Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Club Camp on Big Moose Lake: A Short History

The Old Club Camp courtesy Roger and Nancy PrattThe Club Camp is often mentioned as the first permanent structure built on Big Moose Lake. The word permanent is rather ironic because this hunting and fishing establishment had a relatively short history of just 28 years. Today the camp’s origins, visitors, and sad end seem largely forgotten.

According to Joseph F. Grady’s The Adirondacks: Fulton Chain-Big Moose Region (1933), the Club Camp was constructed in 1878 at the request of several sportsmen from New York City who had been spending summers on the lake in previous years.

At the time, Big Moose, near Old Forge, NY, was difficult to reach — the railroad would not arrive in the area until 1892. Before 1878, only lean-tos or shanties were available on Big Moose, notably that of businessman William “Billy” Dutton, which was built in 1876, and that of guide Jack Sheppard which was set up around the same time.

The Builders

Jack Sheppard courtesy Forest and StreamThe Club Camp sportsmen asked Jack Sheppard to build a more substantial structure on the south shore of West Bay near the present camp known as Tojenka. Jack, whose real name was Edwin Lee Sheppard (1836-1917) was a Civil War veteran and wilderness guide who had earlier built camps along the Fulton Chain. An old photograph shows the building was constructed of horizontal logs with a front porch. Two smaller wings are visible with another, smaller building in the back.

According to Grady, Sheppard enlisted three other guides to assist in the construction: “Richard Crego, Bart Holliday [sic], and John Van Valkenburgh.” Richard C. Crego (1853-1925) was a guide from Boonville (See: The Crego Family: Three Generations of Adirondack Guides).

Bart “Holliday” is most likely Barton Haliday (b. c.1833) who was born in Lewis Co., NY, and appeared on the 1865 NY State Census in Boonville.  In 1872, he shows up as “Bart Halleday” on the register of the Forge House in Old Forge, guiding a party that included Congressman Clinton Merriam (of Leyden, Lewis Co.).  Barton Haliday was later listed among the guides at the Forge House in Stoddard’s The Adirondacks Illustrated (1881).

John Val Valkenburgh was probably the “John H. Van Valkenburg” who was guiding with Jack Sheppard at the Forge House on April 3, 1872. In the 1880s, Van Valkenburg built and ran a camp/hotel on Second Lake before leaving for Michigan where he was reported to have died after suffering frostbite.

The Union Club

In his 1933 history, Joseph Grady names three of the wealthy sportsmen who initiated the building project: “Charles Arnold, Martin Van Buren, and Travers [sic] Van Buren.” These gentlemen had one thing in common that led to the naming of the camp. All were members of the Union Club which still exists on East 69th Street in Manhattan. A newspaper article in the Rome Daily Sentinel of September 5, 1892, refers to the camp on Big Moose as the “Union Club camp.”

In the late 19th century, fraternal clubs like the Union, were an important part of American society. Prominent businessmen and politicians were often members of several clubs and proudly listed their memberships in city directories. The clubs provided members of all classes access to various social activities. Club membership was often noted in members’ obituaries and pallbearers sometimes assembled at the club before a funeral to attend en masse. It is not surprising then that many men who clubbed together, also fished together.

Returning to the three Union Club men mentioned by Grady, Charles Henry Arnold (1847-1902) was a wine merchant on South William St. in New York and a resident of Tuxedo Park, NY.  Martin Van Buren (1844-1885) and Travis C. Van Buren (1849-1889) were brothers (sons of Abraham Van Buren) and were grandsons of U.S. President Martin Van Buren. All three are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

An article on the Club Camp in the Adirondack News on July 18, 1900 mentions several events and visitors, which were recorded on the walls and doors of the building.  One inscription refers to Union Club member William P. Talboys (1837-1887), a New York banker and publisher. On September 26, 1880, Talboys was a hunting partner of Martin Van Buren II. Another gentlemen was identified only as “W. Remsen, Jr.” He was guided by Ed Arnold and “killed a black bear on Sept. 30, 1880 in West Bay.”

