A stranger gifts 100 acres of land in Elka Park

File photo

A 1910 story about a part-time Elka Park resident and his gift of a 100-acre piece of land to the College of Forestry at Syracuse University. (The university started in 1870, adding forestry in July 1911.)

John R. Strong, a retired attorney of New York City, donated his vast piece of property in Elka Park to the College. He wanted it to be an experimental station in the education of agriculture. The place had been Strong’s summer home for many years, but he found it difficult spending time there after his wife’s death.

Strong had experience as a lumberman. He also had a lifetime of interest in forestry. These factors led to his decision to donate the 100-plus acres of land on Mink Hollow Road to the College. His property was very close to the Elka Park Cottagers’ private club.

Strong’s interest and love of forests had forbidden him to cut a tree; therefore, his land had an impressive growth of hardwoods with many hemlock and spruce.

Little was known about the growth rate of trees in the Catskills. Also unknown was which trees were best adapted to the climate. The College of Forestry had been recently established, and those questions were to be addressed, “a forester will be housed there and maintain an efficient research station. It is expected that the track will be used yearly for educational purposes and that the College’s sophomore class will camp there eight weeks each summer for practical work.”

“The land is all original forest,” said Mr. Strong, “and has never been touched for lumbering purposes, although it is surrounded by denuded land which was slashed in the most unscientific and wasteful way.”

Strong knew that conserving the country’s forest wealth could not be solved by the individual landowner; the state needed to help.

Dean Baker of Syracuse University walked the land with Strong, considering it from all points of view. Afterward, Baker agreed it would make an ideal location for a student’s educational station. Strong also donated his large summer home for the students and teachers.

Strong’s interest in forestry had been active for years. He was a member of the American Forestry Association, the Massachusetts Forestry Association and the Society for the Protection of the New Hampshire Forests.

Strong was the grandson of the late Samuel B. Ruggles, who donated Gramercy Park to New York City. Ruggles was also prominent in the campaign for the enlargement of the Erie Canal.

In 1914, the first automobile was acquired and used to transport the students to and from Strong’s Catskill Summer Camp, four miles south of Tannersville. The students were housed in two-person tents, with an additional two tents serving as the kitchen and mess hall. The program, lasting eight weeks, included surveying, mapmaking, timber estimating and some work in tree identification.

The private Elka Park Club had opened 25 years before this, but historic stories tell us the Syracuse students and the Elka Cottagers had a close liaison.

(Recently, I sent a letter of inquiry to Syracuse University concerning the Catskill Summer Camp and its history. I will inform you if I hear anything about it.)

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1


(1) comment


Hi there, great story. You may have better luck reaching out to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry about the summer camp. Syracuse college of Forestry became SUNY ESF over time, and ESF keeps great records of their history.

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