Monday, July 22, 2013

New State Lands: Proposed Upper Hudson River Dams

Gooley-Kettle19Like many readers of the Adirondack Almanack, I have been closely following the public meetings, discussions, editorials, and position statements concerning the land use proposals for the former Finch-Pruyn lands encompassing the Essex Chain of Lakes and the Upper Hudson River. I do have my favored position, as does everyone who loves and appreciates the Adirondacks.  But my intent here is to talk about the “near losses”. That is to say the geographic area of our concern, over the many years, would have been very different, if a few politicians, and engineers had their way.

Of course a near loss would have been if the State of New York had not purchased the land from the Nature Conservancy. Another near loss would have been if the Nature Conservancy had not purchased the property form the Finch-Pruyn Paper Company in the first place.  The citizens of New York State could have lost it all.

But there was another potential loss, in the mid-to-late 1960’s that would have mooted all of the present discussions.  There was a plan to dam the Upper Hudson in order to supply water and hydro-electric power to the parched, urban, metropolitan area of New York City. 

In the early 1960’s there had been a severe drought along the entire northeastern seaboard of the United States.  New York City’s answer to the drought problem was to tap the Upper Hudson River in the Adirondacks to supply its seemingly unquenchable need for water.  There were other ideas to solve the drought problem, for example, water conservation or obtaining water from sources other than the Adirondacks, but those are stories for another time.

Dave Gibson noted the near loss of the Upper Hudson lands, citing the Gooley Dam in his recent Almanack article “Fighting For a Wild Upper Hudson, 1968-2013.” This dam, Gooley #1, is a long story full of turmoil.  But the basic facts are that Paul Schaefer of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks founded a new organization the Adirondack Hudson River Association and started the movement to prevent the construction of the dam, more correctly two dams.  The first, Gooley #1 Dam and the second was the Kettle Mountain Dam.  Paul Schaefer and the Adirondack Hudson River Association used the same argument that had been used in battling the Moose River dams ( Higley and Panther Mountain, 1945-1955) and that was that any such construction violated the New York State Constitution, Article XIV. Schaefer had the very unique ability to gain support for an idea from very diverse interest groups.

In the case of Gooley #1 Paul Schaefer was able to show that a 200 ft dam just downriver from the confluence of the Hudson River and the Indian River was not a good idea to many such groups.  The proposed impoundment area would have flooded 25 miles of the Upper Hudson all he way past Newcomb.  It would have included much of the area we are now discussing along the Essex Chain of Lakes and the Cedar River.  As-well-as the nearby areas of the Goodnow Flow, Wolf Creek, Harris Lake, Rich Lake and Catlin Lake.  All would have been potentially flooded creating the largest reservoir in New York State.  Depending on the water use (or abuse) in New York City there could have been a seasonal draw-down of up to 55 ft of water, which would have resulted in extensive, and very messy mudflats surrounding the periphery of the proposed impoundment.  In the spring the high water level would have been at 1610 ft (light blue on the accompanying map) and in late summer- early fall a low water level of 1590 feet (medium blue).  The present water levels of lakes and rivers are in dark blue.

Although less frequently mentioned, the other dam being considered at that time was a “sister” dam at Kettle Mountain. Kettle Mountain is located five miles downriver from the proposed Gooley site. This dam would have also stood 200 ft high. The proposed impoundment would have backed-up water to the foot of the Gooley #1 dam.  It would have flooded all of what is known as the Hudson Gorge.  Including the area of the Blue Ledges and OK Slip falls.

