Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The Albany 1913 Flood: The Possible Consequences for the Adirondacks (Part I )

Damage of the 1913 floods

By Mike Prescott

It was Easter weekend in March 1913, when without warning upstate New York was struck with a massive storm. The Hudson River rose above all previous recorded levels. The flooding was a result of a huge violent storm system that had developed in the Midwest and lasted for five days.

On Good Friday, March 21, 1913 a strong high-pressure system brought hurricane winds and heavy rain into western New York with gusts of ninety miles an hour in Buffalo. Wind, rain, and sleet downed telephone and telegraph lines across the eastern seaboard. Information about the severity of the storm was unable to be communicated thought the eastern portions of the Nation much less New York State.

On Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913 very heavy rains fell across New York State. The Genesee River flooded downtown Rochester with six feet of water. North of Albany an estimated equivalent of six weeks of rain fell within five days. The heavy rains caused an unprecedented rapid snowmelt, which combined led to record flooding below the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers.

Another major concern that developed as a result of the 1913 flood was that of water pollution. The Hudson River for decades had been polluted by upstream factory discharges and raw sewage from the various towns and municipalities that just dumped into the river. In 1913 Albany, Troy, and Schenectady drew their water from the rivers through pumping stations into standing reservoirs, from there the water went to treatment facilities. But with the record river flooding these treatment facilities were flooded as well and the contaminated water went into the drinking water. Although the Health Department issued a boil water advisory over 180 people died from an outbreak of typhoid. Shortly thereafter the New York State Department of Health required all water supplies to be chlorinated.

 

The Great Flood of 1913 left the State of New York with two great legacies: The first was the realization that the State needed a statewide system of reservoirs for controlling the flow of the Hudson River as well as its other river systems. Second, the flooding was proof of the effectiveness of chlorinated drinking water to combat typhoid fever and other waterborne diseases.

 

Both this article (PART l) and the ensuing article (PART ll) will deal with attempts at controlling the Hudson River.

 

The record 1913 floods were not the first floods to inundate Albany and Troy. As early as 1867 a proposal for a series of dams and containment reservoirs was proposed to the New York State Legislature, but to no avail. In 1905 the State established a Water Supply Commission to study flooding along the Hudson River. In 1907 the Commission proposed a system of reservoirs throughout the State to store water in times of excess and to release it in times of drought. The cost of these proposals was enormous so the program went nowhere.

 

But the 1913 disaster spurred political will in Albany. In November 1913, eight months after the Easter Flood the Legislature passed the Burd Amendment to the New York State Constitution which allowed for up to 3% of the forever wild Forest Preserve to be flooded for state owned reservoirs that would regulate river flooding. In 1915 the Machold Storage Law allowed for the establishment of regulating Districts. In 1922 the Water Power and Control Commission was formed and the Hudson River Regulating District was created. (The Black River Regulating District had been created in 1919. The two were combined in 1959 to form the Hudson-Black River Regulating District.) A plan was formulated to control the flow of the Hudson River through storage reservoirs on the Schroon River, Boreas River, Cedar River, Sacandaga River and other tributaries of the Hudson.

 

The following is a brief history of the proposed impoundments. They are described in two (2) publications. Water Power and Storage Possibilities of the Hudson River,1922 and General Plan for the Regulation of the Flow of the Hudson River and Certain of it’s Tributaries, 1923. This presentation is divided into two (2) sections. PART l deals with A) The Schroon River, B) the Boreas River, and C) the Upper, Upper Hudson River.

 

On the map included with this article, and on the following PART ll article the Hudson River and its tributaries are labeled with large red letters and the proposed dams within those locations are numbered in black. The river systems ( tributaries ) and the proposed dam sites are in the following sequential order. So, the Schroon River is labeled ” A ( large red letter ) and the proposed dams on the Schroon River are numbered in black. The Boreas River is lettered ” B ” in red and the proposed dams along the Boreas River are numbered etc. There is a brief description of each proposed dam and some of the concerns regarding each proposed location. Most of the descriptions also include the amount of State Land needed ( from the Burd Amendment.)

