2017 marks the passage of 150 years since a dam was erected at the outlet of Cranberry Lake on the Oswegatchie River. Originally a much smaller lake, the dam was built to help control the flow of water for downstream communities and their mills.
The groundwork for this was laid in 1865 when the state legislature passed an Act declaring the Oswegatchie River a “public highway.” This lead to the formation of a Board of Commissioners and the construction of the dam, which took place late in 1866. The gates were not closed and the water impounded until the spring of 1867.
According to local historians, the land was not cleared, and as the waters rose through through the trees that first spring, buds opened under water, and trees leafed out with just their tops showing, as the dam raised the lake level by over 11 feet. For decades, dead, dying and decaying trees stood in the water, making the scene somewhat grotesque. State Surveyor Verplanck Colvin wrote in 1873 of the difficulties in getting out onto the water to take measurements and elevations, due to the dead trees standing in the lake.
As Cranberry’s renown as a sportsman’s paradise grew (along with the community at the foot of the lake), efforts were make to rid the lake of these trees. Hotels sprang up around the lake – hostelries such as Nunn’s Inn, Bear Mountain Camp, the Windsor, the Columbian Park, Sunset Inn, the Hotel Deremo, and others. The Rich Lumber Company came in 1902 and built the village of Wanakena on Inlet Flow. The Riches also constructed the Cranberry Lake Railroad, connecting Wanakena to the Carthage and Adirondack Railroad at Benson Mines. Cranberry Lake suddenly became much easier to get to. In 1917, the original log dam was replaced by a concrete dam, and raised slightly, so this year is also the Centennial of the ‘new’ dam, as well as the Sesquicentennial of the original dam.
To commemorate the event, Town Historian Mark Friden has created an embroidered patch. The gold in the center is the shape of the original lake, pre-dam. That, with the blue around it, represent the lake as it is today. The dam (and Cranberry Lake village) are at the very top. The patch is 3.5″ in diameter, and sells for $8.00 ($10.00 by mail).
For further information on the Sesquicentennial, or to purchase a patch, contact Mark by email at [email protected]
Photo: Cranberry Lake Dam Sesquicentennial Patch, provided.