Monday, January 25, 2010

Ten Influential People in Adirondack History

One thing for sure, this list is not complete. There are perhaps thirty important people who didn’t make this short list. Suggestions from readers on the original post seeking nominations offers a much more complete list of those influential in the Adirondacks, but I said ten, and so here is ten. I’ve listed them roughly chronologically.

Something I found interesting: five of these men (yeah, they’re all men) were born in the eighteen years between 1840 and 1858—an Adirondack Greatest Generation?

Deganawida (before 1600) – The Great Peacemaker, as he is known to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), helped unite the various local Native Indian nations into the Iroquois Confederacy. In the process he set the Mohawk on a historical path that influenced European affairs. Thanks to the power of their Confederacy, mostly Iroquois names remain on the Adirondack landscape, including the Mohawk inspired “Adirondack.” Without Deganawida’s Iroquois Confederacy we might be speaking French today.

Honorable Mention: Hiawatha, who carried on (and to some extent carried out) Deganawida’s mission, and Arent van Curler, considered responsible for the reasonably good relations between the Dutch and Native Americans, particularly the Iroquois.

William Johnson (c. 1715–1774) – As a commander of colonial militia forces during the French and Indian War, and later superintendent of Indian affairs, Johnson helped keep Iroquois allies working in the interest of the British. He was crucial in the British victory at the Battle of Lake George (1755) and in capturing Fort Niagara (1759) which put an end to significant French influence in the region. Although the Iroquois were important to determining what language Adirondackers speak today, William Johnson was instrumental.

Honorable Mention: Robert Rogers, commander of Rogers’ Rangers and hero of Adirondack folk life, and Hendrick Theyanoguin (“King Hendrick”), the Mohawk Chief who helped bring the Mohawk to support the British.

James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) – One of America’s most popular writers of the early 19th century, Cooper did for the Adirondacks what Mark Twain (who hated Last of the Mohicans) would do for the Mississippi. His “Leatherstocking Tales” hero Natty Bumppo served to define American impressions of Adirondack wilderness, and helped create the legend of the rugged frontiersman and the Adirondack Guide. Natty Bumpo rejected the trappings of modern urban civilization, much the way many Adirondackers still do.

Honorable Mention: Chingachgook, who became the idealized embodiment of the noble savage – a natural man, unencumbered by civilization, part of why the Adirondacks still uses so many Native American inspired names for a hundred rundown motels, and Ebenezer Emmons, the geologist whose Romantic native American inspired contributions to the New York Natural History Survey reinforced Native connections and provided the name “Adirondacks.”

William H. H. Murray (1840–1904) – Adirondack Murray has long been considered instrumental in the birth of the Adirondack tourism industry. His 1869 book Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks (which went through eight printings its first year) served as a simple guide to those who hoped to find spiritual enlightenment, physical health, and a return to man’s natural state. The Great Wiki says that Murray argued that the “rustic nobility typical of Adirondack woodsmen came from their intimacy with wilderness.” There’s that rustic frontier nobility again.

Honorable Mention: Long Lake Guide Mitchell Sabattis, who guided Murray twice, and Benson J. Lossing whose heavily illustrated Field-Book of the Revolution served as the basic vacation tour guide model that Seneca Ray Stoddard later capitalized on.

Verplanck Colvin (1847–1920) – The Great Wiki says “lawyer, author, illustrator and topographical engineer whose understanding and appreciation for the environment of the Adirondack Mountains led to the creation of New York’s Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Park.” I, along with many of our commenters who made suggestions for this list, concur. His 1873 report arguing that the entire Adirondack region should be protected was instrumental in the creation of Adirondack Forest Preserve in 1885.

Honorable Mention: George Perkins Marsh, Henry David Thoreau, John Burroughs, John Muir, and others who convinced Americans that wild places were worth preserving.

Seneca Ray Stoddard (1844-1917) – Perhaps no single person in Adirondack history has had more impact on the region’s modern tourist economy. His guidebook The Adirondacks: Illustrated, published from 1873 to 1914, included the first tourist map of the region, and inspired countless Americans and Europeans to experience the region’s wonders – many of them returned for good. His 1892 illustrated lecture to the New York State Legislature is considered influential in the creation of the Adirondack Park.

