Adirondack Mountains

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For the state park that covers the same area, see Adirondack Park.
Adirondack Mountains
Adirondacks in May 2008.jpg
The Adirondack Mountains from the top of Whiteface Mountain
Highest point
Peak Mount Marcy
Elevation 5,344 ft (1,629 m)
Coordinates 44°06′45″N 73°55′26″W / 44.11250°N 73.92389°W / 44.11250; -73.92389Coordinates: 44°06′45″N 73°55′26″W / 44.11250°N 73.92389°W / 44.11250; -73.92389
Map of the main regions of the northeast Appalachians.
Country United States
State New York
Borders on
Orogeny Grenville Orogeny
Period Tonian

The Adirondack Mountains /ædɨˈrɒndæk/ are a geological formation in the northeast of Upstate New York in the United States. They are sometimes considered part of the Appalachian Mountains, but are in fact the southern extent of the Laurentian Upland of Canada. They are bordered on the east by Lake Champlain, which separates them from the Green Mountains. Unlike the Appalachians, the Adirondacks do not form a connected range, but consist of many summits, isolated or in groups, arranged with little appearance of system. There are about one hundred peaks, ranging from 1200 to 5000 ft. in height; the highest peak, Mount Marcy (called by the Indians Tahawus or cloud-splitter), attains an elevation of 5344 ft.

The Adirondack Mountains are within the 6.2 million acres (2.5 million hectares) of the Adirondack Park, which includes a constitutionally protected New York Forest Preserve. About 43 percent of the land is owned by the state, with the remaining private inholdings heavily regulated by the Adirondack Park Agency.

Origin of the name[edit]

The earliest definitive written use of the name, spelt Rontaks, was in 1724 by the Jesuit missionary Joseph-François Lafitau. He defined the word to mean tree eaters. According to John Dyneley Prince the Mohawks described the Algonquins as ratirontaks, meaning they eat trees.[1] Adirondack is also the Mohawk word for porcupine whose diet may include bark in winter. Since the Mohawks had no written language at the time, Europeans have used various phonetic spellings. Possibly an earlier use of the name is Nicolaes van Wassenaer's 1627 Historisch Verhael in which he described the Orankokx and Achkokx.

An English map from 1761 labels it simply Deer Hunting Country. The mountains were formally named Adirondacks in 1837 by Ebenezer Emmons.[2]


1876 map of the Adirondacks, showing many of the now obsolete names for many of the peaks, lakes and communities.

People first arrived in the area following the Settlement of the Americas around 10,000 BC. Around 800 AD, Iroquois ancestors moved into the area from the Appalachian Mountains. The Algonquian and Mohawk nations used the Adirondacks for hunting and travel, but they had no settlements in the area. Samuel de Champlain sailed up the Saint Lawrence and Richelieu River near what would become Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain in 1609, and may have been the first European in the Adirondacks. Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues visited the region in 1642.[1]

In 1664 the land came under the control of the English when New Netherlands was ceded, and logging operations started soon after.[3]

The number of disputes between the Iroquois and the Algonquian people, increased due to the establishment of the Native American-European fur trade.[1] The constant fighting in conjunction with the short summers and harsh winters, resulted in very few permanent structures or settlements by any native group in the Adirondacks.

The vast majority of the Adirondack Mountains are within the bounds of the traditional territory of the Mohawks until at least 1720. A sedentary agrarian democratic society before European colonization of the Americas, they controlled the eastern part of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy or Six Nations. Although the Confederacy was divided, most of the Iroquois sided with the British during the American Revolution. After the war, most of the Iroquois land which fell within the American border was forcefully signed over through treaties or seized outright. During the 19th century, the U.S. Government forced most of the Iroquois off their traditional territory into reservations in the Midwest. Many escaped to Canada, where they were granted land in the British colony of Upper Canada, modern day Ontario.

The resulting land obtained by the U.S. Government was redistributed among investors from New York. Most of the land that makes up the park today was bought in one large purchase by a speculator group, who got the land for just eight cents an acre.

Part of the French and Indian War (1754–1763) was played out on the edge of the Adirondacks. The British built Fort William Henry on the south end of Lake George in 1755; the French countered by building Fort Carillon on the north end, which was renamed Fort Ticonderoga after it was captured by the British. In 1757, French General Montcalm, captured Fort William Henry.

At the end of the 18th century rich iron deposits were discovered in the Champlain Valley, precipitating land clearing, settlement and mining in that area, and the building of furnaces and forges. A growing demand for timber pushed loggers deeper into the wilderness. Millions of pine, spruce, and hemlock logs were cut and floated down the area's many rivers to mills built on the edges. Logging continued slowly but steadily into the interior of the mountains throughout the 19th century and farm communities developed in many of the river valleys.

