Flooding the Sacandaga Made Even the Dead Move

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The flood was coming with no way to stop it. The powers that be in Albany, NY, decreed there no longer would be a Sacandaga Valley, but a reservoir instead.

Everyone was going to have to move. Even the dead who rested in the valley.

When the Hudson River Regulating District determined where the water would rise to in the valley, Chief Engineer Edward H. Sargent drew a line on the map surrounding the Sacandaga River Valley. Anything outside the line was safe. Anything inside had to be moved or destroyed.

While homes, farms and businesses were purchased and destroyed or moved, it also was determined 3,872 graves were in the flood zone. Those graves were in 22 cemeteries throughout the valley, from church yards to farms.

A Large Project

Some workers moved throughout the valley taking down trees while others disassembled houses. A brigade of workers, however, had the job of locating the graves and moving them.

Where there were living relatives, the survivors could determine what cemeteries outside the flood zone their kin could be moved to. Where there were no living relatives and no markers on the graves, the workers had to dig up the remains, catalog where they were found and move them to the closest cemeteries. Their little stones survive today with nothing but letters and numbers corresponding to the catalog at Hudson River-Black River Regulating District headquarters.

Dan Bowman, who did many jobs on the project, also worked on the grave moving detail. He left a short memoir in which he wrote: “I also worked on the ‘boneyard gang.’ Digging up graves and remains to be transported and reburied above the flood lines, some to Vail Mills and Victory Mills.”

Some people, like Adirondack historian and storyteller Don Williams, had family in the valley. His grandmother had two infants buried on the family farm. When they were dug up, the little steel plaques that were on each tiny coffin were given to her. He still possesses them.

This was one of the many reasons people who were forced to leave their homes in the valley hated the whole project.

Killing the Valley

When the flood gates closed at the dam at Conklingville, NY, March 27, 1930, the water began to fill the old Sacandaga Valley—meaning “land of waving grass” to the Mohawk Native Americans—very fast. Williams said some bits of coffins still were found floating in the water several years after the valley was gone.

Sargent, the engineer who masterminded the project to control the flow of the Hudson River and stop flooding downstream, is buried in Edinburg Cemetery. His gravestone has the outline of the Great Sacandaga Lake engraved in it. He is buried on the other side of the cemetery from several rows of tiny gravestones for unknown souls who were moved there to make way for his lake.