Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Old Forge Company: Defeat and Decline

P1686 Forge House  1900 or so from postcard039At the stockholders and directors meetings of the Old Forge Company held in December, 1900 at Little Falls were Dr. Alexander Crosby, Judson J. Gilbert, Homer P. Snyder and Eugene Arthur, representing 90% of the Company’s shares.  Snyder was elected vice-president and Nelson R. Gilbert was continued as treasurer, a position held since 1896.

For the first time since its founding, the Company elected a new president, Dr. Alexander Crosby, replacing Samuel Garmon, and a new secretary, Eugene A. Arthur, replacing Hadley Jones.  Eugene Arthur was appointed to handle land contracts for a salary plus expenses.  According to Charles Snyder, “the members of these companies have gotten into a row among themselves and that only one or two of them are financially capable of seeing things through.”

Little Falls mill owners were suffering from the impact of the growing availability of steam heat.  This advance in home and building comfort steadily reduced the demand for knitted goods that had powered the growth of knitting mills owned by former Company directors J. J. Gilbert, Titus Sheard and Victor Adams.  Also, the mounting debts of the Old Forge Company, its defeats in the state’s legislature, with the governor and in the courts during 1900, plus the opening of the Raquette Lake Railway in July 1900, all forced the Company to reconsider its assets and corporate future.  The original Little Falls syndicate was in the process of replacement by Lowville businessmen who would seek a return to an original focus of the Company: the sale and development of its lands.

Shortly after the December meeting, the Company offered its railroad and steamers to the Raquette Lake Railway.  The Company would sell the steamer property at cost and the railroad included $35,000 notes owed to its 1896 builder James Campbell.  The price offered was now $45,000, little more than half of an 1899 offer.  In April 1901, Dr. Webb informed J.P. Morgan that he accepted the offer and would settle for a lower figure with Campbell.  When the transaction was consummated, the Fulton Chain Railroad and Crosby Transportation Companies no longer existed.

At its February 1901 stockholders meeting, the directors elected were Eugene Arthur, John E. Haberer, Frank Doig and Charles Mereness.  These directors elected Haberer president, Doig vice-president, and Eugene Arthur Secretary and Treasurer as well as the Company’s general manager paid a salary plus expenses.  It was Arthur who executed the railroad and steamboats’ sale with the Raquette Lake Railway’s Edward Burns and Charles Snyder.

John Haberer descended from a heritage of cabinet makers and was one of the most successful and popular businessmen in Lowville.  Initially partnering with brother George in furniture manufacturing and retail sales, Haberer parted in 1891 and continued manufacturing furniture.  In 1892, Haberer became a founding director of the newly formed Gould Paper Company and later served two years as Lowville’s town President.  Eugene Arthur was successful in companies engaged in clothing, grain, flour, building materials and other goods until he became fully involved with the Old Forge Company’s operations.  After becoming directors, Haberer and Arthur built sizable camps on Old Forge Pond shores.  Arthur’s son, Alfred Karl Arthur, would become publisher of the Lowville Journal & Republican.

Frank Doig had been a director of the Fulton Chain Railroad since 1896.  Doig was a successful drug wholesaler and a general business manager of the Asbestos Burial Casket Company.  He became a Company shareholder when the Company acquired the railroad company’s stock.  Charles Mereness was one of the most successful members of the Lewis County bar and twice honored when chosen a delegate to the New York Constitutional Conventions of 1894 and 1914.  The directors of the Company represented Lowville’s most successful and prominent citizens.

Another item sharing the news headlines with the Dr. Webb purchase was Hadley Jones.  Two months after attending the February stockholders meeting, Hadley Jones fled to South America.  Jones, a former Little Falls mayor and noted attorney, turned to a new way of acquiring funds to recover from gambling losses, bad real estate speculations and his recently approved bankruptcy.  His legal reputation resulted in no questions being asked when Jones had duplicate stock certificates printed bearing the values of his and his wife’s genuine National Herkimer County Bank stock shares.  Jones then used the replicas to secure loans from different parties.  The provider of the loan would call the bank whose staff routinely would confirm the stock ownership matching the information read from the replica certificates.  After arranging for the sale of his home and furniture during April 1901, Jones left the state.  His sudden departure attracted his creditors who discovered the above frauds.  Jones died out West under an assumed name in 1937.

P3415 Original Old Forge Hardware 173 (2)During the years 1901 to 1906, the Company concentrated on selling lots for homes and businesses as well as recovering from outstanding judgments against the Company.  Victor Adams presented a bill in January 1901 for past expenses on behalf of the Company which was approved for payment in August.  In February, the Directors agreed to obtain a $16,000 mortgage upon the Company’s properties to satisfy mounting debts.  At this meeting, the Directors determined to recover the account books held by former business manager George D. Smith and Treasurer Nelson R. Rust.  The minutes now included approval of lot sales for businesses as long as no conflict existed with the Forge House hotel and liquor business.  Meetings in April approved the sales to the Dr. Webb group.  In May, the Company officially terminated its existing litigation in opposition to the Raquette Lake Railway.

