Over the past few weeks, I've enjoyed a variety of lectures, presentations, book launches and an assortment of gatherings that brought together numerous Adirondack history enthusiasts.
Fortunately, history is still an important consideration in this land of extremes. The extremes of history would have to include weather events such as the Great Windfall of 1845, The Big Blow 1950 and another that wreaked havoc in 1995. Adirondackers may never forget The Ice Storm of 1998 or the Great Floods of 2011, although many wish that they could.
Etchings on the rocky outcrops atop such mountains as Cascade, Porter and Giant continue to record the devastation that was caused by the nearly continuous fires that raged across the Adirondacks to destroy more than a million acres of forested lands between 1888 and 1915.
The extraordinary beauty of the woods and waters surrounding Henderson Lake, near Tahawus, is a prime example of relatively untracked wilderness.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
While a few remaining firetowers still bear witness to these calamities, the wounds on the woodlands have long since been healed.
However, what true Adirondacker could ever forget that fateful Monday, of June 7, 1971 when the state Assembly with a vote of 123 to 24 passed a bill that created the Adirondack Park Agency?
The following day, the Senate adopted the bill with a vote of 22 to 14. When Gov. Nelson Rockefeller added his autograph to the legislation, the APA was born, and extremists continue to howl.
Nestled among the natural calamities are the extreme personalities, comprised of those who have lived on this land and those who simply came to visit. This grand collection would have to include numerous guides, such as Keene Valley's Orson "Old Mountain" Phelps and Alva Dunning, as well as the surveyor Verplank Colvin who first accounted for the land.
Visitors such as Theodore Roosevelt and Bob Marshal would certainly warrant mention, along with part-time residents J.P. Morgan, Alfred Vanderbilt and Collis P. Huntington. Surely, Nelson Rockefeller's name would have to be included as well, since few others have ever had such an extraordinary impact on the park.
These were also the men who aided and abetted the development of the extremes of architecture, including icons such as the Adirondack guideboat, the Great Camps and the rustic furniture that filled their Great Rooms.
Recently, I had the pleasure of enjoying a presentation hosted by the Wilmington Historical Society. It dealt with another extreme Adirondack personality, hermit Noah John Rondeau, the self-proclaimed mayor of Cold River City.
Presented by author Jay O'Hern, the program was held in a packed Wilmington Community Center. Every available seat was filled, and many among the overflowing crowd stayed on to watch the proceedings through the windows.
The program melded a fascinating combination of Rondeau's old diary entries with historic photographs, as well as songs and recordings of several interviews that were conducted with the old hermit.
O'Hern has been researching Rondeau for many years. He has authored several books on the topic including "Life with Noah" and "Noah John Rondeau's Adirondack Wilderness Days." O'Hern has assembled an impressive array of photographs as well as correspondence from the many letters Rondeau exchanged with friends such as Red Smith of Lake Placid, as well as Peggy Byrne and Dr. and Mrs. Dittmar from Plattsburgh.
A few weeks earlier, I enjoyed a similar presentation offered by Jon Kopp at the Tupper Lake Library. Kopp, a former state Department of Environmental Conservation Fish and Wildlife technician has produced a wonderful collection of old photographs that detail the early years of Tupper Lake's history. The fascinating collection traces the early years in the development of the town of Altamont and continues through the growth of the village of Tupper Lake as the community grew along with the logging industry to become a burgeoning railroad center.
Kopp, who also owns an antique center in Tupper Lake, published the book as part of the "Images of America" series. It is available in local bookstores, online and in person this coming weekend in Saranac Lake.
Kopp will host a booth for those interested in all things related to Adirondack history, including old photographs, vintage advertising posters, maps, prints, guidebooks, collectibles and the like at the Union Depot in Saranac Lake. Sponsored by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, the gathering will include a show and sale of Adirondack memorabilia and railroadiana on Saturday, Aug. 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The event will be the fifth annual gathering of Adirondackaphiles. They are those strange folks that enjoy collecting all the strange things that make our region so unique.
Local residents are likewise invited to bring along their own Adirondack collectibles for appraisal in a sort of Adirondack Antique Roadshow. Whether the junk comes from a treasured family trunk or just the town dump, the assembled experts will be happy to provide you with an honest assessment of your old stuff. And who knows, they may even want to buy it!
In last week's column, I posed the question, "Is there any true wilderness left in the Park?"
Responses were many, and they varied wildly, as expected. It appears wilderness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Next week's column will feature some of the responses to my query. What do you think? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many readers were curious and asked, "Where are the 1.1 million acres of Adirondack wilderness located?" Here's the answer:
- Blue Ridge Wilderness Area, 45,736 acres
- Dix Mountain Wilderness Area, 45,208 acres
- Five Ponds Wilderness Area, 117,978 acres
- Giant Mountain Wilderness Area, 22,768 acres
- Ha-De-Ron-Dah Wilderness Area, 26,528 acres
- High Peaks Wilderness Area, 192,685 acres
- Hoffman Notch Wilderness Area, 36,231 acres
- Jay Mountain Wilderness Area, 7,100 acres
- McKenzie Mountain Wilderness Area, 37,616 acres
- Pepperbox Wilderness Area, 22,560 acres
- Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area, 45,883 acres
- Pigeon Lake Wilderness Area, 50,100 acres
- Round Lake Wilderness Area, 11,000 acres
- Sentinel Range Wilderness Area, 23,252 acres
- Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area, 112,524 acres
- Silver Lake Wilderness Area, 105,270 acres
- West Canada Lake Wilderness Area, 156,695 acres
- William C. Whitney Wilderness Area: 20,500 acres
The 19,000-acre Saint Regis Canoe Area, presently the only canoe area in the park, operates under essentially the same conditions as the wilderness areas.