According to Frank Graham, Jr., the first conservation agency established by New York was the Fisheries Commission. It was established in 1868 to examine Adirondack water sources used by downstate cities and to study the impact of forest destruction by timber cutting neighboring these waters and on the fish they contained.
By the 1880s, the agency established hatcheries in various areas of the state to bolster fish populations in those water bodies and their tributaries suffering from nearby industrial operations such as mills on the Black River. Since fishing pools in the Adirondacks were being rapidly depleted by the growing popularity of the region, the agency determined to establish fisheries in that region.
Around 1857, Richard U. Sherman was part of a group of sportsmen who traveled to what was then known as the Brown’s Tract and who determined at that time to start a recreation group to visit the Fulton Chain annually for good company and fishing. This group later became the Northwoods Walton Club. Sherman became its president and was known for his angling skills and his deep interest in preservation of state fish stocks. According to Joseph Grady, he was a “well-informed pisciculturist” (one who breeds fish).
Departing briefly from my topic, Sherman continued with the club for many years until it ceased to exist and he organized the Bisby Club, which included many members of the former, then defunct, club. They purchased a tract of tract of land ten miles south of Old Forge in Township One, established a private preserve, erected a clubhouse and the new club ultimately merged with the Adirondack League Club in 1893.
In 1879, Sherman was appointed the State Fish and Game Protector, which he held for eleven years and under his authority, the Fisheries Commission established many hatcheries. As part of the impetus growing in the state for preserving the Adirondacks, Sherman wanted to establish hatcheries in the Adirondacks and was now more able to obtain funding. Late in 1884, Sherman toured the Adirondacks to select a site for a hatchery in the region. At the time, Sherman stated a selection was made but could not reveal it publicly. This site would turn out to be the Adirondack Hatchery at Saranac Lake at Little Clear Pond, which would be completed shortly after July 1885. He did not include the Fulton Chain region on his scouting tour because he was already well familiar with the region from his club’s annual trips.
As the Saranac hatchery was being completed in July 1885, the Boonville Sportsmen’s Association appointed L. W. Fiske, George Beck and H. Dwight Grant to solicit funds for restocking the Moose River branches and the Fulton Chain lakes with salmon and speckled trout. They also solicited funds, when added to an existing surplus, could be used for the building of a hatching house at the Fulton Chain. Their plan, submitted for the approval of Commissioner Sherman, included Fulton Chain guides building the house and offering to do the work of gathering spawn and as well as other hatching and distributing operations. The state would only need to provide for the maintenance of the house and its apparatus.
In his June 16, 1885 approval letter to Fiske, Sherman recommended the Cold Spring Camp location, the first camp built on Fourth Lake by Jack Sheppard and Sam Dunakin in 1869 for H. D. Snyder of the Snyder Brothers tanning firm. Construction of the hatchery building commenced during November 1885. Sherman advised that the success of the hatchery depended on the quality of water supply. The location’s spring was greatly preferred over running streams since the temperature would be consistent and its supply not dependent on rainfall.
The hatchery structure, 20 by 36 foot according to Joseph Grady, was built on the side of a stream opposite the camp with a pipe supplying the water from the spring to the building. H. Dwight Grant went to the site in late November to supervise and accelerate the construction, working with local guides.
Sherman also promised an “expert hand” to teach the men the art of fish culturing. Emmett Marks learned the hatchery arts from Seth Green who originated the science of pisciculture at Caledonia Hatchery, still the oldest running hatchery in the state. Emmett’s brothers were superintendents of hatcheries in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Lake Brandon. Beginning in 1875, Emmett transported young trout in the waters near Old Forge and returned in subsequent years, building a temporary hatchery in the “old mill” at the outlet of Old Forge Pond. This became the first artificial hatching of trout in the Adirondacks.
Emmett’s reputation grew as he filled requests from California fisherman for striped bass from New Jersey to be placed in San Francisco Bay, established the first shad hatchery in North Carolina’s Roanoke River, imported pike for Tupper and other Adirondack lakes, and transported shad from the Hudson for the Colorado River in Texas. Sherman assigned Marks to the Cold Spring Hatchery.
For its first years of operations, supervision of the Fulton Chain Hatchery was by Seth Green, manager of the Caledonia Hatchery, whose report included the new hatchery’s figures for its first year of operation in 1886. By February 1887, the hatchery began experiencing problems with getting sufficient water supply from the spring for the young trout hatchings, plus the water supplied to the eggs seemed to be warmer than expected, causing premature hatching. Though they expected to provide sufficient stock for the coming summer, long term changes would be necessary to ensure future success of the hatchery operations.
By June 1887, water temperature and supply required moving the hatchery from Cold Spring Camp to the outlet of First Lake near the Forge House. Later that year, the hatchery building and contents were floated down to the Forge dam, skidded around the dam and drawn by horses down the hill to its present location, now part of the Legion hall. In its new location, the Fulton Chain hatchery would become a success. By December 1887, Emmett Marks brought 400,000 salmon trout from the Caledonia hatchery to the new site and Supervisor Green was complimenting Marks and his assistants, guides Chris Goodsell and Josiah Wood, on the hatchery’s improved performance.
