Establishing the Experimental Game Farm

Excerpted from Five Rivers: The History of a Special Place

The Delmar Experimental Game Farm, the forerunner of Five Rivers, owes its beginning in 1933 to a dramatic decline in ruffed grouse. Wild turkeys, wood ducks, beaver, and even deer had almost disappeared from the area, thanks to unregulated hunting and loss of habitat. The ruffed grouse, or partridge, was a popular game bird because its erratic escape flight made it a challenging target, but it was also heavily hunted and even trapped year round during the Depression to supply the table.

Many of the most effective and committed early conservationists (like Theodore Roosevelt) were hunters and anglers, and the New York hunting community was upset by the loss of the popular game species. They pressured state government to address the problem.

Arthur A. Allen of Cornell University was already engaged in research to describe the full life cycle of the ruffed grouse. One of Allen’s protégés, Gardiner Bump, was pursuing related research at a NYS Conservation Department site at Connecticut Hill near Ithaca. Bump moved to Delmar in 1929, planning to raise and study grouse. The Department’s Commissioner at the time, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., told Bump “Find [a farm] that you want and we’ll buy it.”

Find one he did—a 113 acre farm in two parcels in Delmar and New Scotland owned by Edward and Catherine Ackerman. There were cornfields near the Vlomankill, a large wheat field in the area now surrounded by the North Loop Trail, and several orchards. In 1933 the Conservation Department bought the land for $10,000. The Ackerman Farm would become the core of the future Five Rivers, and was the first two of sixteen purchases that would bring together the 446 acres that are the Center today.

Shortly thereafter, the Civilian Conservation Corps, a key feature of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” set up CCC Camp S-72 on the site to assist the state in developing the Game Farm. The CCC workers became an invaluable resource in the effort, constructing paths, roads, ponds, walls, and dams. They also modified existing buildings to create laboratories and temperature controlled breeding houses, and installed water and sewer systems connecting all the buildings.