Thursday, August 14, 2014

Alexander Lamberton:
Old Forge Pioneer And Nature Preservationist

Alexander Lamberton Medallion B 100_2137Lamberton Street, among the shorter (and newer) streets in Old Forge which  connects Park Avenue to Fulton Street at the Fire Station, is named for one of Old Forge’s earliest historical figures, Alexander Byron Lamberton.

Unknown to most Fulton Chain residents, Lamberton is usually mentioned only as the family who sold the Forge House and Tract to Dr. Alexander Crosby and Samuel Garmon in 1888.  But if you go to the popular Lamberton Conservatory at Highland Park in Rochester, you will see his image memorialized in a large bronze medallion above its entrance.  The crest to the right of the medallion contains a cross, deer head, crest and scroll.

Lamberton’s single entry in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adirondack Bibliography is for an 1876 article about his adventures bringing salmon fry to the John Brown Tract.  His role in Fulton Chain and Adirondack history is largely unheralded, but more important than many realize.  

Alexander and Eunice Lamberton

A. B. Lamberton was born on February 28, 1839 in County Armagh, Ireland.  One of eight children of Alexander Langston and Ann Chambers Lamberton, he was two when his family emigrated to the United States and settled in Beekmantown, Clinton County.  His father, who had been a merchant in Ireland, was a Methodist minister when the anti-slavery Wesleyan Methodist Church was formed in 1843.  Three “societies” of this church were in the Plattsburgh/Beekmantown area.  Lamberton’s father became the first minister for this branch (now Turnpike Wesleyan Church) and served as the “circuit rider” traveling by horse carriage to the meeting houses for services.  He served two years, resigned due to bad health, and settled into operating his farm.  Alexander Lamberton’s father died in 1879 and his mother in 1888; both are buried at Mooers Forks Union Cemetery, in Clinton County.

Eunice B. Starbuck, one of Charles and Eliza Starbuck’s eleven children, was born April 15, 1832.  Eunice married Obed Hussy in 1856.  Obed was a native of Baltimore and inventor of a mechanical reaper and mower in 1833 which revolutionized grain harvesting.  Cyrus McCormick, founder of International Harvester, would compete with Hussey over patent rights over the next three decades.  In 1860, Obed died in the company of his wife and infant daughter while he was struck and killed by a train.  In court, the widowed Eunice was awarded her share of past sales income and a share of Hussey reapers over the next seven years.

After receiving his early education at regional common schools, Lamberton left Beekmantown to attend the University of Rochester in 1864.  In May 1864, he married a now wealthy, widowed mother, Eunice B. Starbuck Hussey.

Lamberton’s Ministerial Career

Lamberton graduated in 1866 after completing Auburn Theological Seminary courses.  According to the Rochester Directory for this period, Lamberton was a student boarder in 1866, owned a lumber and planing mill at 48 Exchange Street in 1867, resided on East Avenue in 1868 where he later built a mansion, then disappeared from the Directory for four years.  He was ordained by the Brooklyn Presbytery in 1869 and assigned as pastor for three years to Brooklyn’s Tompkins Avenue Church.

Lamberton’s entry on the 1870 census listed a family of five.  In addition to Eunice’s daughter Martha Hussey, the Lamberton family now included two more daughters: Eunice Starbuck (1865) and Mary Byronia (1869).   After two years in Brooklyn, Lamberton was forced to resign due to health reasons, according to biographers, and moved his family to Rochester permanently around 1871.  He returned to the Directory in 1872 as a clergyman, was listed in 1873 as a “naturalist” and in the next year was listed in the real estate profession.

Since 1867, he had expanded his company with a mill in Canada and was now becoming successful in real estate speculations.   After recovering his health, probably spending time in the Adirondacks where he was fishing in 1873, Lamberton evidently did not return to his pastoral duties.  In the 1870s, the Brooklyn Presbytery would criticize Lamberton for abandoning the pulpit when entry into state politics and his successes in business and the natural sciences brought him national attention.

Lamberton’s Adirondack Ventures 

Perhaps Lamberton’s ministerial background was a natural bridge to his love of nature and concern for conservation.  Lamberton acquired a love of rod and gun, and the regional biographer Charles E. Fitch (1916) stated that Lamberton felt “not for the love of the chase more than the joy of living near to nature’s heart… From knowledge gained as a true lover of sport, he preaches the gospel of protection for fish and game.”  He added that Lamberton was among the first to advocate the creation of the “Adirondack Reservation”, and became an expert on wildlife nomenclature.

The earliest mention I have found of Lamberton being in the Adirondacks was a reference in The American Naturalist in 1872 where he was refereed to as a “gentleman who spent much time in that region”.  Another instance is a note included with a poem entitled “Trout Fishing” dated December 15 1873.  It is a poem widely popular today on fly-casting websites, posters and T-shirts.  It was written by Eunice on the “spur of the moment at the famous pool midway between Martin’s and Bartlett’s on the Saranac River” while her husband “with split bamboo and a fly or two whipped the water”.