 

Map of Upper Hudson River and Tributaries

Upper Hudson River and Tributaries ( Labeled with Tributaries as below ) Rick Rosen. Photo provided by Mike Prescott.

A) Schroon River

1) + The Great Schroon Lake Reservoir was proposed 1895 by New York State Engineer, George Rafter. It was to be a stone/masonry dam, 70 ft dam in height at Tumblehead Falls, near Chestertown NY. The proposed impoundment would have included Schroon Lake, Paradox Lake and Brant Lake. raising the present water level by over 30 feet. The Great Schroon Lake dam was proposed by Eugene Ashley and Elmer West who had successfully built the Spier Falls dam on the Hudson River in 1903 developed a design for the Tumblehead Falls dam on the Schroon River. Ahley and West ran into legal opposition from the Schroon Lake Association with the backing of George Welwood Murray, a famous attorney, who summered on Schroon Lake. Murray argued that the dam would be a violation of the “Forever Wild” clause of the New York State Constitution. There was also vehement opposition from the residents of Warrensburg who were concerned about a possible catastrophic dam burst.

 

A detailed description of the proposed dam is contained in Adirondack Life, “Great Schroon Lake: The Dam Plan Would Have Altered the Park.” March/April, 2012.

or

Adirondack Almanack, “The Proposed Great Schroon Lake (or the Dams that Never Were,)” July 28, 2021.

2) + In 1922 a series of other dams were proposed on the Schroon River the first being the Schroon Falls Reservoir. Located today between exits 28 and 29 of the Northway. This would have been an earthen dam, 100 ft, tall and located just above Schroon Falls. The proposed impoundment would stretch northward about 10 miles just past the community of North Hudson. A small amount of State Land would have been needed.

3) + Trout Brook Reservoir also proposed in 1922 would have been a 100 ft stone dam. The impoundment would have been constructed at what is today known at Stone Bridge and Caves and include some of Trout Brook and Alder Brooks. A small amount of State Land would have been needed.

4) + The third proposed dam in 1922 would have been the Warrensburg Reservoir. This would have been an 80 ft earthen dam. The location would have been today about the site of the McDonalds Restaurant. The impoundment would have been along the Schroon River and adjacent to the Northway between exit 22 and 23. No State lands would have been needed but a great deal of private agricultural lands would have been needed.

https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2022/09/proposed-dams-on-the-upper-hudson-a-look-back.html – more-201529

5) + A different proposal in 1923 would have included the Blue Ridge Reservoir. Located where the “The Branch” a stream that flows into the Schroon River at today’s Frontier town in North Hudson. This impoundment would have been extremely small and a small dam was constructed in the 1920’s. Today there is a 35′ dam with a small impoundment known as Palmer Lake ( aka. Palmer Pond ) at that site. The present dam was constructed in 1960’s.

6 ) + Also in the 1923 proposal there was a proposal for the Olmstedville Reservoir that would have necessitated a 50 ft dam, at the location of the present small dam. The Impoundment would have run north along Minerva Creek to Minerva Lake and then to Irishtown. This dam would have flooded private agricultural property but no state land.

7) + Paradox Lake Reservoir was also proposed 1923. The dam would have been located on Paradox Creek just north of Schroon Lake. There was considerable concern regarding the acquisition of private camps but no state land would be needed.

8) + Also in the 1923 report there is mention of a proposed dam at Elk Lake. located at the source of “The Branch” (a tributary of the Schroon River mentioned above). There was already a lumberman’s crib dam at the lake ( formerly known as Mud Lake ) Much of Elk Lake was previously owned by the Finch – Pruyn lumber Company and was used a corporate retreat until 1963. It was then sold and is privately owned by the Ernst family (1907 – present) with a forest conservation easement to the State of New York. The crib dam had been replaced in 1965.

