As I described in last week’s Dispatch, the more I become engrossed in Adirondack history the more my interest has grown in Archibald Campbell’s incomplete survey of the northern line of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase.
Having possession of his field notes and maps plus a 1911 large-format map of the Adirondack Park as well as modern USGS maps, I did a bunch of digitizing, calibrating, measuring and finagling, virtually recreating his journey. This summer I plan to hike it to see it for real and compare my experiences to his. But the virtual trip was a most interesting project for me and I would like to take you along.
Beware! Unless you are a Class-One Adirondack Nerd this Dispatch might lead to narcolepsy. But if you have been following my surveying series with interest, then lace your boots, grab your gaiters, your Gunter’s chain and your rum and let’s hike together into the primeval forest.
As we make our way through the wilderness we will follow Campbell’s field notes, which give a better insight into his route than they do the man himself. Indeed, one wishes that more of his personality came through, but there are glimpses here and there. Some of his nature is hinted at by his language, which is worth retaining; Thus whenever I quote Campbell below I have preserved his varied and somewhat coarse spelling and inconsistent capitalization.
Archibald Campbell began the survey of the northern line of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase at his great corner which is situated at the western edge of the Five Ponds Wilderness about three and a half miles south of Streeter Lake and a quarter of a mile east of the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River. If you look at a map of the Adirondacks that has county lines, note that the county line between St. Lawrence and Herkimer Counties has a bend in it. The exact point of that bend is the location of Campbell’s corner. The corner is 1,620 feet above sea level, then as now a low, swampy area, difficult to navigate. Campbell described it thusly: “Standing on the East side of a Rising Round Hill and at the West side of a Swamp.” The referenced hill slopes gently upward to the west no more than forty feet in total, then descends to within a few hundred feet of the Oswegatchie.
Campbell described the marked corner as “A spruce Tree No. XLIII A.C. 1772.” At some point a wooden corner post was set as well but when this occurred I have not ascertained. It was apparently set by someone other than Campbell, long before Verplanck Colvin reset it a century later.
Campbell began chaining to the east over relatively flat, low terrain, slowly gaining elevation. Interestingly his field notes do not include a bearing. He may indeed have gone due magnetic east: the line we memorialize today is not due magnetic east but it is close; in the meantime magnetic declination has changed in the two hundred and forty years since Campbell ran his line and it would be quite difficult to determine his original compass measurements.
At 64 chains or 0.8 miles he came to “A Run Going North,” noting “Stony” land. This was a feeder stream to Basset’s Creek which is part of the Oswegatchie drainage. At his first mile he marked a spruce sapling, then 330 feet later came to the edge of a “Tamarack Swamp,” which we would today classify as a Conifer Swamp forest community, one of many he had ahead of him. The swampy section did not last long and over the next three quarters of a mile he climbed two hundred sixty feet to the side of an unnamed hill, where he was about sixty feet below its 2,020 foot summit. This he described as “the N. End of a hill Land stony & Rocky. here is Beach timber…”
Campbell’s field notes are spartan and utilitarian; they are strictly focused in the work of recording distances. He never waxes poetic and rarely reflects upon what he is seeing. But here and there he does editorialize on the quality of the land. Most often the signifier of his affections is the beech tree (he sometimes spells it “beech” and other times “beach”; curious about that I dug around; the etymology of the word suggests either spelling was used in the British Isles). This shows that Archibald was interested in the agricultural potential of cleared land (at a later point in the survey he offers this lovely turn of phrase, in which you can hear his Scottish brogue: “this is a fine Land for to make meadow”). He clearly knew, as we do today, that the richest soil in the region was that which supported a northern hardwood forest.
It has to classify as quite an irony that the spruce tracts he traversed, spruce being economically the most important tree in the history of the Adirondacks and the prized object of lumbering for decades, were regularly derided by him as poor land or even “Poor spruce Land.” This is all the more ironic as the Jessups were interested in the timber on their great purchase. They were developing a significant lumbering operation on their tract along the Hudson, presaging the great lumber operations of the following century. It is likely, however, that their focus at the time was the white pine. The fixation on the spruce was decades away yet. The soils in a spruce forest being poor for agriculture, Campbell’s uncomplimentary attitude makes sense.