In combination these dams would have damaged some of the most pristine, primitive areas in the Adirondacks.  Paul Schaefer wrote in 1968 about the uniqueness of the Upper Hudson River in his essay “ The Impending Tragedy of the Upper Hudson”:

“ The Hudson from the Indian River downstream is exquisite.  It is a symphony of rapids and great dark pools, of water-sculptured rock banks and immense overpowering cliffs.  From the trails leading to the river, the roar of the rapids can be heard in the splendid forests, which includes some virgin timber.  The trails cross extensive winter yarding grounds of deer and some semiopen country, excellent big game range, which was recently acquired by the State. A glimpse of the river is one always to be remembered.  It roars over boulders, swirls in great eddies and whirlpools, boils from hidden obstructions, and rushes away untamed to the next white-water rapids.  The sand bars along quieter stretches are laced with the tracks of coon and otter and bird life.  Deer and bear frequent certain shores.  Banks of ferns and clumps of flowers grow in unexpected profusion. Great white pines and ancient cedars crown the heavy forests which encloses the steep banks and rock cliffs.  Stunted trees cling precariously to tiny ledges high in the rocks.  Hawks sore in the narrow sky visible above the river. Above the cliffs and the steep banks on both sides of the river, for the entire length of the proposed reservoir, are unbroken forests and numerous lakes and streams, many of which are State-owned. . . . Good trails penetrate the miles of rugged country between the existing state roads and the river.  It is the kind of country big enough and wild enough to challenge most of us, yet it is accessible.  It is the kind of country that is rapidly disappearing from the face of America.  It is this kind of country that is needed desperately by a civilization which is rapidly becoming more restricted and more artificial.”

 Rafters at Blue Ledges on Hudson River (Mike Prescott photo).But the proposed Gooley #1 Dam and the Kettle Mountain Dams were not the first of the near losses.   They were only the most recent episode in a long history of proposed dams throughout the Upper Hudson watershed.  The Indian River ( Indian Lake ), Cedar River, Rock River, Essex Chain of Lakes, and Goodnow Flow were the subject of several dam plans some of which came to fruition.   In, Farrand N. Benedict’s report Report and Survey of the Waters of the Upper Hudson and Raquette Rivers (1874), there was mention of dams to built on Rich and Harris Lakes as well as dams on the Goodnow Flow and on the Chain Lakes to help provide water for the Champlain Canal through the Feeder Canal system in Glens Falls.  Also in 1874 Verplanck Colvin’s Report of the Topographical Survey of the Adirondack Wilderness of New York State called for Upper Hudson River check dams and an aqueduct to follow the right-of-way of the Adirondack Railroad (1871) to “provide water for cities” (presumably New York City, Albany, Troy and Schenectady).

A few years before the completion the of the Indian Lake dam 1898 there were plans presented by State Engineer George Rafter, in the State of New York Report of the State Engineer, 1895 for dams to be placed on the Chain Lakes, Goodnow Flow, and the Boreas River.  And in a 1908 report, Studies of Water Storage for Flood Prevention and Power Development in the State of New York, there was a call for additional studies for flood control dams to built on tributaries of the Upper Hudson.

Another report in 1912, the First Annual Report of the Conservation Commission, Division of Inland Waters, called for a dam on the Cedar River, a much larger Indian Lake Dam, and the first mention of a dams along the Hudson at Kettle Mountain.  This plan not only included a dam, but underground tunnels or penstocks for water to flow to hydro-electric power stations.

In 1922 the New York State Water Commission issued an extensive report Water Power and Storage Possibilities of the Hudson River, where there was first mention of a Gooley Reservoir.  There was also mention of proposed dams at Ord Falls on the Hudson, a Chain Lakes Reservoir, and again an increased Indian Lake Reservoir.  In 1937, at the height of the great depression the Hamilton County News, reported a proposal for a 110 ft dam to be constructed on the Cedar River to impound the Essex Chain of Lakes.

All of these proposals from the 1870’s to the 1930’s met with economic, political, or engineering complications.  After the depression, and World War II, and after the harnessing of the Raquette River as part of the Robert Moses power projects, the idea of harnessing the upper Hudson persisted.  New York City and Westchester County lobbied for increased access to fresh water.  Thus the Gooley #1 and Kettle Mountain proposals of the 1960’s were born.

