Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Old Forge Company Against Collis Huntington’s RR

fulton chain rr boat adirondack news ad 1900John Pierpont Morgan owned Camp Uncas.  To reach the railroad connection for his Manhattan headquarters, he faced two options, neither to his liking.  He could race his team up Durant’s new road from Uncas, passed the Seventh-Eighth Lake Carry, reached the Sucker Brook Bay Road (now Uncas Road) and turned left for Eagle Bay to hopefully meet the scheduled Crosby Transportation Company steamer.  Then he transferred in Old Forge to the Fulton Chain Railroad terminus for the two mile spur to Fulton Chain Station.  Instead of going to Eagle Bay, he could have continued north about a mile from Eagle Bay and followed the Durant trail past Cascade Mountain to connect with the road from Big Moose Lake and meet the railroad at Big Moose Station.

Collis P. Huntington owned Pine Knot on Raquette Lake.  I do not know if he ever sat on a keg of nails on a Company steamer to Eagle Bay as some suggest, but he wrote about his experiences on the tedious series of stages, carries and small steamers necessary to travel from Fourth Lake to Brown’s Tract Inlet, crossing the road from Camp Uncas used by Morgan.

But Morgan and Huntington knew that travelers deserved a faster and cheaper way to reach the North Woods. In Huntington’s words, “It is a health resort for the rich and poor, for in these forests may be found the castle, the cabin and the tent, and the inmates of these forests share alike in the life-giving air of the  woods”.

7th lake adirondack news ad 1900When John Dix completed his lumber railroad to Rondaxe Lake, Lt. Gov. Timothy Woodruff suggested to William W. Durant that Huntington and Morgan would support building a railroad that continued from the Dix line to Eagle Bay and extended parallel along Sucker Brook Bay Road to Raquette Lake.

Though Dr. Webb transferred most of the land in Township 8, which remains the largest land purchase of Adirondack Park lands)  to the state in an 1896 settlement for  flood damages, he retained easements for a Clearwater to Raquette Lake railroad already surveyed by G. Clinton Ward in 1892.  Now Ward redid the survey, routed it along Fourth Lake’s north shore and supervised its construction during 1899.

Huntington and other millionaire directors incorporated the Raquette Lake Railway and a charter was granted in April 1899 for a compressed air or electric railway. But Huntington’s directors built it for the use of steam.

The Old Forge Company directors quickly recognized that this railroad threatened their corporate existence.  Travelers would easily pass the station at Fulton Chain and transfer at Clearwater to the Raquette Lake Railway and reach Fourth Lake destinations instead of using the Company’s steamers and railroad.

The Company presented an offer to the Raquette Lake Railway directors to purchase the Company’s steamers while continuing strong opposition to the steam power bill in early 1899.

raq lak rr adirondack news ad 1900Edward Burns, Nehasane Park manager for Dr. Webb, asked for specifics on the properties offered.  He also urged the Company to first resolve the navigation issue with W. S. deCamp past his lands to First Lake.  Afterwards, Burns met with deCamp who offered to assign his navigation rights to the Raquette Lake Railway if the Company continued to be “obnoxious in their opposition” to the legislation.   The railroad was finished during 1899 but still needed legislative approval to open to the public with the locomotives running on steam.

Money matters, internal management division and the opposition to reintroduced steam power legislation in late 1899 brought the Old Forge Company to a struggle for survival.  While Company minutes for the years 1897 to 1900 are nonexistent, we do have information that explains some of the strife within the Company from the correspondence of Charles Snyder, the lawyer for the Raquette Lake Railway.   The state’s railroad commission approved the line’s charter because “public convenience and necessity” required its construction.  After this approval in April 1899, Snyder and Burns met with the Company directors and assured them that their intention was not to impact their business.

The Company was shown that public interest in the new railroad had in fact increased the Company’s profits and would continue to increase their value.  Opposition from the Company decreased as these profits were being realized.  Then the Company retained Charles D. Adams, a prominent attorney who opposed Snyder in several notable Fulton Chain property rights cases during the 1890s.  Adams informed Snyder that the Company would oppose any operation of the Huntington line because it ran on State forest land and, since it was currently operating on steam, its charter was currently illegal.

But, Adams added, Huntington could risk its legal status with the state and Company opposition would stop if the Fulton Chain Railroad, the Crosby Transportation Company and the Forge Tract (including Forge House) were purchased by the Raquette Lake Railway.  When pressed for a price, C. D. Adams offered $180,000 ($80,000 for the transportation and railroad properties) subject to $35,000 in mortgages.  Snyder then described the properties offered by Adams and the necessity for removing this remaining obstacle to the steam legislation already defeated once.  Snyder considered this exorbitant price blackmail and an easy bailout for the Company’s financial problems.  Then Snyder presented another recently learned and less expensive option.

Samuel Garmon, Company president since its 1896 founding, disagreed with Victor Adams and others and favored the new railroad’s existence.  According to Snyder, Garmon firmly believed “that an efficient reasonable system of transportation” would “build up and enhance the value of his property”.   Garmon owned 355 of the 1000 shares of the Company and told Snyder that an option for 150 shares was expiring soon.  A recent transfer of the stock of the Fulton Chain Railroad to the Company included the title to the navigation docks.  The Company already held the rest of the waterfront property excluding the state dam lands.