Campbell continued the next three miles without comment. At 348 chains, a little over 4.3 miles, he encountered a “S. B. R. N. than over good Land Beech & maple & Hemlock Timber.” The S. B. R. N. was a small brook running north; frequently Campbell abbreviated brooks, though with plenty variation in his abbreviations. With an excess of these abbreviations in evidence, one might conclude that he would have been at home in a modern information technology job. In any case this brook is extant on the 1911 map, right where he found it, although it is a curved potion of the same brook he was about to come upon in another half mile. If the 1911 map is accurate he was mistaken about its direction, for it ran south and then curved back north at 380 chains. However on the modern map it no longer exists. This is likely a flow that is too minor to be on the topo map; either that or it is truly no longer there having that changed over time, this being not an uncommon thing in low areas of the Adirondacks.
At 380 chains, 4.75 miles, Campbell noted the brook running north. This is a feeder stream to the East Branch of the Oswegatchie. After crossing another small feeder stream Campbell began a climb that became steep at 446 chains, achieving the narrow summit of what he described as “a high hill.” It was no doubt a wooded summit, for had he enjoyed any view to the south he would have seen two of the Five Ponds, the remaining three being separated by a steep, narrow esker. The closest of the Five Ponds was due south, no more than a third of a mile away from him but he made no note of any body of water. Descending on “good Beach land” he entered a long stretch of feeder streams, the outlet stream from Wolf Pond, swampy land and, of course, “Poor spruce Land.”
At 580 chains, 7.25 miles, Campbell entered “a piece of Burnt Land” in swampy territory. What is interesting about this is its extent: his chaining entries continue to refer to burnt land until he “Got out of said swamp” at 770 chains. That makes for a distance of 190 chains or almost two and a half miles. This is a sizable swatch of land! I would give a lot to have had Archibald write more detail down; there is no indication of how old the burn was, its north-south extent, how many trees it left standing. But if we assume that the burn radiated from a central point we can use his chaining to conservatively say that it covered on the order of 2,000 acres. It is generally accepted that occasional forest fires before the era of logging and railroads were small and did not spread, for a variety of reasons. Barbara McMartin made this point repeatedly in her seminal work The Great Forest of the Adirondacks. But here is a burn of significant extent in 1772. One can only speculate, but this area of the burn was in the general area of a major Mohawk trail and hunting route (more on the trail).
At 647 chains, just about exactly 8 miles in, Campbell reached a water course that received special language, a “fine B. R. N. W.” This was the East Branch of the Oswegatchie, right where it is supposed to be.
After having “Got out” of his burnt land swamp, Campbell enjoyed “sum fine Land A Long a brook. Which runs threw said swamp” and on to the south ridge of a “Round hill” along a mile of “fine Beech land” (new spelling). This hill was the series of ridges just southeast of Threemile Mountain. At 880 chains, exactly 11 miles, he marked a tree and spied a larger body of water to his south about a hundred yards through the woods. He took a side trip to it and estimated its distance at 50 chains, or 3,300 feet. This was Big Deer Pond, just west of Lows Lake.
After proceeding through a swampy area Campbell finally hit an obstacle he had to go around, a small lake at 1021 chains. He diverted north 7 chains and circumvented it, calculating its width at 38 chains, almost exactly half a mile. On the 1911 map it was identified as Mud Lake. Today Mud Lake, some additional streams Campbell noted in his survey and several small ponds, all of these being part of the Bog River Flow, no longer exist. They were victims of the most significant change along the entire route, a route that is otherwise not greatly different today than it was in 1772. In 1903 and 1907 entrepreneur and industrial bon vivant A. Augustus Low put two hydroelectric dams on the Bog River Flow creating today’s Lows Lake and in the process submerging about two miles of Archibald Campbell’s northern line. What took Campbell roughly 50 chains to circumvent in 1772 would involve roughly ten times the effort for today’s hiker (and trespassing on private land).
Interestingly the 1911 map, based upon surveys of the area conducted prior to the construction of the 1907 dam, shows nothing of these projects or their effects.
