In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, three generations of the Crego family worked as wilderness guides in the Western Adirondacks. Along the way, they raised families, worked for prominent employers, adapted to new forms of transportation, and helped lay the groundwork for the conservation movement in New York State.
Paul S. Crego (1828-1905)
The first member of the family to be associated with the Adirondacks was Paul Shoreham Crego who was a son of Samuel H. Crego (1793-1861) and Lucy Daniels (1792-1868?). The Crego family had migrated from Vermont to Lewis County in the early 1800s and Paul was born near the hamlet of Fish Creek in what is now the Town of Lewis.
Paul served with the 152nd New York regiment during the Civil War and returned home after the war to resume life as a farmer. He and his wife Eliza Western Crego set up house on a small farm in Boonville, Oneida County. Their family would soon contain three sons: Richard C. (1853-1925), Judson J. (1866-1939), and Ernest C. (1869-1949) (a fourth son Daniel died young). The farm was along Moose River road, which happened to be the principal route into the western Adirondacks from Boonville to Old Forge — perfect for any aspiring guide. Paul was probably introduced to the trade by a cousin, Abner P. Daniels (1824-1901), who as early as 1864, had begun working as a wilderness guide. The two would work together for many years.
Life as an Adirondack guide in the 19th century was a varied occupation. Guides were hired by travelers to lead the way through the scenic mountain wilderness. Guides needed to know where the best fishing and hunting was found, how to build temporary shelters, and how to cook on an open fire for their adventurous guests. As the 1870s and 1880s passed, more of these tourists began to return on an annual basis and establish permanent camps. Guides built many of the camps and some became accomplished carpenters. The guides also became responsible for supplying the camps in summer and maintaining them in the off-season.
On the 1875 NY state census, both Paul and his eldest son Richard listed their occupation as “guide.” They also both advertised their services as Fulton Chain guides in E. R. Wallace’s Descriptive Guide to the Adirondacks (1878). The location of the Crego farm between the farming community of Boonville and Old Forge on the Fulton Chain of lakes made it an ideal spot from which to haul supplies. What couldn’t be produced on the Crego and surrounding farms could be shipped by rail to Boonville then hauled to Old Forge.
Some of Paul’s earliest clients were members of the Constable family — John Constable and his brother Stevenson Constable. Their family built Constable Hall and had once owned much of present-day Lewis County. The Constables recommended Paul Crego as a guide who maintained a shanty on Fourth Lake and could care for boats at Old Forge.
During the 1870s, Paul Crego appears often on the register of the Lawrence Hotel in Moose River Settlement and the Forge House in Old Forge. He often guided for large parties with fellow guides Abner P. Daniels, George Ballard, Gus Syphert, and John Van Valkenburg. Among Paul’s clients in 1872 were Dr. Edward J. Morgan of Ithaca, George M. Whipple, and George Perkins. Whipple and Perkins were both from Salem, MA, and stayed at “Salem Camp” on Fourth Lake. But Paul’s work was not confined only to the Fulton Chain; the Franklin Gazette reports he arrived at the St. Regis Lake House in the northern Adirondacks during the week ending July 19, 1879.
Soon after, Paul Crego moved with most of his family to Iosco County, Michigan. They were joined there by several other Boonville guides including George Ballard and Abner P. Daniels. Paul died in Whittemore, MI, in 1905. His wife Eliza died in 1906.
Richard C. Crego (1853-1925)
Paul’s eldest son, Richard Charles Crego, was not part of the migration to Michigan. In 1872, Richard married Alzina Permilia Joslin in Boonville, and the couple had six children: Nellie S. (1874-1906), Erve D. (1876-1940), Roy G. (1879-1955), Mabel E. (1884-1930), and twins Lovella and Loretta (d. 1898 as infants). Richard and Alzina, or “Zine” as she was called, continued to live at the Crego farm on Moose River Road.
By the early 1870s, Richard had developed his own list of clients, including Charles Pratt. Pratt was one of the founders of the Standard Oil Company and in the early 1870s built a camp on the upper south shore of Fourth Lake. Richard Crego was employed by Pratt as a guide and likely brought in much of the supplies for the camp. In July 1874, Richard Crego checked into the Forge House in Old Forge along with Charles Pratt and F. T. Parson of Brooklyn. In an article published in Forest and Stream on April 13, 1882, the writer Nessmuk (George Washington Sears), describes encountering “Dick Cragoe” at the Pratt Camp and described how the guide helped “land” him during a storm on the lake. Richard worked both summer and winter for Pratt. In January 1890, the Watertown Times reported that Richard Crego and a surveyor were expected to travel to the Pratt camp that month to survey the property.