This was probably William Remsen, Jr. (1848-1886), who was a prominent member of the Union Club as was his father. The younger Remsen was noted for having invented a gin and lemon cocktail called the “Remsen Cooler,” said to have been popular at the Union Club in Manhattan. Perhaps a few or more were served at the Club Camp as well. The inscriptions also documented the weather: “Oct. 3, 1881—Temperature 66 degrees. Oct. 5, 1881 — Temperature 22 degrees. Gosh!”

Scientific Base Camp

During the 1880s, Big Moose Lake was the subject of several scientific studies, and the Club Camp became a convenient place to stay for the scientists and their guides. In October and November of 1881, zoologist C. Hart Merriam (1855-1942, son of Congressman Clinton Merriam) visited the Club Camp with Frederick H. Hoadley (1848-1895) and ornithologist Albert K. Fisher (1856-1948). At camp Merriam described his troubles with “white-footed mice,” which made off with the cotton that they had brought for taxidermy work. The mice even invaded a supposedly mouse-proof cabinet.

In June 1882, Fred Mather (1833-1900), an expert on fish who was working on the Adirondack Survey for Verplanck Colvin, stayed at the Club Camp for a week with Jack Sheppard. “We stopped a while on Big Moose Lake, where Jack had a cabin well stocked with canned goods and other stores for the Big Moose Club of twelve members, when they wished to visit the lake.”

Later Years

As the 1880s progressed, additional men were mentioned as members of the hunting and fishing club, but the direct connection to the Union Club in New York City faded. Some membership organization, however, must have remained because workmen continued to perform maintenance on the building.

On April 2, 1889, Richard Crego, one of the original builders, noted in his diary that he filled the ice house at the Club Camp. This was an annual chore to ready the place for the coming season. It is important to note that at this time the members of the Club Camp were essentially squatters with no rights to the land. It wasn’t till the late 1890s that railroad magnate William Seward Webb acquired title to most of the land surrounding Big Moose.

Among the members of the Club Camp during the later years were Clarence H. Kelsey (1856 -1930), Edward O. Stanley (1855-1933), a Dr. Currier, and a Dr. Fitch. Kelsey and Stanley were officers of the Title Guarantee & Trust Company in New York City and visited the camp in the 1890s. They later became owners of the Moore, or Fern Spring, camp on Big Moose (See: FC Moore’s Big Moose Lake Retreat).

Edwin Standish Woodbury (1849-1921), a shoe manufacturer from Boston, visited the camp in 1893 with his family and then built (1900) his own camp called Edilgra on Big Moose’s north shore.  George Griffith (1853-1904) was Superintendent of Schools for Utica. In May 1899, Griffith was host to H. H. Cooper, Russell H. Wicks, and F. A. Bosworth, all of Utica, at the Club Camp.  In July 1900, his sister, Miss Nellie M. Griffith of Lockport visited the superintendent at the camp where he was spending the summer.

Lastly, Thomas Pettibone Kingsford (1858-1932) of Oswego, NY, became the key figure in the Club’s final years. “T. P.” Kingsford, as he was known, was owner of the Oswego Starch Company and began visiting the Club Camp around 1900 or before. He liked the place so much that he began to bring his family, and in December 1902, he bought it.  Kingsford added “a fine rustic boathouse” to the complex in May 1905.

The Fire

In July 1906, Big Moose Lake made national news when Grace Brown was murdered on the South Bay. Two months later, the Club Camp made its own headlines, albeit much smaller. On September 4, 1906 between noon and 1 pm, the camp, then owned and occupied by the Kingsfords, caught fire (a defective stovepipe was said to be to blame).

A bucket brigade was formed, but they were only able to save some furniture. The loss of the building was valued at $1,500. An article in the Oswego Daily Times noted there were three ladies in camp when the fire broke out. Not surprisingly, the loss of the building did nothing to destroy the value of the wonderful location. T. P. Kingsford soon built another camp, Tojenka, near the original site.

