Monday, October 29, 2007

Is Another Adirondack Fire Disaster On The Way?

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most terrible Adirondack years on record. Forest fires ravaged the region in 1908 and led to a widespread system of fire detection. The recent California fires point up the danger Adirondackers face as global warming tends the region to increasing episodes of drought such as that that occurred this fall and contributed to the historically low levels at the Hinckley Reservoir.

According to the APA:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fires raged out of control in the many of New York State’s vast wooded areas. The years 1903 and 1908 were particularly disastrous, and because of public outcry for protection from the devastation, the state began a rigorous fire and prevention and control program, including the building of fire towers. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Adirondack Snowmobile History, Part Five

In Part One of Adirondack Snowmobile History, we traced the emergence of snow machines in the early 1900s, in Part Two we looked at the development of the personal sled that is so familiar today. Part Three followed the explosion of makes and models and the spread of snowmobiling throughout the Adirondack region with races, clubs, and dealers taking advantage of the boon in snowmobile sales that occurred from 1965 to 1970. Part Four covered the emerging conflicts over snowmobiles in the Adirondack Region, a topic we’ll conclude this series with today.

As the the 1970s began, new snowmobile clubs and riders argued for more trails and Adirondack locals increased their investment in the industry. The New York Times, noted in an piece tilted “Snowmobiles in the Adirondacks” in 1972:

An economic boom is putt-putting into the remote fringes of the Adirondack Forest Preserve these days on the rubber tracks and diminutive skis of the snowmobile. Some restaurants, banks, gasoline stations, and grocery stores, long accustomed to depressingly quiet winters in this snowfast region, now are doing a volume of business that reminds them of days in July and August. Each weekend, some 11,000 snowmobilists fan out from . . . downstate areas for a day or two of picnicking and racing on the lakes and mountains.

The local residents of such villages as Speculator are happy to see the winter weekenders trundling along the highways with their snowmobiles cradled on trailers behind their cars. “Most winters we used not to make expenses,” said Howard Romaine, a restaurant proprietor here. “But with these snowmobile people coming in, the millennium has arrived.”

As snowmobilers talked about the economic impacts of their sport in the Adirondacks, the number of snowmobile being sold every year boomed to unprecedented levels. In the early 1970s there just over a hundred snowmobile makers. The most profitable were the big three – Bombardier / Ski Doo, Polaris, and Artic Cat – but motorcycle and outboard motor companies also branched out to take advantage of the increasing popularity in the sport.

From 1970 to 1973 more than 2 million sleds were sold but the popularity of the sport was at its peak. Never again would sled sales equal those golden years. The recession of 1973 and a declining economy throughout the 1970s helped slow outdoor sports sales at a time when other opportunities to ride – namely ATVs – were beginning to emerge.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, a new environmental awareness made it less desirable among many to run the trails on a noisy motor powered machine. Noise was a major factor in the first attempts to seriously regulate snowmobiles. The reason was explained by snowmobile historian Leonard Reich:

Snowmobiles were noisy for technical, economic, and social reasons. Technically, it was difficult to quiet their two-stroke engines without compromising power output. Baffled mufflers that worked well on four-stroke engines disrupted the two-stroke’s exhaust flow and robbed it of power. To be effective a muffler had to contain substantial quantities of sound-absorbing materials, which made it large, bulky, and expensive. Even if the exhaust could be quieted, the engine’s air intake created noise, and the entire drive system of clutches, gearing or chains, and track added even more. Shrouds and other enclosures helped, but they too added weight, bulk, and expense.

Even though noisy snowmobiles could have an adverse impact on riders’ hearing, many wanted loud machines. An article in Snow-Mobile Times commented, “For some snowmobilers, noise is a large part of the fun of the sport. The sound of that loud motor means power, speed, the thrill of being in control of a revved-up machine.” Snowmobile dealers knew their market. As one commented, “If it’s noisy and goes like hell, it will sell.”

By 1972, a number of state legislatures had acted to curb snowmobile noise, setting decibel limits for a full-throttle machine heard from 50 feet. When the maker of the Johnson Skee-Horse and Evinrude Skeeter committed itself to achieving 73 decibels within six years, the ISIA [International Snowmobile Industry Association, formed in 1965 by Bombardier] grudgingly went along, and several states wrote that limit into their legislation. It was not long, however, before the industry “recognized that it had spoken too quickly and had to backtrack when subsequent engineering and marketing analyses led most industry members to conclude that they could not produce a marketable machine meeting this noise standard.” What that statement meant, of course, was that the added expense and reduced “vroom” would significantly cut into sales.

In 1971 efforts to increase the miles of trails as a hedge to the rampant trespassing and misuse of cross-country ski trails began in earnest. By 1973 more than 40,000 miles of snowmobile trails had been built in North America. By the end of the 1970s the number had more than doubled. In 1980, an ad-hoc DEC survey of snowmobile trails in the Adirondacks estimated that there were about 850 miles of snowmobile trails in the region. When the DEC announced it 2006 Snowmobile Plan for the Adirondacks it noted that there were about 850 miles of snowmobile trails in Wild Forest and Primitive Areas alone and another 1,172 miles of funded snowmobile trails in the park as a whole not including perhaps more than a thousand additional miles maintained through lease agreements with private landowners by towns (particularly Webb and Inlet) and local clubs. The entire 2006 Snowmobile Report can be found here.

While the number of snowmobile trails in the Adirondacks has increased dramatically since the sled boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the number of sleds sold each year continues to slump.

