A Brief History of Pecks Lake
John W. Peck
Originally written: June 1994
Updated: July 2003
Pecks Lake has been host to seasonal visitors for thousands of years! While this statement sounds like a bit of advertising hyperbole, it is literally true. Early visitors didnt come here for a summer vacation, or to escape Floridas heat, as many do today, but rather to gather food and other essentials for the coming winter.
The hills and valleys of this region were formed during the ice age. Great gouges in the earth were formed by glacial action, and lower elevations collected water. Ponds and swamps were created, and the land eventually became covered by vegetation. Ancient peoples found this land to be rich in the food sources they required for survival. Artifacts recovered from the lake bottom indicate that prehistoric Native Americans used this area extensively as a hunting and fishing camp. Our present day sportsmen would have been horrified by some of the methods used to harvest food! Fish were taken by netting or spearing, and various kinds of snares and traps were undoubtedly used to capture game.
Archeologists tell us that this area presented an ideal setting for hunting and fishing, because of the confluence of several streams into three interconnected ponds. Indian use of this region continued until the 1700s, when the spreading colonialization of the white man drove them out of the Mohawk valley and farther west and north.
The first Pecks in the New World were of English ancestry, their Puritan ancestors having fled religious persecution. Those first Pecks settled in Massachusetts in 1638, after the voyage from England aboard the H.M.S. Diligent. The Peck family eventually spread into other areas of New England. In the early 1800s one Ichabod Peck moved his family from Marlboro, New Hampshire to Johnstown, New York. One of Ichabod's sons, Charles, remained in Johnstown and raised a family. One of Charles sons, John, born in 1818, began purchasing land in the foothills to the north of the colonial town while he was still a young man..
The Founder of Peckville
We know little of John Pecks motivation for coming to the southern Adirondacks - perhaps it was a fascination with the rolling hills, ponds, and marshes, the abundant fish and wildlife, and the isolation of the "wilderness". Or perhaps it was a more pragmatic recognition of the commercial possibilities of the region, with its abundant natural resources ready to be exploited. In 1842 John made his first acquisition, known as Great Lot 92, which included the area along the Caroga Lake Road and the Hohler Road. In those days the land was divided into a series of "Patents", which had been early colonial land grants. Great Lots were further divisions of the Patents, and as the land became further sub-divided, whole or partial Great Lots were bought and sold. There were earlier owners of these lots, between the original land grant holders and John Peck, but more knowledge of these earlier settlers awaits further research.
John continued to purchase other parcels during the 1840s and 50s. Old deeds show that he gradually bought up all the land around the ponds and streams in the vicinity of the present Pecks Lake. The southeast corner of Great Lot 89, comprising the area containing the Peck Homestead and Marina area, was purchased on May 21, 1857.
Early Business Enterprises at Peckville
The Southern Adirondacks during the middle 1800s was a bustling place. The major industries were logging and tanning. It seems that John was quite an entrepreneur, and soon had sawmills and tanneries in operation at both ends of the lake, along the inlet and outlet streams. The original foundation of one of the sawmills is still intact, under about 20 feet of water, near the present spillway. It has provided a great deal of frustration to many a fisherman over the years, as their lures have become entangled in the old boards on the bottom!
The tanning industry was particularly interesting. During the early nineteenth century settlers discovered that leather could be effectively preserved by soaking it in a series of baths made up of the liquor produced from water and pulverized Hemlock Bark. The Adirondacks contained an abundant source of Hemlock trees, and it was more economical to ship hides here from the Midwest for the tanning process than it would have been to ship the Hemlock bark west. Tanneries sprang up all over the area, and John Peck entered the emerging business by constructing two, one at each end of the lake. We dont know much about the facility at the Bleecker end, since its site is now under water. Much more information is available about the large tannery John built about a half mile downstream from the outlet of the lake. Stone foundations from this building are well preserved, and indicate an operation of considerable size, including a dam for diverting water from the stream, a wooden pipeline to the mill, and a tanning house measuring approximately 40 by 100 feet. While this was not considered a huge tannery for the time, it was clearly of considerable capacity. Records indicate that there were eight workers, and in 1860 there were 1400 "sides" of sole leather produced.
One can easily imagine scenes from that era. Crews would have been working the surrounding woods, felling the huge first growth Hemlock trees, stripping the bark, and bundling and transporting it to the tannery by horse or ox drawn cart. Raw skins would be arriving from the railhead at Fonda, carted by the rough and tough teamsters of the period. At the tannery, the backbreaking work of scraping the skins and moving them from one tanning vat to the next would be a never-ending process. The sawmills would be going full blast; with logs being floated in the millpond contained by a low earthen dam near the site of the present concrete structure, and finished lumber being drawn south by horse and wagon. Workers lived in various locations within walking distance. No long commutes in those days! Old stone foundations indicate many cabins in the woods and fields nearby. Children of the workers attended school in the little red schoolhouse, probably built in the late 1850's, and supported solely by John Peck during its first twenty-five years of existence.