In the 1960’s Gooley #1 and the Kettle Mountain Dams were only one part of a larger dam scheme.  In addition there was a plan for two other dams on the Upper Hudson, one at the Glen and another at Hadley, a total of four (4) dams. (More on those in another article.)  But due to Paul Schaefer’s leadership and the hard work of the Adirondack Hudson River Association enough political pressure was brought to the New York State Legislature.  The Smith – Lane Act (State Senator Bernard C. Smith and State Assembly man Clarence Lane) was passed in 1969 and signed into law by Governor Rockefeller, which forbid up-stream construction of dams on the Hudson River from the village of Hadley north. It has been over a century of “near losses”; and in the Twentieth century the work of Paul Schaefer and his associates; and now it is out turn to protect the magnificent Upper Hudson River.   It will be our legacy to workout the details of exactly how that is to be best accomplished.

A few additional notes:

There are at present several dams along the tributaries of the Upper Hudson River that we almost take for granted.  There is the present Indian Lake Dam constructed in 1898.  But there were two-predecessor lumberman’s dams one constructed c.1845, and the other constructed in the 1860’s by Finch Pruyn Co.  The length of Indian Lake in the 1860’s was a little over three miles. But after the 1898 dam (present dam) the length of Indian Lake grew to thirteen miles.  There is also the Lake Adirondack Dam originally begun in 1909 and then reconstructed in 1937-1938 by the Works Progress Administration.  There is also the Lake Abanakee Dam constructed in 1951.

On the Cedar River the Wakley Dam originally a lumberman’s dam for almost a century and reconstructed in concrete in 1964.  On the Rock River there is the Lake Durant dam this time a Civilian Conservation Corps project. (Originally Thirty-four Flow with lumberman dams built in 1850 and 1880).

And on the Sacandaga River there is the Conklingville Dam, constructed in 1930 creating the Great Sacandaga Lake.

A dam on the Schroon River at Tumblehead Falls was planned, contemplated, argued, and not constructed (1895-1916).


+ On almost every stream, pond or lake in the Adirondacks there is still evidence of lumberman’s dams and lumbering operations.


+A 200 ft dam is approximately the height of a 12 to 15 storey commercial building.


+The Smith-Lane Act was unanimous approved in both the Senate (53-0) and Assembly (146-0).  How was that possible ?

Illustrations: Above, map by Richard Rosen; middle, rafting the Hudson Gorge at Blue Ledges (Photo by Mike Prescott); and below, the second Indian Lake Dam (c. 1860’s).

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Mike Prescott is a former history teacher and secondary school principal who found a new retirement avocation in paddling Adirondack waters and exploring their history. Mike is a retired New York State Licensed Guide, and also volunteers with the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, the Raquette River Blueway Corridor, the New York State Trails Council and with the Adirondack Mountain Club. Feel free to contact him at

7 Responses

  1. Naj Wikoff says:

    Mike and David Gibson make a strong case for naming this Wilderness, after Paul Schaefer for without his leadership there would not be a wilderness, an Essex Chain of Lakes and so on for us to be considering how best to protect and to what degree make public access available.

  2. Dave Gibson says:

    Mike, truly a pleasure to read and gain perspective on 19th-early 20th century dam(n) visionaries! Great you have a copy of Paul Schaefer’s Defending the Wilderness.

    Just a small point in response: Paul’s Upper Hudson Association was an offshoot of Friends of the Forest Preserve, Inc. his organization founded in 1945. While Paul later became an officer of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks (c. 1957-1996), he used Friends as his basic conservation umbrella.

  3. Paul says:

    “+ On almost every stream, pond or lake in the Adirondacks there is still evidence of lumberman’s dams and lumbering operations.”

    Mike, I suppose this is true in the sense that they have mostly been lumbered around but there are lots of water bodies that were not any part of damming or log transport activities. More than were I would guess.

  4. Paul says:

    These kinds of things always produce what seems like a bit of a conundrum for environmental groups when you have to stand in opposition to projects promoting renewable sources of energy. The same holds true for many current wind projects. I have even seen opposition to solar projects from some groups. What was the negative impact over the last 4 decades (and in the future) of producing this power with mostly fossil fuel based energy?

