Visit the scattered vestiges of A.A. Low’s Adirondack lumber and maple sugar empire

Like a moth to a flame, I find myself drawn to forested ruins. A summer road trip adventure had me hiking to Low’s Ridge in the heart of the Adirondack to explore the cobblestone remnants of prolific inventor and entrepreneur Abbot Augustus Low’s once-massive lumber and maple sugar empire. While little remains after being consumed by two fires and time, scattered foundations and a dam remain for intrepid ramblers to find.

Who was Abbot Augustus Low?

A.A. Low was a prolific inventor, holding over 200 patents throughout his life, including a method for preserving maple sugar, a motor, an exhaust system, an igniter, and a bottle. Historians believe Low even invented the first paper shredder, although his patent application for a “waste-paper receptacle” was never manufactured. When Low died in 1912, Thomas Edison was the only inventor with more patents.

Born in 1844, the Brooklyn, New York native was the son of Abiel Abbot Low, a successful China merchant and investor. When Low came of age, he became a partner in his father’s importing and shipping business.

Beginning in 1892, Low bought several large tracts of land over four years. They consisted of Bog Lake, Big Trout, Lake Marion, Horse Shoe, and Hitchins Pond, eventually totaling 32,000 acres.

Low established his headquarters, Horse Shoe Forestry Company, near the short-lived, “lost town” of Horse Shoe (near modern-day Piercefield, New York), around the Bog River Flow.

In 1896, he arranged with the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad to construct a full-fledged station at Horse Shoe. The station was a replica of the one in Garden City, Long Island. He built this at his own expense, and when completed, he sold it to the railroad for $1.00. It was the most attractive station between Utica and Malone. It was torn down in the late 1950s.

It had telegraph service, a ticket office, and freight and express service. With some persuasion, the U.S. Government agreed to establish a Post Office at Horse Shoe. Low was the first postmaster.

Low’s property would eventually become a self-contained industrial complex with a narrow gauge railroad, a blacksmith shop, an energy generating plant, a stable, an engine house, storehouses, maple sugaring buildings, employee housing, and a boathouse.

John Dix, a good friend and an excellent lumberman, persuaded Low to lumber off his acreage. Once more, he thought men and horses were not enough to do the work, so he built 15 miles of standard gauge railroad tracks. He then bought two locomotives, a steam shovel, a steam log loader, a steam crane, and several flat cars to aid in the work.

In the early days, logs were driven down Bog River to the mills in Tupper Lake; however, Low decided to build a closer sawmill at Hitchins Pond. It was a band sawmill equipped to cut both hard and softwood. In addition, he had box-making and stave equipment so he could make his own barrels.

When the mill was complete, Low directed his team to construct a three-story house and several cottages at Horse Shoe as boarding for the hired help.

At about the same time, Low went into the spring water business. The “Virgin Forest Spring Water” was bottled at the springs a quarter mile off Sabattis Road. A steam conveyor was built to take the cases of bottled water to flat cars on the railroad. Next, they were shipped to New York City in returnable cases and special square bottles.

Always busy, Low built three large sugar houses to handle the harvest of maple sap from sugar maples in the vast sugarbush at Horse Shoe in the late 1890s. Records show that 10,000 trees were tapped. In 1907, the records show he made 20,000 gallons of maple syrup. Even today, that figure would be considered a massive operation on a corporate scale. They had a unique way of collecting the sap. Pipes and troughs brought the liquid to tubs near the railroad, where it was transferred to large tanks mounted on flat cars. Next, they were taken to the evaporators.

Low patented a system where the sap would come in one end of the building and leave the other as syrup. Much of the syrup was stored at Horse Shoe in homemade barrels. When there was a demand for maple sugar, the syrup was boiled to fill the needs.

The Low’s maple products won first prize at New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont State fairs.

Low constructed two dams in 1907 to produce electricity to develop the property further. This project raised the water in the river by about six feet. The dams, which created today’s Lows Lake, made floating the logs to the railhead much easier than transporting them overland.

In 1907 and again in 1908, devastating forest fires destroyed much of his property. It destroyed everything in its path, including the hamlet of Long Lake West, now known as Sabattis. Sparks from the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad engine allegedly caused the fire.

Low died in 1912, leaving behind a legacy of innovation and entrepreneurship. His family took over and slowly sold off large tracts of land. In August 1973, the last section was sold to the Suffolk County Council, BSA. His property is now part of the Bog River Management Unit of the Adirondack Park.

Planning Your Visit

The central cluster of foundations can be found at 44.109645, -74.669554. Some of the structure’s remains are visible in the Google Map below. Local legend states that the main maple sugaring building had a marble floor (designed for easier cleanup) and is hidden somewhere nearby in the woods. I was unable to locate it on my visit. The 6.8 round trip hike trailhead can be found at 44.134180, -74.646100. For detailed information on the hike, visit AllTrails.


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