Saturday, April 5, 2014

Farrand Benedict’s Trans-Adirondack Water Route

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 5.44.44 AMOn Route 28 between Indian Lake and Blue Mountain Lake there is a sign about a half mile south of  the junction with Route 28N in Blue Mountain Lake that marks the divide between the St. Lawrence River and Hudson River watersheds.  The waters of Blue Mountain Lake flow through the Eckford Chain into Raquette Lake, north through Long Lake and the Raquette River eventually reaching the St. Lawrence Seaway.  The waters of Durant Lake, only a half-mile from Blue, eventually flow into the Hudson River.

If Farrand Benedict had been successful with his grand plans for the Adirondacks from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario, the waters of Blue, Raquette and Long lakes would today also flow to the Hudson River. 

FBportrait2Farrand Benedict was a professor of math and engineering at the University of Vermont in Burlington.  He was an accomplished surveyor and began to explore the Adirondacks in 1835.  In 1838, Professor Ebenezer Emmons, the surveyor who named the region the Adirondacks, engaged Benedict to resolve a dispute over the altitude of Mt. Marcy.

Between 1843 and 1852, Benedict purchased 152,000 acres stretching from west of the Moose River Plains to the headwaters of the Hudson River east of Long Lake.  In 1848, he and his business partner David Read became sole owners of all of Township 40, which includes Raquette Lake.

In 1846, Benedict prepared an audacious plan for the NYS Legislature to build a series of canals, with locks and slackwater navigation, and railroads which would link Lake Champlain in the east with the Black River and Lake Ontario in the west.  A 210-mile long course using the Ausable River Valley, Saranac River, Raquette River, the Fulton Chain of Lakes, Moose River and Black River would traverse from Port Kent on Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario.   The trans-Adirondack water route would bring people into the region and facilitate extracting timber and mineral resources from the Adirondacks.  The route was never developed however, and in 1850 Benedict turned instead to another project.

In 1850, Benedict focused his attention on building a canal between Long Lake and Round Pond.  Construction was actually begun here with the intention of floating logs from the Eckford Chain, Raquette, and Long Lakes into the Hudson River to access the burgeoning New York timber market centered in Troy.  However, opposition from lumber interests along the northern reaches of the Raquette River, who feared losing their supply of timber for the Canadian market, scuttled the plans.

In 1874, at the age of 71, Benedict returned to his idea to build this one canal.  The goal was to re-route the flow of water from Blue Mountain Lake, Raquette Lake and Long Lake into the Hudson River Watershed via Round Pond-Caitlin Lake-Rich Lake-Harris Lake.

FB Canal finalIt appears that Benedict no longer intended for the logging industry to float timber along his route into the Hudson.  His goal was to significantly increase the supply of water into the Hudson River.  Dams on the outlets of Blue Mt., Raquette, Forked, Brandreth, and Little Tupper lakes would provide controlled outflows to increase the water flow into the Raquette River and Long Lake.  The canal would then divert the water to sustain log drives throughout the summer on the Hudson River.   According to Finch, Pruyn and Co. records, low water sometimes required three successive years to float logs from the Adirondack interior to the Big Boom at Glens Falls.   Benedict believed his plan would have reduced this to one year and assured sufficient water all the way to the docks in Troy.

Diverting the water flow out of Long Lake away from the north running Raquette River almost certainly would have endangered the effectiveness of the Raquette River for floating logs north to the Canadian market.  While it appears a political scandal in the administration of the New York Governor in 1875 was the practical cause for the death of this project, had it come to fruition, it could have significantly altered the history of this region of the Adirondacks.

Chapter 264 of the Laws of 1850 in New York State declared the Raquette River a public highway for the purpose of floating logs and lumber from the foot of Raquette Lake to its mouth in Massena.  In the 1850s, Raquette Pond (not to be confused with Raquette Lake) became the home of the Pomeroy Lumber Company.  Loggers would float logs down the Raquette River to Raquette Pond where they would be marked, sorted and prepared for large log drives down the Raquette River to the mills in the northwest corner of New York and the Canadian timber market.  The logging camps on Raquette Pond grew into the Town of Tupper Lake.

The logging industry and the town expanded greatly in 1890 with John Hurd’s construction of the largest lumber mill ever built in New York and his completion of his Northern Adirondack Railroad that connected Tupper Lake to Ottawa, Canada.   Although the milled lumber now moved north on trains, the mill still was dependent on logs floated down the Raquette River to Raquette Pond.  It is doubtful that Tupper Lake would have become as large a population center had the water flow been diverted from the Raquette River by Farrand Benedict’s Canal.

Fortunately for Tupper Lake, Benedict’s land empire began to evaporate with sales of large tracts to the railroad companies in 1855.  By the time of his death in 1880, his family’s lands had all been sold or reclaimed by New York State for back taxes.  His grand plans were simply forgotten.

This article is based on the extensive research in Barbara McMartin’s To the lake of the skies: The Benedicts in the Adirondacks (1996).  McMartin argues that despite the failure of his ventures, Benedict did have one lasting impact on the Adirondacks.  He introduced Reverend John Todd and his cousin Joel Tyler Headley to the Adirondacks.  Todd authored Long Lake (1845) and Headley The Adirondack: or Life in the Woods (1849).  These early writings attracted other adventurers and laid the path followed by great Adirondack boosters like Reverend William H. Murray and Kate Field.