 

B ) Boreas River –

9) + Cheney Pond Reservoir was to be enlarged according to the 1922 report. A 70′ dam was proposed at the location of the old lumberman’s crib dam. This would have enlarged the impoundment of Cheney Pond and up the Boreas River near Blue Ridge Road ( the site of the Old Lester Flow ). The lands here were entirely owned by the State of New York.

10) + The Boreas Ponds Reservoir dam would have been reconstructed in 1922 at the site of the old lumberman’s crib dam at LaBier Flow. This site was entirely privately owned and was considered too remote. The present Boreas Pond dam, 16′ was reconstructed in 1997 by the Finch-Pruyn Paper Company.

11) + The Aiden Lair Reservoir was proposed in 1923. This proposed 100 ft dam and its impoundment would have been in a large basin where the Vanderwacker Brook flows into the Boreas River at Hewitt’s Eddy. Most of the property was owned by the State of New York.

 

 

C ) Upper, Upper Hudson –

12) – The Spier Falls Dam is included with this article because it was one of the first dams on the Hudson River. It was NOT constructed to control flooding. Rather it was constructed as an early attempt to harness the Upper Hudson to produce hydroelectric power for the municipalities of Glens Falls, Hudson Falls, and eventually Troy. The Spier Falls dam was constructed by the Hudson River Water Power Company incorporated in 1899. The Spier Falls dam was/is a stone and concrete structure 80ft in height. This dam was the “brain child” of Eugene Ashley and Elmer West (noted earlier). Work on the dam began in 1900 and completed in 1903. The power production of the Spier Falls was so successful that it prompted Ashley and Weeks to explore further: First, they proposed the Schroon Lake area and they proposed the Tumblehead Falls Dam in the Schroon River area. ( see above “The Great Schroon Lake” A # 1). When that proved unsuccessful they focused on the Sacandaga River and a dam at Conklingville ( see PART ll, Sacandaga River, G – #34.)

Present day Spier Falls Dam

Present day Spier Falls Dam. Photo provided by Mike Prescott.

13) + Hadley Reservoir – there were several proposals in the years, 1895, 1907, 1912, and 1922. The site was to be located at Rockwell Falls. But the major concern about this proposed dam was always the need to relocate the tracks of the Adirondack Railroad (later the Delaware & Hudson). The track bed ( laid in early 1870’s ) ran very close to the Hudson River. The proposed impoundment called for a 60 ft dam that would have resulted in the need to relocate an 8 to 9 mile stretch of track along the Hudson River, form Hadley to Warrensburg. There also would be practically no storage capacity achieved.

 

There were several other combinations of reservoirs, which could have been constructed to obtain considerable storage at various locations along the Upper Hudson.

14) + The Gooley Reservoir was first proposed in 1922 as a 100ft dam located about 1/2 mile down the Hudson River from the confluence of the Indian River. This site was re-proposed as a 200 ft dam in the 1960’s. ( See Adirondack Almanack, “New York State Lands, Proposed Upper Hudson Dams” July 22, 2013, Mike Prescott)

15) + The Ord Falls Reservoir was first proposed in 1874 by Farrand Benedict as part of his Long Lake dam and canal to the Hudson River. ( See Adirondack Almanack, Farrand Benedict’s Abandoned Newcomb Long Lake Canal,” June 11, 2016, Mike Prescott.) The site was again proposed in the 1895 George Rafter report, again in 1912, and then again in 1922, by the New York Water Power Commission report Water Power and Storage Possibilities of the Hudson River. The proposed 75 ft dam would have been located downstream from where the Rt 9N bridge crosses the Hudson River west of Newcomb. All of Lake Harris, and Rich Lake would be impounded. An additional proposed dam at Rich Lake would have impounded the Fishing Brook back to Catlin Lake (including Lily Pad Pond and Long Pond.)