If the Raquette Lake Railway purchased these 150 shares, then Garmon would sign an agreement to place his shares at their disposal.  Consequently, by doing so their interests would have the majority, control the docks and force the Company’s opposition to come “to their senses”.  Snyder recommended to Huntington that the Raquette Lake Railway purchase the stock to not only enable passage of the steam use bill, they could establish a competent Fulton Chain steamer line that would be useful to the new railroad.   Huntington thought that Snyder’s recommendation included buying the Forge Tract and hotel. Snyder clarified that buying the option’s shares would be sufficient ($7500) coupled with a Garmon agreement.  Snyder disagreed and maintained that the agreement could let Garmon (the Company) keep the unsold Forge Tract lands and the Forge house.  The Raquette Lake Railway would hold the Company’s railroad, the docks and exclusive navigation of the waters.  Also, a new steamboat company could be formed that would cooperate with the Raquette Lake Railway.  If the price was reasonable, they could buy the Company’s steamers.  Snyder informed Huntington that Dr. Webb also favored this option.

But before receiving Huntington’s go-ahead to exercise the option, Snyder informed Huntington that the Company filed an injunction to prevent the Raquette Lake Railway from operating illegally on steam contrary to its charter, claiming it a “public nuisance” for operating on state lands and sought damages from its directors for this nuisance.

Forest fires were becoming more numerous in the Adirondacks and often occurred from smokestack sparks along railroad lines.  (anthracite), which he knew burned safely from his experiences in the West, or oil.

Hearings on the legislation began during January 1900.   In late January, a Little Falls correspondent reported the new railroad would furnish such strong competition that it would monopolize the freight and passenger business.  There was no mention of the current monopoly exercised by the Company.

At the Assembly’s Railroad Committee hearing on January 31 appeared Counselor Adams, Victor Adams, Hadley Jones, Judson J. Gilbert and Edward H. Leggett.  Leggett appeared as a representative of Fourth Lake camps and testified that insurance companies did not cover fires started by railroads.  Counselor Adams claimed the bill would place the state forests from Eagle Bay to Raquette Lake at risk from fire.   But Hadley Jones created a sensation when he claimed that a Republican senator against the bill was voting for it to repay an obligation to Huntington and wanted to help him in this matter.  Jones had gone against the Company’s advice of counsel by invoking politics into the hearing.  Jones also hoped the committee would not favor it because the railroad’s directors were millionaires.

Victor Adams testified on behalf of the Company.  Counselor Adams repeated the arguments that the line ran over state lands, used an easement for a highway that did not exist and that the charter for an electric line was illegal because the railroad operated on steam.  In this latter point, he claimed that the steam bill is only to correct a current wrong.   Huntington’s lawyer declared that the point of the bill was to allow steam and that the legal issues raised should be decided in the courts.  Furthermore, he pointed out that the opposition’s companies charged $6 to $12 with many transfers and required an overnight hotel stop at Fourth Lake.  He detailed the current route and claimed families could not afford the $100 current route costs.   The same arguments were given at the Senate’s hearings on February 11, 1900.

The Company won a partial victory when an amendment was approved limiting the fare to two cents a mile and requiring the use of oil, more expensive than coal.  But the Company’s joy was temporary as the fare limit was removed in the final bill version.

After the bill’s passage, Governor Theodore Roosevelt granted a special hearing to the Company.  Years earlier, he had been defeated for Speaker of the Assembly by Titus Sheard and Victor Adams.  On April 25, 1900, Counselor Adams, Victor Adams, Homer P. Snyder, J. J. Gilbert and surveyor John B. Koetteritz appeared before the Governor but only Counselor Adams spoke.  Adams began with the railroad’s trespass on state lands.  But the Governor interrupted and stated it had nothing to do with the legislation and that this meeting concerned only whether the use of oil in place of compressed air was proper.  Adams’ argument was for the courts.  Adams then claimed the bill was unconstitutional for it was for a private line and was again stopped by Roosevelt.  When Adams began to address the corporate charter, Governor Roosevelt declared the hearing was over and signed the bill that afternoon.

The other shoe fell when the Company received its defeat in court during the same week.  The court’s Judge Andrews outlined the case of the Company: the railroad runs over a public highway and across state lands; the new line extended over an easement for a public highway that did not exist; it ran over state lands; the company had no legal existence because it was chartered as an electric railroad; and by lawfully occupying state parklands the line was a public nuisance.  The Company’s suit claimed damages as a result of the public nuisance.

The judge determined the primary issue with the case as filed was whether the Company was entitled to any damages separate from the general public.  The other issues could only be examined if the Company was due these claims.  In other words, did the nuisance cause special damage to the Company?  The judge ruled that it did not.  The Raquette Lake Railway did not prevent the public from using the Company’s lines; the highway obstructed was not the only route through the region; and the line did not require the Company to alter its steamboat routes or build docks at new locations.  The public could still choose the Company’s lines.

The Company’s spin on the above defeats was disappointment.  Its intrepid lawyer Counselor Adams appealed to a higher court and opposed modification of the charter for use of oil when the application was made to the railroad commission.  These efforts failed and the Company hoped that increased traffic from the new railroad would continue.

They lowered passenger and freight rates in order to compete.  The Raquette Lake Railway opened to the public in July 1900 and their new steamer Clearwater, the largest on the Fulton Chain, was launched in August.   The Old Forge Company’s management had changed by December 21, 1899 when the first meeting since early 1897 was recorded in the minutes book.  Hadley Jones was no longer Secretary.

Collis Huntington died at Camp Pine Knott in August 1900.

Note: Letters cited above on from the files of the Adirondack Museum Library and images from a 1900 issue of The Adirondack News

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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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