According to Leonard Reich:

For the 1968 model year, an unpleasant statistic, called “carryover,” crept into the industry’s production and sales figures. That year, 170,000 machines were produced but only 165,000 sold to consumers. The remaining 5,000 awaited the following year in dealers’ hands. The next year carryover increased to 35,000, then shot up to 100,000 in 1971 on a sales volume of just under 500,000.

In 1971, snowmobile sales for the first time failed to increase substantially over the previous season, thus exacerbating the carryover problem. Whereas 1968’s 165,000 sales had become 1969’s 250,000 and 1970’s 460,000, sales fell short of 500,000 in 1971. In an industry accustomed to rapid growth, many producers soon faced bankruptcy, and the shakeout began. Sales remained in the 400,000-500,000 range through 1974, while carryover increased from 125,000 in 1972 to 315,000 in 1973, and to 500,000 in 1974, a colossal drag on the industry.

By 1997, sales had reached 260,000 sleds and have continued to drop ever since. With the advent of ATVs (which evolved in the 1960s and spread in the 1970s and 1980s) and the reduction of annual snow cover due to global warming, the snowmobile may be on its way to becoming a relic of the past.

Return to Part One. Read the entire series here.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Adirondack Snowmobile History, Part Four

In Part One of Adirondack Snowmobile History, we traced the emergence of snow machines in the early 1900s. In Part Two we looked at the development of the personal sled that is so familiar today. Part Three followed the explosion of makes and models and the spread of snowmobiling throughout the Adirondack region with races, clubs, and dealers taking advantage of the boon in snowmobile sales that occurred from 1965 to 1970.

From the beginning some snowmobile riders and some folks concerned about the impacts of snowmobiles on the rural and wilderness environments began to debate the new outdoor sport. With 200,000 snowmobiles already traveling American lakes, fields, and trails in the 1966-1967 season and many more apparently on the way, government and environmental advocates began to address the possible impacts and attempt to responsibly manage them.

Snowmobile historian Leonard Reich noted that:

During the mid-1960s, snowmobile enthusiasts began to organize clubs whose activities were oriented toward safety, social events, and group activities such as festivals (“snodeos”), clearing, marking, and grooming trails, and trail rides (“snofaris” and “sno-mo-cades”) that could include as many as fifty sleds. One observer of a large nighttime ride recalled that “from a distance, their bobbing head-lights resembled a religious procession,” and in a way it was. Some clubs shipped their snowmobiles to distant sites, then flew or bussed members there for group touring.

In 1970, New York State began requiring riders to register their sleds with the Parks and Recreation Department’s Division of Marine and Recreational Vehicles. Registration forms could be had a local dealers, county clerks, Sheriff’s offices, and regional offices of the Department of Conservation. Registration cost just $5, although some sled riders complained at the cost despite the fact that events organized by local clubs often cost as much as $1 to $2 per sled. The 1970 regulations also required young riders to take a Young Snowmobile Operator’s safety course before riding alone.

Beginning in 1971, a number of governments across the United States and Canada began investigating the boom in snowmobiles in order to asses and mitigate their impacts. In 1971 Congressional testimony, Sno Goer magazine publisher Susie Scholwin voiced the freedom snowmobilers felt on their new machines:

Before snowmobiles, in northern Wisconsin] winters were something just “to be lived through.” Nice winter days on weekends brought the sleds, skis, toboggans, and general fun-in-the-snow. Nights were long and lonely. As were the weekends as a whole. Ice fishing on the lake was good, but the best spot was over a mile away. . . .

The winter of 1964 and early 1965 took on a different tone than those before [with our family’s purchase of a snowmobile]. Mom and dad loved it–the kids loved it. Winter was not the gloomy thing it had been–but each day was an adventure of its own. It was much easier to get “over to the other side of the lake” fishing. . . .

There were races held, but they were something minor. . . . The important thing . . . was that more and more of the neighbors in the area were buying these fantastic little machines and, lo and behold–winter was turning into FUN! The little snowmobile had become a funmobile–one that made winter something to look forward to! Everyone in the area looked forward to weekends, with their picnics, trail-riding, exploring, scavenger hunts, and social gatherings. . . . Many in their fifties and sixties, who were not enthused about the muscular sport of skiing, found that the snowmobile was the answer to their dreams.

For their part of the debate, the dozens of snowmobile clubs in the Adirondack region began exercising their muscle. For example, the President of the Keeseville Trail Riders wrote to local papers in 1972 to remind riders that a $1.15 billion bond issue coming before voters in November would include $44 million for land acquisition in the Adirondacks, but he “doubts very much if any of this money would be used to acquire land for snowmobile trails.” In opposing the bond issue, the Trail Riders noted that their $5 registration fee was being used to build boating services in the Adirondacks.

Take your neighbor or friend or the fellow down the street who owns a boat, the fee to register it for three years is $3.00 and the state has built parking lots and boat launching ramps.

The economic argument was also put forward early:

Take a minute to think how much money this sport has brought to the North Country. We have Boonville over in the western part of the state where thousands come to view races on weekends. Then closer to our community we have our friendly neighbors, Schroon Lake, where the Chamber of Commerce is in the process of putting out our their winter brochure.

So you see everyone stands to gain either enjoyment, money or employment from this sport.

True or not (and their was some question about the actual impact of snowmobilers on the Adirondack economy, even in the boom years), the economic arguments of the clubs and their supporters found important allies in the local press and among the property rights and anti-government crowd. We’ll explore those conflicts in Part Five.

