Aquaculture Comes to Maryland
By Champ Zumbrun
“Remember, no man ever caught a trout in a dirty place.”
- Motto of Robert B. Roosevelt, Fish Commissioner for New York
Gus W. Delawder (c.1840s -1906) was an early settler of Oakland, Maryland. Here, Gus married and raised a family including two sons and two daughters. For more than thirty years Gus supported his family working as an agent for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In 1874. Delawder served on the Oakland School Board. Being prominent in his community as a “democrat from the old school,” Delawder in 1879 held the office of “Burgess” of Oakland, a position equivalent to the duties of town mayor. People perhaps best knew Delawder for his role from 1883 to 1891 as “Commissioner of Fisheries” representing “Maryland’s western shore” from Baltimore to Garrett County.
Gus lived during a time when people were alarmed at the decline of fish that were once abundant. Growing human populations and expanding settlements had polluted waterways. Abusive logging of forests with no thought of regeneration and poor farming practices created conditions for mass erosion. These poor agricultural practices resulted in massive deposits of sediment and silt into waterways, destroying fish habitat. Neither catch limits nor environmental laws were yet in place to protect fish habitat or keep waters clean from mills, factories, and towns. Standard practices allowed the dumping of raw sewage and industrial wastes from mills and factories into rivers.
In 1870, Maryland Governor Oden Bowie was acutely aware of the oyster and fish crisis occurring in in his state. Oden spoke to a reporter stating, “Secondary to the oyster industry, the river fisheries of shad, herring, and other fish, once of great value had gone to decay. Landings on which once produced a rental of thousands of dollars annually …now scarily yield hundreds.” Bowie recognized how the cost of cured fish had risen “fully five hundred percent higher than it was forty years earlier.” The governor yearned to return to the days when Maryland was a large exporter of fish instead of an importer.
Governor Bowie had heard of the success the state of New York was achieving in the field of “pisciculture”, or more commonly called today, “aquaculture.” This skill involves breeding, hatching, and rearing fish under controlled conditions and stocking them in rivers and streams for food and sport. Perhaps Maryland could learn from New York and apply what they were and doing and revive their state’s fish industry.
In February 1870, Governor Bowie invited New Yorker Robert B. Roosevelt, Uncle of Theodore Roosevelt, to speak to both houses of the Maryland legislature in Annapolis and share his knowledge, experiences, and accomplishments in aquaculture. It was “Uncle Rob,” as Theodore Roosevelt called him, who influenced T. R. Roosevelt as a teenager to become an avid conservation crusader.
R. B. Roosevelt made pisciculture the “specialty of his life and had attained the grandest results.” A tireless crusader for fish and wildlife, New York officials recognized Roosevelt as the leading conservationist in their state. Roosevelt made significant contributions to save fish and wildlife, especially in the position he served as head of the New York Fish Commission.
On March 16, 1870, R.B.Roosevelt presented a highly interesting, “able and instructive address” to a joint session of the Maryland legislature in Annapolis just before they adjourned, Roosevelt informed Maryland politicians what New York was doing to restore their fish and oysters. His encouraging talk emphasized the importance of protecting fisheries; how cultivating fish was an important means of enlarging and increasing food supplies for the population; and that the culture of fish could add “immensely to the wealth of the state.”
Roosevelt’s talk so inspired the members of legislature that they appropriated $2,000 to defray expenses for the New York Fish Commissioners to train several individuals in Maryland on how to stock their state’s streams and water bodies with fish. Things went slowly for several years. Legislature had a difficult time finding men with practical experience in the art and science of fish culture.
In 1874, four years after R. B. Roosevelt’s address in Annapolis, Legislature passed an Act establishing the Fish Commissioners of Maryland. One of the qualified men officials eventually found to serve as Fish Commissioner was Gus W. Delawder. Gus evidently received personal training from R.B. Roosevelt and other fish commissioners from New York.
The country would soon recognize Gus W. Delawder, like R. B. Roosevelt in New York, as a noted authority on ‘pisciculture in America.” Delawder impressed all who knew him with his “superior knowledge of fish and their habits.” Gus perfected and improved procedures to collect and hatch fish in great numbers and successfully brought them to maturity. Gus not only spawned fish, but also he would play an important role in giving birth to the conservation movement, not only in Maryland, but also across America.
