From 1892 to 1895, steamboat managers tried to outdo each other to attract passengers arriving on Dr. Webb’s railroad. But these efforts suffered from the growing pains of an embryonic village and bad business practices from Fulton Chain to the Old Forge dock.
As the Utica Sunday Tribune reported, “At the depot everyday are ‘pullers in’ and ‘runners’ for the several boats which run to the head of the lakes. As soon as a traveler alights from the train he is importuned to take this or that boat. Then, if he consents to go on a certain boat, perhaps the ‘runner’ for the other boat will get the check for his baggage, and passenger and baggage will go up the lakes on separate boats. The baggage man had no badge and the men who operate two of the boats go daily down to Remsen to ‘drum up’ business on the way between that station and Fulton Chain.” It was hoped that Dr. Webb’s agent H. D. Carter would take steps to “obliterate the nuisances which are hampering this resort”.
Another paper reported how the rivalry among the oldest (“Fulton”), biggest (“C. L. Stowell”) and fastest (“Zip”) captains hurt both the steamers and the summer visitors. “If one boat started out from the Old Forge dock, the two others started out after it, and the three boats played a game of tag for 24 miles-each captain fearing he might lose some passengers”. At the beginning of 1896, these three steamers were handling all of the transportation of the lakes. William McConnell planned to convert the “Minnie H.” to a grocery boat.
At the end of March 1896, gentlemen of the newly formed Old Forge Company met at Baggs Hotel in Utica and resolved to take control of Fulton Chain transportation. Victor Adams of Little Falls had purchased 50% of the Forge House and Forge Tract owned by Samuel Garmon and Dr. Alexander Crosby. Then these individuals transferred the properties to the new Old Forge [Improvement] Company. These capitalists then formed the Crosby Transportation Company named after that Company’s vice-president.
The Crosby Transportation Company planned to control steamer traffic by transporting travelers on planned two mile railroad from Fulton Chain to the Old Forge dock; leasing or purchasing the three present steamers; having the steamers leave at regular, scheduled intervals; and a move that caused future legal problems, claiming as private property the dock in front of Forge House and the waters under it, making them unavailable to rival steamers without approval. During the 1896 year, the Company purchased the “Zip” and “Fulton” and leased the “C. L. Stowell”, the new railroad was built and no significant steamboat opposition occurred. They now set prices.
Fred Hess also was aware of the transportation problems incurred by the patrons of his popular Hess’ Inn at the head of Fourth Lake. At the same time the Crosby Transportation Company was being formed, he testified in March 1896 in favor of the new railroad being proposed. He also claimed that he was having a steamer built in Rome in partnership with the Burton Brothers, William and Robert. He planned to carry folks directly to his hotel without stopping at all of the typical stops on the way. Suffering a fire at his hotel in August, Hess sold his hotel in October 1896 to the Moshier Brothers but the steamer would be finished. During 1896 Parsons purchased Seeber’s interest in the boat shop adjoining the state dam.
In June 1897, George Sweet sold the “C. L. Stowell” to the Company and left the Fulton Chain. Before dying in 1901, Sweet established “Cold Springs Park” in Carthage and built another steamer. The “Minnie H.” was entrenched in the grocery trade. David Pierce left the Crosby Company and Joseph Wellington replaced him on the “Fulton”. Will Sperry, then Frank Yule, became pilot of the “Zip” and Verne Erwin remained pilot of the “C. L. Stowell”. Two new steamers were brought to the lakes during 1897: the “Caprice” and the “W. S. Webb”.
The “Caprice” has a notable history and will be given here though it extends beyond 1901. Sprague’s former pilot of the “Zip”, James H. Soper, launched the “Caprice” in August 1897 to provide excursions from Fourth Lake camps and hotels along the chain. After two years of popular service as a hotel excursion vessel, Soper sold it to a Capt. Merrill who launched it in July 1899 and chartered it as a party boat traveling among Fourth Lake hotels.