Return to Part One. Read the entire series here.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Adirondack Snowmobile History, Part Three

In Parts One and Two we traced the emergence of snow vehicles from their earlier cousins, the automobile, the tractor, and motorcycle, and the development of the smaller more versatile nowmobiles popular today. That development led to some forty snowmobile manufacturers in the late 1960s and, eventually, an explosion in interest.

To help build a customer base, sled makers began traveling to winter events and showing their machines. Beginning in January of 1964, snowmobilers in Lake Placid organized one of the first annual “power sled meets.” The event was followed by Artic Cat’s first snowmobile derby in February 1964 in Eagle River, Wisconsin. The company invited all known snowmobile makers, and held dozens of races in front of a couple thousand attendees.

Snowmobile historian Leonard Reich noted:

Drag races, obstacle courses, and hill climbs provided thrills, and a “marathon” event of 22 miles demonstrated the reliability of the machines over long distances and difficult terrain. Soon, race derbies organized by towns, manufacturers, and distributors were taking place all over the winter landscape. Like its automotive precursors, the snowmobile industry used racing and other organized events to generate excitement, attract attention, and demonstrate the capability and reliability of its product. As the early automakers had said, “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday.”

The first International Diamond Trophy Snowmobile Championship held on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid in January 1967 was one of the first major snowmobile meets at a time when, as the Essex County Republican, reported: “At least three major power sled meets are scheduled for the Adirondack Park area, and a dozen or so lesser meets, although no sanctioning unit has yet organized the sport, and there is no official record keeping or planning.” Nonetheless, the Mirror Lake meet offered $1,000 in cash prizes and included a hill climb and downhill slalom. By the 1969-1970 season major races around the country could see purses as high as $25,000.

Other area meets in 1966-1967 included the Eastern New York Races at Lake George (about 125 registered sleds and a new Schaefer Cup trophy race), and another at Boonville where the New York State Snowmobile Championship was held (more than 100 sleds and the emblematic Adirondack Cup). Lesser races were held at Malone, Tupper Lake, Speculator, Schroon Lake, Chazy Lake, and Old Forge.

For the 1966-1967 season 100,000 copies of Johnson Motors’ “Fun Guide to Snowmobiling” were distributed to various dealers around the country which included facts about the sport and sources for trail information. By the end of the 1966-67 season there were about 200,000 snowmobiles in America and even the first magazine devoted to the new sport – Sno Goer, was published by an advocate for snowmobiling on public lands named Susie Scholwin. According to industry sources, the snowmobile industry rose from $3 million in sales in 1965 to $30 million in 1967.

With the boon in snowmobilers, came a local boon in snowmobile clubs. The Central Adirondack Association was organized before the 1966-67 season. By 1973, the Essex County Association of Snowmobile Clubs (ECASCO) included nine clubs from the county’s twelve towns: the “Keeseville Trail Riders,” “Bouquet Valley Snow-Drifters” of Essex Willsboro, “Crown Point RR&R Snowmobile Club,” “Lake Placid Snowmobile Club,” “Moriah Snowmobile Club,” Schroon-North Hudson Snowmobilie Club,” the “Adirondack Snowmobile Club” of Ticonderoga, “Mt. Valley Snogoers,” the Wesport area “Bessboro Ski-ters” and the “Lewis-E’Town Snow Machine Club.” Even “North Country Squares,” a dance group, was getting into the action by organizing weekly races at the Clinton County Fairgrounds in Plattsburgh.

Snowmobile dealers were spreading throughout the region by 1970 when the Essex County Republican newspaper saw fit to publish a special snowmobiling section. In Peru, auto dealer Truman Davis sold Ski Doos based at the Stanley-Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Plattsburgh. Also in Plattsburgh, Jim Manley’s Welding and Repairs sold Skiroule; in Jarvis Falls, Jarvis Auto Parts sold Polaris; Ray’s Mobile Service in Keeseville usually sold chainsaws, but now also sold Allouette sleds; in Elizabethtown Dick Burpee’s Outdoor Power Equipment sold Artic Cat, Elizabethtown Builders sold Sno Jet and Artic Cat, and Norton Insurance Agency advertised snowmobile insurance.

Along with the spread of snowmobiles in the late 1960s there also emerged the first rumblings of those concerned that the noise, new trails, and detrimental effects to the environment were something to be concerned about. But as we’ll see in Part Four, just as it appeared that snowmobiles would conquer the Adirondack environment the bottom fell out.

Read the entire series here.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Adirondack Snowmobile History, Part Two

In Part One of Adirondack Snowmobile History, we looked at the emergence of the “motor sleigh” in the early 1900s with experimental models that included half-tracks, airplane props, and converted Model A Fords. As snow machines became more widely known and began being used by government agencies, utilities and lumber companies, local experimenters began building their own variations. The 64 snow mobiles (by then already being called by that generic name) registered in New York State in 1935 were all large vehicles that held several passengers.

Joseph-Armand Bombardier, who had been experimenting with rear engine designs since he was teenager, came forward in 1935 with the B7, a seven passenger enclosed snow vehicle. It’s sucess was short-lived. When snow removal on roads became widespread in the late 1940s, Bombardier turned primarily to more general overland tracked vehicles. But while Bombardier and others were focused on making bigger snow machines, others had also been making independent progress on smaller, more versatile, auto sleighs using increasingly available small motors on more traditional (though now steerable) sleigh and bobsled runners.

In 1920, Lewis Newton, the owner of a Hudson Falls bicycle shop, announced that he had “perfected and auto-sleigh which attains nearly fifty miles per hour and can be operated with absolute safety.” Newton mounted two Thompson motors on a specially constructed bobsleigh and rigged a motorcycle wheel with a skid chain; the crank was kick-started. Some of the several he made may still be hiding out in Warren or Washington county barns.

