Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Fulton Chain Steamer ‘Fawn’

P146 Fawn Unloading Passenger Cargo024In 2008, an exhibit at the Goodsell Museum in Old Forge honored the train stations used by the railroads of the West Central Adirondacks.  The first railroad in the region, nicknamed the “Peg Leg Railroad” or “Wooden Railroad”, did not quite extend to the Forge Tract as planned.  But a more “green” option, in both literal and modern metaphorical terms, provided the additional distance not permitted to this railroad.  The vehicle of the landowner’s choice was a steamer that, in the event of a boiler fire, would have sufficient water available to quench the fire.

Julia deCamp’s father Lyman R. Lyon originally owned all of Township 8, John Brown’s Tract, a replica map of which you can buy at the Goodsell Museum.  Lyon conveyed a two-thirds portion that eventually was acquired by the Sacketts Harbor Railroad Company and subsequently mortgaged in the 1850s.  A few corporate owners and receiverships later, this portion was acquired by Thomas C. Durant for his Adirondack Company that built the railroad from Saratoga Springs to North Creek. 

In a court partition suit with Lyon in 1867, Durant’s company acquired the remaining third except for two parcels:  250 acres at the head of Third Lake on which later was Perrie’s Third Lake House and Barrett’s Bald Mountain House and 160 acres at First and Second Lakes.  The former parcel was sold by Lyon’s estate in April 1871 to the builders of the Forge House, Dr. George Desbrough and John Milton Buell.  Julia inherited the latter parcel along with approximately 32,000 acres in Townships 1 and 7, including much of the North and Middle Branches Moose River from Clearwater to McKeever.  In August 1876, Julia married William Scott deCamp who would take an active role in the stewardship of her inheritance.

In July 1888, H. Dwight Grant, with the help of several guides and carpenters that included George Deis, Will Sperry and Phil Cristy, built a “fine camp and summer residence” for the deCamps on the bluff of an island on their Township 8 parcel which they named “deCamp Island” and their camp “Camp deCamp”.

While the camp was being built, Dr. Alexander Crosby and Samuel Garmon purchased the Forge Tract and Forge House hotel in April 1888.  To attract prospective landowners and lodgers, Garmon & Crosby completely rebuilt the hotel.  Gordias Henry P. Gould, previously a partner with Lyman Lyon, joined Garmon & Crosby in planning a railroad from the Moose River tannery settlement to the Forge House.  According to an April 1888 newspaper account, travelers on stages from Boonville and Port Leyden could arrive at the Moose River House terminus for the new railroad and reach the Fulton Chain without enduring the physical hardships of the long unpopular John Brown’s Tract Road.  Gould owned the first portion of the land on which the line would run.  The reporter briefly mentioned that the larger portion of the route passed over the lands of Mrs. deCamp.

By the time Camp deCamp was completed, the deCamps probably read about the locomotive acquired, instead of horses, to pull cars on the wooden rails installed in Gould’s woods.  They refused the right-of-way for the line over their lands for fear of fire damage to their woodlands.  Thinking their project finished after laying over four miles of the wooden track, the line’s proprietors found new life when the deCamps offered to operate a steamboat that would receive the passengers once the line passed into Township 1.  So, in an agreement dated September 17, 1888, Gould, Garmon & Crosby and Mrs. deCamp agreed that the railroad could extend into her lands as far as Jones Camp at the stillwater of the Moose River.  Also, Garmon & Crosby permitted the deCamps to dam the Moose River waters through the Forge Tract for boat operations and build any necessary landings for freight on their lands.  Mrs. deCamp also agreed that the railroad’s tracks could extend to the Forge House only if the steamboat option failed.

According to maps acquired from Richard Palmer for Dr. Webb’s 1891 Adirondack and St. Lawrence Railroad route, Jones Camp was at an island on the Moose River north of where Minnehaha Station later would be located.  Jones Mountain is to the south across the river. According to George Washington Sears (Nessmuk), Albert Jones came to the woods around 1877 to repair his health broken down from years as a businessman, rancher, miner and a breaker of horses for Spanish breeders in Mexico.  His health regained, Albert with son Eri “built a comfortable log camp at the foot of the North Branch Moose River stillwater, built and bought half a dozen boats, keeps boarders” (Nessmuk, 9/2/1880), one of which was Sears in the early 1880s.  Albert died in December 1884.

