The Bozenkill Lake Corp. flier reads like it was written yesterday.
The advertisement describes Duane Lake, in southern Duanesburg, as a serene setting where homeowners can avoid the bustle of city living and enjoy all that nature offers, a place that feels like a mountain retreat, but “is near at hand” to the urban areas of the Capital Region.
“Duane Lake has been designed to embody the dreams of many city dwellers who, tired of the turmoil of city life, wish to dwell among the peaceful and pleasant surroundings of the rolling hills and woods,” the company proclaims.
The Bozenkill Lake Corp. dissolved more than two decades ago, and the flier it used to pitch its ambitious plan to build a lakefront resort in Duanesburg was printed during the late 1920s.
But the description in the flier is still essentially accurate, even if it took the corporation more than a half-century to achieve it. Duane Lake offers its residents a peaceful life amid nature, untouched by the urgency of city life.
“It’s beautiful and it’s quiet,” said Annie Kennedy, a Brooklyn native who moved her family to the lake 10 years ago. “It’s a really neat community.”
About 320 people populate the 150 houses around the 36-acre lake, which is around 32 feet deep at its deepest. No motor craft are allowed on the triangle-shaped lake and often the loudest noise is the croak of resident bullfrogs.
It’s almost hard to believe that something as pristine as Duane Lake was carved by the hand of man. It’s also hard to fathom that its cool waters were once nothing more than a swampy marshland left over from a much larger lake made by one of Duanesburg’s most prominent residents.
The land surrounding the lake was once part of a 1,000-acre gift Duanesburg founder James Duane presented to William North, a Revolutionary War officer who married Duane’s eldest daughter, Mary, in 1787. The couple completed a home on the lake around 1793 and established a gristmill on the Bozenkill, but found its waters would often slow to a trickle during the summer months.
As a solution, North decided to dam a small spring-fed tributary on his property to flood roughly 100 acres. The result was North’s Pond, according to a history of the lake compiled by Dave Vincent, who now lives in the historic North mansion.
The pond remained unchanged for nearly a century, until North’s heirs sold the bulk of the property to Joseph and Mary McQuade, a couple who farmed the land. With the advent of steam power during the mid-19th century, the water was no longer needed to power the gristmill, thereby making North’s pond superfluous.
For the McQuades, farmland was a greater commodity than the reservoir, so they decided to destroy North’s dam and till the pond bed to use it for agriculture. But by the 1920s, they were struggling to maintain the farm and entertained the idea of selling off the land.
Meanwhile in Schenectady, an ambitious plan was being concocted to buy the McQuade farm and make it into a waterfront resort. Developers Mason Hall, Edmund Waller and Arthur Golden purchased about 400 acres from the farmers in 1926, including the 18th century dam and pond bed.
They built a larger, concrete dam, creating the lake as it appears today. The trio began offering the 52 deed-restricted building lots in 1928 and appeared to be well on their way to creating the idyllic community they advertised.
Everything changed on Black Friday the following year. The stock market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression and halting the ambitious plans of the Bozenkill Lake Corp.
The lake lots remained vacant except for a handful of modest cabins. The developers were eager enough to get out of their investment that they even offered to sell the entire property to Altamont for $80,000, as a drinking water reservoir for the village.
Altamont declined, leaving the Bozenkill Lake Corp. to sit on its investment for decades. The plots gradually sold as the nation emerged from the Depression, and roughly half the lake was settled by the 1950s.
The remaining assets of the corporation were bought by a trio of investors in 1955, and the remaining land was developed. Still, many of the company’s original deed restrictions remained, meaning the original vision for the lake was preserved.
Motorized vehicles were prohibited from the lake and commercial businesses were banned from its shores. All of the property was kept residential, meaning hotels and inns were barred.
“It’s a little piece of paradise here,” said Vincent, who has lived on the lake since buying the North Mansion in 1988.
The Duane Lake Association is a voluntary organization charged with monitoring the lake, which is populated primarily by year-round residents. The 2010 census found that only 13 of the 152 residences around the lake are used as vacation homes.
About the only thing that has changed around the lake since the Bozenkill Lake Corp. days are the property values. The average home is valued at about $168,000, or roughly twice the price the company had asked for the entire 400-acre property in 1931.
It’s no surprise, considering how glowingly the Duane Lake residents speak of their community. They host neighborhood barbecues during the height of summer and roving home-to-home dinners amid the frost of winter.
“Typically, it’s 20 degrees below zero and the winds blowing, but we’re out there,” Vincent said of the mid-winter roving feast.
It’s not uncommon for lake visitors to become entranced by its beauty. That’s what happened the Rich and Annie Kennedy, who used to visit an in-law at the lake until buying a home there in 2001.
The couple originally bought a four-bedroom ranch on the lake as a vacation home. But they were quickly won over by the lake’s serenity and decided it would be a great place to raise their young son, Richie.
Their desire to move to the lake was such that Rich Kennedy even commuted to the New York City area for his job for two years. He’d stay in rental property on weekdays and return to Duane Lake for weekends.
It all paid off in the end, Annie Kennedy said. Now they can live out the vision the Bozenkill Lake Corp. began sculpting out of farmland more than 85 years ago.
“We just love the natural beauty and the serenity,” she said. “We just love it.”