The July 1901 meeting changed the corporate office from Little Falls to Lowville.  In November, the Company approved the sale of a 60 x 150 foot lot to Moses Cohen requiring him to build “to the extent of $5000”.  Eugene Arthur continued as business manager for the Company and pursued the sale of its lots.  The Briggs, than Philo C. Wood signed leases for the Forge House.  In 1902, the Company signed lumber contracts with Haberer’s Gould Paper Company for the removal of pulp wood (spruce and balsam) from remaining wooded areas of the Tract.

The 1903 establishment of municipal government in Old Forge removed the ability of the Old Forge Company to restrict lot buyers from competing with the Forge House.  The Forge Tract was no longer a private development.  In December 1904, the Company settled with 1896 Forge House contractor Charles West who had died after placing a lien on the hotel when commissions due him were not paid.  The debt was paid to the current holder of the lien.  In February 1905, Dr. Crosby replaced Charles Mereness as director and Frank Doig as vice-president.  In March 1905, Haberer started suffering heart problems and was forced to concentrate on his Lowville company but stayed on as President.

In August 1906, Frank J. C. Steber, cashier of the Poland National Bank, purchased a majority 510 shares belonging to founding holders Dr. Crosby, Garmon, Victor Adams and Homer Snyder.  Years later, Steber worked for Citizens National Bank and owned Chase Lake and its resort properties.  At the next meeting in October, Steber and John Eaton Roberts replaced Dr. Crosby and Doig as directors.  Roberts was a partner in the Parsons & Roberts Boat Shop and treasurer of the Old Forge school board.  At this meeting, Arthur resigned as director, secretary, treasurer and general manager, and returned to Lowville to start a grain and coal company that proved successful.  Roberts was elected secretary and Steber vice-president and treasurer.  Roberts was appointed general manager and carried on Arthur’s activities.

The Company now had troubles enforcing the 1902 contract with Haberer’s Gould Paper Company.  The corporate headquarters was moved from Lowville to Old Forge.  John Haberer was forced out of the management and health problems resulted in his death in 1908.  His executor J. H. Wood represented his shares in 1909.

Under Steber’s majority ownership, the number of directors was reduced to three in February 1907 which eliminated Haberer’s spot and Samuel Garmon returned to replace Dr. Crosby as director, the other two remained Steber and Roberts.  In February 1908, the Directors agreed to make extensive improvements as part of the Forge House lease agreement with Harry and John Quinn, who became proprietors when Philo Wood left for The Wood Hotel.  The repairs were not completed by summer and the Quinns left in August without renewing the hotel’s liquor license.

The Company hired Lew C. Fuller and Laurence Charbonneau (David’s brother) to manage the Forge House in 1909 and 1910 respectively.  The Company suffered a tragic loss in June 1910 when John Eaton Roberts died of tuberculosis at the home of his father-in-law Samuel Smith in Old Forge.

In October 1910, the Old Forge Company properties were purchased by Daniel F. Strobel (333 shares) and William J. Thistlethwaite (666 shares) for $32,000.  At a special director’s meeting called by Steber and Garmon on October 12, Thistlethwaite replaced the late Roberts as director and secretary and the meeting adjourned for two days.  At the next meeting, Steber resigned as vice-president, treasurer and director.  Samuel Garmon resigned as president and director.  Stroebel completed Steber’s term as director.  George F. Wallace, cashier for the Herkimer National Bank, was appointed treasurer to replace Steber in that role.  The two directors, Thistlethwaite and Strobel, then elected Strobel president.  Single share holder Wallace filled Garmon’s director position.

Abstract adc from forge company003Daniel Strobel was and would continue to be a career politician running repeatedly for various offices, a political appointee and director in the Herkimer Lumber Company, West Canada Lumber Company and other business concerns.  He was the Herkimer Sheriff charged with clearing the state’s Old Forge Dam lands in 1901 which compelled George Deis and Riley Parsons move their businesses to new locations.  He was appointed Herkimer postmaster in 1907 and served under Presidents Taft and Roosevelt.  He later became supervisor of the Town of Ohio.

Daniel Strobel was already familiar with William J. Thistlethwaite in other business dealings.  Thistlethwaite was Dr. Webb’s land agent when he arranged the sale of lumbering rights to lands west of Big Moose Lake in 1897 to a group that included Strobel.  Thistlethwaite incorporated the West Canada Lumber Company in 1903 with Bertram Adams and Charles Cronk.  Two years later, Daniel Strobel and attorney Charles Thomas purchased Thistlethwaite’s shares because Thistlethwaite wanted to devote his attention to the “management of his real estate and property in the Adirondacks”.