In the late 1920s, Wisconsin outboard-motor dealer Carl Eliason hand-built about forty smaller snow machines (his patent is shown below). It was these that were copied by agricultural machinery manufacturer Polaris Industries’ when they developed the “Pol-Cat,” which was introduced in 1954. The Pol-Cat was followed closely by Bombadier’s “Ski-Doo,” which went on sale in 1959. Then when Edgar Hetteen (founder and president of Polaris Industries) had a falling out with his partners in 1960 he left to create the Polar Manufacturing Company which produced the “Artic Cat” in 1961. Although thirteen American patents were issued between 1927 and 1962, and by 1970 there were several dozen snowmobile companies, the still relatively small snowmobile market was dominated by these three companies: Polaris, Bombardier / Ski Doo, and Artic Cat.

Leonard Reich, who has written on early snowmobile history in the journal Technology and Culture, noted that what happened next depended largely on the role of motor boat dealers:

Northern marine outlets were an obvious place to sell snowmobiles, and many early dealers came from the ranks of boating businesses looking for a line to carry them through the fall and winter. In fact, outboard- motorboating served as a model for the developing snowmobile industry. The first outboard motor was manufactured in 1911 by Ole Evinrude, and the industry progressed slowly until after the Second World War. Outboards were usually installed on rowboats or on hulls originally designed for inboard power, which limited their capabilities and constrained the market. With the introduction of inexpensive fiberglass boat construction and light planing hull designs during the 1950s, at a time of national prosperity, rapid population growth, and television marketing, outboard-motorboating became extremely popular and dramatically changed summertime recreation patterns on lakes and rivers. Now, a mechanical whine split the summer’s natural sounds, transforming in its wake the search for relaxation to a powered pursuit of recreation. Many snowmobile dealers and buyers had their first introduction to motorized recreation through motorboating, and snowmobile salesmen often used the analogy in making the sale. Snowmobile purchasers were more than twice as likely as the general population to own motorboats.

The ready made market notwithstanding, snowmobile purchases were limited by the number of sleds produced and more importantly, by the number of people who thought they were worthwhile. Arctic Cat sold just 20 sleds in their first year (1961), and 700 the second. Bombardier produced 225 the first year (model year 1960); 700 in 1961; 2,100 in 1962; 5,300 in 1963; 8,500 in 1964; and just 13,300 for all of the United States and Canada in 1965. Advertising at first targeted fish and game officers, foresters, trappers, missionaries, prospectors and utility companies, but by 1965 had began to serious shift to the outdoor thrills market. The number of makers also multiplied with, according to historian Leonard Reich, “Trail-A-Sled in 1961, Moto-Ski and Skiroule in 1963, Sno-Jet and Johnson Skee Horse in 1964, Rupp, Fox-Trac, Hus-Ski, and Polaris (with a Ski-Doo-like model) in 1965. By the end of 1967 approximately forty makes had come to market.”


Among the early snowmobile dealers in the Adirondacks were George Moore Truck and Equipment Corp., in Keeseville whose first advertisement in 1965 claimed that their Ski-Doos “provide entertainment for all ages as it bounces over snow drifts, climbing and descending hills with ease. It has also proved its worth as a traveler on ice for fishermen and into the dense forests for hunters.” By the 1967-68 season they had secured the statewide distribution and were advertising for new dealers to join the ranks. “Snowmobiles, fast moving, profitable,” their advertisement read, “the snowmobile boom is underway… here is the opportunity to get in on this money-making fun market…to sell the nation’s hottest recreation machine.” Artic Cat, whose nearest sales room was Rochester, had to wait until 1970 before it would see an Adirondack shop.

In Part Three we’ll investigate the explosion in the snowmobile market in the Adirondacks, the organization of the area’s first clubs and races and their impact on the marketing and wider distribution of modern snowmobile.

Return to part one here. Read the entire series here.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Adirondack Snowmobile History, Part One

The snowmobile (or more generally, motorized snow travel) owes it existence to early developments in the motorized tractor, automobile, and motorcycle industries. In 1907, the year the future father of the modern snowmobile Joseph-Armand Bombardier was born, a “high speed motor sleigh” was featured in Popular Mechanics magazine. It had the body of touring car on skis but was propelled by a spiked wheel. “The motor sleigh is making slow progress,” the article’s author noted, “but will some day become a very popular form of sport.”

By 1912, a plethora of motorized sleigh prototypes appeared in the magazines pages. They included a half track, and a converted motorcycle. Among the most popular were those that used a large propeller for propulsion. Although dangerous and useful only on wide trails or open ground, the areo-sleighs avoided many of the problems spiked wheels and skis had with deep or wet snow. (As a side note, Adgate Schemerhorn of Ausable Chasm was rescued by an areo-sleigh after spending nearly two weeks in a snow-covered Idaho wilderness in 1943).

Ray Muscott of Michigan was issued a Canadian patent for his motor sleigh – “traineau automobile” in 1915 and the following year received the first American patent for an early snow vehicle design that included a tread belt and steerable skis mounted on a stock truck chassis.

Several others produced copies of a similar design, but the first snow vehicles that were produced in any numbers were Model A Fords converted by New Hampshire garage owner and auto dealer Virgil White. He started selling his “snow mobiles” to the general public in 1923 and sold some 25,000 before his factory burned in 1928. Although the new snowmobiles were used primarily for business – by mail carriers, doctors, logging and utility companies, farmers – as early as 1926 there was a race on a frozen Wisconsin lake attesting to the fun they could be put to. One of the first owners of a snow mobile in the Adirondack region was W.J. Dickinson, who was giving rides to his Willsboro neighbors as early as February, 1925.