Two weeks after Julia deCamp signed the agreement with the railroad, her husband accompanied H. Dwight Grant, lumber agent Scudder Todd and others to determine locations for locks, dams and other improvements to make the winding S-curved Moose River navigable for a boat.  In November 1888, boat and camp builder Grant described to reporters the work to be done.  The distance from Jones’ Camp to Old Forge was about nine miles.  At Jones’ Camp, Grant would build a dam to raise the water level at the landing.  Grant would build a series of “wing dams” to provide a channel at midstream.  Halfway between Jones’ Camp and the proposed upper terminus was Little Rapids.  At this point, Grant would build a “lock and dam” expected to be 14 feet wide and 50 feet in length.  All dams would be “bracket dams” that could be removed or shifted in periods of high water.  The Little Rapids lock would raise the water level sufficient to run a steamer to the upper terminus without overflowing the river banks and, as the state had done with its reservoir dams, avoid destroying the trees near the banks or changing the natural course of the river.  According to Dana Fraula’s obituary, he helped H. D. Grant build the lock and also operated it.

William S. deCamp recognized the improvement that Capt. Jack Sheppard’s “Fulton” brought to Fulton Chain transportation.  Sheppard’s steamer had been built locally by Theodore Seeber in a shed by the Old Forge Dam.  Seeber had been a builder of Jonathan Meeker’s “Hunter” in H. D. Grant’s Boonville boat ship in 1883.  Mr. deCamp contracted with Seeber to build his steamer with very different specifications and helped Seeber in November 1888 to select appropriate engines and boiler.  By February 1889, Seeber and assistant Abe Platt had almost completed the steamer’s construction and at the beginning of April the steamer was launched.  Then, Seeber and John Sprague of Moose River Settlement installed the engine and broiler.  At the beginning of June, Grant went to Little Rapids and installed the boards for the “lock and dam”. W. S. deCamp now ran the steamer through its navigational trials and was satisfied.  E. H. Sawyer would be its captain and Leonard Ingersol its engineer.  Alonzo Crabb would soon take over as engineer and later as captain.  Jones’ Camp was given the Native American name “Minnehaha” (“Falling Water”).  At the beginning of  July 1889, the railroad and steamer line began operations and deCamp named his steamer “Fawn”.

For a description of the “Fawn” and its ride, we must rely on newspaper accounts from its inaugural season.  The Boonville Herald reported that after a two hour ride on the railroad from Moose River Settlement, the ride on the “Fawn” was slow and took three hours to travel its 8-mile trip.  But “the ride up the river is a delightful one, the river winding like a punctual succession of the letter S with the banks overhead with bushes and fringed with lofty trees.”

A more technical article appeared in the Syracuse Journal and the Boonville Herald a year later.  The writer gives us the solutions crafted by deCamp, Seeber and Sprague for the “Fawn” to navigate its route.

As reported by J. Scott Clark, after leaving the railroad car, Clark watched the cargo load being “transferred from the sheet-anchor wheelbarrow in front to a similar machine, which runs upon a short wooden track down to the bank of the Moose River.”  Clark estimated that the “Fawn” was 42 feet long and 10 feet wide. “The lower part is a deep green, very green,…the wheel cases…”were “…a much lighter shade of green…The remainder of the craft… is of a deep ultramarine blue.”  The writer felt that deCamp’s pattern was to paint all remaining horizontal parts in blue and all vertical parts in green.”  The steamer’s side-wheels were operated independently each by its own pair of engines, “attached only to the sides of the hull”.  “Each pair had its separate set of levers, connected with rods to a point where the pilot can control all the machinery.  By a few judicious jerks he can make both paddle-wheels revolve forward, both backward, or one forward and one backward.  These wheels are 8 ½ feet in diameter, with wooden blades bolted to iron arms.”  In low water, the wheels would be used to pull the boat forward over the rocky river bottom.

The regular pilot was off on the day of Mr. Clark’s trip, so deCamp was its pilot.  During the three hour trip, deCamp “clad in regulation woods costume of flannel, corduroy and full beard” competently maneuvered the wheel and “that wilderness of levers” above him.  When the complex steering mechanisms brought the vessel near the banks on S turns, a young mate ran from side to side with a pole to push off from an approaching bank. In between tossing wood into the boiler, the engineer joined deCamp in the lever operations.  At one sharp bend on the trip, the mate jumped off the boat to run along a path with posts to pull the boat along.  At an overhanging tree limb, the boat’s 12-foot smokestack, equipped with a “knee-joint”, was pulled down onto sawhorses as planned until the limb was passed when it was returned to its upright position.

