An 1891 negative opinion of Dr. Webb’s Railroad

Part One

I sometimes find a newspaper article that resists my summarizing or paraphrasing without detracting from its essence. In the Lowville Journal & Republican of August 6, 1891 was a letter whose author was “a correspondent at Lyons Falls, N. Y.” that was written to the New York Tribune.

Judging from the letter’s origin and the writer’s apparent personal feelings about the topic, I am convinced that the author was either William or Julia Lyon deCamp.

The “family” had recently objected to the combine that wanted to build the wooden rail “Peg-Leg” railroad from Moose River Settlement through their lands to the Forge House, offering a more environment-friendly steamer alternative for that stretch that was currently operating, and would later in the decade win a five-year court case against John Dix’s lumber company, stopping log driving through their lands from destroying north branch Moose River forested river banks and dams.

In Harter’s “Fairy Tale Railroad”, Webb’s engineer Herschel Roberts described surveying across the deCamps’ lands and starting a condemnation suit for the right-of way in July 1891.

At that time in state Forest Commission history, another commission, the Commissioners of the Land Office, would permit a domestic railroad to acquire title to lands needed by condemnation. Concurrently, Webb had just purchased Township 8 of John Brown’s Tract and part of Township 5, thus acquiring all of the Fulton Chain except deCamps’ holdings, Townships 1 and 7, and that of the Forge Tract held by Crosby & Garmon.

At the end of 1891, the state’s supreme court ruled in favor of Webb, construction continued and an appeal filed in the beginning of June 1892 saw the court of appeals rule for the deCamps.

Harter mentions that by the end of June matters were resolved without providing the result.

Stops were later established by 1906 called Lotus and Moulin (mill in French) used by the deCamps. Webb may have also discussed future plans for a “highway” starting at Clearwater to Raquette Lake.

Construction continued through the summer to Lake Lila, culminating at Twitchell Creek on October 12.

Maybe the deCamps’ victory was quickly overturned.

Written at the beginning of the litigation process, this is the 1891 letter in its entirety, except for brief historical comments in brackets [I apologize if the distraction is excessive].

“A good deal has been written about the need of protecting the lands of the state from Dr. Webb and his railroad, but no one seems to show any sympathy for the private owners of forest property which is threatened with destruction by this enterprise.

Lying directly west of Dr. Webb’s recent purchase (Township 8 in Brown’s Tract) is Township 7, in which lies a part of the well-known Fulton Chain.

This township is still in its native condition, with the exception that a few camps have been built on the shores of two or three of the lakes.

This township [7] has been in the possession of one family for two or three generations [Lyons, then deCamp], and for the last twenty years it has been the object of the owners to preserve it in its original beauty for the purpose of camping, hunting and fishing.

While it is a [deCamp] family park, all are welcome to hunt, fish, and even to occupy the camps already built, provided the privilege is not abused. [Mrs. Julia deCamp established Wilderness Park surrounding the new railroad line under state private preserve laws, allowing these activities supervised by deCamp guides]

Some five years ago a wooden railway (first Fulton Chain Railway] was built, beginning at Moose River tannery so-called, which is situated thirteen miles from Boonville (a village on the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg railroad). A good road and daily stages make connection at Moose River [Settlement] with this little railway. The [wooden] rails were laid nearly to the line of Township 7, when the owners, to save their park from railroad encroachment, conceived the plan of improving [with dams and lock dams] Moose River (the outlet of the Fulton Chain), to enable them to run a little flat-bottomed steamer [the Fawn], which, connecting with the cars [at Minnehaha], accommodates the travelers in search of pleasure, sport and health.

To Be continued…

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