It seems hard to believe, but Las Vegas was once only desert land. Syracuse was nothing but a swamp. Crumhorn Mountain and its lake was hardly a paradise either, before the mid-1880s.
From "An Early History of the Town of Milford," the Crumhorn area "was considered a tract of land almost worthless, created by the Almighty as a heritage for wild beasts and rattlesnakes."
Someone or a group of individuals thought improvements could be made to harsh land, so Las Vegas and Syracuse were transformed into what they are today. For Crumhorn, the Hon. David Wilber saw potential in the land and the lake where his father, Isaac, had settled nearby in 1837. The Wilber family didn't own the lake area.
It was reported in all area newspapers in April 1886 that the land was for sale. The area had been slightly improved upon since the 1830s. The Oneonta Herald of April 15, 1886, reported, "It is understood that if the sale of Crumhorn lake is made as advertised, it is to be bought by parties whose intention it is to build a large summer hotel near its banks. The lake … is one of the most attractive little sheets of water in the state, and it seems plausible that a first-rate summer hotel might be made to pay up there."
Not everyone was pleased with the idea of the area near the lake being sold to a private developer. A petition against the sale was circulating around the area.
An event called The Picnic on the Crumhorn took place on Tuesday, June 8. It wasn't really a picnic but people were invited to express their opinions on the sale of the land. The Otsego Farmer reported that nearly 2,000 gathered on the grounds and those who circulated among the crowd claimed "that nine-tenths were in favor of selling and improving." Lt. Gov. Jones and Mr. Hall of the state Attorney General's office arrived and moderated the discussion.
The June 17 Herald reported in favor of the private sector. "Crumhorn lake … was sold at Albany, yesterday, to Hon. David Wilber, the purchase price being five hundred dollars."
Wilber wasted no time in improving the area. It was reported on July 2, "D. Wilber has purchased five fancy boats in Cooperstown; these will be used especially for pleasure parties on Crumhorn lake. He has his men and teams clearing up the underbrush and putting the picnic grounds in order." A 40-by-60-foot building was under construction to accommodate the public, once found where today's ranger station is at Camp Henderson of the Otschodela Boy Scout Council.
While the construction and improvement projects were under way there were "elaborate preparations … being made for the removal of the 'sea serpent' to Crumhorn."
Details were kept secret and reports soon went silent, but people claimed they had seen "a large object that slowly raised itself, showing at least four feet of its body, which was large around as a barrel. The head was a large as a cow's head and the two forward fins were at least two feet long."
Just as with the Loch Ness and Lake Champlain creatures, also known as Nessie and Champy, "Crummie" remains part of the local lake's folklore.
H.C. Richmond leased the brand new Crumhorn Mountain House and opened for business on Saturday, Aug. 7, 1886.
The House and lake became popular very quickly for locals and distant travelers alike. An advertisement in the June 14, 1903, New York Daily Tribune infers that the House was popular to city residents desiring the cool mountain air during the summer.
The Crumhorn Mountain House remained popular until the Great Depression years. The resort was destroyed by fire sometime in the late 1930s.
The Otschodela Boy Scout Council purchased the land in the mid-1940s and opened today's Camp Henderson in 1948.
Donald Tuttle has served on the camp staff in several capacities since the late 1950s. Tuttle became acquainted with a friend of the family, Myrtle Brown, who was once a housemaid at the resort.
Brown once told Tuttle a story of when doing the laundry how they boiled the linens after vacationers departed. There were fears that the city clientele may have been carrying the much dreaded tuberculosis disease at the time.
Next weekend: As the newspaper will not be published Monday, the story of East Street developer Daniel Trinkino will be told.
City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www. oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.