired from his state position in 1900 by Governor Teddy Roosevelt, Colvin faded into a life of obscurity, became depressed and lived in hermit-like seclusion in his home in Albany. 18

His respected place of inclusion in Mrs. Thacher’s plans for the dedication is, I believe, proof of a lifelong friendship with John Boyd Thacher and furthermore, evidence that Verplanck Colvin deserves credit as the father of two glorious state parks.

 

The August Forest Camp on Indian Point

Post Standard 06211915

This article in the June 21, 1915, Syracuse Post-Standard was the first anyone in our family had heard of the role our property on Indian Point played in the evolution of early forestry education in the United States. 1

The August Forest Camp was a miniature village of 9×9 tents where approximately twelve boys and men lived while participating in morning instruction and afternoon fieldwork. The month long program included elementary forestry, zoology, botany and fungi courses taught by prominent U. S. pioneers of forestry science. An old Adirondack guide also taught a week of Woodcraft “such as a man should know who wishes to spend any length of time in the woods”. 2

The Camp brochure noted,

any young man over fifteen years of age and in good physical condition may attend the Camp… [which] is equipped with a motor boat and a number of guide boats and canoes and it is expected that every man will learn to swim if he does not know how… The entire cost of the Camp will be $50.00 [that] covers instruction, rental of tents, cots and boats and board… It will be understood that plain wood’s fare and plenty of it will be given as board. It cannot be expected that table will be supplied with fresh vegetables and other things easily obtainable in the cities but often difficult to get in the woods. No refund will be made for absence from mess. 3

Unfortunately, Flora Nyland, College Archivist at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry in Syracuse, has found no documents or photos relating to the August Forest Camp on Raquette Lake.  There appears to be a conspicuous absence of sources describing the camp during or after August 1915. The archives only have material describing the summer camp for students of the College, which has been held at the 1,800-acre forest station in Wanakena on Cranberry Lake since 1912. Nyland suggested that perhaps the August Forest Camp had been planned for Raquette Lake but eventually held at Wanakena instead. 4

My search for other evidence of the August Forest Camp at Raquette Lake led to this article from the Herald Dispatch of Utica dated August 1st. 5

Utica NY Herald Dispatch 8-1-1900

The northern shore of Indian Point is on North Bay, but this article is from 1900. Had George Hornell Thacher offered our land for a State Forestry Camp as early as 1900?

It turns out that Raquette Lake was ground zero for the political debate over the survival of the 1895 “Forever Wild” Amendment to the New York State Constitution. In 1896, Colonel William F. Fox, Superintendent of New York’s state-owned forests, began a campaign to repeal the amendment. He believed that the electorate had erred in passing the amendment due to their lack of knowledge of conservative, science-based modern forestry. Fox believed that a successful demonstration forest could educate the voters as to his vision of sustainable forest management and exploitation of the timber in the state forest preserves as an alternative to preservation. 6

Fox persuaded the state legislature and Governor Black to establish the New York State College of Forestry within Cornell University in 1898, the first four-year forestry degree program in the United States. The College of Forestry was also given a tract of 30,000 acres near Saranac Lake. Dr. Bernard Fernow, the dean of the college, attempted to create a nursery and managed forest out of the tract. 7

Fox was also instrumental in the 1900 application by the NY Forest, Fish and Game Commission to the federal Division of Forestry for the creation of a forest working-plan that could show the potential for modern forestry practices within the Adirondack Forest Preserve. “A Forest Working Plan for Township 40, Totten and Crossfield Purchase, Hamilton County, New York State Forest Preserve” by Ralph S. Hosmer and Eugene Bruce is the result of this effort. 8

While forest working plans had been created for the private Adirondack forest preserves of Seward Webb’s Nehasanee Park and the Whitney Preserve, this effort was the first in the nation concerning public lands. It was the first to combine a lumberman’s perspective with that of a forester’s survey of the forest. 9 As Hosmer stated, “The foresters made actual surveys, gridironing the tract, carefully measuring the trees in diameter, and estimating the heights; so that with so-called volume tables showing the board contents of the logs…very accurate estimates could be made as to what was standing on the land.” 10

The base of operations for Hosmer and his team was the State forestry camp noted as “on the North Bay of Raquette Lake”, but I could not find a description of the campsite’s exact location. However, I did see a name I recognized: H. S. Meekham, one of the State foresters on the project. 11

The 1900 Lumbering Map of Township 40 created by the same H. S. Meekham hangs on our living room wall. The location of the campsite is clearly marked as “Forester’s Point”, east of what today is called Quaker Beach.

