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Canal at Round Pond Provides History Lesson

Sabotage ended effort to construct waterway

Given that New York's history was forever altered by the canal system built in the 1800s, you have to wonder how different would life in the state would have been if a canal had connected Long Lake to the Hudson River. If you take a float plane ride low over Huntington Forest, you might see a curiously straight waterway north of Catlin Lake that is all that remains of a failed plan to enhance travel and commerce in the central Adirondacks.

A manmade waterway was first proposed in 1836 by state geologist Ebenezer Emmons. However, it was Ferand N. Benedict who surveyed the route twice, urging the state legislature in 1845 and 1874 to authorize canal construction. Benedict was instrumental in building the first dam on nearby Round Pond but both of his canal proposals were blocked. Communities along the Raquette River opposed it because water from Long Lake would be diverted east to the Hudson, causing possible economic hardship for loggers and others along the Raquette north toward Potsdam.

Finally, in 1882, entrepreneur Thomas C. Durant started work on the canal. A dam was built to raise the level of Long Lake, and planned locks along the canal would have the ability to lower Round Pond. The Buttercup was the first steamboat to ferry passengers on Long Lake. However, local guides didn't want Durant's steamboats taking their business away. In one night the Buttercup was scuttled and the dam at the north end of Long Lake blown up. This sabotage ended the quest for the waterway.

Divers brought the Buttercup to the surface in 1959; it is displayed behind the Long Lake town hall. The 0.4-mile-long canal can still be seen from the air, stranded in the remote High Peaks Wilderness just north of the HWF boundary. These are all that remain of the water connection that could have profoundly changed how the area was accessed and enjoyed over time, and also perhaps could have changed the research and outreach activities at Huntington Forest.