Blue Mountain Lake, NY

Museum Tells How the Adirondacks Were Saved

Boat-builder demonstrates his craft at New York state’s Adirondack Museum

A boat-builder demonstrates his craft at the Adirondack Museum, which National Geographic calls “the Smithsonian of the Adirondacks” for its role in preserving the history and culture of the wilderness region.
MITCHELL SMYTH/Meridian Writers’ Group

UP HERE IS a small hotel built entirely of wooden logs. Beside it is an outdoor privy. Down there is a fire tower from Whiteface Mountain. In between is the carriage in which, in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt made his helter-skelter overnight rush to assume the presidency of the United States after the assassination of William McKinley.

And here and there among the historical exhibits are boat-builders, blacksmiths, crafts makers, weavers, carvers and other artisans, all showing off their trades.

This is the Adirondack Museum, a mix of workshops, galleries and open-air exhibits chronicling two centuries of the history and culture of the Adirondack Mountains, the huge (2.6-million hectare) state park in upstate New York, running almost to the Canadian border.

The museum has been called “the Smithsonian of the Adirondacks” by National Geographic magazine, and “the best of its kind in the world” by the New York Times. The accolades are well deserved.

The history gallery tells how the mountains were being despoiled in the 19th century by uncontrolled mining and lumbering, but were saved by an amendment to the state constitution in 1894 that decreed that the area must remain “forever wild.”

And so it became a haven for vacationers and outdoor adventurers. The World and Waters gallery, complete with canoes, guide boats, a racing sailboat and other watercraft, tells this part of the story.

The Adirondacks’ role in the history of the U.S. presidency is recalled in the Teddy Roosevelt exhibit. In wallboards, photos and artifacts it tells how President McKinley was shot in Buffalo. His wound wasn’t thought to be too serious at first and Roosevelt, the vice-president and an outdoors man if ever there was one, went climbing on Mount Marcy in the Adirondack Mountains.

But McKinley took a turn for the worse and guides rushed to inform Roosevelt, who made a mad 50-kilometre dash by carriage through the night to North Creek, the nearest railway station. He arrived at 5 a.m., to read a telegram, by the light of a lantern, that McKinley had died at 2:15 a.m. Theodore Roosevelt was the President.

The Roads and Rails gallery concentrates on early transportation, with exhibits such as a log road, a horse-drawn sleigh, carriages and surreys, a stagecoach and a steam locomotive.

It also explains that, true to the 1894 amendment the area is “forever wild,” but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible. There are towns and villages—with strict planning controls—and a freeway, Interstate 87, called the Northway, slices through it, right to the Canadian border.

The museum has what it claims is the largest public collection of rustic furniture in North America, including, of course, the iconic “Adirondacks chair,” a high, sloped-back seat originally made from unplaned tree branches and saplings.

And more than 70,000 historic photographs, spanning a century and a half, are on display or in the archives.

The Adirondacks became a haven for artists—there’s an artist’s studio among the exhibits—and the museum’s art collection contains some 2,500 works: oils and watercolours, prints and artists’ sketchbooks.



For more information visit the Adirondack Museum website at www.adkmuseum.org and the Adirondack State Park’s tourism website at visitadirondacks.com.

For information on travel in New York state go to the New York State Division of Tourism website at www.iloveny.com.