Honorable Mention: Almanack reader Mara Jayne’s suggested Adirondack artists: Thomas Cole, John Kensett, Sanford Gifford, Frederic Church, Samuel Coleman, J.D. Smilie, David Johnson, Asher B. Durand, James M. Hart, and Alexander Wyant.

Edward L. Trudeau (1848-1915)Almanack reader Amy Catania suggested Trudeau saying, “When he came to the Adirondacks in the 1870s, Saranac Lake had less than 500 residents. Bloomingdale was a bigger town. At his death in 1915, SL had grown to around 8,000 residents. Just about all of the built environment in this little city in the ADKs grew up to serve the TB patients who followed Dr. Trudeau here. Dr. Trudeau built the first laboratory for the study of TB in the U.S. and the first Sanatorium to care for TB patients. Thanks to Dr. Trudeau, Saranac Lake was the national center for patient care and TB research up until the advent of antibiotics. And that meant a lot: the number of Americans infected with tuberculosis in the nineteenth century was as great as the combined number of cancer and heart disease patients today.” I agree – he helped define the Tri-Lakes Region.

Honorable Mention: The thousands of anonymous nurses, doctors, and other workers who cared for the region’s TB patients.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) – Avid naturalist and the founding father of America’s conservation movement, Theodore Roosevelt has been crucial to the kind of wilderness protection and wildlife conservation history that has defined the Adirondack region. Aside from helping to popularize the conservation of wild places, T.R. was a staunch supporter of the scientific approach to forest and wildlife management who pushed against “the depredations of man” by working to strengthen local fish and game laws and to professionalize the New York Fisheries, Game, and Forest Commission (forerunner of the DEC).

Honorable Mention: Foresters Bob Marshall, Bernhard Fernow or Gifford Pinchot who helped reverse the history of exploitation of the Adirondacks by the logging companies.

John Apperson (1878–1963)Almanack reader Gregory Rosenthal suggested John Apperson by saying “he was Paul Schaefer’s mentor and one of the earliest voices for, and probably the greatest catalyst for, the expansion of the blue line [in 1931] to include Lake George and other southeastern ADK lands.” That’s a big chunk of the region and home to many of those who today oppose the Adirondack Park Agency and it’s controls over development inside the Blue Line. Without Apperson’s leadership, the political landscape of the Adirondacks may very well have turned out differently. Apperson was a charter member of the Adirondack Mountain Club and an early proponents of skiing in the Adirondacks who pioneered the skiing of several routes in the High Peaks and around Lake George.

Honorable Mention: Paul Schaefer, for his work with the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, and Clarence Petty, for his role in influencing the classification of Adirondack lands.

Arto Monaco (1913-2003) – The work of Art Monaco in designing the area’s theme parks has become a central part of the history of tourism in the Adirondacks, and the experience of Adirondack visitors in the last half-century. His creations have been found in the defunct Old McDonald’s Farm (Lake Placid), The Land of Makebelieve (Upper Jay), Gaslight Village (Pottersville and then Lake George), and Frontier Town (North Hudson), at Storytown (now the corporate Great Escape) and Santa’s Workshop in Wilmington (the last of a breed and a spot that made our Seven Human-Made Wonders of the Adirondacks).

Honorable Mention: Harold Hochschild, whose inspiration (and money) was crucial to the establishment of the Adirondack Museum, and Charles R. “Charley” Wood, the Lake George businessman and philanthropist whose impact on the Warren County landscape is undeniable.

Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1979) – Nothing on the man-made Adirondack landscape matches the Adirondack Northway, and in terms of impact on the communities along its route, it’s huge. Just for that Nelson Rockefeller could make the list. But while a Republican New York State Governor he also sought passage of three major bond acts that provided over $300 million for land purchases (which helped establish 55 new state parks), created the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks and Recreation, and banned DDT. Most importantly, however, he focused attention on suburban sprawl in the Adirondack Park and then appointed the Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks in 1968. That led to the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency – and we know where that story goes.

Honorable Mention: Ronald Stafford for helping create the North Country’s prison economy, and, as Tony Hall noted, for his work as an Adirondack conservationist.


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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

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