The first Europeans to see the Adirondack landscape of Northern New York came to explore, to document important military operations and fortifications, or to create maps and scientifically accurate images of the terrain, flora, and fauna.
These early illustrations filled practical needs rather than aesthetic ones. In 1818, the Adirondacks was still a mysterious “wild, barren tract…covered with almost impenetrable Bogs, Marshes & Ponds, and the uplands with Rocks and evergreens.”
Later, when tourists were flocking to Saratoga Springs, N.Y. in the 1830s, few ventured north into the “lofty chain of granite” visible from Lake George. One guidebook described the mysterious forms as “a wild repulsive aspect.” Little was known of the Adirondack mountains.
In 1836, the New York State legislature authorized a survey of the state’s natural resources. Artist Charles Cromwell Ingham was asked to join geologists Ebenezer Emmons and William C. Redfield during one of the first exploratory surveys.
During the trip, Ingham painted The Great Adirondack Pass, “on the spot.” Eventually, dozens of painters arrived who painted landscapes of the region. Many of the paintings are held in the collections of Adirondack Experience, the former Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, including works by Thomas Cole, John Frederick Kensett, William Havell, John Henry Dolph and James David Smillie.
Engravings and lithographs brought these images to a wider audience and provided many Americans with their first glimpse of the “howling wilds” that were the Adirondack Mountains. William James Stillman took many early photos of the region in 1859, these are among the first photographic landscape studies taken in the Adirondacks. Eventually, photographs – stereo views and albumen prints – were sold as tourist souvenirs and to armchair travelers.
By 1870, the Adirondacks had become a tourist destination with clearly defined travel routes, hotels, beaches, and camps. This was the era of Seneca Ray Stoddard.
Illustration: View of Caldwell, Lake George, by William Tolman Carlton, 1844; and Charles Cromwell Ingham’s The Great Adirondack Pass, both in the collections of the Adirondack Museum.