In the 40 years from the birth of motor-sleighs until the advent of modern snowmobiles around 1960, snow vehicle design generally stuck to the large unwieldy halftrack type, and there were few of them. While there were more than 64,000 automobiles registered in New York in 1935, there were just 64 snow mobiles. Presumably several of these found homes in the Adirondacks – the New York State Conservation Department had some in the 1940s – but they were generally ignored by the local press. One notable exception was in 1932 when a snowmobile owned by the Gould Paper Company was sent in a blinding snowstorm to retrieve a lumberjack who had fallen from his sleigh while trying to get a runaway team of horses under control. Edward Hines, 65, was caught under the runners of the log filled sled and seriously wounded about 28 miles into the backcountry from McKeever. It took three hours to reach the lumber camp and another three to bring Hines into McKeever – unfortunately, he didn’t survive.

Another snowmobile milestone was met in 1938 when Olympic bobsledder J. Hubert Stevens, of the Whiteface Mountain Memorial Commission announced that he was “experimenting with a snowmobile with which to negotiate the mountain in winter.” According to press reports of the time, Stevens hoped to use the homemade snowmobile to carry sightseers and skiers to the top of the Whiteface Mountain Memorial Highway during the winter. The Ticonderoga Sentinel described the vehicle:

The machine is minus wheels in front, large skis with eight inch blades being used instead. A tractor device gives it impetus… Stevens said that the machine will do 10 miles per hour in the accent and 35 miles coming down.

In January, after a few attempts to break the trail which made it up two of the eight miles to the top, Stevens abandoned the attempt and return to his workshop to make repairs. Figuring that the rear track was not wide enough he added eight inches to each side and headed back to the mountain three weeks later. This time, with local policeman Lester Beane onboard (the cab could hold eight) the made the top.

In Part Two we’ll explore the development of the snowmobile we know today and the role played by the burgeoning motorboat industry in bringing it to market.

Read the entire series here.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Adirondack Genealogy: Researching Local Family Roots

Despite exaggerated claims that genealogy is one of America’s favorite past times, researching family history has become popular enough to generate tens of millions of web pages devoted to the topic.

A Google search for “genealogy” yielded 35.6 million results

Sports” yielded 710 million results
Coins” yielded 82.3 million results
Stamps” yielded 73 million results
Adirondacks” yielded 2 million results
Adirondack” yielded 5.3 million results
Adirondack genealogy” yielded zero results

Here’s a quick review of free Adirondack genealogy sites that provide resources for the local family historian. If you have some locally important sites to add, just drop us a note at adkalmanack -AT- gmail -DOT- COM.

The Northern New York Library Network has made available (and searchable!) more than half a million pages from 25 area newspapers and counting. It’s one of the most important historical resources for the Adirondack region.

Microsoft’s Live Search Books, Google’s Book Search, the Library of Congress’s American Memory, and Cornell University’s Making of America sites, although nationally oriented, all have amazing collections of full text books and periodicals related to the Adirondacks. Search for your specific surname or location and you’ll be surprised at what you’ll find!

www.usgenweb.org is perhaps the largest and most important free site for American genealogy. Broken into states, and then counties, the site features user submitted wills, census transcriptions, vital records, and more. It’s a great place to start your online Adirondack genealogical journey. Here is a link to New York’s counties.

Of course don’t forget your local library as an offline starting point and general guide to your Adirondack family history. The two most important library sites in the Adirondacks are those of the Southern Adirondack Library System and the Northern New York Library Network. You can get inter-library loans of microfilm and other reference books, and each local library usually has nice local history collection.

When you need help getting a pipe fixed, you find a plumber. When you need help with history, go to a historian. Be sure to meet and explore the minds and collections held by your local historians and local historical society. Each county site has contact info for them – they can answer basic questions regarding local history and many have indexes and access to local records.

Lastly, before we get started on the local sites, you should become familiar with the best way to document your family history. The research is most fruitful when you can pass it on to someone else for their enjoyment – write it down and use footnotes. Cyndi’s List has a large collection of links to help you write engaging and accurate family history.

Here are the most significant links county by county. I’ve noted a few of the highlights, but you’ll need some serious time to delve into all the resources available on each site.

Warren County – Perhaps the best site in the Adirondacks. Tim Varney has compiled an impressive set of resources, frequently updated and growing all the time. One recent impressive addition is the transcription of H.P. Smith’s History of Warren County. The County Clerk’s office has also been digitizing and making available some of the records they hold.

Essex County – Fred Provoncha has taken over the Essex County pages. They offer some gems, including transcriptions of many of the county’s cemeteries.

St. Lawrence County – Norm Young and Russ Sprague maintain a site that includes a nice index of Cutter’s Genealogy of Northern New York from 1910.

Franklin County – Is up for adoption by someone with web skills who can maintain a site that already includes some great resources like an index to Those Were The Days-A History of Bangor, NY.

Clinton County – Check out the 1841 Gazetteer of Clinton County! Maintained by Marion McCreadie.

Hamilton County – Lisa Slaski is coordinator for this site which is one of the most useful of the bunch. Check out the biographies of local residents. Indian Lake Town Historian Bill Zullo also has a site with plenty of local historical resources.

Herkimer and Montgomery counties share a site maintained by Martha S. Magill and Lisa Slaski. A Look at what they recently added to the site will give you a sense of how much hard work they’ve been doing. Check out their transcribed “newsy tidbits from local newspapers” for a real historical and genealogical treat. Also, check out the Fulton Montgomery Photo Archives – it’s quite a collection.