1870  a 1874 buell map croppedIn January 1876, Alexander B. Lamberton purchased the Forge House and Forge Tract of 1,358 acres from S. Adelaide Buell, the daughter of its original co-owner J. Milton Buell, for $30,000.  To manage the five-year old Forge House, Lamberton hired Boonville’s Joel T. Comstock as proprietor and renamed the hostelry “Forest House”.  Emmett Marks practiced fish propagation in a “hatchery” below the nearby sawmill with principles learned from Seth Green of the Caledonia Hatchery.

Following an earlier trial run, Lamberton engineered the first large scale stocking of artificially propagated fish in the Adirondacks when he brought 50,000 brook trout fry to the Fulton Chain in March of 1876.  According to Lamberton, “The fish arrived at Rochester… from the hatching house at Caledonia and were inspected by my friend Seth Green… They were placed in the charge of the experienced and competent Mr. Marks, who accompanied me to the Fulton lakes.”  They were transported on the St. Louis Express to Utica for transfer to Boonville on the Utica and Black River Railroad.  Lamberton was chased from the baggage car holding the fish cans when he attempted to check on his tender cargo at the station in Utica.  Guide John Brinckerhoff accompanied them for the journey on Mr. Phelps’ teams from Boonville to Lawrence’s at Moose River Settlement, then to the “Old Forge”.  Lamberton wrote about the journey through snow, the multiple changes of water and controlling of temperature required for “our babes to the woods”.  After depositing this cargo, the group returned to Boonville to pick up the remaining cans containing 50,000 brook trout fry for the return trip to the “eight lakes” in a few days.

The First Fulton Chain Preserve

The March newspapers also reported that Lamberton intended to establish a preserve, the “object being the preservation, importation, acclimating, breeding and propagation of all animals, fishes, etc… and to prevent their extermination.”  (Oswego Daily Palladium)  This would be under 1871 legislation enabling owners, lessees or occupants of forest lands to establish preserves for the purpose of propagating fish or game.  The preserve could issue licenses for game and hire game-keepers to uphold hunting laws with the authority to levy fines.  Shareholders of Lamberton’s preserve would be able to use the grounds for sport and build camps.

At his urging, the state enacted Chapter 206, Laws of 1876 in May 1876, establishing the “Fulton Lake Park Association” that Barbara McMartin called “New York’s first private park association on land surrounding the Fulton Chain”.  Lamberton’s support for the legislation was emphasized in that the bill listed his name first among the incorporators of the association.  This action received national attention when Forest And Stream described Lamberton’s action as “Paradise Regained”.  The announcement in the periodical noted that property owned by the association already included a large hotel (Forest House), a sawmill (built by Buell & Desbrough in 1871) and over 1,000 acres of land.   The association intended to obtain up to 20,000 acres for the preserve and to sell up to 200 waterfront lots of 4 acres each.  Fish hatching houses and ponds were to be erected during 1876.  In 1877, a steam yacht was to be launched on the lakes, six years before Captain Jonathan Meeker’s historic launching of “Hunter”.

The Fulton Lake Park Association held its first meeting at the close of the National Sportsmen’s Convention at Geneseo in May 1876 to elect officers.  Its president would be Richard U. Sherman, the former president of the North Woods Walton Club, and who would soon organize the Bisby Club that would later merge with the Adirondack League Club in 1893.  Lamberton was elected treasurer.  The next meeting was held in Syracuse at the end of June, but was quickly adjourned to meet again in August at the Forest Hotel.  I could not determine if this or any other meeting of the association occurred, but evidently, sufficient shares were never sold and Sherman moved on to become President of the Bisby Club.

Barbara McMartin claimed that Lamberton was as interested in profiting from the association as he was in proper game controls.  She noted that Lamberton kept the tract as a private preserve until its sale in 1888.  Whatever the case, if Lamberton succeeded, the village of Old Forge may not have emerged until a later time.  Lamberton’s tract apparently satisfied his personal hunting and fishing needs, but as a businessman, also recognized the area value as the gateway to the Fulton Chain.

In March 1879, Lamberton renamed the hotel “Forge House“ and leased it to James W. Barrett, who transferred it to son Charles a few years later, and the hotel’s popularity for sportsmen and excursionists would grow.   As early as 1876, Lamberton started a camp at Second Lake (Dart’s Lake) , North Branch Moose River where he had a camp built.  William Dart helped with the camp construction and in 1882 Dart was making “improvements” as well as building an ice house on the property.  According to Dart’s 1934 obituary, he built his camp on Dart’s Lake in the 1880s “with the financial backing of A. B. Lamberton” (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle).  During the 1881-1882 winter, H. Dwight Grant finished two 13’ boats for use at Lamberton’s Camp.

After the state constructed a new Old Forge dam in 1879, Lamberton filed for damages of $30,000 with the Canal Board for its taking of 10 acres surrounding the new dam and the tract’s sawmill, the removal of timber from 50 acres of his tract for dam construction and for overflow damage to the lands along his tract.  Owners of neighboring tracts also sued.  Thaddeus E. Munn (of the Permelia Munn estate) also claimed $30,000 damages for land taken for the new Sixth Lake dam and for flooded lands (this acreage later became the Town of Inlet).  A party of state officials and surveyors soon toured the lakes, transported by teamster Charlie Phelps to Fourth Lake, escorted by Joel T. Comstock and lodged at Ed Arnold’s camp.  In 1885, the Board of Claims authorized payments of $4800 to Lamberton, $150 to Rev. Samuel Niccolls, Samuel Dodd and Benjamin Stickney (First Lake Camps), $400 to the Munn estate and $200 to Albert G. Buell who owned the point at Third Lake where the Bald Mountain House would later be built.

Lamberton’s Affairs After the Adirondacks

It appears that, beginning with the 1880s, Lamberton’s attention would be focused on politics and business affairs in Rochester.  According to Charles Snyder’s testimony in 1901 during a trial determining dockage rights at Old Forge Pond, Lamberton transferred the Forge Tract to Eunice’s sister Mary A. Starbuck who subsequently transferred it back to Eunice, who in turn sold the tract and its hotel to Garmon & Crosby for $10,000 in 1888.   Though the Lambertons had a summer house built in Nantucket (ancestral home of the Starbucks) in the 1880s, Lamberton and his family continued to vacation annually at the Lamberton Camp on Second Lake (Dart’s Lake).

In November 1900, Col. A. W. Soper purchased the Dodd Camp, where Benjamin Harrison lodged for his first Fulton Chain stay in 1895, and other lots on both shores of Second Lake, including the Hone Camp, formerly owned by Alexander B. Lamberton.  Lamberton Street is the last connection of Lamberton with the Fulton Chain.

Lamberton’s Brief Political and Newspaper Career

Lamberton’s early wealth came from his marriage to Eunice whose sources were the 1861 patent awards from Obed’s reaper invention and improvements.  It is possible that she received a portion of her father Charles Starbuck’s estate after he died in 1871, the year when Lamberton resigned his Brooklyn position and returned to Rochester.  New York Times political writers noted that Lamberton was set up as a weak Democratic senatorial candidate in 1875, a certain loser “unpopular” with the working class due to “certain real estate transactions” and with the normally reliable German vote because he was Irish.  In 1881, the paper noted this loss and another a year later for a Congressional seat, and he would again be senatorial candidate, this time for the Republicans.  Only a year earlier, he was known as a “Democrat, a Greenbacker and a Prohibitionist”.  Lamberton never won an election, including a later run for Mayor.

In the early 1880s, the Lambertons invested in a Rochester newspaper, The Sunday Morning Herald, Eunice providing additional funds for a printing office that its director-editor failed to implement.  Lamberton later served as director, then vice-president, of the city’s East Side Savings Bank and director of the Genesee Valley Trust Company and would be remembered for his attention to the social, civic and cultural needs of Rochester’s citizens.

In 1895, Lamberton was appointed, along with Susan B. Anthony and other managers, to oversee the care of homeless boys and girls at the State Industrial School in Rochester a role he filled until 1906.  He also served on the alumni endowment committee for the Auburn seminary, and became president of the Chamber of Commerce  for a term.  In this role, he raised funds for the first band concerts in the city’s parks.  He also presided over the newly created Public Market, established to reduce traffic congestion caused by farmers’ produce wagons on downtown city streets.  Lamberton became a leading influence for building the bridge over the canal at Exchange Street, the first “swing bridge” erected in New York State.  He was an avid member of the city’s Flower Club and often gave botanical lectures and men’s Bible classes at the Brick Presbyterian Church.

Rochester’s Parks and Playgrounds

Alexander Lamberton Medallion A 100_2138Probably his greatest contribution to Rochester was his service on the Park board and commission from 1894 to 1918, including its President beginning in 1902.  City park acreage increased from 631 to 1,003 acres during his tenure.  Opposed by the parks’ designer Frederick Olmsted, Lamberton successfully initiated band concerts and other events to bring crowds to the city’s parks and helped establish the parks’ first children’s playgrounds.  He promoted the Durand-Eastman Park and started the Park Zoo, donating its first wild game and other animals.  His views were sought by park managers in London and Ireland.

Upon Mary A. Starbuck’s death in 1910, her will bequeathed $20,000 to Highland Park for construction of a conservatory dedicated to Alexander B. Lamberton.  The structure was completed and dedicated in October 1911.

After his resignation from the Parks Commission in 1918, the citizens of Rochester held a reception honoring Lamberton’s 80th birthday at the Lamberton Conservatory.  He died on May 24, 1919 and is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester with his wife.

Photographs courtesy of Lamberton Conservatory, Highland Park, Rochester; the map “The Lands of John Milton Buell” is from the  Adirondack Museum Library.

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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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