Preserving the Gooley – Why It Matters

—Donald MacElroy

Children swimming in lake at Gooley Club Camp in the AdirondacksWhat makes this collection of rustic buildings on the shore of Third Lake in The Essex Chain important? To answer that question, one must look at the history of the site over the past 152 years. In 1866, Harve Bonney, a Civil War veteran from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, purchased land in what is now the Town of Minerva and built a lodge intended to host “sports” coming to the Adirondacks to take advantage of the abundant fish and game in the region. As the demand increased, Bonney expanded capacity and hired locals Mike and Olive Gooley to run the operation. Over the next 70 years and through a series of owners and operators, The Chain Lakes Sportsmen’s Camp played an important role in the development of the hospitality industry in the Adirondacks. Folks from around the Northeastern United States would make the long rail trek to North Creek, then via stagecoach to Indian Lake and finally by wagon north to the Cedar River crossing and on to Third Lake. Accommodations were spartan, yet comfortable. Meals were hearty and featured local bounty raised on the premises or taken from the surrounding woods and waters.

The Gooley Club lakeAfter Finch Pruyn Paper Co. purchased the land in the mid 1910’s, the camp also served as a base of operations for timber crews harvesting in the area of the Chain Lakes….their cabin is still in existence on the site. Following World War 2, a group of individuals, who for many years were regular patrons of the camp, approached Finch Pruyn about forming a private club to insure continued access to the site. 1947, the Gooley Club was formed and Byron Andrus, who had been operating the camp for a number of years, was hired as caretaker and guide. For Finch Pruyn, the lease provided income to defray property taxes and for the local communities, Club expenditures as well as member spending while traveling to and from the Camp provided an important and consistent boost to the Adirondack economy. Over the past 70 years thousands of members, their families and guests have utilized the Camp, enjoying the beauty and solitude of the surroundings, all the while acting as exemplary stewards of the lands and waters. In recent years, The Gooley Club even served as a host to a number of US Veterans who were part of an Adirondack based Wounded Warrior Project event.

The Gooley Club lakeSo, what will the result be if the Camp is demolished by the end of September as called for in the State Unit Management Plan? First, a historic site, with a storied past going back 152 years will be lost forever. As the Camp was recently added to both the NYS and Federal Historic Registers, its significance to the history and culture of the region is indisputable. Secondly, the promises of advocates for State acquisition of the Finch property, that a flood of new tourists to the area would make up for the loss of timber industry jobs and the economic activity, not only of the Gooley Club, but also the 19 other private hunting and fishing clubs that were eliminated by the State purchase has never occurred. Visitors are seldom seen on the Lakes and the camp sites have been virtually unused. A creative reuse of the Third Lake Camp, be it as an interior ranger station, interpretive center for the history of Adirondack hospitality and the forest products industry or better yet, combined as stop on the proposed “Hut to Hamlet” trail system, would allow a continuation of the Camp’s important role in the cultural and economic life of the Central Adirondacks.

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