John Peck operated a company store in part of his big house by the dam, where workers and travelers could obtain provisions. Of course everything for the store had to be transported the six miles from Gloversville by wagon. Road traffic must have been heavy. The winding road past the homestead, across the bridge by the mill, up the hill and across West Bay (now under water), was the only road between Gloversville and points north. Tourist and commercial traffic to and from Caroga and Canada Lakes, and the big tannery at Wheelerville, all had to pass through.
During the latter part of the 1800s the tanning industry began to fade. Economic and technical factors combined to spell the end of the tanning era. Most Adirondack tanneries were closed down by 1890. We do not know when or how John Pecks tannery fell victim to this trend and closed its doors forever. We do not even know if the building was torn down or burned, which was a common occurrence in those days of wood fired boilers and non-existent fire protection. We do know that the foundations of the old tannery still stand in silent tribute to the vision, resourcefulness, and innovation of a previous generation.
John Peck did not limit himself to the affairs of "Peckville", as it was called in those days. He also owned considerable property in Gloversville, and was one of the original Directors of the Fonda, Johnstown, and Gloversville Railroad. Apparently at one point there was some interest in extending a branch of the railroad toward the north - in the direction of Johns land holdings. One could suppose this was Johns main interest in railroading, since after this project was dropped from consideration we find little to support the notion of his continued involvement.
John married Phoebe Taylor, and they raised seven children. Two of their daughters married and moved to the booming port town of San Francisco in the territory of California. Two other daughters and three sons remained in this area. According to the History of Fulton County, John and Phoebe were leading citizens of the Gloversville area, and "looked after the poor and the families of the soldiers" during the Civil War.
John died on March 15, 1882. Inexplicably, he left no will. It is hard to imagine that a man who had obviously been such an astute businessman had died intestate. Perhaps he had procrastinated about this most unpleasant task until it was too late. We will never know for sure. The consequences were traumatic, and nearly resulted in the property leaving Peck Family ownership. A squabble developed among the seven children over the disposition of Johns considerable estate. What with papers needing to be served all the way across the country, and the usual legal maneuverings and delays, the estate was not settled until six years later, in 1888. The terms of the settlement resulted in sale of John Pecks land holdings at public auction! After spirited bidding between family members and some outsiders, one of Johns sons, Albert Taylor Peck, managed to purchase the lake property for the sum of $13,500.
Pecks Park - The Resort
Albert was a shrewd businessman in his own right. He had been born at Pecks Park in 1850, and had been keeping his fathers books since the age of seventeen. In 1879 he had graduated from the Poughkeepsie Commercial College at the head of his class. With this background, Albert wasted no time in continuing and expanding upon the businesses that his father had begun. The sawmills were still active, and in response to the late 1800s trend for city folk to find adventure and relaxation in the wilderness, Albert entered the resort business. Pecks Park was created to satisfy the demands of the public for private hunting and fishing grounds, with modern transportation and facilities. Cottages were located along the shores of the ponds and on some of the islands. Horse drawn stage service was provided from Gloversville, and customers horses were cared for in the large red barn. Albert became known as "The Colonel", due to his preference for large military style hats. According to The History of Fulton County, Albert increased his land holdings to over 5000 acres in the late 1800s.
Creation of Pecks Lake
During the first few years of the twentieth century America was being electrified. Power companies responded to the demand for more and more electrical power by building new hydroelectric plants. The Mohawk Hydro-Electric Company, the electric utility in upstate New York (predecessor to Niagara Mohawk), wanted to build a hydroelectric station in the Village of Ephratah, and they needed an upstream reservoir capable of providing an ample supply of water for operation of this plant. Since "Pecks Pond" lay only a few miles upstream, it was the natural choice. Mohawk Hydro-Electric approached Albert with a plan: The power company would build a dam at the outlet of the present mill pond, and raise the lake level by 20 feet to create their needed reservoir. They would take title to all the land under the new lake and the area needed for construction. In return, Albert would receive a 999-year lease for the control of the new lake to be formed, so that he could retain his resort business. Present day lawyers marvel at the innovative nature of this arrangement, previously unheard of. Of course there were many details to be ironed out, and much work to be done in preparation. Albert had to buy additional land, so that the newly flooded area would still be under his exclusive control. All the timber had to be cut from the impounded area. (The well-preserved stumps from this cutting remain to the present time, and provide excellent cover for the game fish that thrive in the lake.) The road to the north had to be relocated to detour around the area to be flooded. Mohawk Hydro-Electric even agreed to move the sawmill on the western end of the lake to a new location - however this never came to pass, and the mill went the way of so many nineteenth century artifacts, lost forever to the "progress" of the twentieth century.
One large task that had to be accomplished before the new dam could be used was the moving of the "camps" from their original locations to higher ground, along the new shoreline. This was indeed a formidable task, since it had to be done in winter, using only man and horse power. The work must have been severe, and the present location of some of those old camps at the waters edge suggests that they were only moved as far as absolutely necessary! Old photos show the straining teams as the buildings were skidded across the ice.
