Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Proposed dams on the Upper Hudson: A look back

upper hudson dams

While researching an article on the Gilchrist bridge, I was asked about a river feature on the Hudson River, river left, just north ( up-river ) of the Washburn Eddy, or approximately 2 miles south of the Riparius Bridge.   To some the feature appeared as a “C” shaped “dug way” that could have allowed water from the river to “circulate” (be diverted) into the “C’.  To do what ?  Might this be a “channel” for water to be diverted into a hydroelectric powerhouse ?  A review of property / tax maps indicate that there was, across the river, an adjacent small piece of property approximately the same shape and size.  After some deed history research I may have found a possible explanation.  There was proposed (in 1911), several storage dams or containment dams with small power plants with penstocks or water pressure tunnels, planned along the Upper Hudson River in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.   This led to my exploration of these various proposed dams.

A Little Background:

In past Adirondack Almanack articles I wrote about dams that were proposed on the Upper Hudson River during the 1960’s.     

“New State Lands: Proposed Upper Hudson Dams “, Adirondack Almanack, July 22, 2013

“Hudson River: The Big Hadley and Glen Dams”. Adirindack Almanack, May 10, 2014

The proposed dams in the 1960’s were to be located at Hadley, The Glen, Kettle Mountain, and The Gooley steppes.   These proposed dams were to be constructed to alleviate the drought experienced by the citizens of metropolitan New York and to assist in the production of hydropower for all for the cities along the eastern seaboard of the United States.  ( See above mentioned articles ).

The quest to harness the Upper Hudson River dates back to the 1870’s when Verplanck Colvin suggested in his Report on the Topographical Survey on the Adirondack Wilderness of New York that a dam be constructed on the Hudson River above its junction with the Schroon River.   The purpose for this dam was to provide pure water to the cities along the Hudson River.  The Hudson River by the 1870’s was already polluted with industrial waste from tanneries, saw mills and factories from Warrensburg, through Troy and Albany to New York City.  Verplanck Colvin proposed that a 150 mile enclosed aqueduct be constructed to deliver pure Adirondack Water to the cities from Albany to New York.

Colvin argued his proposal in 1872 at several meetings of the Albany Institute.  Although the city of Albany was interested in the aqueduct to provide pure Adirondack water, other cities along the proposed aqueduct route were not and derived their fresh water from other sources.  Another obstacle that was noted by Colvin was the recent (1871) construction of the Adirondack Rail Road from Saratoga to North Creek by Dr. Thomas Durant.  Much of the railroad would have to be relocated if the proposed aqueduct were to be constructed.

At about the same time (1874) Farrand Benedict proposed that a dam be constructed at the north end of Long Lake, below the Cold River’s confluence to the Raquette River. This dam would have raised the level of the Long Lake by 20+ feet. The canal would link the Upper Raquette River watershed ( Blue Mountain Lake, Raquette Lake, Forked Lake, and Long Lake ) and divert waters into the Upper Hudson River.  This canal was actually started and the remains of it can be seen from the air to this day. Benedict had proposed this same idea in the 1840’s.

“Farrand Benedict: Crossing the Adiorndacks,” Adirondack Almanack, ( June 4 2016 )

Farrand Benedict’s proposal to divert the Upper Raquette waters into the Upper Hudson watershed was designed to promote logging with and increase the volume of logs floated to the Glens Falls sawmills on the Hudson.  In addition it would increase the flow of the Upper Hudson River during all seasons of the year.  This additional flow could then enter the Champlain Canal system by way of the Glens Falls Feeder Canal system.  We often forget that transporting goods by canal was an inexpensive way to get bulky goods (especially timber and mine ore from the Adirondacks ) to market.  The New York State Legislature rejected Benedict’s plan when several Raquette River loggers, with sawmills in Potsdam and Norwood, realized the “their” saw logs would end-up at sawmills in Glens Falls.

“Farrand Benedict’s Abandoned Newcomb-Long Lake Canal, Adirondack Almanack, ( June 11, 2016 )

Why Dams on the Hudson ?

During the 1880’s and 1890’s there was a great need for flood control in the spring and a need for additional water to drive water wheels and direct power turbines in the dry late summer early fall.  The State of New York became very interested in constructing containment or storage dams to regulate flooding and to feed waters into the State’s canal system.  In the Annual Report of the State Engineer and Surveyor of the State of New York, 1895, a considerable amount of the text is spent dealing with proposed dams on the Upper Hudson River and its main tributaries ( the Indian River, Cedar River, Boreas River, Sacandaga River, and the Schroon Rivers, ).  This report is often referred to as the Rafter Report ( named after the primary author and the Engineer-in-charge George W. Rafter. )

Among the several dam sites that George Rafter proposed was one on the Upper Hudson at Hadley.  The proposed Hadley Reservoir was to be built at Rockwell Falls and the impounded waters would flow back upstream to Thurman Station. just below the village of Warrensburg. ( Location “A” ” on the accompanying map )

dam a

The Rafter survey made provisions for continued use of the Hudson River for “river driving” (floating logs to sawmills ) and for eventual waterpower development.  Rafter also recognized the very great concern/problem with the with the Hadley site. Rafter described the same problem that Colvin had previously identified.