Farrand Benedict’s portrait courtesy of F.N. Benedict Jr. as published in To the Lake of the Skies. Maps of the 1846 Proposed Trans-Adirondack Water Route and the 1874 Proposed Canal are approximations created by the author.

Related Stories

Tom is the great great grandson of the very first “summer folk” on Blue Mountain Lake. The Thacher family built the first private summer home on Thacher Island in 1867.

Tom has spent every summer of his life on Indian Point of Raquette Lake on lands purchased by his family in 1876. In researching the origins of his family’s century old, one-room cabin, Tom is discovering over 200 years of Adirondack History seen through the lens of one plot of land.

Extended versions of this article and other stories and photos can be found at Fifty Acres of Beach and Wood which chronicles tales of iconic characters of Adirondack history whose footprints have graced the shores of Indian Point.

Tom is currently fundraising to publish a book of his research. The proceeds from the book will support the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts. You can make a contribution to the book fund here:

6 Responses

  1. Phil Terrie says:

    Good article! As late as the 1960s, from a low-flying plane you could see evidence of the canal (never finished) between Long Lake and Round Pond. Benedict actually started digging this canal–when, I don’t know–and then abandoned it. I expect it’s still visible: an odd, perfectly straight cut in the middle of extensive wetlands.

  2. Tony Goodwin says:

    Amazing bit of history. The topo map shows only one 20-foot contour on the divide between Long Lake and Round Pond. I wonder where he proposed to build the dam that would accomplish the diversion. I would imagine that, with his digging of the canal to Round Pond it would only have required a 20-25-foot dam at the top of the portage around Raquette Falls to divert all of the Raquette and Cold rivers to the Hudson.

    Now just imagine the EIS required for such a project today. Reminds me of the “Good News/Bad News” joke about Moses at the shore of the Red Sea. God then speaks: The good news is that He can part the waters, the bad news is that Moses must first complete the EIS. Glad that Benedict didn’t get to play God on the flow of a major Adirondack river.

  3. Tony Goodwin says:

    I should have also mentioned that the map that accompanied the original article had no relation to the text of the article.

  4. Hi Tony,

    You are right on the money. According to a footnote on page 35 of Barbara McMartin’s book To the Lake of the Skies, McMartin found several documents of Benedict’s survey work in NYS Senate and Assembly documents. The surveys show that Benedict proposed a dam at the outlet of Long Lake that would have raised the Long Lake water level 20 feet above low water mark. He also proposed lowering the surface of Round Pond by 4.2 feet, thus allowing water to flow through the canal from Long to Round Pond.

    The top graphic illustrates the Trans-Adirondack Water Route which is described in the 5th paragraph which begins “In 1846…”

    Thank you for your comments.


  5. Charlie Herr says:

    In Adirondack Life’s “A Century Wild” published in 1985, edited by Neil Burdick, is an excellent brief biography of Farrand Benedict entitled: Men to Match the Mountains.

    More on the height of Mt. Marcy dispute: In 1837, Ebenezer Emmons climbed Mt. Marcy (newly named for the governor) and published its height as 5487 feet using barometric means and was quickly questioned by Edwin Johnson, a noted engineer, who claimed a figure under 5000 feet using triangulation methods. Emmons called upon Benedict as Tom Thacher states, labeled by some the “mathematician of his age” for an independent measurement. Benedict traveled to Mt. Marcy twice in 1838 and calculated 5344 feet, a figure confirmed by Verplank Colvin in 1874.

    In 1844, Benedict interested young Marshall Shedd, Jr. of Willsborough, and brother Henry in the opportunities the land provided. In a transaction dated August 6, 1844, Benedict and Marshall obtained a patent from the state for thousands of acres of forest land and lakes, including the 6000 acres of what later would become Inlet. That year, Benedict also purchased the triangular portion of Township 8, John Brown’s Tract, in today’s Town of Inlet which includes Cascade Lake. Before renamed Sagamore Lake when the camp was purchased by Vanderbilt, it was named Shedd Lake.

    In 1855, when Benedict provided survey data to groups looking for additional supplies of water for the Erie and Black River Canals, he recommended dams for storage reservoirs at Old Forge and Sixth Lake that were later built around 1880. In 1860, Benedict’s 1846 study was listed as a source for a successor to the Sacketts Harbor and Saratoga R. R., the Adirondac Estate and Railroad Co., which planned to use Benedict’s “proposed system of inland navigation”. This railroad later became the The Adirondack Company whose main owner was Dr. Thomas Durant.

    Benedict, having moved to Parsippany, NJ in 1855 due to his wife’s poor health, would return to the Adirondacks one more time in 1874 for a new survey. The state selected Benedict over local applicants not only for his “known ability to grapple with the important questions involved”, but also for his personal study of the region “instrumentally” for over a period of forty years.

    Tom Thacher’s article describes this latter project. More needs to written of Farrand Benedict.

  6. Charlie here says:

    The bio mentioned above was by historian warder Cadbury.

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