Frog Legs Is Our Business

January 4, 2024

It’s 1936 and Emil and Marguarite Kegly Neuenfeldt bought 5 acres of marshland near the Whiteside Dam in Perry’s Mills on the Chazy River, just west of the Village of Champlain. It would be the home of Emil’s second, and Clinton County’s first – and only – frog farm.  The area was chosen because it was near water and near sources of frogs.  But why frogs?  Since the early 1920’s, frog legs were a noted delicacy in restaurants nationwide and their bodies were used by schools, universities and hospitals for experiments and dissecting.  Frogs reproduced quickly and could be bought by the bag full for processing and distribution on both the open market and the black market. And leftovers made good fertilizer for local farmers.

Neuenfeldt had operated a ‘frog market’ as early as the late1800’s in Chicago, IL. when he first sold frogs as fishing bait. In 1905, when he was now in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, he received a patent for a frog basket “made for the carrying and preserving in a healthy and cool condition of live bait, such as frogs, placed therein”. After the Great War, his business expanded with frogs shipped in from as far east as Maine, as far south as Florida and as far west as North Dakota and after processing, he was farming and shipping out over 2million frog legs a year. Then in 1935, he sold his business to his son Richard, scoured other areas for frog farm potential and found just the right spot in Perry’s Mills.

Neuenfeldt’s Champlain Frog Farm was built with canals, refrigeration rooms, ‘dressing’ tables, spawning ditches and a basin emulating a pond, and all around the roadways were lined with trees and surrounded by grass.  Within these structures boths pawned and purchased frogs were stored until harvested. And apparently werefed by nature, and not by the 10 to 12 farm workers Neuenfeldt hired year-round to manage the operation.  Champlain farmed frogs came mainly from Vermont and Canada. Maurice Tetrault, once employed by Neuenfeldt, wrote: ‘there was a duty fee at customs. Some did not want to pay the duty. So they would bring their frogs about a half a mile from the American-Canadian border. These were picked up.” Frogs often came in bags weighing from 30 to 50 pounds. Maurice went on to say: “Mr. Neuenfeldt was a nice man, I have to say. The working price then was 25 cents per hour.”  Andy Juneau recalls going to the frog farm after school and working at 10 cents an hour taking the skin off the legs.

Emil Neuenfeldt died in 1954 and Marguarite in 1956.  Emil’s son Richard inherited the farm but remained in Wisconsin leaving the farm management to Emil’s former secretary Canadian Albertine Lambert until 1962. As bigger frogs were available elsewhere, profits dwindled and the property went into foreclosure when taxes were not paid. In March of 1965, Lambert was able to buy the property through a referees deed by paying the taxes, and then sold it in October 1965 to Clifford and Delia LaPlante. Ron Marquardt purchased the property from them and eventually sold it to Bob and Janice St. John who now live on the land once seen by Neuenfeldt as ideal for frog farming. The park-like setting still has the canals and foundations of the farm which supplied millions of frog legs to hungry diners and university biology departments across the United States. As President of the Rouses Point Historical Association and owner of the former Champlain Frog Farm, Bob gives presentations and tours on the history just under his feet.  And he will tell you - there is more to this story.

Watch the CCHA Facebook page for a notice on when a spring tour will be held.

By Helen Nerska, Director, Clinton County Historical Association and Robert St. John, President Rouses Point Historical Association.

Helen Allen Nerska

Helen Allen Nerska is Director of the Clinton County Historical Association and Museum and historian for the Town of Peru. She is the editor and author of the Clinton County Suffrage Story and speaks regularly on local history topics. She is also the editor of the Heritage Corner published monthly in the SUN Community News and co-President of the League of Women Voters of the North Country.

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