The Adirondack Park in northern New York State is a special place. Larger than the state of Connecticut, it is a vast mixture of private and public lands in a densely forested landscape of rugged mountains, the Adirondack chain, silvery lakes, free-flowing rivers, and modest communities. The park’s origin dates to 1885, when some 680,000 acres of state-owned land were set aside in an effort to guard against rampant over-logging that it was felt might cause climatic changes and threaten the state’s critical water supply. Lumbering and the preparation and shipment of lumber products, iron mining, leather tanning, and subsistence farming attracted nineteenth century settlers. The publication in 1868 of the Reverend William H.H. Murray’s “Adventures in the Wilderness” attracted wealthy bankers and captains of industry, including J.P. Morgan, Otto Kahn and a slew of Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Guggenheims and many others, who built enormous, lavish Great Camps along the shores of the region’s pristine lakes. Many of these titans traveled to their Great Camps in private railway cars each summer. The area has been popular with tourists, sportsmen, and vacation homeowners for nearly 150 years.
The Adirondack Museum, located in the central Adirondack village of Blue Mountain Lake, opened in 1957 to honor the multifaceted history of the region and to make connections between its people, its past, its ecology, and its complex present. The venture was largely financed in its early years by Walter Hochschild (1892—1981), the longtime president of American Metal Company, Ltd., a company started by his father in 1886 as the American branch of Metallgesellschaft, a large German industrial conglomerate in Frankfurt. Hochschild summered at his family’s Adirondack home from childhood and reveled in its story, writing an important book about the region’s history, “Township 34,” that was first published in 1976. Hochschild spent his last years as a fulltime Adirondack resident, living in the family home in Blue Mountain Lake, and is buried in the village cemetery.
Since its founding, the Adirondack Museum has become a regional museum of international importance. Its thirty-two-acre campus houses twenty-two historical and modern
buildings clustered around a log hotel original to the museum’s site. Among its more than 30,000 artifacts, the museum contains the largest public collection of rustic furniture in North America and the second largest collection of inland boats in the United States. Other offerings include exhibits related to the region’s traditional industries—logging, mining, tourism, and outdoor recreation (the town of Lake Placid within the park hosted two Winter Olympics, in 1932 and 1980); over 2,500 works of fine art, including Adirondack-inspired paintings by Thomas Cole, A. F. Tait, Winslow Homer, and Harold Weston; more than 70,000 historical photographs; and a comprehensive library of books, periodicals, manuscripts, maps, and government documents. Some of the museum’s artifacts are sizeable, among them a steam locomotive, a Pullman railroad car, a stagecoach, a fire tower, and a complete blacksmith shop. Hands-on activities for children are scattered among museum offerings.
The Adirondack Museum is open between mid-May and mid-October and hosts a variety of public programs and temporary exhibitions that complement the permanent installations. Two juried shows, one of antiques with an Adirondack sensibility and another of rustic furniture, attract antique dealers, furniture-makers and buyers from across the eastern United States. An on-site boat-builder, artists-in-residence, workshops in rustic crafts, and special family days bring many lively activities to the museum’s campus.
The regional museums of the United States make an important contribution to our country’s historical record through their knowledgeable interpretations of individualized collections. These local museums tell the stories of how a variety of Americans interact with their local social and natural environments. The Adirondack Museum, with its focus on a unique region that has tried and goes on trying to reconcile the competing demands of conserving wild space while providing a viable economy to support a resident population, is one of the best of its kind.
(Further information about the Adirondack Museum can be found on the web at

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