At 1090 chains or 13.6 miles Campbell notes a “Deep Still Brook running north East out of said Lake, here is Low flat Land, all Tamarack Timber for Sum miles as we Run” (no wonder it flooded so easily). The 1911 map shows a stream here running northeast to 4th Pond, draining Spruce Grouse and 3rd Ponds as well. Today’s topo shows none of those features but does show you having a nice swim in Lows Lake.
The next series of entries are unremarkable, traversing the low, swampy land related to the Bog River Flow. At 1420 chains, 17.75 miles Campbell came upon the ”West End of a Lake,” today’s Long Pond.
After two more miles in low, swampy land (all Bog River Flow), at 1579 chains, Campbell reached “a Brook R. N. E. in a Bevor Damb” (the outlet stream from Little Trout Pond) and then a ridge which he described as follows: “Ass’d a high Rocky hill, this is the only one we have met with on this Line.” This is an interesting description, for the hill he had already climbed at 446 chains was twice the effort. It may have been this one’s rocky, open nature to which he was referring when he wrote “the only one.” The other interesting thing about this description is that it gives a clue to Campbell’s bearing. Had he been on the actual 21-century line he would have skirted the ridge and not climbed near the top. Although he may have detoured to it, this and other small clues here and there indicate that his bearing was a little bit south of the current line.
At 1600 chains, exactly 20 miles, Campbell just touched the west end of “a small Lake about half a mile Long.” This was Trout Pond (known as big Trout Pond on the 1911 map). He clearly did not explore the boundaries of this body of water. From his view on the western end the true length was obscured by how southern shore juts out, enough to make it appear as though it might end there, about 1/2 mile in total distance. But in fact it continues on around the small bend for more than a mile. This is a good example of how visual reconnaissance, even with a practiced eye, cannot be relied upon, a fact that cost future surveyors plenty when Campbell eyeballed the remainder of the line from Coney Mountain at the end of his odyssey.
It is worth pausing here to consider what Campbell and crew had done to this point. They had run a line twenty miles into an unknown wilderness, accurately recording the distances to every major feature. Twenty miles is 1,600 chains. Adding in the go-around at Mud Lake as well as the numerous times that his crew had to “break the chain” – make a measurement of a partial chain distance because of going up or down a hill (remember that all chain measurements are along the level plane) – by this point Campbell and team had gone through the process of making chain measurements close to two thousand times (not to mention the more than five thousand measurements on the western line going to the great corner). For each one of these the chain had to be staked, sighted, straightened, adjusted and re-staked, then calculations made (or parameters recorded for calculations to be made later) to account for sag, tension and temperature. Considering all of the complexities and possibilities for error, could you measure a single chain to Campbell’s standard for accuracy (about ½ an inch)? How about two thousand in a row? I imagine that you can begin to grasp why good surveyors were so highly regarded and sought after.
Campbell proceeded along the series of ridges separating Trout Pond from High Pond on “Poor and Rocky” land At 1645 chains, a little over 20.5 miles he just brushed the eastern end of High Pond. From here he proceeded through similar land (a mixture of hardwood forest and swampy areas with a variety of streams) for nearly five miles until he came to a larger stream. This one, at 1941 chains, 24.25 miles, he described as “a Large Brook Running N. W. this has Large falls & is very Rocky.” This was Round Lake Stream which flows north, joins the Bog River and flows into the south of Big Tupper Lake.
At this point things changed for Archibald Campbell. He was just south of Tupper Lake and for the most part the low, swampy land was behind him. The route was about to get a lot more up and down, as a mountainous region was ahead. At 2000 chains, exactly 25 miles in, he came to the “West side of a Rocky hill,” then down to a “R. G. N.” (feeder to the Bog River) at 2048 chains, 25.6 miles. Immediately following was a steeper rise and then an even steeper descent to a well-defined valley with a stream at 2104 chains, 26.3 miles. From the edge of the stream there was undoubtedly a clear view of much more vertical before him. The valley he found himself in was the one through which Route 30 proceeds, paralleled by Cold Brook.
Campbell continued up from the stream. The greater vertical rise earned a change of language as he “Ass’d a mountain” where “at 2138 Chains Came to the Line Run from the North Branch of Hudson’s River about 10 miles above the forks and at the End of 55 miles & 32 ch. as mark’d By Messrs. Jessup & Crain.” This was 26.73 miles from the great corner.
