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 Merwin’s 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.
Built in 1876, the Log Hotel is original to the Adirondack Experience’s site and is on the National Register of Historic Places. 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.