The construction of the two dams required to hold back the waters of the new lake was a huge undertaking for that day. The concrete dam was to bridge the opening from the present West Bay to near the boathouse. Old photos show cranes and rigging that were erected for the purpose. It is difficult to imagine moving the tons of dirt, rock, and concrete using only manual labor, teams, and steam engines. The earthen dam at the northeastern end of the lake presented a particularly interesting problem, since it was in such an isolated area. A good source of gravel was located in the woods to the north of the dam site, but how could it be moved to where it was needed, to block the flow of the West Stony Creek? Apparently Yankee ingenuity came into play, and the builders decided to construct a narrow gauge mule powered railroad between the gravel pit and the site of the "dike." Remains of the rails and the excavated rail bed and gravel pit are still visible at the site today.
We can only surmise the excitement that must have surrounded the completion of the dams and the closing of the gates. The waters rose and encompassed the three ponds: the old Pecks Pond, East Lake, and West Lake. There must have been a great deal of flotsam floating around the lake for some time, with all the stumps and scraps of wood left over from the timber cutting. One section of sod and brush, about the size of a half-acre lot, broke loose from the bottom, and became a "floating island", which moved about the lake at random for many years. Eventually it became attached to the shore just east of Rock Island, and was still visible there as recently as the 1950s.
Albert T. Peck never realized the benefits of the new lake that he was instrumental in creating. He died on July 2, 1911. Perhaps because of lessons learned from the unfortunate lapse of his father in preparing a will, Alberts will was written in excruciating detail. Since he and his wife Grace were childless, Pecks Lake was to be shared by A. Wellington Peck and John Francis Peck, the two sons of his older brother John Francis Peck, who were then living at Peckville.
Elaborate provisions were made for Grace for the rest of her life, including where she would live, what transportation would be provided for her, and that a boat would always be available for her use on the lake. Even minute details were included, such as how many bushels of potatoes were to be furnished for her consumption each year, and that she was to have all the ice from the ice house that she wanted! Albert had learned his lessons well - there would be no disputing his wishes!
The Era of A. Wellington and John Francis
Wellington and John Francis made their homes at Pecks Park after the death of "Uncle Albert". Wellington and his wife Lotta lived in Uncle Alberts old house by the new dam (which ruined the view from the original verandah and resulted in the addition of an upstairs porch.) John and his wife Catherine lived next door, in the house that had been moved from near the old mill.
Of course the character of the business environment had changed drastically with the raising of the lake. The tanneries and sawmills were now gone and emphasis turned to recreational use of the expanded lake. Some timbering was done, but most revenue came from the sportsmen who traveled here for a chance to hunt and fish on a "private preserve." Eventually the Gloversville - Canada Lake road was improved, and automobiles began to replace horse drawn conveyances. In 1923 John Francis and his wife sold out to A. Wellington and moved away from the lake.
The Development Era
A. Wellington Peck passed away in 1948, survived by two sons, Charles W. and Albert T., and a daughter, Esther. He had been in declining health for several years, and his son Albert had managed the resort business. Upon his death Pecks Park was passed down to his two sons. Albert and his wife Alice had shared A. Wellingtons house and cared for him in his illnesses, and remained there after his death. Charles and his wife Charlotte lived in the former home of John Francis, next door. Albert continued to manage the business, while Charles owned and operated a successful roofing business in Gloversville.
At the time of A. Wellington Pecks death, about 2500 acres of land remained in family ownership around the lake. There were 10 rental cottages on the lake, and about sixty rental boats were available. During the 1950s the enterprise sustained itself on the resort business and some timbering operations.
As teenagers, Albert and Alices sons, John and Albert T. III (Alby), and Charles and Charlottes sons, C. Wellington and Larry, worked as resort employees. The accompanying photo shows Alby and Larry in the old refreshment stand.
In the 50s and 60s many regular visitors to the lake began to ask to be allowed to buy lots on the lake so that they could have permanent homes here. At the same time property tax rates began to rise rapidly, making it more and more difficult to continue to operate Pecks Park as strictly a resort business. With mixed emotions, Charles and Albert decided to begin development of the formerly completely private lake. One subdivision followed another over the 60s, 70s, and 80s, as demand for both seasonal and full time homes in the region grew, resulting in the close-knit community that now encircles the lake.
Charles passed away in 1984, and Albert followed in 1990, leaving the future of Peckville/Pecks Park/Pecks Lake to future generations. Charles wife Charlotte died in 2000 at the age of 90. Albert and Charles sister Esther Peck Neal presently lives in Saratoga, and Alberts wife Alice still lives at the lake. Charles and Alberts four sons all live at the lake, and participate in the management of the family interests. Alby and Wellington manage the marina and resort.
What You Won't See in the "Main Stream" News
"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority
keen to set brush fires in people's minds." - Samuel Adams
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