In 1893, William Seward Webb sued the state of New York for damages he claimed to have suffered from the flooding of the Beaver River, after the original dam was enlarged by the state. The higher water, said Webb, interfered with his ability to remove standing timber from his lands that bordered the river.
Central to Webb’s case was his assertion that the Beaver River and its tributaries were a “natural highway” for the transport of his logs and timber starting from its source in Lake Lila (also known as Smith’s Lake).
In 1896, while Webb’s case was pending in court, the state settled with him after the legislature appropriated $600,000 to purchase seventy-five thousand acres. Today, most of the Webb Purchase lies within the Five Ponds Wilderness.
If the original Webb told a New York court in 1893 that the Beaver River was his commercial highway beginning at Lake Lila, then it is a settled matter that the Beaver River is navigable-in-fact and accessible to the public, no matter what any subsequent owner (Webb or not) may claim.
George Locker, New York City