NYHIST-L Archives

November 1999


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Condense Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
"A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
Philip Terrie <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 23 Nov 1999 11:44:37 -0500
text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
"A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
text/plain (151 lines)
Wayne, et al.:

This is a very interesting subject (to me, at least, and I hope to others),
and I'm grateful to Wayne for pursuing it.

Let me clarify what I said earlier and respond to Wayne's comments.  The
posting to which I was originally responding maintained that  "The
Adirondacks and Catskills were more or less clear
cut in the 1800's."  This, I believe, is a gross distortion.  As Wayne
Miller points out, however, there were places where the forest was cleared.
I agree with this statement.  Our disagreement appears to  be on how
extensive these clearings were, where they were, why they were cleared, and
what fraction of the Adirondacks they accounted for.  Wayne is quite right
in reminding us that agriculture was an important land use in the
Adirondacks, especially as one moved away from the inner core.  But even
there, I must admit,  farming persisted well into this century.  In
addition to Franklin County, which Wayne mentions, clearings even in
Hamilton County were notable: I've seen photographs owned by the Adirondack
Museum showing early 20th-century Long Lake and Indian Lake.  You can look
at these photos, identify distant ridge lines, and figure out exactly where
they taken.  They show a terrain radically different from what you see now,
with clearings and farms where today there is forest.  That said, I believe
that the total acreage cleared for agriculture did not constitute a
significant fraction of the Adirondacks.   Other evidence demonstrates that
these farms existed only close to village centers and along main roads.
The vast backcountry of the central Adirondacks, including the forests of
what is now most of  the northwestern quadrant of the Park remained
forested and, in the case of St. Lawrence County, largely untouched until
early in this century (note that I'm talking about only that part of St. L
Co. inside the Blueline). Part of the problem here is what do we mean by
the Adirondacks.  I'll admit to a central Adirondack bias.  The Lake
Champlain Valley, which was substantially agricultural by the end of the
19th century, is now inside the Adirondack Park.  But it wasn't when the
Park was established in 1892.  In my mind, it's stretching things even now
to think of, say, Westport as being "in" the Adirondacks the same way that,
say, Raquette Lake is.  (What the hell, I'll go way out on a limb here and
say that if the Blue Line hadn't been extended far beyond the original 1892
version and if the Adirondack Park Agency's Private Land Use and
Development Plan applied only to those lands inside the 1892 Blue Line, we
would have been spared most of the contention and turmoil of the last 30
years. But that's another story altogether.)  What I mean to say is this: I
was thinking mostly of the central Adirondack plateau when I argued that
clear cutting was insignificant in the Adirondacks.  I also wonder whether
much the agricultural acreage in central Franklin County, which Wayne
mentions, was inside the original Blue Line.

I have a couple of other quibbles with Wayne's post.  He says that the
introduction of the "sulfide process" for making paper from wood pulp led
to clear cutting.  I don't think so.  The use of small saplings for pulp
definitely did occur, but as I said earlier, in those days, only softwoods
were thus used.  There are very few places in the Adirondacks where the
forest is or ever has been purely softwood.  The maples, beech, birches,
aspen, cherry, etc., are nearly everywhere mixed in with the pine, spruce,
fir, and hemlock.  And these hardwoods were worthless to loggers; it was
only after WW II that hardwood cutting became important (with the exception
of hardwoods cut for charcoal near the iron mines in the Lake Champlain
Valley. These cut-over lands became much of the farmland in that area).
The introduction of pulpwood logging certainly had important consequences
for Adirondack forests, but I don't think it ever led to "clear cutting."
The lands cleared for agriculture became that way BEFORE the pulpwood
revolution.  It's also important to note that, as McMartin has shown, the
height of Adirondack logging occurred AFTER the creation of the Forest
Preserve (1885) and the Park (1892).   I think that McMartin is probably
right in arguing that those striving to establish the Forest Preserve and
Park exaggerated the abuse of the forest.  But I'm mighty glad they did:
the subsequent  depredations of the pulpwood loggers and the horrible fires
they were, partly, responsible for in 1903 and 1908 showed that the
conservation measures of the 1880s and '90s were clearly in the public

If the farms in Franklin County were "subsistence," how were they connected
to the growth of NYC after the Civil War?

Again, my thanks to Wayne Miller for advancing this discussion.


>Dear Philip,
>I must disagree at least partially with this view, even though I realize
>your knowledge in Adirondack land use is vast. At least on the edges of the
>mountains, the advent of the sulfide process for making paper from
>cellulose (wood) meant that trees of all sizes right down to saplings were
>marketable. One of the practices that led Teddy Roosevelt and company to
>lobby for the establishment of the Park and Preserve was the practise of
>the State swapping nasty old forest land with land that the
>lumbering/pulping interests had thoughtfully deforested so it was then
>useful for farming and other activities. This activity combined with
>explosive growth in NYC and other costal cities that needed raw materials
>and food, and the peak of development of the railroads to transport
>products, spurred the agricultural development of areas like central
>Franklin County. Not a particularly mountainous part of the Park, hundreds
>of thousands of acres were, none the less, farmed for a generation or two
>after the civil war until about WWI. These were mixed farms, small, and, if
>one was lucky, subsistence. The soil was thin, the growing season short,
>and the tillable plots small in comparison central New York and the
>midwest. But even in the middle of the mountains, such as around Lake
>Placid, farming was viable well into this century. Not only did John Brown
>and Garrison believe this when they started their 'free' community there in
>the 1850's, but the Lake Placid Club maintained a farming operation that
>produced much of the fresh fruits, vegetable, and dairy products consumed
>by its members until, roughly, WWII.
>Wayne Miller
>Philip Terrie writes:
>> >In a message dated Wed, 17 Nov 1999 10:28:33 AM Eastern Standard Time,
>> >[log in to unmask] writes:
>> >
>> >> Am I to read this right.  The amount of Forest Land is increasing in NYS?
>> >>
>> >> Jim Maguire
>> >> [log in to unmask]
>> >
>> >This makes sense.  The Adirondacks and Catskills were more or less clear
>> >cut in the 1800's.  Both have since gone back to forest.  And probably,
>> >like the New England states, much marginal farmland was cleared by the
>> >first settlers only to be abandoned after the Erie Canal helped to settle
>> >the midwest.  So New York's greatest achievement of the 19th century
>> >helped put many of its farmers out of business.
>> This posting repeats a commonly held misperception: the Adirondacks, as a
>> region,  were never close to being "clear cut."  There have, of course,
>> been examples of cutting all the standing timber on patches of a few acres
>> here and there (especially for making charcoal in the immediate vicinity of
>> the Champlain Valley iron mines), but even dutring the height of Adirondack
>> lumbering (1890-1910) clear cutting was not practiced.  For one thing, in
>> those days the only trees wortth cutting were softwoods, for either lumber
>> or pulpwood, and the Adirondacks have always been a mix of hardwoods and
>> softwoods. Before the days of gasoline-powered trucks, there was never any
>> economically sound reason for harvesting hardwoods, which didn't float well
>> on river drives and were thus hard to get to mill or market.  Barbara
>> McMartin has written an excellent, prodigiously researched history of the
>> Adirondack forest (The Great Forest, 1994) that thoroughly studies and
>> rejects the notion of wide-spread clear cutting in the Adirondacks.
>> cheers,
>> phil
>> Philip G. Terrie, Director
>> American Culture Studies
>> Bowling Green State University
>> Bowling Green, OH 43403
>> (419) 372-8886 (phone)
>> (419) 372-7537 (fax)
>> [log in to unmask]