In May 1901, Arrowhead owner William D. Moshier purchased it for his Adirondack Cooperage Company and renamed it “Marjorie” after his daughter. During a wild storm near Cedar Island on November 22, 1902, the “Marjorie” capsized heavily laden with lumber and canned goods and Burt Murdock drowned. Two years later, divers examining the wreck hoped to raise it and initially reported seeing Murdock’s body. But when the boat was raised on August 6, 1904, though the cargo was in good condition, Murdock was not found. It was then used for pleasure by William Bowman. A picture of the raised “Marjorie” is in “Memories of Inlet” by Letty Kirch Haynes.
When the ice went out at the end of May 1897, the steamer “W. S. Webb” was the first steamer to make the trips through the lakes. It had been built in Rome during 1896 at the Sherman dry dock in Rome by Charles Havens for Fred Hess and the Burton Brothers. The Company steamers soon followed as passenger traffic grew. In mid July, Nicholas Ginther leased the “W. S. Webb” for the season. The Crosby Transportation Company then refused to permit the steamer to land at the Forge Dock. The steamer then began landing on the shore of the state’s land, its pilots adding sheds for the passengers and cargo. The Company then erected high fences at the site to prevent landings but the steamer’s crew and village residents repeatedly knocked the fences down. Then the Company filed a court injunction against the “W. S. Webb” to bar the landing there and at their docks, claiming ownership of the water under the docks. Learning this, W. S. deCamp, owner of the lands from Old Forge pond up to Second Lake, claimed ownership of the water route and postured that he would build an electric railroad that would run over a bridge blocking the channel and connect with Dr. Webb’s Clearwater station. The newspapers called this “The Steamboat War”.
The war ended out of court when the Company purchased the lease from Ginther at the beginning of August and tied the “W. S. Webb” to its docks for the remainder of the season. The public was relieved that the war ended but they were upset that the Company “grabbers” monopolized steamers and prices. They wondered when the New York Central would “step in” and remedy this situation.
During the years 1898 and 1899, relative peace existed in the steamboat business, though profits were not high enough for the Old Forge Company to pay off heavy mortgages on the 1896 Forge House expansion and Fulton Chain Railroad construction. The New York Central was now operating its railroad. The Company again leased the “W. S. Webb” for 1898. Theodore Seeber rebuilt the “Fulton” and lengthened it to carry 100 passengers. A collision occurred on September 26, 1898 between the “Zip” and the “C. L. Stowell” after the “Zip” had left ex-Pres. Harrison’s dock and pilot Frank Yule thought he could cross in front of the “C.L. Stowell” returning from Fourth Lake. But the two ships collided, the larger ship suffered little but the “Zip” sank in forty feet of water.
In June 1899, the Company’s newly hired transportation superintendent Clarence Rivenburg made improvements. A new station depot was built at the docks. The Company had just purchased the “W. S. Webb” from the Burton Brothers and it took the place of the “Zip” in the steamer schedules. The “Zip” was made “special mail and express boat” though a month later a log jamming its propeller and rudder broke both. The “Fulton” resumed carrying the mail.
But these improvements were overshadowed by the building of a railroad by Collis P. Huntington. The line tracked from Clearwater Station to Rondaxe Lake, then south to parallel a newly completed highway along the north shore of Fourth Lake to Eagle Bay where it then followed the Sucker Brook Bay Road to Raquette Lake. Huntington offered to buy the railroad and steamers from the Old Forge Company in 1899 but the price set by the Company was exorbitant.