16) + The Goodenow Reservoir – The 15 ft lumberman’s crib dam constructed in 1906 or 1908 was enlarged as recommended in the 1922 proposal to be a 25 foot concrete dam. This dam was replaced in 2016.

17) + Beaver Flow (Brook) Dam / Reservoir was also proposed 1922. It would have been on the Beaver Flow, near Winebrook Mills, Newcomb in a basin between Hedgehog Mtn and Howard Hill. There is presently a small dam constructed at an undetermined date. This is area is presently leased by the Newcomb Sportsman’s Club from a private landowner. The older dam has been replaced with a sluice dam. In 1922 this proposed dam site was rather remote and would have impounded a relatively small area of State lands.

18) + The Rich Lake Reservoir would have been an alternative to the Ord Falls Reservoir. The 1922 proposal would raise the then existing lumberman’s crib dam by 7 or 8 ft. However there was also a plan to build a 47 ft dam that would have raised the impoundment up stream to Catlin Lake. This impoundment would have also included Lily Pad Pond and Long Pond. About 5 miles of the then “new” highway would have had to be relocated.

19) + The Sanford Lake Reservoir was also proposed in 1922. It would have been located at the site of old timber dam near the Tahawus Club. The shallow reservoir would have been about eight miles long and include Sanford Lake near the iron mine ( later the National Lead Co, titanium mine).

20) + At Henderson Lake there was a very early 1800’s lumberman’s crib dam, it was replaced by a more substantial log dam in the 1920’s or 30’s. The present concrete replacement 19 ft dam was constructed in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. It was never mentioned in any of the Water Power / Supply Commission reports.

21) + The Fishing Brook and County Line Flow dams – These were two Finch-Pruyn lumberman’s dam ( Fishing Brook c. 1898 and County Line c. 1908 ). The storage capacity of either of these two dams was negligible. The Finch-Pruyn Co. replaced the County Line dam with one of concrete in the early 1980’s however it was washed out in with the 13 July 2023 rainstorm and has not been replaced. The Fishing Brook dam washed out in either in Hurricane Floyd rains in 1999 or Hurricane Irene in 2011 and it also was never replaced. There was additional damage to Rt 9N that occurred as a result of the July 2023 rains.

This concludes PART l of the proposed 1922 / 1923 dams that were intended to curb flooding in the Albany / Troy areas. PART ll will deal with the other proposed dams on the Upper Hudson River: River D the Cedar River, River E The Indian River, location F Thirteenth Brook (Lake), and River G the Sacandaga River. As the reader can observe these proposed dams and the resulting impoundments would have changed the map of the Adirondacks considerably. To be continued . . .

 

 

Credits:

Photos — 1913 floods, private collection

Map — Upper Hudson River and tributaries, Rick Rosen

Photos — Spier Falls Dam – Seneca Ray Stoddard & private collection

 

Works Consulted:

Aber, Ted and King, Stella, History of Hamilton County, 1965, Great Wilderness Books, Lake Pleasant, NY.

Blanchard, Wayne, Indian Lake Historian, conversations and eMails, June 2023.

Caponara, Jay, President of the Newcomb Sportsman’s Club, phone conversation, 8 November 2023.

Gow, George, R., The Story of a Great Enterprise: The Hudson River Water Power Company, Second Edition, 1903, Glens Falls.

Maston, Zachary, “Database: Dig into the Adirondack Park’s 500+ Dams”, April 26, 2023, Adirondack Explorer.

Nason, Richard ( Dick ), phone conservations & interview, 12, 15, 23, May, 15, 2023.

Podskoch, Martin, Adirondack Civilian Conservation Camps: History, Memories & Legacy of the CCC, 2011, ( 2nd Edition, Podskoch Press, East Hampton, CT.

Prescott, Mike, “Great Schroon Lake: The Dam Plan Would have altered the Park “, Adirondack Life, March / April 2012.