There is no record of exactly where Campbell found Jessup’s line of mile trees or how close to the end of it he was when he hit it, but for the two lines to meet at or near the expected distance is some pretty good work. As an example, suppose that Campbell’s bearing was off by a cumulative half-degree from his great corner. Then after 2138 chains he would be off either north or south by about a quarter of a mile. If he was north of Jessup’s line he would have had one hell of a time finding it.
At any rate, find it he did and at that point he desired to end the survey. Here is his description: “from the End of the aforesaid Line I Showed the Indians the Course of the Line to the East of a high hill which gave a full view to the East, and they all Agreed & was fully Satisfyed with the Course to be Continued & So Chose to Return home Without Going any farther along said Line.” An educated guess is that Campbell and party climbed from the valley to the col between Coney Mountain and an unnamed summit just to the south where they met Jessup’s line. Campbell then climbed Coney Mountain from that point in order to take a look to the east. The view that greeted them showed that they were generally going the right direction and that hard climbing lay ahead.
Having decided to end the survey Campbell instructed Mr. Crane to run a completely different line to the Hudson from a southeastern corner of the tract, many miles distant, which I presume would have been intended be a baseline to eventually situate the northern line at its eastern end: “here Stoped and Got Mr. Moses Crain to goe to the S. E. Corner of the 30th Township & Run a Line N. 60″ E. 376 Chains to one of the Branches of Hudson’s River as was Supposed to be the head of the Same.” But whatever the reason for mentioning this instruction he went no further along the northern line, leaving intact an errant assumption about where the line eventually terminated. As mentioned several times before, it took more than 130 years to finally correct this problem.
There are all sorts of unanswered questions about Campbell’s survey. First, no one knows why he quit when he did, whether it was by design. One story is that the rum had given out. This is an unlikely reason; historically surveyors were always running low on provisions (even those provisions more important than rum!) and they sallied onward anyhow. Another is that the imposing landscape ahead promised great difficulties and Campbell figured he could put the rest off, that the line could be worked as townships were laid out. It could have been the coming of colder weather. It could have been a combination of things. The answer is lost to history.
Another question is why Campbell made no mention of the major Mohawk trail he must have crossed. This well-known path, the self same trail that he likely took on his way to Snowy Mountain the previous year, the very same trail Sir John Johnson took in his retreat from American forces but a few years later, proceeded through the Canada Lakes area to the Fulton Chain, then North along the Raquette, between Long and Tupper Lakes and on to the northwest. Although to my knowledge the exact location of this trail is not certain, it undoubtedly met the northern line. Surely the Mohawk observers knew it when they saw it. But Campbell’s notes make no reference to it.
There is also no record of how Archibald Campbell returned to civilization. One assumes he followed Jessup’s line 55 miles back, in the process bisecting Long Lake and seeing the central Adirondacks in their developing fall glory.
Assuming his route back was along Jessup’s line than all in all Campbell and his team traveled an astounding 140 miles and made between 8,000 and 9,000 chain measurements, each painstakingly executed to be as accurate as possible. In the process, for better or worse, they determined the much of the fate of Adirondack Park’s land ownership and disputes for many decades following. They created the gore that held Noah John Rondeau’s Mayorship; they gave impetus to the naming of Gore Mountain; they gave us county boundaries, bends and all; and they gave us a pattern of private/public land ownership that is completely obvious from any current map.
Archibald Campbell went on to conduct other important surveys in and around the Adirondack region. His work was well-enough regarded that he was made a New York Deputy State Surveyor in 1785. But though he was among the first to measure into the interior of the Adirondacks, he was not the only surveyor plying his craft in these mountains. Two more massive tracts were shortly to come into existence, each of them bordered by and thus shining the spotlight on Campbell’s unfinished northern line. The need to layout these tracts put other surveyors to work in the wilderness. One of those efforts in particular was so utterly astounding that it makes Campbell’s labor to survey the Totten and Crossfield Purchase look like a stroll in Central Park. That story will be featured next week as we continue our adventures with the magic of surveying.
Photo: “Poor Spruce Land” in the Five Ponds Wilderness. Photo Courtesy Wikipedia.