Three miles below Old Forge the ship arrived at a “regular canal lock” where the passengers could get off briefly for refreshment while the ship passed onto the lock and higher water for the remainder of the trip.  The terminus for the trip was at the current Route 28 highway bridge over the Moose River where the passengers and cargo disembarked to take wagons to the Forge House.  “The fare from Moose River to Old Forge is $2.00, the same as formerly by buckboard”.  Buckboards took over when winter weather stopped the railroad and steamer operations.

The railroad and steamer line ran from May to October for the next two years.  George Goodsell was Boonville agent for the “Stage, Railroad and Steamboat Line”.  Forge House proprietor Joseph Harvey was appointed Wilmurt path master but wasn’t expected to do much to improve the Brown’s Tract Road since it “would injure the business of the railroad and steamboat companies”.  In 1891, a canopy was added to the “Fawn” but problems occurred in mid August when the steamer’s steering mechanisms became unhinged and the railroad broke a rod when braking and ran off its track a mile from Moose River.  Buckboards took over temporarily.

The end for the pioneer transportation cooperative was rapidly approaching.  During 1891, Dr. William Seward Webb began building the Adirondack and St. Lawrence railroad through the Adirondacks and the deCamps tried futilely to prevent the taking of their lands for its Fulton Chain right of way.  Finally, in June 1892, the courts permitted Dr. Webb to complete his railroad through deCamps’ land to Twitchell Creek Bridge for a cash payment to the deCamps.  Though used for transporting freight for Dr. Webb’s railroad construction, the “Wooden Railroad” stopped operating shortly after the new line opened in July 1892.  The deCamps also established a Wilderness Park under the state’s preserve laws and set up sectors on both sides of Dr. Webb’s tracks in Townships 1 and 7.

The Boonville Herald reported in August 1893 that, after departing from Fulton Chain Station, passengers could look to their right and view the “Fawn” out of the water in dry dock.  But one year later, Captain Crabb was piloting the “Fawn” on daily trips to and from Minnehaha from Fulton Chain Station, considered the most pleasant way to see the fall colors along the picturesque stream.  The steamer was in dry-dock by Columbus Day 1894 after running between the bridge and Minnehaha that year.

The “Fawn” probably did not run during 1895 because the Moose River was overtaken by the lumber industry.  John Dix and his partners signed an eight year lumber contract with Dr. Webb in 1894 and encouraged the legislature to designate the North Branch a public highway for floating logs without requiring the customary tolls to be paid to the deCamps. Then the deCamps dammed the river at Minnehaha Landing and stationed guards to prevent the stopped logs from being forcibly moved by Dix company men to their McKeever mills.  In a court case that determined unconstitutional any law designating a river over private lands a public highway for floating logs, the deCamps defeated the Dix interests in court.    But in the meantime, Dix was allowed to move through deCamps’ lands the lumber that had been floated down the Moose River and boomed at Minnehaha Landing.  Dying at the end of August 1895, Julia deCamp’s court victory would be pursued and won by William in 1897 (and affirmed by the state’s highest court in 1899).  Dix then built a lumber railroad to Rondaxe Lake that would later become part of the Raquette Lake Railway.

After settling with Dr. Webb and succeeding in court against the Dix lumber firm, William deCamp now resisted the Old Forge Company’s condemning his lands for a railroad right of way to the Forge House.  After settling on a purchase price for the railroad’s route, deCamp now began developing the Township 7 lands under his stewardship.

During the summer of 1896, in addition to building houses near the Fulton Chain Station, deCamp built a hotel that he named the “Moose River House”.  Though not quite finished in mid August, he offered excursion rides between the hotel and Minnehaha Landing where he arranged to carry tourists to the southbound train at Minnehaha Station, a half mile south of the steamboat landing.  He also offered boat rides over the rapids south of Minnehaha Landing to Minnehaha Station.  The “Fawn” was also available for charter service.  Mr. deCamp also built a wagon road to Indian Rapids that soon became a popular and canoeing destination.  Indian Rapids is by today’s Thendara Golf Course.  The Moose River House with its steamboat landing is today’s Moose River House Bed and Breakfast.  Mr. deCamp hired Nicholas Ginther as proprietor.  At the end of September 1896, deCamp installed a telephone line at the “new Moose River House.”  The ride on the “Fawn” was free as an advertisement for selling the cottages deCamp was now building along his waterfront lands.

