Township 40

     The Township 40 disputed titles issue has made great progress.  In November the NY State constitutional amendment #4 passed with a 73% vote, the second highest ever for an amendment regarding the Forest Preserve.  We owe thanks to a great many people and organizations for that effort.

   All disputed property owners received paperwork to opt in or out of the settlement.  If opting in, owners are asked if they wish to gift a part of their land to the State or a conservation easement to the Town of Long Lake.   All of the disputed property owners opted in.

     The real source of the township title issues are a series of “Tax Sales” conducted by the State of New York during the 1800s that in 1924 the New York State Court of Appeals held to be illegal.  

     The Comptroller directed the county to collect no taxes, then conducted a tax sale since taxes hadn’t been paid.  The current owners were not allowed to pay taxes due, and in one case were physically barred by the Sheriff of Hamilton County from paying their taxes and attending the tax sales.   The law provided that land owners had two years from the date of the sale for “redemption” of back taxes.  No redemption notices were ever sent ,  nor were the residents allowed to ‘redeem’ their property.  The justification by the State was the lands were “wild, vacant and forest lands” and needed for economic development of the region.    I am not an attorney, but I find it interesting that after each ‘purchase’ by the State, the Comptroller sold the entire Township to various developers.   When the residents complained loud enough, the State served notice of ejectment on the residents based on State ownership through the tax sale deeds.    How can the State still own land they just sold?   Suppose this was your home?  

    The practice of quitclaiming (or adverse possession) was an accepted practice during the early 1800s.  The homesteading of the ‘frontier’ was not just in the west.    The census figures for the early 1800s show there were numerous residents in Raquette Lake.  They were homesteaders:  farmers, trappers, guides, and eventually hotel owners.   [Check out our history page for an overview.]  The owner of record when the State of New York was created was Robert G. Livingston.   Quitclaiming was done by occupying a ‘claim’, filing a claim, paying taxes and making improvements.   The owner of record had to ‘throw you off’ or you eventually could be ruled as the owner.   When New York State came into existence, the Township was determined by Governor Clinton to be privately owned.   Thus none of the quitclaim deeds in Township 40 were against State owned land.    The Court of Appeals held that NYS never owned any land in Township 40 until 1897 when Dr Webb (who purchased land from the State as a result of a since declared illegal tax sale) donated 2000 unsurveyed acres to the State.    Note the “unsurveyed”.   

     In 1953 the Attorney General for New York State wrote, “The tax deeds running to the State have been held unenforceable.  While our paper title to all Township 40 has been held to be good as to the portions conveyed, the courts have recognized the title of those occupants who were in possession prior to the date of the deed into the State’s grantor. “

     In 1895, the people of the State of New York created the Forest Preserve.   Once land is placed into the Forest Preserve it can only be withdrawn by constitutional amendment or Court Order, thus the need for a constitutional amendment on Raquette Lake. 

      Who is holding the State of New York accountable for its robber baron practices for the 1800s?  What is interesting is that the State needs to clear its title claim to the lake bottom, miles of lake shore, and several thousand acres of land it claims but does not have recognized title to.  

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Raquette Lake Preservation Foundation, Inc.

          The purpose of the foundation is to promote the cooperation and friendship among the inhabitants of the area and to unite its members in the material understanding of Raquette Lake, New York and its problems; so that the entire membership will go forward in carrying out the preservation and conservation of Raquette Lake and its watershed through education, advocacy and broad based community involvement.