With the water down for the winter, it’s easy to imagine the channel as the Mohawks of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy once saw it. Though the current dam on Stewarts Landing determines the summer level of the water, the top of the upstream rapids appearing when the level goes down is the determining factor for the winter level. This waterway was suitable for canoeing long before any dams were constructed.
What we call Stewarts Landing is the 2 mile stretch of flat water carrying the outflow of Canada and Lily Lakes to a concrete dam. Once called Fish Creek, the stream through and below Stewarts Landing is currently known as Sprite Creek. Below the dam, the unnavigable rocky stream flows into East Canada Creek, which joins the Mohawk and then Hudson Rivers.
The history of the area is closely linked to multiple dams. In the mid-1800s, the first was constructed at the upstream end of the channel. The Stone Dam was just that … a collection of rocks and boulders across the narrowest portion of the stream which raised the water level for the purpose of floating logs on Lily and Canada lakes above. One of many sawmills was constructed nearby. According to the 1856 map of Fulton County, there were at least 7 sawmills far downstream on Fish Creek.
Hemlocks that proliferated in the area were harvested for tannins in the bark that were used in local tanneries. Economics dictated that hides to be tanned were shipped to areas where bark could be obtained rather than the reverse. Softwoods were floated or carted to local sawmills to provide lumber for construction both local and all the way downstream to New York City. Hardwoods were provided to furniture makers, piano builders, and eventually even to make baseball bats. Mills in downstream Dolgeville provided both billets and bats themselves for Major League Baseball players.
Stewarts Landing gets its name from the sawmill James Stewart operated on Fish Creek in the mid to late 1800s. It was one of many small water-powered sawmills in the area, a type of business that continues to proliferate today, albeit using electricity for bandsaws instead of water-power for up and down “sash” saws.
Hemlocks became less valuable when other methods for tanning appeared in the late 19th century. Further downstream, another dam was constructed, and the Rock Dam destroyed, though passage through its remains is risky over 150 years later.
The rock-filled timber-crib dam at the downstream end of the channel allowed navigation by small steam-powered boats. Canada Lake, previously called Fish Lake, had become a tourist destination complete with resort hotels. From the west, a picturesque way to get to the hotels was via the wild Stewarts Landing channel. The Stewarts Landing site where these watercraft moored is currently a private dock, notable for its foundational timber-crib construction.
Alfred Dolge, industrialist from the nearby town of Dolgeville, set his sights on developing the Canada Lake watershed as a tourist and summer home destination. He may have been responsible for the timber-crib dam at Stewarts Landing, since the likely time of construction was soon after he purchased the upstream Canada Lake area in 1895.
Dolge proposed a new dam at Stewarts Landing in 1897 for the purpose of not only controlling the lake level, but also regulating flow to the electrical power station on downstream East Canada Creek. Until 1898, this power station used the second generator built by Thomas Edison to provide Direct Current (DC) electricity for his namesake city of Dolgeville and his factories there. In January of 1898, the power station changed over to a Westinghouse Alternating Current (AC) generator with water impounded by a new dam at Dolgeville in East Canada Creek. AC surmounted the transmission distance difficulties with DC electricity.
Victim of fires at his sawmills, paucity of available credit due to the Spanish-American war, over-extension driven by grand dreams, and perhaps a bit of intrigue involving his business partners, Dolge went bankrupt the next year. There is no evidence that the 1897 dam envisioned by Dolge was constructed.
But the power of the idea was not lost.
In 1912, Cyrus Durey, influential politician and businessman from the town of Caroga, where upstream Canada Lake is located, convinced the Utica Gas & Electric Company to build a dam near the site of the previous Stone Dam. This dam was proposed to regulate flow to downstream power stations. However, a 1918 New York State Supreme Court case indicates that this dam was never built.
After many changes of ownership, Adirondack Power and Light obtained land at the current dam site and began construction in 1922. A 4-mile long wooden pipe was constructed to carry water downstream to a powerhouse. In between was a surge tower (227 feet high!) Which provided steady flow to the generator. Niagara Mohawk operated this 6000W unmanned station until 1958. Additional power plants on downstream East Canada Creek also used the flow from Sprite Creek.
Between the Stewarts Landing timber crib dam and the site of the current cement dam, a sawmill was operated in the early 1900s. This site was flooded when the current dam was constructed. When the water was drawn down for repairs to the dam in 2018, the wooden dam providing flotation for logs could be seen well below the usual waterline. It is rumored that some of the machinery used by the sawmill remains unseen below the muck.
While the woods beyond had been logged by the Helterline Family, a 500 foot strip of land on either side of the channel of Stewarts Landing remained in the possession of Niagara Mohawk Company. Since the dam was no longer producing power, the Company put the land up for sale. Three local men, William Harper, Glenn Voorhees, and Harold Voorhees, formed the Oregon Mountain Corporation (OMC) in 1964 and purchased the land adjacent to the water in 1966. They subdivided and began developing the land on nights and weekends. Lots on the north side of the channel were sold, and construction of a road commenced.
But they owned the Niagara Mohawk dam, too. Since it no longer generated any revenue, it was a huge tax liability. Failing to get the assessment reduced to something manageable, the Corporation explored transfer or sale of the “asset.” Failure to pay taxes resulted in ownership by Fulton County. Destruction of the dam was proposed since the County did not want the responsibility of ownership. But on June 11, 1973, Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed legislation calling for the NY Department of Environmental Conservation takeover of the dam.
Concurrently, the Adirondack Park Agency was formed. That same year, the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development plan was signed by Governor Rockefeller, and suddenly any new lots on Stewarts Landing, designated Resource Management, needed to include a minimum of 47.5 acres. Development plans no longer viable, the OMC was allowed to sell the north side lots already subdivided, but plans for the south side were scrapped. New York state took ownership and the south side of Stewarts Landing became forever wild, joining many adjacent square miles.
Preservation of a good portion of the wild character of Stewarts Landing makes it a destination for kayakers and canoeists. More importantly, it remains a favorite of loons, eagles, mergansers, herons, deer and an occasional bear.
Gazing southward across the water to the forest beyond, it is easy to forget unseen neighbors and imagine this place is the same as it has always been. While our human encroachment upon Stewarts Landing is undeniable, this place has not lost its allure.
Pictured here: Above: A drone shot showing the Stewarts Landing site and where the timber crib dam was probably located. Taken by Randy Fredlund. Second image: A Then and Now” comparison of the view from the site of the upstream Stone Dam. Provided by Randy Fredlund. Sign of Stewarts Landing Road by Randy Fredlund. Video also courtesy of Randy Fredlund.