Gus W. Delawder along with his wealthy business partner and friend, T. Harrison Garrett, son of John W. Garrett, purchased a little more than 1,000 acres of mountain land along Deep Creek off present Rock Lodge Road. By 1883, Delawder constructed a dam where Cherry Creek and Deep Creek meet and just north of Meadow Mountain Creek across from present Thayersville Cemetery on Rt. 219. At that time there was an old bridge that ran across Deep Creek halfway between present Rt. 219 Deep Creek Bridge and Glendale Bridge.
Each year Delawder stocked Lake Cleveland with
50,000 to 60,000 fish. This bounty included the “finest and largest”
native mountain brook trout. Delawder also stocked the lake with rainbow
trout from California that weighed from five to seven pounds as well as
with “land-locked” salmon from Maine that weighed from five to seven
Delawder enhanced the edges of the lake luxuriously with wild oats,
wild rice, and water grasses. This not only improved the fish habitat,
but this also attracted many types of waterfowl during storm events when
migrating birds such as mallards, redhead canvasback ducks, and swans
passed back and forth over the Alleghenies. Sportsmen from around the
country who visited this site considered this the “best sport with a rod
and a gun to be found on this side of the Atlantic." David Delawder,
Gus’s son, caught an 18-inch brook trout weighing two and one-quarter
pounds from these waters.
Delawder and Garrett also built a hunting and fishing lodge on their
property. This “cottage in the wilderness” was located near present Rock
Lodge Road. The dwelling sat about fifty yards from the lake’s edge
near the conjunction of Deep Creek and Cherry Creek.
A reporter described the “magnificent mountain lake” Delawder created as being approximately one mile long and over a quarter of a mile wide. Travelers could view Delawder’s lake as they traveled on the road corridor of present Route 219 across from Thayerville cemetery.
The lake was about nine miles northeast of Oakland. Visitors to the lake from Oakland, Deer Park, and the Glades Star Hotel reached the lake by traveling over “a delightful mountain road.” Bounded on the east by Meadow Mountain and on the west by Roman Nose Mountain, “the lake formed a beautiful mirror in the picturesque valley made by these two mountains.” Because of the nutrient rich backwaters that fed this lake, it was “thought that no place in the United States” surpassed this body of water “for feeding and maintaining fish that supported “the choicest of brook trout found anywhere on the east coast.”
The borders of the lake were “irregular,” and its water, “the color of weak coffee,” varied in depth from an inch to ten feet. Deep Creek and Cherry Creek and innumerable lakebed springs supplied the lake with water. In 1886, Delawder named this basin of water “Lake Cleveland” in honor of President Grover Cleveland who spent a memorable day fishing with Delawder at this property.
Delawder and Garrett also built a hunting and fishing lodge on their property. This “cottage in the wilderness” was located near present Rock Lodge Road. The dwelling sat about fifty yards from the lake’s edge near the conjunction of Deep Creek and Cherry Creek.
President Grover Cleveland Fishing at Deep Creek
To aid in the “wonderful” fishing and hunting opportunities, Delawder provided for his clients boats and decoys. The boats were of several different styles that were moored about fifty yards from the lodge. One such craft Gus provided was “a sneak boat” designed for “drifting down on wild ducks that alighted on the lake.” Gus also owned a miniature-scale steamboat for “pleasure trips” on Lake Cleveland.
Sportsmen spoke in “glowing terms” that no matter the season one could expect to find, “good sport all year round either with a gun or rod at Delawder’s “mountain paradise.” Sportsmen came from “Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Cincinnati, and New York and other places” to fish or hunt ruffed grouse, jacksnipe, woodcock, deer, black bear, and pheasant with Delawder as their personal field guide.
One reporter described the lodge as being a one story, “commodious” eight-room cabin “of picturesque design” with a “wide porch of east lake style partly bounding the dwelling.” Delawder assembled the building in a unique way using only nuts and bolts, not using a single nail. Accouterments included a well-stocked icehouse, a buggy-house along with a garden that contained “the finest varieties of celery and other vegetables” when in season.
Upon entering the front door, the visitor encountered a dining room, “which was extraordinarily furnished” and supplied with first class accessories. Around the room guests saw “strewn about the room flags, fishing rods, loaders, powder cans, shot and shells.” Game hunters were especially impressed with Delawder’s ornately decorated over under model 600 - 12-gauge shotgun. An unusual gun for its time, T. Harrison Garrett gave Gus the gun as a gift, a present Delawder prized and treasured.