Millionaires such as J. P. Morgan and Collis Huntington owned great camps in the Raquette Lake region. They needed access to Dr. Webb’s railroad for ready transit to New York City offices. Morgan was tired of driving stages from Camp Uncas at breakneck speed to Big Moose Station and/or waiting for steamers to reach the Fulton Chain station. Huntington used the series of carries and steamers from Inlet to Brown’s Tract Inlet to reach Pine Knot. No direct highway then existed from Inlet to Raquette Lake. During 1898 and 1899, Huntington built a railroad using the initial line of John Dix’s lumber road to Rondaxe Lake and obtained legislative and regulatory approvals for a public line that removed the necessity for the public to suffer from the inefficiencies of the lines owned by the Old Forge Company. The state railroad commission’s approval stated that public convenience and necessity required its construction.
After failing to prevent the railroad’s enabling legislation from being passed, the Old Forge Company recognized that travelers could stay one station further north on the Mohawk & Malone, disembark at Clearwater Station and use this new line to reach Fourth Lake camps, Eagle Bay, Inlet or Raquette Lake without using any of the Company’s services. To survive, the Old Forge and the Crosby Transportation Companies, the primary opposition to the railroad legislation, had no choice but to file for an injunction to prevent its opening to the public.
At the end of 1899, they sued the railroad and its individual directors for damages and sought to stop the railroad for the following reasons: the railroad was built on a highway from Clearwater to Raquette Lake that did not exist; the railroad was built on state land between Eagle Bay and Raquette Lake ; by defrauding the state on these two premises the owners created a “public nuisance”; and the railroad interfered with the public highway between Old Forge and Eagle Bay. But the Company’s suit claimed private damages from the “public nuisance” premises. The court case attracted extensive coverage by upstate New York newspapers because the defendants were the nation’s most prominent railroad and business magnates.
In its April 1900 decision, the court suggested that the premises may be true but could the Company claim personal damages different from the public nuisance asserted from these supposed infractions? Since the railroad’s operation did not force the Company to modify or change their railroad line, move a steamboat dock or require a longer steamboat route, the “public nuisances” did not warrant “private damages”. A competing line diverting passengers was not a nuisance. The “public nuisance” did not prevent the public from using the Company’s lines. The Company’s monopoly was broken permanently.
When the court defeat was reported, the Crosby Transportation Company reacted publicly that the new railroad would benefit the Company by increasing traffic to the region, that travelers may want to go in by one route and out the other and that they intended to reduce rates to remain competitive. The news also revealed that the Raquette Lake Railway intended to run a steamer line from Eagle Bay to Old Forge. The first boat would be the “Clearwater”.
The 1900 season saw the launching of two major steamboats on the Fulton Chain. The Raquette Lake Railroad finished building its new steamer in a large shed near Alonzo Wood’s Cohassett Hotel during June, received its boiler via the new railroad at the end of the month and the “Clearwater” made a trial run at the beginning of August. Also, John Sprague and Henry Slack launched the “Adirondack” at the end of June. John Sprague intended to run the “Adirondack” as an excursion boat.
James L. Connell from Scranton, Pa., and his family lodged all summer at the Forge House. At the beginning of August 1900, the Company finished refurbishing the “W. S Webb” and named it “J. L. Connell” in his honor. The “J. L. Connell” would provide direct local service at Fourth Lake and come to Old Forge once a day. It would directly compete with the “Clearwater”.
An event that affected both John Sprague’s and Parsons’ boat business was the state asserting its ownership of the state dam lands. Both Sprague and Parson removed their buildings, as did George Deis with his mill, and the dam area was no longer used for private use. The Crosby Transportation Company also broke down and removed an “old boat”. Could this have been the “Beulah”, “Old Forge” or “Minnie H.”?
With the devastating court defeat and mounting business debts, the Old Forge Company reorganized and the new directors offered a purchase option to Dr. Webb in April 1901 that he accepted. At the end of April, the Crosby Transportation Company ceased to exist when the “C.L. Stowell”, “Zip”, “J. L. Connell”, and “Fulton” were sold to the Raquette Lake Railway owners. A few weeks later, the railroad interests established the Fulton Navigation Company.
Photos: Above, Old Forge Station; below, the Hess Camp boat landing. Courtesy Town of Webb Historical Association.