“An apparent objection to the Hadley Reservoir it may be mentioned (is) that its construction would necessitate the relocation of several miles of the Adirondack Railway (constructed 1871 ) which follows the windings of the river not far from the high-water mark .   . . . the original location of this railway was an error of judgment, difficult to account for on any other than the supposition than that the company constructing it had no really clear conception of just what the (rail0road is for.  In 1870-1872, when the (railroad was built, the region penetrated was, as it is today (1895),  entirely underdeveloped, and no railway could hope to be successful there unless it in some way could give an impetus towards development of business for the road.   . . . unfortunately, the economy-of-the-moment prevailed, and with the slight exception the whole way from (Hadley ) Stony Creek Station to North Creek, at a distance of about thirty miles, was fully laid near the water’s edge. “

Ultimately, the proposed dam a Hadley was not constructed due to the need to relocate the tracks of the Adirondack Railway.

However the idea of a proposed reservoir at Hadley did not go away.  The New York State Water Supply Commission revisited the idea in its 1908, 1909, and 1911, as did the New York State Conservation Commission in 1912 and 1922.  1) Dam “A”, the proposed Hadley Dam would have been 65 ft high with a flow line elevation at 610 ft and impounded water back to just down river of the Warrensburg railroad bridge (Thurman Station).  Nine miles of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad would have had to been removed and relocated. 

These later reports went on to include additional dams.  ( Please see map of the Proposed Upper Hudson River dams c. 1912 at top)

In the Water Supply Commission and the Conservation Commission Reports of 1908 1911 and 1912 there were to be four dams constructed between Warrensburg and North Creek.  The Millington Brook Dam, The Glen Dam, the Gage Mountain Dam, and the Huckleberry Mountain Dam ( Dams “B’, “C”, “D” and Dam “E” on the attached maps).  A river profile from the 1912 Conservation Commission report is attached with the dams labeled. 

2) Dam “B” –  The Millington Brook Project would have been a 60 ft high dam ( flow line elevation 710 ) , just north of where Millington Brook flows into the Hudson, approximately five miles up river from today’s Cronin’s Gulf Course or the location also known as the “ice meadows”.

3) Dam “C” – The Glen Project – would have been a 30 ft dam ( flow line elevation 745  ) located just down river form the hamlet at what is now known as “Bottom Hole Rapids”.  Again, one and one-half miles of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad would have to be relocated.

4) Dam “D” – The Gage Mountain Project – located Roughly at the site of Washburn Eddy. This site would have been approximate location of the Gilchrist Bridge.  ( see Adirondack Almanack article “Uncovering the Mysteries of a bridge’s Remains ) https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2020/12/the-confederate-major-and-his-bridge.html  This would have been a 30 ft dam, with a pressure tunnel or penstock, two miles in length that would feed into the proposed power plant at The Glen.  The impoundment would have covered what is today known as “Z” rapids or Diagonal Rapids, Race Horse rapids and back to the rapids today known as “Chicken Soup” just down river from the village of Riparius (which was known as Riverside Station or Riverside ) in 1911.  The flow line would have been at 817 feet.

5) Dam  “E” – The Huckleberry Mountain Dam – Located one mile up river for the present Riparius bridge.    This was a proposed 150 ft dam ( flow line elevation 1020+ feet ) that would have impounded water upriver to North Creek,  “Spruce Mountain Rapids would have been under 140+ feet of water.  A pressure tunnel ( penstock ) 2.5  miles would have been constructed to operate a propose power plant, river left, below the village of Riparius ( Riverside ). ( Question: Is this the “C” shaped “Dug Way” mentioned at the beginning of this article ? )  Eleven miles of the Delaware and Hudson railroad would have had to be relocated along with a small part of the village of North Creek.   In addition an earthen dike would have had to be constructed to stop the impounded waters from flowing into Loon Lake via a small brook flowing from Fullers Pond.  Today The National Grid Company maintains a switching station at this site.

dam profile

Profile of the proposed Upper Hudson River Dams – Profile – 1912 – Dam “B” – Millington Brook, Dam “C”- The Glen, Dam “D” – Gage Mountain, and Dam “E” – Huckleberry Mountain )

6) Dam “F” – The North River Project would have been located about 1/2 mile below the community of North river or at approximately the location of Perry Ehlers Rapids ( Rt 28 picnic/rest area ).  This would have been an 85 ft dam ( flow line elevation 1120 ft ) with a power tunnel of 3.500 ft to its own power plant.  This project would have flooded the village of North River and required the relocation of 3 miles of highway. ( The Railroad would not be extend up along the Hudson and Boreas Rivers to the mines a Tawahas until 1944 )

Photo #4 - ( Profile  of proposed Upper Hudson River Dams - Profile  - 1912 - Dam "F" - North River )

Profile  of proposed Upper Hudson River Dams – Profile  – 1912 – Dam “F” – North River 

7) Dam “G” – The Kettle Mountain Project would have been a dam 190 ft above the riverbed that would have impounded water back to the mouth of the Indian River with a flow line elevation 1418 ft.  The entire area known as the Blue Ledges or the Hudson Gorge would have been underwater.   “Giveny’s Rift” and “Soup Strainer rapids”, would have all been about 150 ft under the surface of the proposed reservoir.  The proposed power tunnel would have been over 2.5 miles to the power station. As mentioned in a previous Adirondack Almanack article this was one of proposed Upper Hudson Dam sites of the 1960’s.    

