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Minding the Store (Editorial)

Minding the Store: The Anglers Association, the unofficial key development agency of the 1880s.

The Anglers Association of the 1880s may be largely forgotten today, but deserves to be recalled for its role in developing the resort and possibly as an object lesson for today.  We present a copy of Haddocks article about the Anglers Association, together with some period newspaper items and our observations from today's perspective.

Considering development of the resort presently, we might ask today, “who's minding the store?  Back in the 1880s the answer was somewhat clearer:  the Angle’ Association of the St. Lawrence.  This group  was the power broker, the collective mover and shaker for development on the river and for environmental protection.  It served as liaison with government and to some degree co-opted government by introducing programs, simply carrying officialdom along within its membership as a rubber stamp.

The Anglers Association of the St. Lawrence was somewhat a phantom organization, without prominent signs of Mrs.Bacon's Muskie, Paul Malo collectioninstitutional identity:  no headquarters building or imposing letterhead embellished with prominent names.  The association was simply a casual club of like-minded river buffs who shared intense concern for this place and who were strongly motivated to act, spontaneously and impulsively. Wealth and power, of course, enable this sort of operating:

“The Anglers Association is now one of the most powerful organizations of its kind in the state, having in its ranks all of the wealthy men from different parts of the country who annually visit the islands as well as many of the most prominent citizens of the river towns.  The importance of the work which has been accomplished and is now being done by this association in the interests of the the Thousand Islands region can not be over-estimated.” (Utica Sunday Journal, October 28, 1900).

The club functioned simply by having a few social events annually one billed as the annual meeting.  What transpired at meetings was less important that who came:  everyone who had something to contribute something like fame, wealth, and influence.  No one wanted to be left out of this club.

The power of the Anglers Association was its membership, collectively representing a significant sector of North Americas industrial and commercial leadership.

The nominal agenda of the Anglers Association, as the name implied, was improved fishing. But the enthusiasms of the club were broader, envisioning, for instance, creation of an international park at the Thousand Islands.  This almost happened, which might have left us, instead of the patchwork of national, state, and provincial parks that we have today, a single international park of far greater renown.  In fact, the groundwork for our present regional park system was laid by the Anglers Association.

Bing an activist organization, the Anglers Association inevitably became politically embroiled.  The issue: “immense quantities of bass have been taken in nets on what are known as the Charity shoals of the foot of the lake near Cape Vincent.”  Reading between the lines in Haddocks article, which follows, one may discern tension within Jefferson county about the Associations high-handed seizures and public burnings of fish nets, (987 seized and destroyed in 1884) intended to put commercial fisherman out of business.  This altercation between the locals and “summer people” is even more evident, reading contemporary newspaper accounts.

WLW-TheVisionoftheAnglersAssoc_LawrenceRiver_9AA8-fishing_45 A populist might be inclined to side with the local commercial fishermen, for whom this was a matter of livelihood, not merely sport, rather than the elite recreational fishermen.  Without question, the Associations methods were extra-legal, pursued with arrogant confidence about the political power of the membership (which included government officials, Canadian as well as U.S.).

On the other hand, the association was effective in writing fishing laws, even if the means employed the cronyism of the Old Boy network:

The codification commissioners, who were appointed at the last session of the legislature to codify the fish and game laws of the St. Lawrence river arrived at Clayton Saturday morning, where they were royally entertained by the resident members of the anglers association.  Shortly after ten o'clock the private steamer W. B, owned by W. H. Hayden, carried the whole party for a trip among the islands.  General R. U. Sherman of New Hartford, the chairman of the codification committee … spoke as follows:  We are going to-day to take a survey of the various bays where illegal fishing is practiced, and also Eel bay, where Dr. Sargent, president of the Jefferson county anglers association, holds property.  We believe public sentiment is in favor the anglers association.  We propose to give a hearing to the representatives of both sides of the fishing question on the St. Lawrence, so as to codify the laws properly.  We want to make a compromise with the fishermen.” (Utica Morning Herald, July 22, 1890).

James S, Whipple, Fish Commissioner of New York State, acknowledged that “a law cannot be enforced without public sentiment behind it and that this meant the influence of the Angler’s Association is needed in enforcing the game laws.” (Utica Herald, August 2, 1906).

Origin of the Anglers Association of the St. Lawwrence  was reported in 1884:

The unblushing effrontery of many fishermen along the banks of the St, Larwrence in unlawfully depopulating this stream could not forever remain unchecked.  Having for its mission the punishment of these marauders and the ensuring of better fishing in the future, the Anglers association of the state of New York [sic] was formed in Albany last October. Foremost in this movment was W.W.Byington a prominent insurance agent of that city.  In the work of the assocation Mr. Byington has been indefatigable, and it is to his efforts, in a large measure, that the association has been so successful during the past year.  He is greatly interested in his pet scheme and can tell more about it than any other man.   Another hard worker has been John J. Flanagan, the associations president.  His aid has been invaluable and has added greatly to the strength of the movement.  Some idea of the extent of the work may be gained from the statement:  that where over 50 tons of game fish were taken from the St. Lawrence unlawfully last year, few have been taken this season.  The first annual meeting was held a Clayton Wednesday evening at which time plans of work for the ensuing year were discussed.”  (Syracuse Standard, August 9, 1884.  It seems clear that the organization was not the “Anglers Association of the State of New York [sic], but the Anglers Association of the St. Lawrence River).