By August 1888, the hatchery crew expanded operations by constructing small ponds at Twitchell, Big Moose, Third, Seventh and Limekiln Lakes to collect spawning trout, then collecting the eggs for transport to “Chase hatching “ jars at the hatchery building. By October 1888, operations were successful enough that Emmett Marks was designated supervisor of the Fulton Chain Hatchery, reporting directly to Commissioner Sherman. By that time collecting ponds were established at more lakes in the region. By 1890, the operations of the Fulton Chain Hatchery were known throughout the state, though it was the smallest hatchery under the Fisheries Commission.
From that period to when it stopped operating, the hatchery was mentioned whenever hatchery statistics were reported in the papers as part of the Commission’s annual message. Some additional historical notes now follow, along with information provided to me by the Town of Webb Historical Association.
During 1896, the expanded operations needed an additional water supply and the state started negotiations in the spring with the “Old Forge Syndicate Company” for purchasing an additional spring brook that emptied into the Old Forge Pond, half a mile above Old Forge. But an agreement was not reached until September. Perhaps this transaction was not as important to that company as its incorporation of the Old Forge Company, The Crosby Transportation Company and the Fulton Chain Railroad Company, projects started by the Forge Tract’s new investors, presided by Victor Adams and others of Little Falls in July 1896.
In September, 1904, Henry Davidson was the hatchery superintendent and was rebuilding the breakwater, water tank and hatchery fish pond with cement works.
Faced with the extinction of the once thriving beaver in the Adirondack Park, seven beaver purchased in St. Louis were housed in January 1905 at the Fulton Chain Hatchery for the winter. They were released in the spring. Kayakers today can testify to the success of this project.
In May 1907, Michael Reff, employed by the Fulton Chain Hatchery, drowned while planting some fry. Since this is an operation probably not needing partners, his death was not immediately known until the body was recovered. In 1913, W. H. Burke was the superintendent and in 1923, this post was occupied by Frederick Risley. Around that time, a building near the hatchery building was used as a Hay Fever Club, since the region’s air was more helpful to sufferers of this malady than the medications of the time.
Water supply and temperature was always critical to the Fulton Chain Hatchery, as noted in the Sherman’s original approval letter. When electricity became the major power source in the early 20th century, water flow was as important to the power companies as it was earlier for the water mills of the Black River factories. The quality, especially the water temperature, of the hatcheries water supply was negatively affected with regulation of the Beaver and Moose River flows by the Black River Regulating Authority, who managed the Old Forge and Sixth Lake dams. Power companies by 1927 were assessed not only for improvements to the Fulton Chain dams and Stillwater Reservoir, but also for constructing a now needed pumping plant for the Fulton Chain Hatchery when reservoirs were low. The pumping plant would not be built.
By 1933, the state determined to close the Fulton Chain Hatchery due to increasing costs and a just finished survey claiming that the water supply conditions could not support successful operations. Sportsmen, politicians, business leaders all protested loudly to the Conservation Commission in letters and at a public hearing held on the Fish Hatchery lawn. Benefits claimed by its supporters included the high visitor rate at the hatchery and surrounding area, that the state benefited from advertisements bringing visitors to the area at no cost to the state, and that since the area did not have surrounding industry as at larger hatcheries, the region’s economy would suffer.
In August 1933, Commissioner Lithgow Osborne reconsidered an earlier decision to close the Fulton Chain Hatchery, and operations continued past the proposed closing date of September 1. However, an additional survey was begun to determine whether a proper water supply could be obtained at a “reasonable cost”. Osborne wanted proponents to understand that the continuance was temporary and, as Sherman asserted in 1885, a hatchery must “stand or fall on its water supply”. Evidently, the state determined that building a new water pumping system to operate a hatchery using obsolete hatchery methods would not be an appropriate use of state funds. Also, a suggestion that the Town of Webb fund a relief project to build the improvements with the state providing piping could not proceed with the state not promising continued operations.
In 1934, the conservation commission provided the hatchery building for use as a post to the then William Covey American Legion post, permitting the post to make any changes to the structure at their cost.
In 1935, 50 years of Conservation in New York State were celebrated in ceremonies in the Fulton Chain region. The ceremonies, headed by Commissioner Osborne, included wildlife displays of “all contemporary and extinct species of bird, fish and beast known to inhabit the Adirondack forest. These will be mounted in the hatchery building… in natural habitats and will include a number of living as well as mounted species. The forestry and conservation department exhibit will also be housed in the hatchery building.”
About 1936, not being able to afford the building’s maintenance, the American Legion turned the building over to the Town of Webb with the understanding that the Legion could continue use of the building in perpetuity. Over the years, the Hatchery Building has seen a multitude of uses. It is still used as the Town’s court and became town jail when cells were moved from the Thendara Town Hall to the building. These were later removed with inmates now sent to Herkimer. One of these cells was part of a recent law enforcement exhibit at TOWHA. The building is also used for meetings besides Lodge use. Finally, New York State’s fisheries webpage provides a wealth of information on current hatcheries and their operations.
Photo courtesy Goodsell Museum).