Prescott, Mike, ” New State Lands: Proposed Upper Hudson River Dams “, Adirondack Almanack, July 22, 2013.

Prescott, Mike, ” Hudson River History: The Big Hadley and Glen Dams “, Adirondack Alamanck, May 10, 2014.

Prescott, Mike, ” Farrand Benedict: Crossing the Adirondacks”, Adirondack Almanack, June 4, 2016.

Prescott, Mike, ” Farrand Benedict’s Abandoned Newcomb-Long Lake Canal “, Adirondack Almanack, June 11, 2016.

Prescott, Mike, ” Sacandaga River History: Piseco, Lake Pleasant Reservoirs “, Adirondack Alamanck, August 20, 2019.

Prescott, Mike, ” The Proposed Great Schroon Lake ( or the Dams that Never Were ), Adirondack Almanack, July 28, 2021.

Prescott, Mike, ” Proposed Dams on the Upper Hudson: A Look Back [1912]”, Adirondack Almanack, September 21, 2022.

Podskoch, Martin, Adirondack Civilian Conservation Corpd Camps: History, Memories and Legacy of the CCC. 2011, Podskoch Press, East Hampton, Connecticut.

Pope, Peter, Harnessing Nature: Building the Great Sacandaga, Great Sacandaga Lake Advisory Council, video, 1017.

Schaefer, Paul, ed. “The Forest Preserve”, pamphlet, Friends of the Forest Preserve, Schenectady, NY, Sept, 1949.

State of New York, Report on the Water Power and Storage Possibilities of the Hudson River, New York Water Power Commission, Albany, 1922.

State of New York, Hudson River Regulating District: General Plan for the Regulation of the Flow of the Hudson River and Certain of its Tributaries, Warren County Archives, June 27, 1923.

State of New York: Annual Report of the State Engineer and Surveyor, 1895, Wynkoop, Hallenbeck, Crawford Co. , Albany, New York.

State Water Supply Commission, Fourth Annual Report of the State Water Supply Commission, Albany, 1909.

Unterborn, Pat, Town of Wells Historian, phone conversations and emails, 11 Nov. 2023.

Way, Daniel, Dr., conservations and photo “Lumberman’s Dam Indian River.” May 2023.

Photo at top: Damage of the 1913 floods. Photo provided by Mike Prescott.

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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 retired 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 mpresco1@nycap.rr.com




8 Responses

  1. Ruth Gais says:

    Thank you! Your report was so well written as well as fascinating and terrifying!

  2. Gary Lee says:

    Interesting Mike, There is a dam on the Cedar River part way down the Cedar River road but it doesn’t hold much water, The Dam at the flow has been there before the flood, used to float logs down the river to the Hudson. I have some pictures of the logging camp at the Flow a small town by itself. Gary

  3. Boreas says:

    Very interesting!! Looking forward to Part 2!!

  4. Pete Murphy says:

    We live on the Great Sacandaga Lake and it is a constant reminder of how smart people were in the late 1800’s. The challenge of solving the flooding problems along the Hudson was critical. The solution created a beautiful “lake” and for the most part solved the problem!

  5. Cristine Meixner says:

    Fascinating! Thank you!

  6. Daniel Way says:

    Remarkable article- the research you must have done can only be imagined. You have done a dam fine job!

  7. Ray Letterman says:

    The following sentence is from p.198 of Graham’s 1978 book, The Adirondack Park – A Political History, “Thus, despite the contention of the Black River Regulating District’s incorporators that upriver dams and reservoirs would regulate the river and prevent farmers from being flooded out downstream in spring, the project’s true goal was to supply Watertown and its industries with hydroelectric power.” Flood control was certainly used to justify the construction of many flow-regulating dams and reservoirs but flow augmentation during dry periods, primarily for the hydroelectricity companies, pays the bills.

    • Mike Prescott says:

      If you notice this article was about the Upper Hudson River and its tributaries. The Back River and its tributaries is a different subject all together

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