Anglers’ Association of the St. Lawrence River

John Haddock

The sole aim of the organizers of the Anglers Association of the St. Lawrence River was perpetuation of game fishing in the St. Lawrence River.  Probably no one of the persons active in its organization had any other idea in view;  but they builded better than they knew. 

At the time, matters on the St. Lawrence River were at a stand-still; there were very few persons going there for the sake of fishing, for the simple reason that, owing to the activity of the netters,  it had been almost destroyed.  But a small number of the islands had cottages built upon them.  There were a few people who passed down the river on tourists tickets from Niagara Falls to Montreal, but there no inducements for them to stop over on the way.  Some of the anglers who had resorted to the river for many years for fishing sill continued their yearly visits.   The organization of the new Anglers Association created a sort of excitement in reference to the possibilities to be accomplished by it, so that its members lived for two or three years upon faith, believing that the efforts of the Association in ridding the river of netters, would very soon have its effect in much better fishing.  Its members continued to visit the river year after year, and to induce their friends to do the same.  The results of the exertions of the Anglers Association are now known in every one who is interested and its efforts have been attended with so great success that it is now possible, and has been for the last three years, for any angler to ogtain all the game fish he desires.  The object of the organization of the Association as thus been effected  in part by incddreasing the supply of game fish in the river, and din part by ridding the rier of fish pirates.  Its efforst in preenting net fishing will not bge at all sladcened, but will, on the contrary, be increased.

The material benefits which have come from the efforts of the Anglers Association of the St. Lawwrence River have been entirely unexpected but they are, however, no less welcome.   As an object lesson which should be carefully read, marked and inwardly digested, the following facts are given, showing the material benefits which have come to Jefferson county from the organization of the Anglers Association of the St. Lawrence River.

Jefferson county, the county lying along the St. Lawrence River from Cape Vincent to a point fifteen miles below Alexandria Bay, covering a distance of over forty miles, embracing the celebrated Thousand Islands, is naturally one the most attractive regions in the country for the tourist and sportsman.  Its exquisite river scenery, its banks and islands and its delightful air leave nothing to be desired, if the fishing is good.

There were in 1894 about 600 persons employed as oarsmen on the river;  in 1883 there about 20 employed in connection with steam and other boats;  in 1883 there may have been thirty.  There were last summer forty hotels, capable of accommodating 5,000 people.  Six years ago the hotels could accommodate scarcely a thousand.  Besides these there are now thirty boarding-houses with a capacity of 500 guests;  there are between 600 and 700 cottages used exclusively by summer residents.

From $1,000,000 to $1,250,000 were spent on the river last summer by tourists, exclusive of railroad fares.   A large and increasing business has also grown up in building steam yachts and the celebrated St. Lawrence River skiffs.

Here, then, is a veritable gold mine lying at the feet of Jefferson county, by which every resident of the county is benefited either by a reduction in his taxes, by being given employment, or in his business.  The population of Jefferson county is 66,000, every one of whom is constantly being benefited by the Anglers Association.  That is one side of the question.  The other is this:  there were during the netting season of 1888 about sixty or seventy persons engaged in illegal net fishing within he limits of the county, and of this number more than one-half were non-residents.  When it is borne in mind that these net fishers do not make nearly as much if allowed to carry on their netting as ordinary farm workers, it will be at once apparent that Jefferson county could, as a business speculation, afford to hire and pay them a fair salary to remain perfectly idle, and to pension them in their old age.

The total tax assessed against the town of Alexandria (the central point on the river) was $10,906,97, [sic], of which $2,351,28 [sic] was paid by summer property holders.  In other words, nearly 22 per cent of the taxes of the town of Alexandria was paid by summer property owners. The assessed value of summer hotels and island property, in the town of Alexandria in 1888 was $256,000, the basis of the assessment being one-third of the actual value, while the total amount assessed was $1,218,029.

The organization of fish protection associations accomplishes three distinct things, protects, the fish, furnishes the people with cheap fish food, and last, but not least, is of enormous material benefit to the surrounding county.”

Regarding the question about who's minding the store today?”  We might ask, how was the situation different in the 1880s from the condition today?  We have Save the River, the Thousand Islands Land Trust, the Thousand Islands Association, and many other worthy river organizations.  The difference was structural:  today our organizations are largely staff-driven.  Members are probably less passionately involved as activists in the programs of the organizations.  Rather, members of the organizations serve largely to contribute financial support for the staff.  The supposition seems to be that, if we all do our duty and make our annual donations, the staff will get the job done.   This is not quite the same as hands-on seizing, hauling and burning commercial fishing nets.  The passion has waned.

By Paul Malo, May 2008

Posted in: From the Editor
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