“They put the old valley to sleep,” one worker claimed during the transformation of the Sacandaga River Valley into the Great Sacandaga Lake in the 1920s.
It was a time when people thought they could do anything, when they believed they had power over nature and the elements, when they thought anything was possible.
In the late 1800s, the Hudson River flooded nearly every year, leaving death, disease and damage in its wake. In Albany, where the effects of this flooding were felt most, the lawmakers decided to do something about it.
To Control the Flow
They sent surveyors into the Adirondack Mountains to find out if there was a way to control the water. These surveyors discovered many rivers and creeks that emptied into the Hudson could be dammed.
Originally, the plan was conceived to create nearly 30 dams throughout the region to change the runoff pattern. The biggest of these was to be in a little hamlet called Conklingville, the narrow place where the Sacandaga River turned east to flow into the Hudson. After it was dammed, the need for the other dams was deemed unnecessary.
The surveyors mapped every inch of the valley to find out how high the water would rise when dammed. The state formed the Hudson River Regulating District and put the project in its hands.
A Peaceful Valley
The Sacandaga Valley was a peaceful place. It had many farms and hamlets where residents cut lumber, built furniture and went about their lives. There were several bridges. Those at Osborn Bridge and Fish House were covered bridges. There was the Great Vlaie where everyone from Sir William Johnson to author Robert W. Chambers fished and hunted. There was an amusement park owned by the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad, a popular getaway.
This didn’t matter because people downstate needed to stop the flooding. The local electrical power company could use the control of the river to generate electricity and income.
In the 1920s, the district began buying homes and businesses. Owners had no choice under eminent domain. They could buy their homes back for $1 and move them if they chose.
It wasn’t just homes, businesses and churches that had to go or be moved. Gravesites had to be moved. Workers located the graves, dug them up and moved them to other cemeteries.
The district had to move roads out of the water’s path. Workers had to pull down trees and burn them. All the while, the dam project was under way.
Some towns would lose much of their land. Other settlements disappeared under the water entirely. Some people always would hate the district.
The Sacandaga Reservoir could have been opened before March 27, 1930. One organization was powerful enough to fight. The FJ&G Railroad brought a lawsuit to keep its tracks and to keep Sacandaga Park open. The company lost and began tearing up the railroad to move it.
According to Edinburg Town Historian Priscilla Edwards, “By the early 1920s the handwriting was on the wall, a dam was to be built and the valley to be flooded, many more people moved away knowing they would lose their homes anyway. On March 27, 1930 the gates on the Conklingville Dam were closed and by 1931 what had once been a beautiful river valley with the many communities along its banks was lost forever as the Sacandaga Reservoir was created.”
Later, the reservoir became a tourist attraction and today little thought is given to the hamlets beneath the water. That is until the water is low and some of the ghostly streets become visible.