Photos, from above: The Old Club Camp courtesy Roger and Nancy Pratt, and Jack Sheppard courtesy Forest and Stream, June 26, 1897, p. 507.

Related Stories


Roy Crego is a descendant of Adirondack guide Richard C. Crego (1853-1925) and a member of the Town of Webb Historical Association.




11 Responses

  1. Noel Sherry says:

    Hello Roy, enjoyed your article very much. It shows thorough research and is most interesting as an important chapter in the history of Big Moose Lake. I am on a history committee at Twitchell Lake and have hiked the forest between the two bodies many times. The trail from Twitchell to North Bay is not marked well toward the end, so my wife and I had to guess at hitting the lake on one hike, and ended up walking all the way back to Twitchell by the road. I am trying to place exactly where the Club Camp was. You mentioned Fred Mather doing research on fish for the Verplanck Colvin crew, staying there. I am reminded of Colvin’s very detailed description of surveying from North Bay, Big Moose Lake, over past Sunshine Pond, which was not on his map, and he named Hackmetack Pond (Bill Marleau quotes from Colvin’s journal of 1879). I hiked there yesterday with my wife. Apparently Colvin had a shanty to stay on the North Shore of Big Moose Lake (and a boat), with part of his crew out on the Beaver River. I wonder if he stayed in the Club Camp. Thanks for this very interesting article.

    • Roy Crego says:

      Hi Noel, Do you know how Merriam Lake (north of Big Moose) was named? A reader asked if it was possibly named for zoologist C. Hart Merriam who is mentioned in the article. I have not come across a connection although the Merriam family which had farm in Locust Grove, Lewis Co., seems to have vacationed in the area regularly.

      • Noel A. Sherry says:

        Hello Roy,
        I would say the lake was definitely named after the Merriam’s of Lewis County. I have an extensive Ancestry.com tree for Adirondacks and Twitchell, and I have a Sarah Merriam (1783-1840) married to Isaac G. Puffer (1761-1838), a Charles Merriam (1850-1931) married into the Lyon family of Lewis Co, and a Lois Merriam (1840-1813) married into the Hough family of Lewis Co.I have not yet connected them all on my Tree, but any one of these Merriam’s could have become namesake to Merriam Lake, with these three families- Puffer, Hough, and Hough all with members guiding or sporting in Brown’s Tract. I have not connected in C. Hart Merriam yet. Noel

  2. Roy Crego says:

    Hi Noel, The Club Camp was on the south shore or West Bay of Big Moose near the present Tojenka. I haven’t found that Colvin actually stayed at the Club Camp, but Jack Sheppard was a guide for Colvin. Colvin then personally recommended Sheppard as a guide for Fred Mather. I look forward to reading your history of Twichell

  3. Barbara Campbell says:

    My Grandparents frequented Big Moose Lake in early 1900’s. Names were Gardner, Emma Mercer,Baldwinsville NY. Friends with Ainsworths who owned much land around the lake.

    • Roy Crego says:

      Barbara, I’m not familiar with the names Gardner or Mercer. Did they visit the Club Camp? Dan Ainsworth, Jr. was a member of the Brown’s Tract Guides Association from Big Moose in 1907. The Ainsworths ran a camp/hotel in Big Moose Station.

      • Barb Campbell says:

        I don’t know if my Great Grandparents belonged to to the Club. They visited the Ainsworth camp each summer, to the point that their camp was ‘called’ the Mercer camp. My Grandfather Gardner often went up to Twitchell lake with Dan . I have post cards…they wrote to home from 1907 through 1914, approximately.

        • Noel A. Sherry says:

          Hello Barb,
          1907 was when my grandfather Norman B. Sherry I visited his soon to be wife (Lucretia Hayes) at Twitchell Lake Inn, proposed, married, and honeymooned. Then in 1919 they bought land and had a camp built. I remember the Ainsworth place. Great to have those old postcards. I have a collection, too. Noel Sherry

  4. Roz Eyre says:

    It is always a pleasure to read a new article by Roy Crego about the Big Moose Lake area!

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *