The property would become famous for the fields of sculptures installed by David Smith. It was called the Terminal Iron Works, in honor of the Brooklyn shop where Smith had made his first welded sculptures. But when it was purchased by Smith and his first wife, Dorothy Dehner, in 1929, “it was called the Old Fox Farm because a previous owner had raised foxes there for the fur trade,” Dehner recalled in 1973.
That previous owner was Abner Smith, one of the sons of Frederick Reynolds Smith, the boat builder who founded F.R. Smith and Sons.
Abner Smith was born in Bolton Landing in 1897. When he registered for the draft in 1918, he listed his occupation as “self-employed taxidermist.” As a high school student, Abner had taken a correspondence course from the North Western School of Taxidermy, based in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Abner Smith has always been very fond of animals, especially the wild fur-bearers, and always spent considerable time fishing, hunting and trapping,” the Silver Fox Breeder’s Association reported in the 1920s.
Smith was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1919. “He decided to get into the Silver Fox business as soon as possible,” the Breeder’s Association stated.
In 1920, he and another Bolton man, C. H. Roberts, organized the Lake George Silver Fox Farm Company. They built what they called a ranch on the hill above Bolton Landing and stocked it with three pairs of Alaskan foxes, which they purchased from a fox farm in Plattsburg.
Fox farms began to proliferate through upstate New York in the 1920s, but Smith’s was the first to open near Lake George.
The industry had its origins in the 1890s, when two entrepreneurs on Prince Edward Island discovered that silver foxes could be bred in captivity and that their furs could fetch astounding prices. “Silver fox has never had an established market price. Its value is fixed in fancy,” a journalist wrote in 1939.
By the 1930s, though, buyers’ fancy had already turned elsewhere. Perhaps the market for silver fox fur was saturated. Or perhaps a silver fox stole was no longer fashionable. In any event, the fox farms of upstate New York began to close. Ranches located at Ausable Chasm and in Lake Placid were turned into little zoos, or animal farms – the Adirondacks’ first roadside attractions.
Abner Smith died in Florida in 1977 at the age of 80. Gregg Smith, one of F.R. Smith’s great grandsons, says the family knows little about him.
Rebecca Smith, David Smith’s daughter, says there is nothing on the property to indicate that it was once a fox farm. However, she said, she likes to think that a fox cub that two of her children found when they were very young might in some way, however remotely, have been related to a pair that were released or which escaped before the farm closed.