Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Short History of Lows Lake on The Bog River

Lows Lake (about 3,100 acres) is located in St. Lawrence and Hamilton counties, part of the St. Lawrence Drainage basin (Raquette Sub-Basin). It’s a ponded water on the Bog River Flow, one of 21 over a square mile in size held back by dams in the St. Lawrence Basin. The largest dammed lake in the basin is Cranberry Lake (just north of Lows Lake), which has regulated the flow of the Oswegatchie River since 1867.

The northeast shore of Lows Lake is privately held, but the rest (except a few small parcels) is mostly surrounded by Forest Preserve. Sabattis Scout Reservation owns a portion of the lake, three islands, and a Boy Scout camp on the north side. The western end of Lows Lake lies deep within the proposed Bob Marshall Wilderness.

The area around Lows Lake was considered to have abundant wildlife in the nineteenth century and was one of the most remote locations in the east. Samuel Hammond reported that beaver survived in Bog River until at least 1850. In 1857, he described the upper reaches of the Bog River, which Lows Lake would eventually flood:

This river comes down from the hills away back in the wilderness, sometimes rushing with a roar over rocks and through gorges, sometimes plunging down precipices, and sometimes moving with a deep and sluggish current across a broad sweep of table land. For several miles back of [Tupper] lake, and until a few rods of the shore, it is a calm, deep river.

Joel Headley described a canoe trip up the Bog River, from Tupper Lake, to Mud Lake
(now Lows Lake) that included nine carries. Hammond, A. B. Street and Harvey Moody all reported killing moose in the area in the mid-1850s and both Woods and Waters and Forest and Stream reported the presence of panther in the upper Bog River area as late as 1900.

Development of Lows Lake began in about 1855 when Franklin Jenkins, from Lewis (in Essex County) established a saw mill on the Bog River at the head of Tupper Lake. Logging was already well established along the upper reaches of the Bog River by the time of the Civil War when there were four dams built between Bog River Falls and Winding River Falls. The lake was named after Abbott Augustus Low (1843-1912) who owned the village of Horseshoe and established the A.A. Low Forestry Company there.

Low was the wealthy son of Abiel Abbot Low (1811-1893) who was an importer of Chinese goods (particullarly tea) and later a railroad owner. Augustus Low was born in Brooklyn. Low’s brother Seth Low served as Mayor of Brooklyn and the newly consolidated New York City, as well as President of Columbia University. Augustus Low served on the board of directors for a number of companies, most notably the Economy Electric Light Company, the New York Kerosene Oil Engine Company, and the family firm of A.A. Low Brothers (a shipping company, that’s their flag above left).

Low had about 140 patents and trademarks issued or assigned to him or one of his companies including “electrical appliances, heaters, lamps, an electrocuting mousetrap; typesetting apparatus including calenders and compositor’s sticks; elements for kerosene, gas, oil or other hydrocarbon engines, stoves or burners; and marine equipment including compasses, ventilators, and a submarine. Other inventions number devices for disposing of waste paper, eyeglasses and a desk.”

Low owned 40,000 acres in the area (including the village of Horseshoe) and in 1896 helped establish the Horseshoe Depot on on the Adirondack & St. Lawrence Railroad (later the New York Central). The following year he built three spurs from the Adirondack & St. Lawrence, the first such connections to that road for logging purposes. Low’s Horseshoe Forestry Company also exploited the area’s other natural resources; his railway shipped maple syrup (in 1907, three evaporators produced 20,000 gallons )and spring water (c. 1899-1904 bottled from springs near Hitchins Pond). Logging ended with the Fire of 1908, and the rail line stopped running in 1911; it was abandoned in 1922.

Low built two hydroelectric dams along the eastern portion of the Bog River Flow. In 1903 he organized the construction of the lower dam at Hitchins Pond. It was built to provide electricity for the Horseshoe Forestry Company. The upper dam was built in 1907 and created Lows Lake from Bog River Flow, Mud Lake, Grass Pond and Tomar Pond.

A number of unique natural history events have occurred on Lows Lake over the years. The south side of Graves Mountain (named for Tupper Lake guide) was eroded after the September 1908 Forest Fire which burned over most of these lands, and destroyed the community of Sabattis (Long Lake West). The floating bog island known as “Horsehead Island” was located at the western end of Lows Lake until the 1980s when a large piece separated and floated east to its present location near the Boone’s Landing campsite. Lows Lake was classified a Primitive Area in 1989.

In January 2003, when it signed the Bog River Unit Management Plan, DEC agreed to phase out commercial floatplane use of Lows Lake within five years, but the agency never developed the regulation to implement the ban. In May 2008, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the Sierra Club and the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks sued DEC. The lawsuit was adjourned while APA considered DEC’s proposed amendment to the Bog River UMP, which would have allowed floatplanes to use the lake under a permit system for 10 additional years. In October 2008, APA commissioners rejected that amendment after being advised by APA staff that it was inconsistent with the Master Plan.

More recently the DEC has proposed an amendment to the Bog River Unit Management Plan to allow floatplane use on Lows Lake through 2012.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




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