Lewis County – Even though the site’s coordinator Sandy is not from New York, the web page contains some great photos and a killer Lowville Business directory from the mid-1800s.

Jefferson County – Maintained by Nancy Dixon, this site features regular monthly additions. Check out the Jefferson County Pioneers page for bios of early Jefferson County settlers.

Oneida County – Betty Carpenter-McCulloch has grown the site over the past several years to include a amazing collection of cemetery and census transcriptions, and a lot more. One of it’s best features is the collection of links to Native American family history.

Saratoga County – No doubt because of its coordination by Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County and it’s nearness to civilization more generally, this county site is an incredible resource. Check out the list of Saratoga County Databases. Also new to Saratoga is the Saratoga Public Library’s Saratoga Room History Databases which include information on 19th Century Architecture, historical data about notable fires in Saratoga Springs involving prominent buildings, large losses, or loss of life, the index to Dr. Walter S. McClellan’s Scrapbooks about the formation and operation of the Saratoga Spa from 1931 through 1954, a list of unique Saratoga nicknames of the mid 20th century, an index to Print Collection in The Saratoga Room, and more.

Washington County – George A Jackson occasionally maintains a site. Unfortunately, Washington County is well behind the ball when it comes to putting their historic resources on line.


Monday, May 7, 2007

CIA, The Patriot Act, and The Indian Lake Project

Indian Lake Project MKULTRAUnprecedented restrictions on American freedom of travel on the northern and western borders of the Adirondacks have apparently not been reflected in the recent 2006 tourism study [pdf].

Still, the story of 66 year-old Andrew Feldmar, a well-known Vancouver psychotherapist, is indicative of the increasing misuse of the USA Patriot Act that threatens the Adirondack tourism industry. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Adirondackers, Global Warming, & The End Of The World

Carl Thomas of Stony Creek, like his neighbor and Warrensburg First Baptist Church preacher Roger Richards, are regular writers to the Adirondack Journal. There’s a sense that both men believe they have it all pretty-well figured out. They know that evolution and global warming are a bunch of bull and they have no trouble lecturing their neighbors as to why. They don’t use words like “I think” because they prefer “the bible says.”

This past week, as nearly 1,500 communities across the county are preparing to meet together to teach and learn from each other and to renew a call for our nation’s leaders to make some progress – in Bill McKibben’s words, “to Step It Up” – in reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases, Carl Thomas thought it important to write a letter to the editor to say that there was “one major problem with McKibben’s idea: God’s Word.” Then he cited his proof from Matthew, Luke, Mark, and Psalms.


Based on what he calls “simple math” Stony Creek Carl believes that about 2030 is when the world will end, and there is nothing we can do about it – reducing carbon emissions, conserving energy, protecting the environment – it’s all in vain. “To the believer this is what we have been waiting for through the years,” Thomas wrote this past week, saying that “all scholars agree” that 1948 signaled the re-establishment of Israel and, since Psalms it says that most people live to be 70 or 80, “simple math mean[s] by2028…this age will end.”

Stony Creek Carl is one in a long line of true believers with apocalyptic math-bible obsessions. William Miller, of Low Hampton in Washington County, was recently notable for his own widely adopted math-bible obsession.

Miller was one of the earliest and most renowned proponents of what is now called Adventism – a belief held by the present 7th Day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others that the second advent (second coming) of Christ was imminent. Miller, and the Millerites who accepted his teachings, believed the world would end in 1843. This was based on Miller’s “simple math” and supported by Daniel 8:14, which notes that “it will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.” You can figure out for yourself how that theory worked out.

Like Stony Creek Carl, William Miller did some figurin’ and decided that “2,300 evenings and mornings” actually meant 2,300 years. And since the 2,300 years started in 457 B.C. when Artxerxes I of Persia (that’s basically Iran/Iraq/Syria) allowed the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Miller’s “simple math” determined that Christ would return, and the world would end, in 1843. “I was thus brought” Miller wrote, “to the solemn conclusion, that in about twenty-five years from that time 1818 all the affairs of our present state would be wound up.”

Among Millers earliest believers was a man who Miller described as his “best friend on earth,” Chester Baptist Church pastor Truman Hendryx. Letters between William Miller and Hendryx reveal a close friendship, and a firm belief the world would soon end with Christ’s arrival, albeit with some question as to whether they had the time of his arrival correctly calculated. When the first biography of the William Miller was written in the 1870s, it included reprints of the two men’s correspondence.

Hendryx, Miller, and Stony Creek Carl are united in the belief that the world is going end soon – unfortunately for them (or fortunately, depending on your view) they didn’t have the same bible-math teacher.

There are however, glaring difference in the beliefs of the three men. During Hendryx and Miller’s time a debate regularly raged in Warren County about whether something should be done about slavery. Hendryx and Miller believed that slavery was awful, that it didn’t matter much whether or not slaves were free or not because, well, the world was going to end anyway. Still, they opposed slavery, and spoke passionately about its evils. They did something about slavery because they believed it was wrong. They believed they and their neighbors to the south could do better. Better for the humans held in bondage, and better in terms of their own (and their neighbors) sense of right and wrong.

It’s too bad Stony Creek Carl (and others like him) don’t feel the same way about global warming, one of the more important debates of our own time.

On Saturday, there will be at least a dozen Step It Up events inside the Adirondack Park. We received a number of invitations to local events, but we hope to split our own time between the event at Garnet Hill Lodge near North Creek (with hopes of enjoying the “Adirondack vegetarian buffet lunch” from 12 to 1) and an evening at Bolton Landing where Big Tuna and Blues Highway will be playing at 5 pm, at The Conservation Club (on Edgecomb Pond Road).