Mining was once a significant industry in the Adirondacks. The region is rich in magnetic iron ore, which were mined for many years. The Benson Mines was an open pit mine extracting magnetite and hematite ores from the Grenville orogeny in St. Lawrence County on the northwestern portion of the Adirondack uplift.[4] Other mineral products are graphite, garnet used as an abrasive, pyrite, wollastonite, and zinc ore. The Balmat-Edwards district on the northwest flank of the massif also in St. Lawrence County was a major zinc ore deposit within Grenville age marbles worked during the mid twentieth century.[4] There is also a great quantity of titanium, which was mined extensively. The Sanford Lake district was a significant titanium ore producer during the 20th century. It is in Essex County within the anorthosite bodies on the east flank of the range.[4]

Serious exploration of the interior did not occur until after 1870; the headwaters of the Hudson River near Lake Tear of the Clouds on the slopes of Mount Marcy were not discovered until more than fifty years after the discovery of the headwaters of the Columbia River in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia.

For the history of the area since industrialization, see The History of Adirondack Park.

Development and industry[edit]

Tourism in Old Forge, 1973.

While the park does contain large areas of wilderness, some areas developed to a varying degree.

Census towns with over 5,000 inhabitants include:

The Interstate 87 or Northway, completed in the 1970s, runs north to south through the eastern edge of the park, connecting Montreal to Upstate New York.

There are many maple syrup producers, and their work is documented at the American Maple Museum at Croghan.

The park is traversed by military training routes of the Air National Guard.

There are six business parks in Essex County of which two have certified shovel ready sites. There is also two in Franklin County.

Educational institutions include the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Paul Smith's College.


Railways were used extensively from about 1871 to the 1930s for passenger transport and freight. Passenger transport was supplemented by stagecoaches. Rail operators included Chateauguay Railroad,[5] The Adirondack Railway, the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, Lake Champlain Transportation Company, The New York Central Railroad, Northern Adirondack Railroad Company, Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain Railroad, New York and Ottawa Railway, Mohawk and Malone Railway, Fulton Chain Railway. An early railway was which connected Saratoga Springs, North Creek,[6] Plattsburgh, the Clinton Correctional Facility, Loon Lake, Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Moira, St. Regis Falls, Santa Clara, Brandon, Tupper Lake, Thendara, Old Forge, and Lake Clear. In 1920 there were 10 scheduled passenger train stops in Big Moose.

Starting in the 1930s people began to use automobiles rather than the train. Freight service to and from the Adirondacks also declined after World War II. The Penn Central Transportation Company, successor to the New York Central, continued freight service between New York City and Lake Placid until 1972.

Architectural heritage[edit]

There is an Adirondack architectural style that relates to the rugged style associated with the Great Camps. The builders of these camps used native building materials and sited their buildings within an irregular wooded landscape. These camps for the wealthy were built to provide a primitive, rustic appearance while avoiding the problems of in-shipping materials from elsewhere.

Fire towers[edit]

In 1903 and 1908 fires consumed nearly 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) of forest. In 1909, the first Adirondack fire lookout tower, made of logs, was erected on Mount Morris and many others were built over the next several years. From 1916 steel towers were built. At one time or another, there have been fire towers at 57 locations in today’s Adirondack Park. The system worked for about 60 years, but has since been replaced by other technologies. Today 34 towers survive in the region and many have been restored and are accessible to the public.[7] Some in the Adirondack Forest Preserve have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They include Arab Mountain Fire Observation Station, Azure Mountain Fire Observation Station, Blue Mountain Fire Observation Station, Hadley Mountain Fire Observation Station, Kane Mountain Fire Observation Station, Loon Lake Mountain Fire Observation Station, Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain Fire Observation Station, St. Regis Mountain Fire Observation Station, Snowy Mountain Fire Observation Station, and Wakely Mountain Fire Observation Station.[8][9]


McIntyre Furnace & McNaughton Cottage: an 1853 blast furnace, the 1832 McNaughton Cottage, the remains of the Tahawus Club era buildings, and the early mining-related sites.[10]


St. Regis Presbyterian church: designed by prolific Saranac Lake architect William L. Coulter and built on land donated by Paul Smith. Construction funds came from donations from the congregation, which was largely made up of summer residents. It served as a church from 1899 to 2010.[11]


The Bow Bridge: The Bow Bridge in Hadley is one of only two parabolic or lenticular truss bridges in the region and one of only about 50 remaining in the country. It was built over the Sacandaga River by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co. in 1885.[11]

Jay Covered Bridge over the Ausable River.[11]

The AuSable Chasm Bridge.

Residential & leisure[edit]

The Adirondack lean-to is a three sided log shelter.

Saranac Village at Will Rogers: a Tudor Revival style retirement community, was constructed in 1930 as a tuberculosis treatment facility for vaudeville performers. Due to the subsequent decline of vaudeville performers, and an eventual cure for tuberculosis, its doors closed in 1975. After sitting unused for twenty years, it was bought in 1998 by the Alpine Adirondack Association, LLC and reopened in January 2000 as a retirement community.[11]

Camp Santanoni was once a private estate of approximately 13,000 acres (53 km²), and now is the property of the state, at Newcomb. It was a residential complex of about 45 buildings. Now a National Historic Landmark, this is one of the earliest examples of the Great Camps of the Adirondacks. At the time of completion in 1893, Camp Santanoni was regarded as the grandest of all such Adirondack camps.[11]

Wellscroft, at Upper Jay, is a Tudor Revival–style summer estate home. It is a long, 2 12-story, building with several projecting bays, porches, gables and dormers, a porte cochere and a service wing. The rear facade features a large semi-circular projection. The first-story exterior is faced in native fieldstone. The interior features a number of Arts and Crafts style design features. Also on the property are a power house, fire house, gazebo, root cellar, reservoir, ruins of the caretaker's house and carriage house, and the remains of the landscaped grounds.[12] It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.[8]

Prospect Point Camp: a Great Camp notable for its unusual chalets inspired by European hunting lodges.


