New Adirondack History: When Men and Mountains Meet


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when men and mtns meet 001Glenn Pearsall’s first book, Echoes in These Mountains: Historic Sites and Stories Disappearing in Johnsburg, an Adirondack Community (Pyramid Publishing, 2008), was well received for including the first documentary evidence that famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady was indeed born in Johnsburg. Now Pearsall has brought forth When Men and Mountains Meet (Pyramid Publishing, 2008), subtitled “Stories of Hope and Despair in the Adirondack Wilderness after the American Revolution.”

“The story of the Adirondacks is more than the history of great camps, guide boats and environmental protectionism. It is, ultimately, the story of a people and their relationship to the land,” Pearsall begins the book. He calls this a book of cultural history, and it is, but it also draws much from environmental history, although more in the vein of “on the ground historians” like William Cronon and Alfred Crosby than the political approaches of Roderick Nash or Frank Graham.

When Men and Mountains Meet focuses on the critical settlement period of the Adirondacks, mostly form 1790 to 1820. Immediately after the American Revolution, the Adirondacks became a land of opportunity for businessmen and land speculators. Plans included two European-style cities with broad avenues, theatres and formal gardens east of Watertown; massive sheep farms near today’s Ogdensburg; and plans for early industrialization at “Elm Hill” in the southeastern Adirondacks. Then there were the plans of Napoleon Bonaparte and his brother Joseph, the former King of Spain, for a refuge in America after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and the ingenuous designs of a Holland sugar maker to build a maple sugar factory near Boonville in 1790 – an attempt to grow rich while at the same time curbing slavery in the Americas. Each enterprise began with great optimism, Pearsall tells us, and most ended in despair and human tragedy.

There have been a few local studies of written about the period 1790-1820, but Pearsall attempts to tell the entire story in this single collection, while also connecting to a larger regional, national and even international context. The work consists of 398 pages and is footnoted and indexed. Extensive illustrations and scholarly research feature in this book that draws on the letters of financier and venture capitalist David Parish, and presents new information on early settler John Thurman.

In 2000 Glenn Pearsall and his wife Carol established and fund the Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life of year round residents of the Adirondack Park. When not pursuing a passion for history and philanthropy, Pearsall is a senior partner and Portfolio Manager for a wealth management team in Glens Falls, New York. He and his wife Carol live near the base of Crane Mountain in Johnsburg.

Note: Books noticed at Adirondack Almanack have been provided by the publishers.

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