In the same year (1903) that Thistlethwaite started the West Canada Company, he purchased the remainder of Dr. Webb’s Fulton Chain holdings outside of the Nehasane Park.  These lands were 10,000 acres on the shores of Second, Third and Fourth Lakes remaining from the 1893 Webb purchase from the Beaver River Lumber Company.  Like Dr. Webb, Thistlethwaite intended to sell these as vacation lots.

Thistlethwaite had gotten his start by reading law in the office of Franklin W. Cristman, a partner with Charles Snyder.  While working for Dr. Webb, Nehasane Park deeded Cascade Lake to Snyder, Moss Lake to Cristman and Thistlethwaite and the land surrounding Rondaxe Lake and the North Branch Moose River stretch Dart’s Lake to all three lawyers.  Thistlethwaite also worked in Dr. Webb’s real estate offices during the 1890s.

During the Strobel/Thistlethwaite administration, the directors attempted additional projects.  Daniel Strobel obtained state approval for an Old Forge National Bank in October 1910, but it never progressed further.  A few years later, the Company started an Old Forge Liquor Company licensed to sell liquor.  But Strobel’s political enemies noticed a penalty paid by the concern for illegal drinking and gambling on the premises.  Strobel and Thistlethwaite explained they were only stockholders when the troubles occurred and had sold their interest in the concern.

The Company hired Alexander and Nellie Briggs in February 1911 for their third and final term as proprietors of the Forge House.  Charles W. Bushinger held a single share, probably transferred from Wallace, and was elected vice-president and director.  Bushinger was a cashier for the Citizens Trust Company which held the notes payable by the Company.  Thistlethwaite was now secretary and treasurer.  At the end of 1911, the Company executed a $25,000 mortgage with the Citizens Trust Company.

Only Thistlethwaite and Bushinger appeared for the next few meetings.  Thistlethwaite was sole director at the February 1913 meeting where the books and accounts maintained by Thistlethwaite were presented for audit and review by Strobel’s lumber company accountants.  The Company then closed their several bank accounts and transferred balances to a single Citizens Trust Bank account.  Being the primary creditor, the bank needed to protect its financial interests in the Company.  Bushinger, Strobel and Thistlethwaite continued as directors.

P4114w Weedmark Old Forge aerial006When the Company met in the offices of the Citizens Trust Company in June 1915, bank auditor David G. Jones presented the financial statements and was elected secretary and treasurer, replacing Bushinger.  A pending contract for the sale of the Forge House was deferred.  Meetings were called and cancelled until August 24 when the directors voted approval for the sale of the Forge House and adjoining land to Charles Thomson and his son Raymond.  At this point, the Company’s only properties were the unsold lots of the Forge Tract.  At the September 22, 1915 meeting at Citizens Trust Bank offices in Utica, the Forge House lease with the Briggs was paid and closed, the Briggs having assigned their lease to the Thomsons.  The directors gave final approval to the purchase by the Thomsons.

One new item was an offer from and by, since Thistlethwaite was its president, the Adirondack Development Corporation to purchase the balance of unsold Company lands for $31,000, of which $20,000 would be mortgaged.  The directors accepted the offer.  The deeds to the Thomsons and the Adirondack Development Corporation were approved at the November 30, 1915 meeting, held at Strobel’s West Canada Lumber Company offices so Strobel could be present for both Strobel and Thistlethwaite to sign the deeds.  One additional meeting in January 1916 was necessary to officially ratify the two sales.  The Old Forge Company now no longer owned any property.  The directors also empowered Thistlethwaite to serve as the Company’s general manager with sole authority to execute any final documents for transfer of the Company property and additional Company business.

During 1916, Thistlethwaite obtained the shares of Daniel Strobel, from which 10 were acquired by Jones.  Over the final three years of its existence, the Company held annual meetings according to the bylaws.  Since the hotel and land transfers resulted in no further Company activity, the directors (Thistlethwaite, Bushinger, Jones) agreed three years later to dissolve the Company and effective June 27, 1919 the Old Forge Company was no more.

However, both the Old Forge Company and its successor, the Adirondack Development Corporation, were instrumental to the establishment of the Village of Old Forge.

Photographs and images from the collection of the Goodsell Museum.




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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.

2 Responses

  1. Ron says:

    My grandfather is buried in Old Forge’s Riverview Cemetery. He was a steamboat operator (grocery boat) on the Fulton Chain, constable who rode a horse named Pedro, a retired Fire Department horse, and guided when he could. He and his wife had seven kids, and they lived next to Chief Dennis of the Abenakis. He had worked on the Panama Canal, and had contracted tuberculosis there, went West for “the cure” paid for by the White Star Line (he worked as a pilot in New York Harbor). He died around 1922, I believe. His name was Oliver J. Bouchard.
    Have you run across him in your studies?

  2. charles herr says:

    I have not worked on him except for adding he and his wife’s grave to site. If you find other family members on findagrave, please let me know and I will try to link him to them. I will email what I find.

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