By 1878, Richard Crego had extended his activity north to Big Moose Lake where he helped build the Club Camp for a group of wealthy sportsmen. In the following years, Richard collaborated with fellow guide Jack Sheppard to build Lakeview Camp (later renamed Deerlands) for Frank Williams, a wealthy coffee merchant from New York City. Crego and Sheppard then built camps for F. C. Moore and Henry Evans on the South Bay. Both Moore and Evans served as presidents of the Continental Insurance Company in New York City.
For work on the lakes, Richard used an Adirondack guide-boat, a craft that was built locally. Guide-boats were light enough to be carried by a man, but also strong enough to transport supplies and clients to and from the camps and on hunting excursions. The boats were rowed with oars and carried between lakes on the shoulders of the guides using a neck yoke. Richard Crego relied on boats made by Boonville builder Dwight Grant. For the 1880-81 season, Richard purchased a 12’ 6” guide-boat from Grant for $43.10 — a considerable outlay that shows how essential the boat was. Grant’s records show that Richard went on to buy additional boats in 1886, 1891, 1895, 1898, and two in 1903.
By 1889, Richard Crego was working both as a guide and a farmer and documented his activity for the first several months of the year in a diary. The diary shows that Richard spent much of the winter months hauling lumber, hay, and supplies between Boonville and Moose River Settlement. Most of the cargo appears destined to build and maintain various Adirondack camps and hotels. The loads often exceeded a ton and were carried on a sled pulled by a team of horses. On January 15, Richard hauled 2,468 lbs. of lumber to Moose River Settlement for guide Artemus Church. On January 28-29, he apparently drove all the way to Old Forge with a 2,077-pound load of supplies for guides Ed Arnold and Fred Hess. Temperature, snow, and sledding conditions were Richard’s daily preoccupations.
In late March 1889, Richard was busy preparing the camps on Big Moose Lake for the coming summer. On March 27 he took the new steam boat from Old Forge to John Van Valkenburgh’s camp. The next day he visited Fred Hess on Fourth Lake and helped him fill his ice house. On March 29-30, he traveled to the head of Big Moose Lake, probably to Frank Williams’s Lakeview Camp. There his “got the Saw dust out” for insulation and filled the ice house. On April 1, Richard filled an ice house at the foot of the lake (probably F. C. Moore’s), and the following day, he was busy with ice at the Club camp.
Richard’s accounts, which were kept in the back of the diary, show many of the everyday supplies used at the camps. Entries appear for bread, fruit, whisky, and coffee as well as boots (no 6 ½) for Ned Ball, a fellow guide.
Despite all his work on the lakes, Richard also found time for farming. Between April 27 and May 2, he was back in Boonville and dug out the spring, planted potatoes, drilled in his grain, plowed the “corn ground,” and “got me a cow and drove her home.”
Summer tourists began to arrive on the lakes in May of 1889 and Richard’s first assignment was to meet and guide a party staying at the Pratt camp on Fourth Lake. The first few days they fished on Fourth Lake, catching 11 fish on May 11. On May 13, Richard and Ned Ball took the party over to Limekiln Lake. The trip must have been worth it, at least to the vacationers, because Richard writes they “took a big Fish one Waing 9 ½ and one 2 ½ one 2.” In the days following, the party also went angling on Seventh and Little Moose lakes.
In 1892, the railroad reached Thendara, NY, just south of Old Forge and made the western Adirondacks much more accessible. No longer would tourists need to travel by road from Boonville past the Crego farm. The years that followed saw a great influx of tourists to the area and many people, including Richard Crego, became concerned about preserving the forests, game, and scenic beauty of the region. In 1897, Richard Crego became a vice president of the Adirondack Guides’ Association, which had been founded in 1891 and covered the entire Adirondack area. The association’s mission was to preserve the forests and game by seeing that the laws were enforced and by regulating the conduct of guides. In 1898, the guides of the western Adirondacks formed the Brown’s Tract Guides’ Association and Richard was elected its first president. The following year, on 29 November 1899, Richard Crego and the Brown’s Tract Guides landed on the pages of the New York Times. The paper reported that Richard led a delegation of guides who met with Teddy Roosevelt, then governor of New York. The group and governor discussed appointing competent men as fish and game protectors and the cost of enforcing game laws.
Richard also became an active correspondent of the New York Forest, Fish and Game Commission. In 1904, while still president of the Brown’s Tract guides, he reported on 18 deer found dead of starvation in Township 41, east of Big Moose Lake. He also described how he employed guides to cut food and carry it to the remaining deer.
William R. Marleau in his 1986 book Big Moose Station, credits Richard with writing short stories about fishing, hunting and wildlife, but this claim is extremely doubtful. Richard’s 1889 diary does not display literary skills and no stories are known to exist.