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Two Years Old – An Adirondack Blog History

This week marks our second anniversary here at the Adirondack Almanack. Big thanks to all our regular readers and a big hello to the new readers arriving every week. If you like what you read here, why not support the Almanack by making your next Amazon purchase through us and/or letting your friends know about us? If you own a local business contact us about advertising here.

Before we get started on blogging in the Adirondacks, Rebecca Blood has put together a nice history of blogging – which has been said to have begun in December 1997 when Jorn Barger first used the term Weblog.

State of the Blogosphere

David Sifry (founder and CEO of Technorati) periodically updates the state of the blogosphere. Here are some of his most interesting blog facts from one year ago:

[Technorati] currently tracks over 75,000 new weblogs created every day, which means that on average, a new weblog is created every second of every day – and 13.7 million bloggers are still posting 3 months after their blogs are created. In other words, even though there’s a reasonable amount of tire-kicking going on, blogging is growing as a habitual activity. In October of 2005, when Technorati was only tracking 19 million blogs, about 10.4 million bloggers were still posting 3 months after the creation of their blogs. In addition to that, about 2.7 million bloggers update their blogs at least weekly.

When Adirondack Almanack first went online in 2005 Technorati was tracking over 7.8 million weblogs. They apparently stopped tracking the number of blogs after last summer’s debate over the accuracy of Sifry’s assertion that there were 55 Million weblogs and growing. Still, the number is huge and growing all the time.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimated in July 2006 that the “US blog population has grown to about 12 million American adults,” about 8% of adult American internet users. “The number of US blog readers was estimated as 57 million adults (39% of the US online population), although few of those people read widely or read often.” [link]

Adirondack Blogs

A look at the sidebar of Adirondack Almanack reveals that there are now 20 blogs written in the Adirondacks, nearly all created in the last year or so. When Adirondack Almanack went online there was (we believe) just one, Brain Clouds, by North Country Public Radio’s poet-web-guy Dale Hobson (apparently founded in April 2002). Coincidentally, the Adirondack’s second two blogs, Adirondack Musing and Adirondack Almanack, were founded on the same day (March 10, 2005).

Mainstream media has been slow to catch on and local, old-style, media have reported only once on local blogs. The Glens Falls Post Star’s Conrad Marshall wrote a piece in May of 2005. Back in January, Stephen Barlett wrote a piece on blogging for the Plattsburgh Press Republican that regurgitated the typical threat-to-young-people scare tactics and failed to mention a single local blog including the paper’s own “folksy” blog On The Sly, written by Foxy Gagnon (hardly a danger to youth). Oddly, just a month later, the Press Republican announced what it’s calling a “newsroom blog” aptly titled On The Beaten Path and featuring a post by Bartlett. The blog is aptly titled because it travels the same well-worn road as the rest of the paper and so far goes almost nowhere exceptional.

As far as new media trends are concerned, the Glens Falls Post Star has finally smartened up and abandoned the online subscription model, and now provides free access to the Post Star’s web readers (which we suggested a couple years ago). They tried a Don Coyote blog which was abandoned fairly quickly. Then came Maury Thompson’s All Politics is Local blog, er column, which so far has had little new or unusual to add to the local political reporting. No local mainstream media outlet has managed to have a truly successful blog, even on the most basic level of Adirondack Almanack or Adirondack Musing, let alone the success of the Times Union’s Capital Confidential, which actually provides additional context to stories (by occasionally covering third parties for instance), local connections to national stories, and occasionally a breaking story or inside scoop.

What’s Good Locally

Many of our regular readers come to us by way of our RSS feed, having signed up after we mentioned we set up the feed and mentioned our own experience with feed readers (particularly Bloglines) last summer. A large number of regular readers of the Almanack also come by way of our e-mail subscription. All the local papers with web content have good RSS feeds, except the Adirondack Daily Enterprise which is on its way to missing the boat entirely.

Not surprisingly, North Country Public Radio is the one local media outlet that has an established web presence of real merit. While we salute their acceptance of the blog community, (especially their inclusion of Adirondack Almanack as a “featured blog”), their own blog – iNCPR: Staff Blog of North Country Public Radio – hasn’t had a post since late January. Despite a tag line that says “A peek behind the curtain at member-supported North Country Public Radio” there have only been eight posts, all but one in November of last year. They can be forgiven to some extent, because NCPR already has a great site with lots of local “behind the scenes” content and their small staff and small budget no doubt make it difficult to keep up with the blog. Their RSS feeds are well done and inclusive of the majority of their stories – something way ahead of the Adirondack’s other NPR station, WAMC, which is wallowing in fairly lame local content and proprietary feeds that make following their news on a standard feed reader impossible. So compared to the better funded WAMC, NCPR is a web giant who deserves the accolades we more often heap on it.

As long as we’re talking NCPR, here are a couple of questions / suggestions:

Where is the RSS feed for 8 O’Clock Hour?

How about including every story and feature program in the RSS feed seperately? We’re thinking about All Before Five in particular?

How about getting an intern to update the iNCPR blog?

How about doing a story on Adirondack blogging?

Now that you know how we feel, drop us a note (e-mail address at right) and let us know how we can improve the Almanack.

UPDATE 3/23/07
We received the following note from a reader. We’re reprinting it here because we think it accurately reflects the attitude at least some at the Post Star have had about new media – an attitude we hope they’ve changed.

