Kelly Adirondack Center:
Adirondack Environmental History Going Online

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Kelly Adirondack CenterGovernor Al Smith helped block the construction of a highway along the shore of Tongue Mountain, but it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who was instrumental in protecting the east shore of Lake George, documents in the Apperson-Schaefer collection at the Kelly Adirondack Center at Union College in Schenectady suggest.

With funding from the bond acts of 1916 and 1926, much of Tongue Mountain and many of the islands in the Narrows were now protected, permanently, as parts of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

But by 1926, John Apperson, the General Electric engineer who dedicated much of his life to the protection of Lake George, had become concerned about the future of the east side.

That year, he wrote to Franklin Roosevelt, whom he knew as the brother-in-law of Hall Roosevelt, another GE engineer and a fellow-owner of the old Lake View Hotel, which a group from GE had purchased in 1919.

The east side of Lake George was not part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, and Apperson sought Roosevelt’s advice about how it could be protected.

“Tourists often speak of the narrows as ‘The Masterpiece’ and to protect only half of any masterpiece and leave the other half to the uncertainties of private ownership would seem indefensible,” Apperson wrote to Roosevelt.

John Apperson and Paul SchaeferShould he approach Governor Smith, as he had during the Tongue Mountain road controversy?

“While the Lake George problem has bothered the governor at times, it has also made him many admiring friends and followers,” wrote Apperson.

That correspondence may have been the seed of legislation which was eventually signed into law in 1930, when Roosevelt himself was governor, extending the boundaries of the Adirondack Park to include the east side of Lake George. That legislation, in turn, made possible New York State’s acquisition of the Knapp Estate in 1941 and the permanent protection of Lake George’s east shore.

Apperson’s correspondence with Roosevelt, and the complete Apperson-Schaefer collection at Union’s Kelly Adirondack Center, will soon be accessible to the public for the first time. According to Union College, the collection will be catalogued and published on an interactive website thanks to a $164,000 Cataloguing Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.

The project, “Grass Roots Activism and the American Wilderness: Pioneers in the Twentieth Century Adirondack Park Conservation Movement,” was selected from among 75 applicants for funding by the Council. Cataloguing the archive and creating the website needed to make it available to scholars, students and public is expected to begin in June.

According to Edward Summers, the director of the Kelly Adirondack Center, the Apperson-Schaefer collection, which spans from 1899 to 1996, provides a remarkable window upon the history of the American environmental movement and the tensions that erupted over efforts to conserve the Adirondack Forest Preserve and expand the Adirondack Park. The materials also give a broader understanding of the history of national park and wilderness preservation and the critical role activism played in those efforts, he said.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt visiting Lake View, Bolton LandingBesides Roosevelt, the collection includes correspondence with national figures such as Robert Marshall, founder of the Wilderness Society; Howard Zahniser, author of the 1964 Wilderness Act, one of the defining moments of modern American environmentalism; Louis Marshall, who drafted the legislation which protected as “forever wild” the state lands in the Adirondacks; and Robert Moses, the state official who wanted to build the highway along Tongue Mountain.

The collection, which comprises 210 cubic feet, also features photographs, maps, pamphlets, meeting minutes, lantern slides and other materials. “This grant is tremendous for the Kelly Adirondack Center and the Adirondack Research Library,” said Summers, “It will provide researchers access to materials from two very important figures who contributed greatly to the environmental movement. When made available, the Apperson-Schaefer papers will be a tremendous asset that will complement the Zahniser papers currently available through the Denver Public Library.”

The collection was created and managed for many years by Paul Schaefer and his grandson. When Schaefer died in 1996, volunteers continued to collect documents, photographs and business records of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks. Union College also hopes to partner with the Adirondack Museum, the New York State Archives and other organizations to promote the collection.

“Sorting through the collection and making it widely accessible to the public may help Apperson and Schaefer escape the shadows of other more well-known national conservation advocates,” said Edward Summers.

The Kelly Adirondack Center, which is located in the former home of conservationist Paul Schaefer on several acres three miles from the Union College campus, is named for Lake George residents John and Helen-Jo Kelly.

Photos, from above: Union College’s Kelly Center, the former home of Paul Schaefer; John Apperson and Paul Schaefer; and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt visiting Lake View, Bolton Landing (photos courtesy the Adirondack Research Library of Union College and Protect the Adirondacks!).

3 thoughts on “Kelly Adirondack Center:
Adirondack Environmental History Going Online

  1. Phil Terrie

    “Louis Marshall, who drafted the legislation which protected as “forever wild” the state lands in the Adirondacks.”

    This is inaccurate. Louis Marshall had nothing to do with the 1885 Forest Preserve bill–the first place that the phrase “forever kept as wild forest lands” appears. These are probably the words of Charles S. Sargent, the primary drafter of that bill. Marshall did participate in the 1894 NY constitutional convention and voted to incorporate these words into Article VII, section 7, of a new state constitution. More important, he actively and forcefully defended this provision when it was up for reconsideration at the next Constitiutional Convention in 1915.

  2. Ellen Apperson Brown

    It should be mentioned that John Apperson had a large group of “associates” who worked on his materials for many years, long before there was any talk of combining them under the same roof with Paul Schaefer’s collection. Phil Ham, Art Newkirk, and Bill White were among those friends who took responsibility, after Apperson’s death, in 1963, to organize all the letters, films, and photographs, and find suitable storage space. Also important to this story is the fact that the Apperson papers have been under the management of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks since 1979, under the name of the Adirondack Research Center, or Library. There are still a number of former volunteers at the ARL who live in the Schenectady area, and who deserve credit for protecting and preserving these treasures.

  3. Niles Rowe

    In the 1950’s I grew up, our family next door to Phil Ham’s in Niskayuna, NY. And I remember “Uncle Phil”, who was a chemist or chemical engineer employed by GE, avidly working on conservation issues in his basement office, typically on weekends, especially during the summer. This also would include an occasional visit by “Appy” Apperson, known to me and Ham’s son, Edwin, as, “Mr. Apperson”. A couple of times this would result in a trip to Lake George to where, I think, Appy had a camp or, at least, a speedboat launching dock, I believe, at Bolton Landing.

    My own story includes my earning a PhD in Mathematics at SUNY/Albany in 2011.


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