  5. Very interesting. This could have been the Hetch Hetchy of the east!

  6. Mike says:

    Having paddled or hiked a great deal of the Adirondacks the evidence of lumber dams and/or the written plans of engineers and Survayors indicates that even the most remote streams, lakes, and ponds were damned or there were plans for dams. Some very small crib type lumberman’s dams and in other areas part an extensive dam master plans with several lakes, ponds, dreams and rivers. You might be very surprised. Stay tuned for more.
    Keep paddling !!!!!

  7. Chuck says:

    Mike – Good factual story. One other small dam might be mentioned, the concrete dam on Henderson Lake, the true source of the Hudson, notwithstanding the existence of that highest wetland on Mt. Marcy called Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds. Under National Lead there was a log crib dam on Henderson Lake, but when they were bought out by Kronos Worldwide/NL Industries in 1986 the concrete dam was built. Henderson Lake and its dam were sold to the Open Space Institute in 2003, as part of a 10,000 acre package and in 2007 OSI sold 7,000 of that amount, including Henderson Lake and the dam, to the State for the Forest Preserve, later classified as part of the High Peaks Wilderness Area.

    Henderson Lake is a nice day trip paddle, with easy access at the dam, walking up hill for a quarter mile from the parking lot at the end of the county road going in to Adirondac. You can paddle across the lake from the dam, angling to the right, and get on the carry trail up to Preston Ponds.

    OSI retained several small inholdings and some rights when it sold to the State. One of them was the right to build a small hydro plant on the dam with a right-of-way for a power line to and across the parking lot to the Masten House, a 44-acre inholding still belonging to OSI but leased to SUNY ESF. The generators at Masten House run on oil and the idea is to switch to hydro at some point.

    National Lead also dammed the Hudson with waste rock at Tahawus, a place for which the name still exists but the place itself is gone as a result of moving most of the buildings for that mining hamlet to Newcomb in order to mine where the buildings once stood. We have National Lead to thank for putting the Hudson through three steel corrugated culverts at the bottom of the waste rock fill, the purpose of which was to build a haul road shortcut between the mill buildings and Cheney Pond.

    The Indian Lake dam was built by the Indian River Company and it is on Forest Preserve land and it is a State-owned dam. The September 2, 1987 deed gives both the State (to water the Feeder Canal) and the Indian River Company, a consortium of paper companies including Finch Pruyn, International Paper and others, the right to maintain and operate the dam, the latter obviously for lumbering purposes. There have been two proposals for constructing hydro on this dam despite its State-ownership and Forest Preserve status, by SNC Adirondack Hydro in 1982 and by the Town of Indian Lake in recent years. In both cases, DEC told the prospective developers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that it was not about to violate Article 14 of the State Constitution by issuing a water quality certification and various permits to construct and operate a hydro plant on the Indian Lake dam or create a precedent for hydro on other State-owned dams in the Forest Preserve. End of story, at least until some other well-intentioned person gets “hydro fever” when they look at Indian Lake dam and puts everyone through the wringer again.

    For another time there is a lot more to say about (1) the 1886 house on Forest Preserve land at the Indian Lake dam, about (2) ownership and operating rights with respect to the 1988 transfer from the Indian River Company to HRBRRD by quit claim deed for $1.00, about (3) the legalities (or not) of making periodic if not pulsating releases for rafting and for flow augmentation for downstream hydro generation into a designated Wild, Scenic and Recreational River that is classified as “Scenic,” and that (4) the waves that impact a “Wild” WSRR at the Hudson River – Indian River junction, about (5) the ecological condition of the Indian River, about (6) the role of Lake Abanakee in the pulsations affecting the WSRR and about (7) the legality (or not) of the DEC Temporary Revocable Permit for Forest Preserve access to the Indian River for the commercial rafting.

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