As you might expect, my desk-side book shelves are heavily burdened with Adirondack books. Guides to hiking, climbing, wildlife, forestry; books of photography sit beside fiction and various technical reports—all here within easy reach. Most are history—general histories, political histories, environmental and cultural histories, books on logging, tanning, prohibition, Native Americans, county histories. Recently I received a tidy volume on Adirondack logging history that focuses on Warren County, Phillip J. Harris’s Adirondack, Lumber Capital of the World, which seems to have drawn from them all to good effect.
Harris’s book takes on, with incredible detail, the people and places that made the southeastern Adirondacks unique in the history of the American lumber industry. In 1850, New York produced more lumber—about a billion board feet a year from around a half million trees—than any other state in the nation. Southern Warren County was where much of the lumber was milled and where the Adirondack lumber barons reigned. Their names—James Morgan, William, Norman and Alison Fox, Jones Ordway, James Caldwell, John Thurman, Samuel Prime, Henry Crandall, Zenus VanDusen, Jeremiah and Daniel Finch, Augustus Sherman, George Freeman, William McEchron—are found scattered through the county’s history books, until now.
Harris’s book takes on the large and small, from the first pioneers and their patents, to the lumber camps, jobbers, log drives, log marks, and sawmills. The Delaware and Hudson Railroad is featured in one chapter, the Fort William Henry Hotel in another. In 1865 there were some 4,000 sawmills in New York State, one hundred years later there were fewer the 200, today maybe fewer then 50. One of the bigger contributions Harris makes to the history of the Adirondack lumber industry is in explaining how that came to pass.