The History of the Brant Lake Association


Editor's note: The following information is based on copies of 3 historical documents given to me by Doris Scidmore, plus additional "rememberances" by various people. None of the documents indicate their source, and since they disagree with each other to some degree, it is difficult to know what the true story is. I have tried to the best of my ability to piece together the information in a logical manner, indicating discrepancies where appropriate. If you have additional information that could clear up conflicts or add to the story, please feel free to contact me and I will attempt to incorporate your information.

The Background

There is much background material on the reasons for organizing the Brant Lake Association. In the early 1900s the Lake was not the picturesque recreational lake we know of today. It was instead a rather narrow waterway channel, especially in dry weather, used primarily for the floating of logs, timber and lumber from the head of the lake to the "pond" where the sawmill was located. In fact, on April 27, 1899, a law was passed declaring Spuyten Devil (now Spuytenduivel) Creek, Brant Lake, and Brant Lake Creek to be a public highway for the purpose of floating logs, timber, and lumber down such streams. In support of this activity, "Captain" Austin Rose built and piloted the Brant Lake steamer "Thayandenga" in 1899. The boat was used almost exclusively for the hauling of logs to the sawmill in "town".

With the focus on commerce, the lake as a beautiful summer paradise for city visitors left something to be desired. The shores were frequently unsightly, with rocks, trees, stumps and other debris. Furthermore, the summer residents wanted to be able to float their launches and boats, which at times they could not. To address these concerns the level of the lake needed to be raised.

One of the summer residents at the time was a Mr. Abel Crook, a New York lawyer who built and owned "Brant Springs". Thanks to the Maltbie family we have the letters and records of Mr. Crook detailing the formation and early activities of the association.

The summer of 1907 must have seen the Lake very low. Mr. Crook reported "when the lake is still", at his boat house pier the stones were sixteen inches out of the water, and launches cannot pass over them. Mr. Crook wrote to Mr. Donnan on August 27th, remarking on "the present deplorable condition of the lake".

The First Meeting

At about this time Mr. Crook began consulting with some of the other summer residents about starting an organization which would deal with the problem of the lake level in dry weather. A favorable response to the idea led to a meeting on August 31, 1907, in Barton's hall over the village store (now Daby's Country Store.) The purpose of the meeting was to consider ways and means to maintain the waters of Brant Lake at a proper level. Those attending were asked to be prepared to announce what they would contribute in money or labor to get the project started.

The main business was the appointment of a committee to consider what should be done for the improvement of Brant Lake. The committee members appointed were:

Other members of association were:

Most of the members gave $100 (about $2000 in 2001 dollars), 4 gave $50; 2 gave $25. Town residents were asked to donate labor rather than money. Only one did, volunteering to work on the sawmill dam. Mr. Crook was very disappointed that the local people were not interested in helping with the project.

The Dam Repairs

The first business of the organization was to make repairs to the upper and lower dams. Mr. Crook stated in a letter to the members of the Association that "the question of organization improvements other than that of maintaining the level of the lake will be postponed for consideration until after the principal matter now on hand has been disposed of".

The work on the dam started in the fall of 1907. Mr. Samuel Baker, Supervisor of the Town, who had apparently been asked to purchase materials and hire labor for the work, submitted the first statement of costs to Mr. Blanchard on Oct. 21st:

Fred, Vetter - cement, 125 barrels @ $2.25 each   $281.25
Dynamite and fuses   3.80
Five man hauling cement from Chestertown   62.50
Water pails, shovels, nails, tar paper and the sharpening of drills   21.61
5 days with team   20.00
Wages paid, 15 men @ $1.50/day, 4 men @ $3.50/day   337.75
Additional Expenses, finishing dam and stationary for assoc.   309.54
    ---------
Total   $1036.45

The Executive Committee and the Corporation

Also, that fall an executive committee was appointed to decide business matters in the absence of the entire membership association. The Executive Committee officers appointed were:

Additionally, in September some of the members met with the Town Supervisor and decided to prepare a "Certificate of Incorporation" of the Brant Lake Association. This took effect in January 17, 1908. Measures adopted by the Corporation were: 7 directors or trustees, principal offices in New York City, Executive Committee to conduct affairs of the association except at the time of the annual meeting, which would be held in Horicon during the summer season. The purpose of the organization was:

To adopt and carry into effect such measures as may be advisable to improve Brant Lake and its neighborhood In the Town of Horicon, County of Warren, State of New York, and generally to make it desirable and beneficial for those residing at and near such Lake.

It is interesting to note that one member suggested a further object of the association should be to "keep the waters of Brant Lake pure and uncontaminated."

The Dam Keeper

The Association hired Mr. Judson Smith at an annual salary of $450 to operate and care for the dams. His duties were:

  1. Keep the lake at a satisfactory level by raising or lowering the "wickets or planks to meet varying conditions and to afford to the mill owners below a reasonable supply of water for their use.
  2. Report violation of game laws, especially illegal fishing.
  3. Stock the lake with fish.

In one letter Mr. Smith wrote to Mr. Crook, he reported "the water is up so you can run a launch up and down the creek." On March 21, 1908, Mr. Smith wrote Mr. Crook, "I put in an order for 20,000 trout. They would allow me only 200 bass as they did not have enough to fill orders received. I sent for 1000 "lakers" fingerlins and 20,000 "fry" to put in the brooks."

Mr. Cook Loses Interest

On Jan. 17, 1908, after the "principal matter", repair of the upper dam, had been completed, Mr. Crook suggested that the Association help establish a rural mall delivery and also secure better telephone facilities.

On March 7, 1908, Mr. Crook wrote to one of the charter members "I personally prefer that someone else be selected as President to relieve me from further personal attention. I am willIng to do what is reasonable to advance mutual interests of cottage owners on the lake, but it may be well that we should make haste slowly and not undertake any further operations until our present experiment has been fully tried." This was the last communication between Mr. Crook and anyone in the association that was put in the files.

The Association "Disappears"

How long the association continued to function during this period is unknown, as no further records have been found for the early 1900s. The Chamber of Commerce, organized later, may have replaced it.

The Brant Lake Fishing Club Connection

While Mr. Crook's papers are not reported to make any mention of this, other documents and memories indicate that the original association was an outgrowth of the Brant Lake Fishing Club, a group incorporated April 28, 1892. This organization was formed to protect and increase the sport fishing population in Brant Lake by such measures as stocking the lake and reducing the population of rock bass, which were known to eat other species' eggs. It was originally started at the Palisades Hotel and later joined by owners of other hotels on the lake as well as many well-to-do fisherman who would spend the whole summer at the lake hotels. When the hotels went out of business, certain businesses like Remington's took up the flag and went forth with the effort to the extent that it was to their advantage.

The Association is Reborn

One afternoon in late June of 1966, George Fuda and Arnold Schonberg were visiting across their fence. Both agreed that there was a need for lake residents to get to know each other, and if an association was formed it could not only serve social needs, but also be influential with local and state governments in matters concerning the quality of lake. (Note: Another similar version of the rebirth reports that it happened in 1949, not 1966.)

George and Arnold shared their thoughts with others, and there was concurrence that such an organization was needed. A sample constitution was drawn up on July 22nd. A temporary committee established the initial officers as:

Along with the annual social events, some of the early efforts and concerns involved:

Today's Association

Today, the association is strong and healthy, and continues to serve social and environmental needs of area residents as documented elsewhere on this website.