Stop # 2: Orchard Lake Dam

From private fishing club to Scout Camp…

Although Europeans came to the foothills of the Catskill Mountains soon after settling in New Amsterdam (New York City), it was 175 years before the first white settler began clearing ground and building a cabin in the Beaverkill Valley, just north of OSR.

In 1708, Queen Anne of England granted to Johannas Hardenburg and his associates the Hardenburg Patent. This 2-million-acre tract included not only OSR, but Alder Lake, which for years served as a Council outpost camp, and then briefly as a Scout summer camp in its own right. The 1,600-acre Alder Lake property was ultimately sold to New York State. But for years, it was a popular hiking destination for OSR Scouts who would camp overnight and return to OSR, getting in a 10-miler each way.

In the 1880's the Orchard Lake property became one of the favorite fishing spots in the area. Stoddard Hammond built a large manor house overlooking the lake, which together with the streams, attracted anglers looking for those elusive trout. That Manor House would stand for a good part of OSR’s early years and was part of camp operations. But more about the Manor House later.

Despite some considerable research, some of the details on the creation of Orchard Lake are still a little sketchy. The original dam built on the Sprague Brook was constructed in 1870, Based on maps from that time, the pond it created was too small to even be noted on early maps of the area.

Around 1895-96, Hammond built a much bigger dam to widen the lake basin, with the dam either repaired extensively or re-constructed in 1907. He also built a trout hatchery which sold trout all over the state until 1911.

During the "Roaring 20s" the property was purchased by the Trout and Skeet Club of New York, with folks coming from all over to fish and vacation here. However, the rationing of gasoline during WW II put the club out of business.

Put up for sale in 1942, the club was bought by Mr. Charles R. Vose for $20,000. He used it as a private retreat until 1956 when Nassau County Council (now TRC) bought the property.

But before we leave the dam, one more thing. When you are looking out at the lake, look to the left and you will see the old road that runs along the west side of the lake. That was the original road into camp, the road that would have been used to reach Stoddard’s Manor House. In 1956 and ’57, it was the only way into camp, which John Brown, one of those first staffers, remembers well. But back then, this area looked entirely different. There was no sweeping vista of the lake or the Manor House.

As John recalls: “Our first entry into camp in the very first work week, the second week of June, '56, gave us no view of the lake let alone the Manor House off in the distance. Everything around the dam and between the lake road and the lake was overgrown, with dead trees and high brush. We had a staff of 8, including the two rangers and the camp director (Bill Engert).”

“Our first project was to clear a waterfront "beach" of several dozen and dead (about 100' along the lake road from the dam) We got enough aluminum docking from Wauwepex to put in a small (H-shaped) dock. That went in quick and during the days after we were still dropping and removing trees, adding sand etc. One tree was dropped, with poor judgment, absolutely, dead center on the H dock that was just put in!! The huge tree drove the dock well under water and caved in the sides, so we pretty much started over. The "chain saw expert" shall remain nameless.”

The first Operation Igloo, later called Bluenose, was held in the winter of ’56.

DIRECTIONS: From the dam, the history trail follows the Red Trail along the eastern shore of the lake.