Photo #5 - ( Map of  the proposed Upper Hudson River Dams - Conservation Commission Report - 1912 - Dam "G", Kettle Mountain and Dam "H", Indian Head Rapids)

Map of  the proposed Upper Hudson River Dams – Conservation Commission Report – 1912 – Dam “G”, Kettle Mountain and Dam “H”, Indian Head Rapids

8) Dam “H” – The Indian River Reservoir ( Indian Head Rapids ) would have been a second dam on the Indian River.  The first Having been constructed in 1898 ( The present Indian Lake Dam ) This second dam would have been constructed at ” Indian Head Rapids”.  The second dam would have been 140 ft high, at elevation 1660 ft.  The proposed impoundment would have also drawn waters, through a diversion canal from the Cedar River Essex Chain of lakes area ( location “I” ).  Geographically the Cedar River does flow into the Hudson River but further down river from the location of this proposed second ” new” dam.   A small retaining dam ( 20 ft high,  elevation 6080 ft ) on the Cedar River, about the area of Pine Lake would have been necessary for the Essex Lakes to flow into this “new” proposed Indian River impoundment. at elevation 1660 ft.

Photo #6 - ( Profile of the Indian River Reservoir and the Cedar River Impoundment - c.1911 - Dam "H" - Indian Head Rapids, Dam "I", Cedar River )

Profile of the Indian River Reservoir and the Cedar River Impoundment – c.1911 – Dam “H” – Indian Head Rapids, Dam “I”, Cedar River 

Notes:
  1. While researching the property deeds along the Hudson River near Riparius, I found reference to property owned by the Adirondack Power Company ( later Niagara Mohawk and today National Grid ).  This property ownership began in the early 1920’s. and continues to this day.  So, Yes there is another generation of possible power dams and impoundments.  The proposed dams of the 1920’s will be another Adirondack Almanack article.
  2. The present “second” dam located on the Indian River is the Lake       Abanakee Dam which was constructed in 1951.
  3. As one drives into the village of Indian Lake on Rt 28 there is another, third dam.  This dam was constructed by the Works Progress Administration  ( WPA ) in 1937-1938 as part of the Indian Lake Sewage disposal system.

Credits:  Rick Rosen creation of the Hadley – Cedar River map; labeling of New York State Water Commission profile; and labeling of Conservation Commission map.

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Mike Prescott is a former history teacher and secondary school principal who found a new retirement avocation in paddling Adirondack waters and exploring their history.

Mike is a New York State Licensed Guide, and also volunteers with the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, the Raquette River Blueway Corridor, the New York State Trails Council and with the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Feel free to contact him at mjpaddler@gmail.com





9 Responses

  1. louis curth says:

    Thanks for an Interesting summary of the many occasions when the Upper Hudson was in the crosshairs of the would-be builders of dams, bridges and other industrial grade schemes.

    I remember looking at what was left of the Gilchrist bridge project while extinguishing a wildfire along the river there and wondering about the story behind it. That must have been around the same time that Paul Schaefer was recruiting his troops to fight the Gooley Dam proposal.

    For sympathetic newbies like me, the dam and the disdain for the natural environment – even here in the middle of the Adirondack Park – was unforgivable. As the battle to stop this project moved into legislative hearings and lobbying, people and organizations lined up on both sides. You can imagine my surprise – and horror – when during a key legislative hearing, our Conservation Dept. Commissioner testified that his Department would not take a position on this project. I went home that night barely able to contain my disappointment to learn that my own employer would not stand up for protecting nature. I had a lot to learn…

  2. Hugh O Canham says:

    very interesting and informative article. It should be published more widely.

  3. Bob Bradley says:

    Excellent article. Thanks for including the diagrams and maps.

  4. SJNewell says:

    Excellent piece with thorough research and great presentation. I agree with the writer above who said this needs further publication with an expanded readership.

  5. Sailboat Scotty says:

    Good story thank you!

  6. Dan Way says:

    Awesome article- I can’t imagine how much time you spent researching this article; nor can I imagine what the Adirondack landscape would look like if those dams had been built! I will need to read it a couple more times for it to sink in. Thanks for doing such an amazing job resurrecting such arcane history!

  7. David Gibson says:

    awesome, article indeed. author Mike Prescott would have been an invaluable member of Paul Schaefer’s Adirondack Hudson River Association which began to meet regularly in 1965 in Schaefer’s Adirondack Room, gradually adapting the strategies and tactics that had worked to defeat the big dams on the So. Branch of the Moose (1945- 1955) to defeat these dams proposed on the Hudson (1965-69).

    Thank you, Mike.

  8. Carl Holt says:

    I’m a native of Corinth NY.

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