Axton was the name of a community (originally Axetown) on the Raquette River at the end of Corey's road, established by Cornell University as part of a forestry program; a school was built there for the children of loggers who worked the plantation.
Axton was the site of the Indian Carry Chapel, which was largely financed by the Dodge and Meigs logging company for the loggers working nearby to keep their mill at Axton Landing busy. It was also the original site of the Foresters Inn.
- Duquette, John J., "Library receives old school board minutes and early area magazines", Adirondack Daily Enterprise, January 28, 1974
- Svenson, Sally, "Missions Accomplished; Richard McCarthy's Church-Building Spree", Adirondack Life, August, 2004
Malone Farmer, September 18, 1901
Tupper Lake Free Press and Herald, August 6, 1970
First Forestry Venture 70 Years Ago Scuttled Cornell College of Forestry, But Attracted New Industry to Tupper
(Nineteenth in a Series)
In our last issue we presented the late Ferris J. Meigs' account of the "dickering" which resulted in the sale of 30,000 acres of timberland east of this village in the Cross - Clearing Upper Saranac Lake - Axton area by Santa Clara Lumber Co. to the state, on which the infant Cornell College of Forestry proposed to establish the first major scientific forestry, operation in this country . . .
The state paid Santa Clara Lumber Co. $165,000 for the tract, and Cornell University established its field headquarters in 1899 at Axton, the approximate center of the property, about 13 miles from Tupper by road . . . The story of what happened there was not exactly a bright one, but it appears that all, parties, including the Santa Clara Lumber Co., Brooklyn Cooperage Co. and Tup per Lake village, profited thereby, with the exception of forestry in general and Cornell University in particular.
Cornell College of Forestry entered into a contract in May, 1900 with the Brooklyn Cooperage Co., by which the college was bound to cut and deliver wood off the college tract "for at least fifteen years", according to Alfred Donaldson in his History of the Adirondacks. "The contract was made with the avowed purpose of clearing the land so that it could be replanted, and both profit and benefit were expected from the experiment. It yielded both— but for the Cooperage Company only. The price at which the university agreed to cut and deliver their wood proved less than the operation cost them. This robbed them of funds they expected to use for replanting, and allowed the denuditation process to assume a lamentable ascendancy".
Frederick A. Seaver, in his History of Franklin County, adds some interesting notes: "The forester in charge of the school planned to cut all hardwood on the tract down to 14 inches at the butt, and all softwood down to eight inches, on the theory that light and air would thus reach the trees left standing, the growth of which would be more rapid. It was part of the scheme to fill in vacant places with young pine. His procedure would today be accounted good forestry, provided the territory so treated could be assured immunity from fire ravages. When about 6,000 acres had been cut over as thus indicated, high winds overturned or snapped off nearly all the trees that had not been felled, whereupon the school cleared the lands so that they were practically bare, and then undertook to reforest with seedlings.
"About 2,400 acres were in fact so dealt with, and then fire swept in upon the tract, destroying many of the young trees.. . The practice as outlined was characterized at the time as vandalism, and action by the courts was invoked successfully to suppress the operations, and to recover the lands from Cornell for the State . . . Of course, the school had to have a purchaser for its cut timber, and found one in the Brooklyn Cooperage Co., which had theretofore operated at Santa Clara and St. Regis Falls". (As part of the contract, Brooklyn Cooperage erected a stave and heading mill off present-day McCarthy st. in downtown Tupper Lake to use the logs, and a wood alcohol plant off present-day McLaughlin ave. to use the cordwood).
In order to reach the Cross Clearing area Brooklyn Cooperage Co. built a logging railway from this village to the college tract, a distance of a little over four miles . . . The railroad right of way can still be traced today, all timber having been removed to a width of 25 yards along its route. Cornell College of Forestry, which doesn't appear to have had an overabundance of hardheaded business men, contracted to deliver its logs at the railroad for $5 per thousand feet, which barely covered the cost of cutting and hauling and left nothing in profit to finance reforestation.
Wealthy owners of woodland in the Upper Saranac Lake area didn't like the looks of what was happening to the timberland just west of their holdings, where thousands of acres had been stripped. In 1901 Eric P. Swenson, president of the Association of Residents on Upper Saranac Lake, made application to the attorney general to institute proceedings on behalf of the People of the State of New York to have the purchase of the 30,000 acre tract by Cornell University declared unconstitutional and void, and to have the title to said land vested in the People of the State of New York".
Owing to the contract, suit had to be brought against the Brooklyn Cooperage Co., which demurred on the ground of insufficient cause for action. The case dragged on through the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals and was finally decided against Brooklyn Cooperage in 1912, after ten years of litigation. Dr. B. E. Fernow, as director of the new Cornell College of Forestry, was violently attacked, and Adirondackers familiar with developments in the Cross Clearing - Axton area took a dim view of scientific forestry for years thereafter.
Operations on the tract had ceased in 1904, when the courts prohibited further cutting, whereupon the logging railroad was abandoned, and the rails sold for scrap iron. The Cornell Forestry College, provided for by Chapter 122 of the Laws of 1898, State of New York, lasted only five years. Appropriations of $30,000 in 1899 and again in 1900, and annual appropriations of $10,000 in 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1902 were approved by the Legislature, and used chiefly for the salaries of the director, Dr. Fernow, and his assistants. The Appropriation Bill of 1903 again provided $10,000 for the forestry college, but by that time the outcry over the apparent "rape" of part of the timberlands purchased from Santa Clara Lumber Co. and denuded by clear cutting and fire, was so loud that Governor Odell vetoed the bill. Deprived of State support, Cornell closed its College of Forestry in June, 1903 and dismissed Director Fernow.
Dr. Fernow, a professional forester who was trained in Germany and had extensive experience in his field in the U. S. since 1876, including the post of Chief of the U. S.' Forestry Division, became Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at Toronto University, Canada, after leaving Cornell . . . So that's the short, sad story of the first scientific forestry experiment on the lands sold by Santa Clara Lumber Co. to the State a little over 70 years ago. Motorists driving through the Cross Clearing area might wonder whence the name, inasmuch as the once-timber-stripped region is again heavily forested. Part of the answer is the sign on the stand of Scotch pine on the north side of the highway, which states that it was planted in 1908. . . Part of the area was reforested by the CCC's, who operated Camp 15 at Cross Clearing in the 1930s . . . The passing years have pretty well erased the clearing . . . the roadbed of the Brooklyn Cooperage Company's almost forgotten logging railroad winds through second-growth, itself largely overgrown, and probably the most durable reminder of how ill-fated was the state's first forestry venture on former Santa Clara Lumber Co. lands is the fact that New York's College of Forestry is now at Syracuse University, —not Cornell.