In August 1897, deCamp opened the Onekio  (“Sweet Water”) Lodge and leased it to James LaMont.  In addition to the hotel, deCamp also built 10 single room cottages for guests.  A Utica Daily Press article described the location as an “old steamboat landing” three miles below Fulton Chain Station.  He also built a road from the lodge to Hellgate Ponds, today’s Okara Lakes, three-quarters of a mile to the north.  A dam would be built in the Moose River at this location.  The Onekio Lodge opened in July 1898.  The railroad built Onekio Station almost at the front door of Onekio Lodge, three miles south of Fulton Chain Station.  Two hundred feet from the back of the hotel was a steamboat landing for the “Fawn”.  The steamer made regular trips between Onekio Lodge and Moose River House coordinated to connect passengers with the railroad and steamer lines.  Mr. deCamp now started constructing two hotels at Clearwater.

At an older structure by the “Lock and Dam”, deCamp encountered a number of tenant problems.  In the 1890s, deCamp built a boarding house at the location and leased it to Joseph Wheeler.  After a year or so, it acquired the name “Wheeler’s Lock”.  Unfortunately, the house acquired an unsavory reputation under Wheeler’s manager, a man named Wells.  During the trial to remove Utica’s Police Chief Dagwell during 1897 for not enforcing prostitution laws at certain city hotels, women wanted as prosecution witnesses hid at Wheeler’s Lock to avoid testifying.  During the Town of Webb’s election in November 1898, Gus Harper of Beaver River drowned at the lock after drinking at the boarding house.  At the time of the drowning, two Utica women were reportedly still at the house.  Then in January 1899, a riot broke out between lumbermen and guides that resulted in much furniture and building damage.  Obviously overdue, deCamp shut up the house.  But Henry Bridgman convinced him to lease it for his mill workers.  Bridgman had built a piano sounding board mill at Fulton Chain.  Bridgman hired Horace Norton as carpenter and his companion Nellie Widrig as housekeeper.  In September 1899, Horace killed Nellie on the front porch with an axe, fled and was later captured.  The building was later moved and is now a residence in its present location.

In his 1898 ads, Nicholas Ginther mentioned a “steamboat connected with house”.  His 1899 ads do not mention the steamer.  The Moose River House on a May 17, 1899 ad was renamed as “Moose House” on a subsequent June 3, 1899 ad.  This probably was because the Moose River House in Moose River Settlement, the “Peg Leg” Railroad’s southern terminus, was still a going concern and the name change would prevent Ginther’s customers from leaving the train prematurely at Minnehaha Station.

Years later in July 1935, a new “Fawn” reprised its role in the historical memory of Fulton Chain residents.  During a two-day commemoration of the 50th anniversary of 1885 legislation establishing the state’s park preserve as wild forest lands, a “Pageant of the Lakes” included the running of exhibit boats from Old Forge to Eagle Bay past a reviewing stand on the north shore of Fourth Lake.  Of the Goodsell Museum photographs from this event, one shows a fabricated vessel “representing ‘The Fawn’, the first steamer to ply the Moose River as a connection transportation link between Old Forge and the westerly foothills of the Adirondack, built by William Scott deCamp at Old Forge” (Utica Observer-Dispatch).  The exhibit was entered by Brussel’s Thendara Garage and the Old Forge Hardware Company.

But of the original “Fawn”, I have been unable to find any mention of the steamer after 1898.  According to Joseph Grady, the “Fawn” was moored at the Lock and Dam where it eventually rotted “from disuse”.

Photo: The Fawn Unloading Passenger Cargo.

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Since the early 1980s when Charles Herr purchased a camp in Inlet he has been interested in the history of the Fulton Chain region of the Adirondacks. He has been contributing history articles about the times and people of the Fulton Chain, covering transportation, steamboats, hotels and most importantly, the people to the Weekly Adirondack of Old Forge since November 2006. His ambition is to uncover local and regional Fulton Chain history about people and events prior to 1930 and little covered in the histories of the region. He is the president of the Inlet Historical Society and presents summer programs on Inlet history at the Town Hall in Arrowhead Park in Inlet, NY. His book, The Fulton Chain-Early Settlement, Roads, Steamboats, Railroads and Hotels, was published in May 2017. More information is available at . During 2023, Herr was appointed Inlet Town Historian.

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