Northern Yellow Spotted Turtle at the Wild Center

The Adirondack Mountains form the southernmost part of the Eastern forest-boreal transition ecoregion.[13] They are heavily forested, and contain the southernmost distribution of the boreal forest, or taiga, in North America, with the exception of isolated mountains, such as Mount Greylock, located in the Northwest corner of Massachusetts. The forests of the Adirondacks include spruce, pine and deciduous trees. Lumbering, once an important industry, has been much restricted by the creation of the park.

Approximately 260 species of birds have been recorded, of which over 170 breed in the park. Many of these are not found in most areas of New York and other mid-Atlantic states, such as boreal chickadees, gray jays, Bicknell's thrushes, spruce grouse, Philadelphia vireos, rusty blackbirds, American Three-toed Woodpeckers, black-backed woodpeckers, ruby-crowned kinglets, bay-breasted warblers, mourning warblers, common loons and the crossbills.

Geology and physiography[edit]

The mountains are the southernmost extent of the Canadian Shield.[14] The mountains consist primarily of metamorphic rocks, mainly gneiss, surrounding a central core of intrusive igneous rocks.

The mountains form a roughly circular dome, about 160 miles (260 km) in diameter and about 1 mile (1,600 m) high. The uplift that formed the dome started within the last 5 million years and is continuing at about 2 millimetres per year, which is greater than the rate of erosion. Earthquakes in the region have exceeded 5 on the Richter scale.

The mountains were been formed by faulting but mainly by erosion.[15] The current relief owes much to glaciation. The region was once covered by the Laurentide ice sheet, a massive ice sheet that covered most of Canada and a large part of the northern United States multiple times during Quaternary glacial epoch. It last covered most of northern North America between c. 95,000 and c. 20,000 years ago.[16] Evidence of glaciation includes glacial erratics, kettle holes, eskers, outwash plains, and kames. Before the continental ice sheet arrived from the north to cover the area, small alpine glaciers formed in the mountains. These carved the upper slopes of the mountains for thousands of years before they became buried by the advance of the continental ice sheet. The cirques that characterize Whiteface Mountain were formed in this way.

Soils in the area are young, having developed only since the glacial retreat. They are generally thin, sandy, acid, and infertile.

The mountains form the divide between the Hudson watershed and the Great Lakes Basin/Saint Lawrence River watershed. On the south and south-west the waters flow either directly into the Hudson, which rises in the center of the group, or else reach it through the Mohawk River. On the north and east the waters reach the Saint Lawrence via Lakes George and Champlain, and on the west they flow directly into that stream or reach it through Lake Ontario. The source of the Hudson is near Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, in the heart of the High Peaks between Mount Marcy and Mount Skylight. The major streams within the area are the Hudson, Black, Oswegatchie, Grasse, Raquette, Saranac, Schroon and Ausable rivers.


  1. ^ a b c Sulavik, Stephen (2005). Adirondack: of Indians and Mountains, 1535-1838 (1st ed.). Fleischmanns, N.Y.: Purple Mountain Press/Adirondack Museum. pp. 9–15. ISBN 978-1930098589. 
  2. ^ Cherniak, DJ. "Ebenezer Emmons (1799-1863)". Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  3. ^ "History of the Adirondack Park". New York State Adirondack Park Agency. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Ridge, JD (1968). Ore Deposits of the United States, 1933-1967. New York: The American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, Inc. 
  5. ^ Cameron, Duncan (2013). "Adirondack Railways: Historic Engine of Change". Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies 19. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Sylvester, Nathaniel Bartlett (1878). History of Saratoga County, New York, with illustrations biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers. Philadelphia, PA: Everts & Ensign. 
  7. ^ "Fire Towers". Adirondack Architectural Heritage. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  8. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  9. ^ Fire Observation Stations of New York State Forest Preserve MPS
  10. ^ "Finding Historic Gold in an Adirondack Iron Mine". Open Space Institute. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c d e "Saved". Adirondack Architectural Heritage. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  12. ^ Steven C. Engelhart and Linda Garofalini (February 2003). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Wellscroft". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2010-07-14.  See also: "Accompanying 51 photos". 
  13. ^ Olson; D. M; E. Dinerstein et al. (2001), "Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth", BioScience 51 (11): 933–938, doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2001)051[0933:TEOTWA]2.0.CO;2. 
  14. ^ "Physical Geography". Physical Geography of New York. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  15. ^ "Adirondacks". 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. Wikisource. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  16. ^ Dyke, A.S.; Prest, V.K. (1987). "Late Wisconsinan and Holocene History of the Laurentide Ice Sheet". Géographie physique et Quaternaire 41 (2): 237–263.