I was either living in the area or had just relocated from North Creek to Buffalo when the P-S went to a pay site. I wrote to complain and received a bitchy letter back from an editor (can’t remember who, sadly) about how within two years every newspaper would be a pay site and I was basically lucky they’d been free this long. Right about now, I’m trying not to gloat.


Sunday, February 4, 2007

Black History Month: Adirondack Stories

For Black History Month, the Adirondack Almanack presents a list of stories of African-American history in the Adirondacks.

Adirondack Slaves
The first slaves arrived in New Netherlands in the 1620s and before slavery was finally, albeit gradually, abolished in New York in 1827, we have numerous examples of slaves in the Adirondacks. Several were taken captive by French and Indian raiders who attacked the Schuyler plantation (then Old Saratoga, now present day Schuylerville) in 1745. They were transported along the Lake George, Lake Champlain corridor to Canada. Black slaves (and some free blacks) were at the siege of Fort William Henry by Montcalm in 1757 and at the Fort George in 1780. At Whitehall, slaves owned by Philip Skene (who had a daughter that was half African American) probably mined the iron for cannonballs used by Benedict Arnold at Valcour Island in 1776. William Gilliland’s diary frequently mentioned “my negro Ireland” who cleared Gilliland’s land and planted his crops. Census records of the poor house in Warrensburgh noted two former female slaves were residents in 1850. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Aquarium of the Adirondacks

This week news broke of a plan for a Aquarium of the Adirondacks – described in their mission statement as a “unique interdisciplinary attraction as the only aquarium facility of its kind to feature species of the Adirondack Region in addition to aquatic exhibits from around the world.”

In smartly keeping one eye on the Adirondack region, the Aquarium hopes to “foster stewardship by merging culture, history and science to promote learning and understanding of the incredible depth of the Adirondack landscape and a broader appreciation and respect for the global world of water.”

Sure the earth is two-thirds water, but only recently has the underwater world around us been truly explored. Only recently, for instance, have we even discovered that America’s Oldest Intact Warship was laying in the south basin of Lake George.

The aquarium’s developers are looking for a location for a 60,000-square-foot aquarium with parking and outdoor features. Our suggestion? The old Gaslight Village property – how about a creative facility that is nothing like the poorly designed Lake George Forum (notice there are no photos of the crappy building on their site), but rather includes native architecture, integrated convention / aquarium / wetlands space – just onshore from one of America’s greatest wreck dives – the 1758 Land Tortoise radeau. An option on the land has just lapsed. Think of it, Lake George Steamboat Company, a National Historic Landmark and New York State Submerged Heritage Preserve, and the Queen of American Lakes.

The most important draw we have in the Adirondacks is our natural environment. Developing the Adirondacks as the premier location to experience the natural world is a good idea – the Adirondacks has the potential to be the greatest living natural history center in the east – that’s a sustainable and laudable environmental and economic goal.

Here’s hoping the Aquarium of the Adirondacks joins the Adirondack Wild Center in promoting it.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Adirondack Architectural Heritage 2007 Awards

Adirondack Architectural Heritage has announced awards for six local property owners and partnerships for “sensitive restoration, rehabilitation and long-term stewardship.” Unfortunately, their website does not include the most recent winners. From what we’ve gathered from the Press Republican, they are:

Bob Reiss and Doug Waterbury for stewardship of Santa’s Workshop, founded in 1949 in Wilmington.

Fred Schneider, Web Parker, and Chris Covert of Renaissance Development for restoration of the circa 1906 Stark Hardware Building in Saranac Lake.

Robert Mayket, Tim Maloney, Todd Kemp, and Brian Boyer for a sensitive restoration of the Twin Pines boathouse on Loon Lake (circa early 1900s).

Bill Zullo for long-term stewardship the 1870 Bed & Breakfast in Indian Lake.

Gary Heurich for restoration and relighting of the Split Rock lighthouse, in Essex on Lake Champlain. The lighthouse was established in 1838 and replaced in 1867.

Paul and Shirley Bubar for appropriate restoration of the Wells House in Pottersville (built in 1845).

From their website, where they maintain a list of endangered properties in the Adirondacks:

Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) is the nonprofit historic preservation organization for New York State’s Adirondack Park. AARCH was formed in 1990 with a mission to promote better public understanding, appreciation and stewardship of the Adirondack’s unique and diverse architectural heritage. This legacy includes not only the nationally recognized “Great Camps” and other rustic buildings but also the many other structures that embody the whole range of human experience in the region. These other structures include: a wide variety of homes and farmsteads; the churches, commercial buildings, town halls and libraries that make up most Adirondack settlements; bridges, railroad buildings, lighthouses and other transportation related structures; and industrial sites related to the region’s important iron, wood, quarrying and tanning industries.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Animal Encounters: Moose in the Adirondacks

Relatively fewer hunters and natural predators combined with the amazing adaptability of some species has led to a recent boom in the populations of New York’s largest animals – moose, bear, deer, coyotes and bobcats. In the past few years a 400 pound bear was shot in the City of Albany’s Washington Park after it wandered for a couple hours around the downtown area. In 1997, a moose wandered Albany’s inner city neighborhood of Arbor Hill before being relocated. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

International Talk Like A Pirate Day: Adirondacks Edition

September 19th is International Talk Like A Pirate Day and in celebration we’ll look at pirate treasure in the Adirondacks.

Obviously, pirates in the region were few and far between. OK, we can’t even come up with a single one, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have stories of buried pirate treasure.

University of California at Davis Professor of History Alan Taylor has explored “Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast, 1780-1830” and reports that: » Continue Reading.


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