If one looked either right or left, patrons would see “bedrooms neatly and comfortably furnished,” with T. Harrison Garrett’s bedroom noticeably adorned better than the other rooms. In Gus’s room, guests were surprised to notice a barrel of locally distilled old whiskey resting on a trestle four feet from his bed. After an expedition hunting or fishing, Delawder treated “tired sportsmen“ returning to the lodge to a wonderfully refreshing “restorative,” carefully dispensed through a rubber tube connected to the “bung-hole” of the barrel. Although friends described Delawder as a temperate man, he was not beyond sharing some “liquid cheer” with his fellow sportsmen. Gus gave his guests the impression that without his visitors sharing in a few drinks, the liquor Delawder kept in his bedroom would otherwise “disappear from evaporation.”
The whiskey was distilled about two miles from Lake Cleveland from mountain rye, which imbibers praised as making better whiskey than grain from the lowlands. This particular brand was hard to come by for demand for it was great. Locals living near the lodge often consumed the liquor before individuals could market it outside the area. In fact, the drink was such a delicacy that Delawder did not allow guests to take samples out of the lodge. However, on one occasion, Delawder made an exception to his rule by sending to Arizona two barrels of the refreshing restorative to his friend, General George Crook.
In February 1892, Gus’s friend, R. T. Browning, the grandson of the famous Garrett County frontiersman and hunter Meshach Browning, succeeded Delawder as Fish Commissioner. In 1893, at the site of present Glendale Bridge, Browning oversaw the construction of a second water impoundment on Deep Creek that officials named Lake Brown after Maryland Governor Frank Brown (1892 -1896).
In addition to native brook trout, Fish Commissioner R. T. Browning stocked Lake Brown with salmon, California trout, and rainbow trout. In 1900, R. Getty Browning caught from this lake the largest brook trout on record at 17 inches and weighing three pounds. R. Getty Browning later gained fame when he on foot surveyed and mapped the Blue Ridge Parkway, now part of the National Park Service.
The primary purpose for stocking fish at Lake Brown was to furnish people who visited Oakland, Deer Park, and Mountain Lake Park with fresh fish, and provide the opportunity for the public to enjoy the sport of quality mountain fishing. Lake Brown on Deep Creek may be one of the first publically funded Maryland state projects for the sole purpose of providing public access for fishing and outdoor recreation.
In the next edition of this story, I will discuss in more detail the many distinguished visitors that traveled to Garrett County from all across the country to enjoy “sport” at Lake Cleveland with Gus W. Delawder. These notable individuals included wealthy business executives, high-level politicians, scientists, and sportsmen including President Grover Cleveland, Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester of the US Forest Service, and the wife and children of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Brinkley, D. (2009). The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 77-92. Robert. B. Roosevelt’s national influence on the conservation of fish Brinkley covers in depth in this section of this excellent book.
Delawder's Deep Creek: A Beautiful Mountain Retreat For a Lone Fisherman and His Friends. (1886, December 12). The Times - Philadelphia, p. 12.
Fish Culture In Maryland. (1870, November 15). Baltimore Sun, p. 4. Note: This article mentions R. B. Roosevelt's talk to the two houses of legislature in Annapolis
Hunting Pheasants: Sport in Garrett County - Good Trout Fishing There Too. (1889, November 23). Baltimore Sun, p. 5.
Powell, Albert M. (1967). Historical Information of Maryland Commission of Fisheries With Some Notes On Game . p. 14. Unpublished.
Note: This valuable document should be published for posterity.
Note: A more complete bibliography will be provided in Part II of this article.
Special thanks for their assistance in preparing this article go out to the following:
Bob Boal and members of the Garrett County Historical Society
Alan Klotz and Susan Rivers of the Department of Natural Resources, Freshwater Fisheries
Illustration of boy fishing. This sketch is from "Fish Hatching and Fish Catching," by Seth Green and R. B. Roosevelt, published in 1879.
Fish Hatchery: This sketch is from "Report of the Commissioners of Fisheries of Maryland" submitted by Gus. W. Delawder published in 1889 by George T. Melvin, State Printer, Annapolis, Maryland.
Illustration of Seth Green demonstrating proper position to take spawn from a salmon trout: This sketch is from "Fish Hatching and Fish Catching," by Seth Green and R. B. Roosevelt, published in 1879.
Illustration of President Grover Cleveland Fishing at Deep Creek (public domain)
Land Locked Salmon: This sketch is from "Report of the Commissioners of Fisheries of Maryland" submitted Gus. W. Delawder published in 1889 by George T. Melvin, State Printer, Annapolis, Maryland.