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A touch of human history on Hitchens Pond

August 1, 2009
By MIKE LYNCH, Enterprise Outdoors Writer

Standing in the woods about a mile west of Low's Bluffs near Hitchens Pond, Adirondack Museum Curator Hallie Bond reached down and picked up a piece of marble.

"It had marble floors," Bond said, referring to a sugar house that once existed where she was standing in the forest.

A century ago, the chunk of flooring was part of a sugar house owned by August Low on his 40,000 acres in the Bog River, Hitchens Pond and Lows Lake area. Now it is just a reminder of past operations that existed under his direction.

Article Photos

The foundation of a boarding house for workers of the Horseshoe Forestry Company’s still can be seen at Hitchens Pond near Lows Upper Dam. The boarding house dates back to the early 1900s. It was later used by the Halcyon Rod and Gun Club.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)

A consummate tinkerer whose family made their money in the importing and shipping business, Low had more invention patents during his lifetime than anyone other than Thomas Edison. And not only did he log the forest through the Horseshoe Forestry Company, but he also had the maple sugaring operation, a spring water bottling company and electricity generated from the two dams on the property. Low also made elderberry and wild cherry wine. At one point, he even imported grapes from the Finger Lakes region. This was all possible because the New York Central Railroad line ran through the property. Low used this line along with several spurs to transport his goods around the property and to areas outside it.

Today, only remnants remain of the Low estate, which dates back to the turn of the 20th century. Some are obvious, like the two dams on the Bog River and the stone wall foundations on Hitchens Pond. Other structures, such as the remains of the sugar house, a pair of cisterns and a brick building off an old carriage road in the forest, are less obvious and known only to those such as Bond who are familiar with the area.

On Wednesday, Bond and Wild Center naturalist Brad Donahue led a tour through Low's former estate, focusing on natural and human history of the property around Hitchens Pond.

The maple sugaring operation included three buildings where Low's workers boiled down the maple syrup, Bond said. The syrup was transported through gravity-fed lines throughout the property, including to railroad cars for transporting.

"This was perhaps the most sophisticated maple sugaring operation in the nation at the time," Bond said.

According to Armand Valliancourt, a caretaker for the Lows during the middle of the 20th century, 20,000 gallons of maple syrup were made on Lows property in 1907.

"They had a most unique way of collecting the sap," Valliancourt wrote in a six-page memoir of the Lows in 1979. "Pipes and troughs brought sap to tubs near the railroad, where it was transferred to large tanks mounted on flat cars, then taken to the evaporators."

Valliancourt reported that Low's maple syrup won awards at New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont state fairs. He also used molds similar to those used to make ice cubes to make maple candy that he had cigarette boys on the New York Central Railroad sell to passengers, Bond said.

Today, the number of maple trees on the property appears to be reduced from a century ago.

"A few different insect invasive species have taken a toll on maples," said Donahue, naming tent caterpillars as one culprit.

Fires, too, have taken their toll on these forests. In 1908, a fire reportedly started from a spark from a train ripped through the area, decimating tens of thousands of acres of forests. The fire was a major factor in the decline of the Horseshoe Forest Company because it destroyed much of the forest that was to be logged.

As for the spring water operation, the rusted cisterns are located less than a half-mile from Lows Upper Dam and can be seen sticking out of the water below a former railroad bed - now a road. Spring water was taken from this area and shipped downstate.

"A steam conveyor was built to take the cases of bottled water to flat cars on the railroad, then it was shipped to New York City in returnable cases and special square bottles," Valliancourt wrote.

Like the sugar house foundation, most who travel through here miss the cisterns because they are off the normal route for paddlers.

What people do encounter are the old stone foundations near the Upper Lows Dam. These foundations were used to board workers and house horses during the days of the Horseshoe Forestry Company, which went out of operation shortly before Low's death in 1912.

The foundations are reminders not only of the logging days but of the Halcyon Rod and Gun Club in the 1920s. Photos from a Halcyon Road and Gun Club album show this area to be a great fishing area for brook trout. One photo from the era shows 88 trout strung across a line in front of the Halcyon club's main house near the Upper Dam. Today, bass have depleted the brook trout population, but large brook trout can still be caught here.

The biggest change to this area, of course, is that this private land has been gradually turned into Forest Preserve and is now open to the public instead of just a few. Section of Low's property were eventually sold off by his family piece by piece after his death.



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