Old pictures are sure to please. And so Historic Images of the Adirondacks is a quick, enjoyable tour of life from 1870 to 1960, the period linking the oldest and youngest of the two hundred photographs reproduced in these pages. The photos are from the Adirondack Museum’s collection of eighty thousand pictures, and many of them have made appearances on the museum’s popular Photobelt, where you can sit mesmerized as image after image glides slowly by, and lose all track of time.
The book is organized by region: Lake George, Old Forge, High Peaks, and so on. Collectively, the selections tell us that while people may have altered the Adirondack landscape, nature was always there— in the form of water, forest, or mountain— and often dominant. Study the cover image for a moment to see what I mean.
They also reveal that things were once radically different in the Adirondacks. (In 2109, someone—perhaps the Adirondack Museum—will put out a book of pictures from today, and a reviewer will say the same thing.) And so we discover times when railroads were ubiquitous, hotels were huge, stagecoaches and miniature steamboats were vital for human mobility, industry was not notable for its environmental sensitivity, camp clothing was considerably less casual than it is today, and the Adirondacks boasted some truly bizarre architecture.
The book has two weaknesses. The captions contain mistakes in spelling and, at least in one instance, in the facts. This may be because the captions appear to have been drawn verbatim from the photos themselves, though this unfortunately is not explained. And no context is provided for any of the pictures, so that, for example, we are not favored with a reason why a Fox Movietone news truck was in Saranac Lake on a wintry day in 1929. On the other hand, the pictures say much for themselves. Flip slowly through this book and you will imagine yourself perched at the Photobelt, immersing yourself in otherwise irretrievable days.