Foresters Point

The forest working plan for Township 40 was never implemented because the effort to repeal the “Forever Wild” amendment failed, as did the original College of Forestry itself. Wealthy New Yorkers owned private summer camps in Saranac Lake adjoining the forestlands that Prof. Fernow clear-cut to prepare his demonstration forest. The camp owners sparked a newspaper outcry over mismanagement of the forestlands (their hunting grounds) and ultimately persuaded the new Governor Odell to defund the entire College of Forestry in 1903. 12

It was not until 1911 that a new State College of Forestry was established at Syracuse University with a mandate for forest conservation. Louis Marshall, father of the renowned wilderness conservationist Bob Marshall, was the university trustee who lobbied Governor Hughes for a professional college of forestry in the state saying,

one of the greatest duties of State and National Governments is that of conserving our natural resources. The State of New York…[has] millions of acres of forest lands which are in constant jeopardy, and which is beginning to suffer the consequences of the evils of deforestation…[The State] is under an imperative duty to call a halt to the wild rage for destruction which seems to grow by what it feeds upon. 13

The new College created the State Ranger School and the Summer Camp for the College’s four-year degree students at Wanakena on Cranberry Lake. However, the August Forest Camp was indeed a separate program, as this 1916 advertisement in American Forestry magazine shows. 14

1916 American Forestry ad

The four-week Forest Camp is one of the earliest examples of a career exploration program for high school youth as well as an adult learning vacation designed to build a political constituency that would advocate for forest conservation.

The College’s bulletin described it thus:

The August Forest Camp has been very successful in its purpose which has been the development of the Forestry attitude among men who are interested in the forest and yet who do not expect to be connected in any way with forestry work. It is not the idea of the Camp to train foresters and the College prefers that the men who go into the Camp come from offices, from other walks of life, to which they will return with renewed interest in and a right attitude toward the forest. In some instances young men who are thinking of going into Forestry but have not decided will find the Camp a very desirable place to let them decide definitively. 15

The first August Forest Camps were held in 1913 and 1914 at Hoel Pond just north of Upper Saranac Lake. Although a beautiful landscape, the pond was not ideal for gaining access to virgin forest. Raquette Lake was chosen for “being in the midst of a very large tract of State land and the lake is so connected with the chain of other lakes that very attractive canoe trips may be taken [for] carrying out the field work.” 16

This innovative camp was held on our family’s property in 1915 and 1916, a successful endeavor that was ended by the onset of World War I. Alas, just like the original Thacher cabin of the 1880s, neither detailed descriptions nor photos of these two August Forest Camps appear to have survived.

 

Township 40 Prop #4

If you are a resident of New York State, please Vote Yes on Prop #4.

While the 50 acres of Beach and Wood at the tips of Indian Point have clear title which dates back to before the creation of the Forest Preserve in 1885, much of Indian Point and the surrounding shoreline of Raquette Lake have been embroiled in a century of controversy.   The State of New York has until now refused to honor as valid the land titles of many of our neighbors, some who have owned their property for near 100 years.  This controversy will hopefully be solved in the coming days if New York State voters approve Proposition #4.  This proposed amendment to the state constitution will allow a land swap that will provide clear title to the Raquette Lake landowners in exchange for valuable lands being added to the Forever Wild Forest Preserve.  The Township 40 landowners in question will pay a special assessment to generate a fund which will be used to purchase the new lands to be added to the Forest Preserve.

In support of Proposition #4, I am highlighting informational websites regarding this issue:  Adirondack Express article, Adirondack Almanac article and the Township 40 website.

It is expected that the lands to be added to the Forest Preserve will be along the Marion River and Utowana Lake, forever protecting public access to a historical and present-day vital waterway between Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain Lake.  The lands also contain the location of the former Marion River Railroad and the current Canoe Carry.

In honor of Proposition #4, I am republishing the following description of a night trip on the Marion River written by Chauncey Hathorn of Raquette Lake and published in the Syracuse Sunday Times in 1878.

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