The Adirondack Museum expands public understanding of Adirondack history and the relationship between people and the Adirondack wilderness, fostering informed choices for the future.
Since 1957, the Adirondack Museum has shared the history of the people who have lived, worked and played in the Adirondack Park. The history of the very place on which the museum sits mirrors the history of the Adirondacks: from lumber camp to summer hotel to museum, it embodies the transformation of the Adirondacks from mineral and lumber resource to resort to recreation getaway.
The museum's story begins in 1867 when Connecticut farmer Miles Talcott Merwin acquired 11,230-acres in the Adirondacks, including most of Blue Mountain. Six years later, Merwin and his son, Miles Tyler Merwin, traveled here "in order to look over some prospects for lumbering." After reaching Glens Falls by train, they hiked for five days through dense forest to reach Blue Mountain Lake.
In spring, 1874, Tyler Merwin "employed a crew of men to build a set of shanties, clear up some land, and plant some potatoes to help feed a crew of lumbermen the next winter." Merwin and his men logged two tracts of land, one on Blue Mountain and another around nearby Tirrell Pond, three miles to the north.
In the last quarter of the 1800s, the Adirondacks became a popular vacation destination. Wealthy summer tourists came to spend several weeks or more each summer, escaping the heat and smog of urban life. Tyler Merwin put up overnight guests, first in crude rooms in the lumber camp, then in a log "annex." In 1880, he built a large frame hotel with a broad veranda overlooking the lake. By 1907, Merwin's Blue Mountain House hotel could accommodate as many as 100 guests.
True to his Puritan background, Merwin banned the use of alcohol and tobacco on hotel grounds, although he did offer amusements including "ping-pong, piano, Victrola, radio, and when occasion demands, square and regular dancing."
The Blue Mountain House continued as a hotel into the twentieth century. On Saturday July 3, 1948, then owner William L. Wessels invited "a group of men and women interested in the history of the Adirondacks and the preservation of mementos of the past" to meet. Together, they formed The Adirondack Historical Association. Granted a charter by the New York State Legislature the following year, the group made plans to build a museum in Blue Mountain Lake. In 1954, the Adirondack Historical Association purchased the Blue Mountain House property from Wessels, and began construction on a new museum building.
The Adirondack Museum opened on August 4, 1957, after two years of construction and collecting. Director Robert Bruce Inverarity described the new museum's mission as "ecological in nature, showing the history of man's relation to the Adirondacks." The first objects collected were from the Blue Mountain Lake area. The exhibits featured the Marion River Carry Railroad engine and passenger car, the steamboat Osprey, a stagecoach, several horse-drawn vehicles, a birch bark canoe and dioramas depicting various aspects of life in the Adirondacks.
Since then, the Adirondack Museum collection has expanded to include artifacts representing community life from all over the Adirondack region. The museum actively collects, preserves and exhibits objects that were made or used by Adirondackers. These objects are historical documents that tell how people live, work, and play on the Adirondack landscape. Most of these objects have been donated by Adirondackers who want to preserve and share their family and community history. There are now some 30,000 objects, more than 70,000 photographs, 9,511 books, and 800 pages of original manuscript materials housed and exhibited at the Adirondack Museum. The museum is still collecting and those numbers are growing.
The natural world is "a community to which we all belong" and nowhere is this more consciously recognized than in the Adirondack Park. The Adirondack Museum continues to bring to life the history of man's relationship to this landscape so we may make better-informed decisions about the future of this very special place.
Part of our Cabin Fever Sunday Lecture Series
Great Wilderness, Great Expectations: Masterworks from the Adirondack Museum
May 23 — October 13, 2014
An exhibition featuring works from the museum's permanent collections depicting the Adirondack landscape over more than two centuries.