NORTHVILLE, N.Y. - To most users, the Great Sacandaga Lake is a place for recreation: Hundreds of camps line its shore, hundreds of boats ply its waters, while below the dam, people in rafts, tubes and kayaks cavort in the warm water released to the lower Sacandaga River.
But the Sacandaga, by far the largest man-made lake in New York, was not built for fun. It was built to prevent flooding, and its creation drowned hundreds of farms and villages that had been in families for generations.
As early as the 1860s, people talked about building a dam on the Sacandaga. A major tributary to the Hudson, the Sacandaga would often flood in the spring when the extensive Adirondack snows would melt. Flooding along both rivers was routine.
In summer, a drought could cause the Hudson to become too low for safe boating. If boats were unable to come up the Hudson, commerce in upstate New York was crippled.
But the flood that really got the effort going was in March 1913, when parts of Albany, now some 40 miles southeast of the lake, were inundated. When the waters receded, a typhoid epidemic broke out.
It took nine more years to do something about it. In 1922 the Hudson River Regulating Board was created by the New York Legislature. Made up mostly of private business owners, the organization was to fund the project using private money.
But it also had public muscle, which was needed when the locals found out what was happening.
The Sacandaga River valley was home to a dozen villages, including West Day, Osborne's Bridge, Day, Conklinville, Fish House, Bennedict, Batchellerville, Edinburgh, Mayfield, Cranberry Creek and Munsonville. There was also a train track owned by the FJ&G; Railroad.
And there was an amusement park, Sacandaga Park, which was owned by the railroad and built on the banks of the river.
At first, the regulating board quietly bought up property in the valley. But once word got out, buying was not so easy or so cheap. FJ&G; sued the board over the planned drowning of its park and railroad, and won $1.7 million. Residents, though, had little money to sue and could protest only by refusing to leave their homes until they were forced out by state agents.
Hundreds of homes, and much of Sacandaga Park, were purposely burned down to make way for the lake. Four whole hamlets were drowned, as well as parts of many others.
The earthen dam was completed on March 27, 1930. The 1,100-foot-long bridge contained 790,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock and another 15,000 cubic yards of concrete. It cost $2 million, with another $500,000 for the half-mile-long Batchellerville Bridge.