Business Prospers Around New York’s Largest Reservoir
Fulton County is one of three counties that encompass the 125 miles of shoreline around the largest reservoir in New York State, the Great Sacandaga Lake.
This paradise of the Adirondacks boasts a booming tourist economy and is a place where locals and visitors come to relax and enjoy fun times together.
The Great Sacandaga Lake pumps millions of dollars into Fulton County’s economy each year. Ironically, the creation of the reservoir in 1930 meant the death of communities and industries along the Sacandaga River, the largest tributary of the Hudson River. Today’s robust lake economy is a tribute to the character of the area’s residents and their ability to adapt and thrive.
The story of the lake’s creation is largely characterized by the sacrifices the region’s citizens made for the greater good. As early as 1867, the New York State Legislature entertained proposals to build dams and reservoirs to control flooding, but it was not until 1913, following the devastating flooding of cities along the Hudson River, that the legislature passed an amendment allowing for the creation of state-owned reservoirs.
During a five-day period, beginning on Easter Sunday in 1913, torrential rains brought the equivalent of four to six weeks’ worth of normal rainfall. Water destroyed bridges and river walls, flooded streetcar lines, power-generating stations, and sewage-treatment plants, and even burst gas lines, igniting fires that raged throughout downtown Troy.
“It’s still the power of the water that’s drawing people to the area.”
A particularly horrific event for the city of Albany occurred when water burst through the doors of the Albany Pump Station, flooding the filters that clarified the municipal water. This caused untreated river water contaminated with human waste to end up in Prospect Reservoir, which supplied water to residents’ homes. This led to an outbreak of typhoid fever in the city.
“Before we had the reservoir, there was no way to control the snowmelt coming down from the river,”
said Lauren Roberts, the Saratoga County historian.
“The Hudson River flooded every spring, costing millions of
dollars in property damage and human life,” Roberts said. “It was detrimental to people’s health, businesses, and livelihood,” she said.
Within months of the Easter flood, the legislature took action to allow for the building of dams to create reservoirs. In the case of the Great Sacandaga Lake, this involved the construction of the Conklingville Dam and the flooding of the Sacandaga basin to an elevation of 771 feet above sea level.
This meant the destruction of 10 communities along the river. Residents had the option of selling their homes or moving them. Any structures that were left were burned. Carefully and respectfully, the government relocated 3,800 gravestones. Workers cleared 12,000 acres of timber.
Today, visitors to the lake can sometimes catch a glimpse of empty foundations where buildings used to stand or the stumps of trees that lined the streets of river towns.
In 1930, 17 years after the Easter flood, engineers closed the gates of the dam. Waters flooded the Sacandaga basin to form the Sacandaga Reservoir, which was later renamed the Great Sacandaga Lake to encourage tourism.
Year-round, the Great Sacandaga Lake is the perfect place for recreational activities. During the summer, people fish for pike, trout, bass, and walleye. They go boating, sailing, waterskiing, canoeing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, and tubing on the lake’s 42 square miles of water.
Cyclists enjoy 140 miles of trails around the lakes. Some visitors prefer to relax on the beach or camp on the shores of the lake. Dwellings from small
camps to elegant lakeside homes surround this gem of the Adirondack Park. Shops and farmers markets offer a sampling of locally made products to please any palate, including pies, jams, maple syrup, and apple cider. Shoppers discover unique offerings by local artists. In the winter, the lake draws skiers, snowmobilers, and ice fishermen.
The Great Sacandaga Lake became a draw for those who wanted to take up permanent residence as well as tourists, and it remains that way today.
New businesses sprang up around the lake economy. “Over the course
of time, from it originally being a river to its change into the reservoir, it has always been a magnet for business,” Roberts said. “When it was a river, it was a really important resource because all of the mills and tanneries relied on the waterpower of the river for water-powered industry. It was important then for a different reason.
Now it’s important for drawing in a tourist economy. It’s still the power of the water that’s drawing people to the area,” she said.