For over 20 years at the end of his career, Richard worked at the estate of Theodore A. Page, a wealthy executive, who built a lodge called Camp Veery (completed 1901) on Echo Island in the West Bay of Big Moose Lake.
Richard died at his farm in Boonville in 1925.
Alzina P. Crego (1852-1930)
Like many women of the day, Richard’s wife, Alzina Permilia Joslin, worked on the farm and helped raise a large family. Family tradition also holds that Alzina’s Joslin ancestors were part of the original 1819 Herreshoff settlement at Old Forge and that heritage may have led Alzina to seek work in Adirondacks as well. In 1880, the journalist Nessmuk told how the wife of one of Richard’s clients promised to pay Richard if he would let a deer escape the hunt. Richard complied, and the next day she paid the money, which was wrapped in a handkerchief embroidered with the name of Richard’s wife. This begs the question how did the client’s wife know Alzina’s name? Of course it’s possible that Richard mentioned it to her, or that the client’s wife met Alzina at the Crego farm. But, there is evidence that Alzina worked along the Fulton Chain, perhaps as a housekeeper and cook for the camps. On Saturday May 10, 1873, “Richard Crego and wife” checked into the Lawrence Hotel in Moose River Settlement. It is unlikely the couple were on a weekend vacation– the only attraction in the Settlement was a tannery. More likely, they were both headed for work in Old Forge. Years later, on Sept. 4, 1893, “Al__ P. Crigo” checked into the Forge House with a horse heading to Boonville. The following year on Aug 9, 1894, “Al P. criigo” checked into the hotel with a destination of Fourth Lake.
Roy G. Crego (1879-1955)
Roy Gilbert Crego, son of Richard and Alzina, worked much of his life as an Adirondack guide. In 1909, he married a schoolteacher Rose McGarry (1882-1943) and they had three sons: Francis T. (1911-1973), Lewis C. (1912-2005), and Richard J. (1916-1980).
In his younger days, Roy guided parties from Old Forge all the way to Saranac Lake and became a member of the Brown’s Tract Guides’ Association. Like his father, Roy used Grant guide-boats, purchasing one in 1903 and another in 1906. For hunting, Roy used a Parker 12-guage hammer shotgun and a Winchester Model 1894.
In 1890, the Adirondack League Club (ALC) was formed and created a large private preserve south of the Fulton Chain on which members were allowed to hunt and fish and to construct their own private camps. As a guide, Roy adapted to this change by working both directly for the ALC and also for private members. In the course of a long career at the ALC, he traveled to all corners of the preserve. Records from 1902 show he was paid for work at the Bisby Lodge. On August 27, 1903, he and fellow guide Dave Charbonneau were at Forest Lodge on Honnedaga Lake. Roy’s son Francis T. Crego remembered that one of his father’s favorite fishing spots was Ice House Pond in the Moose River Plains region.
In 1895, the ALC built the Combs Brook Hatchery on club land near the South Branch of the Moose River. The purpose of the hatchery was to raise fish with which to stock the preserve’s rivers and lakes. The hatchery also served as an outlying camp and provided overnight accommodations for club members. Roy began working at the hatchery as early as 1902 as a laborer, probably hauling fish in buckets to release points in surrounding streams.
In November 1911, Roy took a career leap into management when he was named manager at Combs Brook. Roy’s wife, Rose McGarry Crego, was paid as the housekeeper, and also looked after their young sons. Clayton Williams, who married Roy’s sister Mabel, worked as assistant.
After the close of the hatchery in 1915, Roy G. Crego worked for several families at the ALC including that of Albert H. Harris, vice-president of finance for the New York Central Railroad. Later, Roy worked for Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr., CEO of the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works of St. Louis. Roy had a great love of Old Forge and was always reluctant to leave for any extended period. He died in his house on Sheard Street in Old Forge in 1955. His wife Rose had died in 1943.
The sons of Roy and Rose worked summers at the ALC, and caddied at Thendara Golf Club, but all went on to college, served in World War II, and pursued careers outside the Adirondacks. Their families, however, continue to return to the Adirondacks to celebrate the wonderful wilderness that their ancestors helped preserve.
Photos: Crego Farmhouse, Moose River Road, Boonville (c.1925), courtesy of Joyce Entremont; Richard and Alzina Crego (c.1880), courtesy of Roy Crego; and After Lunch at the Hatchery, Adirondack League Club Yearbook, 1907. Standing on porch (L to R): John Stell, Mr. Walker, Mel Olney, Jim Dalton, Roy G. Crego, and Frank Holmes.