About The Experience
Visitors enjoy learning about the history of the Adirondacks through the Adirondack Experience’s many exhibits and displays.
While our name has changed from the Adirondack Museum to the Adirondack Experience, our mission remains the same:
Since 1957, the Adirondack Experience (formerly the Adirondack Museum) has shared stories of the people who lived, worked and played in the Adirondack Park. The history of the site on which it sits mirrors the history of the Adirondacks itself: from lumber camp to summer hotel to museum to Experience, the museum’s perch above Blue Mountain Lake embodies the transformation of the Adirondacks from wilderness to mineral and lumber resource to resort community 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, set out to visit the new property, reaching Glens Falls by train and then hiking for five days through dense forest to reach Blue Mountain Lake. There the Merwins saw an opportunity to set up a lumbering operation, and by the 1870s were logging on Blue Mountain and at nearby Tirrell Pond.
Soon after, the Adirondacks became a popular vacation destination for wealthier urbanites looking to escape city smog. 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.
The Blue Mountain House continued as a hotel into the twentieth century, with ownership passing onto William Wessels. Meanwhile, business executive and amateur historian Harold K. Hochschild – who summered with his family at nearby Eagle Nest – was collecting objects and stories in research for his history of the area, Township 34. In 1948, Hochschild and William Wessels formed the Adirondack Historical Association, “a group of men and women interested in the history of the Adirondacks and the preservation of mementos of the past.” Granted a charter by the New York State Legislature the following year, the group made plans to build a museum at Wessels’ Blue Mountain House property.
The Adirondack Museum opened on August 4, 1957. 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. Renamed Adirondack Experience: The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake in 2017, we continue to actively collect, preserve and exhibit objects that were made or used by Adirondackers. These objects are historical records that tell how people live, work, and play on the Adirondack landscape and are mostly donated by local residents who want to preserve and share their family and community history. There are now some 30,000 objects, more than 70,000 photographs, 9,000 books, and 800 collections of original manuscript materials housed and exhibited here — and those numbers continue to grow.
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 Experience 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.
Harold K. Hochschild and his Legacy
History is powerful. History can capture the imagination and inspire great events – including the founding of a regional history museum. Although many would play a role in creating the institution we now call the Adirondack Experience, it was the vision, dedication, and benevolence of one man – Harold K. Hochschild – that brought this museum into being.
From the time he was a child, Harold spent summers with his parents and brother at Eagle Nest on Blue Mountain Lake. At that time, 1904, a railroad-steamboat network built by developer William West Durant was still the principal means for getting to the region. Twelve-year-old Harold Hochschild was captivated by the train and steamboats, especially the Marion River Carry Railroad – the shortest standard-gauge line in the world. A mere 1,300 yards in length, the rail line connected Raquette Lake to Utowana and Blue Mountain Lakes. Hoping for a chance to handle the throttle on the passenger train’s H. K. Porter Engine, Harold cultivated a friendship with Rassie Scarritt – it would be the first of many relationships he fostered with the hardworking locals who populated the remote Adirondack landscape.
Harold’s summers in Eagle Nest sparked a lifelong interest in the Adirondacks, and early on he began collecting information about the region. He amassed boxes of research materials, letters, Photostats, typescripts, and notebooks containing his penciled notes. His folders, ranging from “Adirondack Iron Works” to “Wild Animals,” are organized by subject in alphabetical order.
As an adult, Harold served in World War II and became an executive in his father’s metals firm – American Metal Company – all the while continuing to passionately pursue his interest in Adirondack history. Working nights and weekends, Harold gathered material for an extensive history of the region, interviewing as many “old timers” as possible. When Township 34 appeared in 1952, it contained 614 quarto-sized pages, 470 illustrations, 39 maps, 24 appendices, a bibliography, index, and weighed seven pounds without its slipcover. 600 copies were printed.
At this same time, hotelier William Wessels, who owned the Blue Mountain House summer resort above Blue Mountain Lake, proposed transforming his property into a museum dedicated to Adirondack history. He and like-minded individuals, Hochschild included, formed the Adirondack Historical Association and began planning a museum to capture and share the history of the region. The Adirondack Museum – now the Adirondack Experience – opened to the public on August 4, 1957. Among the artifacts on display is the very same H. K. Porter Engine from the Marion River Carry Railroad that so fascinated Harold as a boy.
In his retirement, Harold Hochschild continued to be an active philanthropist and influential force for change in the Adirondack region. In addition to his work at the museum, he served as chairman of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller’s study on development in the Adirondacks, which would eventually produce the Adirondack Park Agency. He died in 1981, leaving behind him a legacy of historical and environmental preservation.