A guide to the man-made environment

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“A Guide to Architecture in the Adirondacks,” by Richard Longstreth

Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the historic preservation entity for our region, has just released its long-awaited guide to the North Country’s man-made environment. Entitled “A Guide to Architecture in the Adirondacks,” it’s a significant addition to the literature available both to reseachers and for casual travelers in the area.

Author Richard Longstreth, a professor of American studies at George Washington University, has put together a wealth of information in a manageable format. It’s pretty thick at 427 pages, so it won’t be easy to slip into a pocket. But this volume would be a good addition to the glove compartment of any car that frequently plies North Country roads.

There’s a thorough introduction to the region, with emphasis on history and economic development. Most industries are covered, as well as perspectives on transportation and recreational evolution. The role of the Adirondacks in accommodating tuberculosis patients could have been given early attention, but this is covered later in a chapter on Saranac Lake. Included at the end of the introduction are a few pages on fire towers and the coming of the Northway.

Then each of 12 geographically delineated sections begins with several pages of overview on that specific area. Again, the text proves both readable and informative, giving a reasonable sense of how one area’s evolution may have varied from locations elsewhere in the Adirondacks.

A selection of structures is presented for each village or hamlet, along with capsule descriptions. Residential examples aren’t merely Great Camps and notable mansions; humble cottages and workers’ housing also find mention. Commercial structures run a similar gamut, from grand hotels and stately downtown blocks to old-style motels and the occasional ice cream stand.

What pleasantly surprised me is the engaging nature of the text. This is not the sort of book I generally read cover to cover, but over a few weeks, I’ve ended up perusing almost every chapter. On the whole, I found the prose very readable. Photography plays a major role in the book. Along with a mix of archival prints and drawings, a large number of the author’s contemporary pictures are featured. Longstreth’s choices along these lines are generally excellent.

As explained early in “A Guide to Using This Guide,” the author states that virtually all examples cited are viewable by the public, at least from the outside. Thus,this guide can be used to plan a tour. Naturally, it will also come in handy when you’re driving along and want to know something about the notable building you’ve just seen.

No such compendium can be perfect, and I miss a couple of features that might have been included. Most importantly, I wish there had been some type of visual glossary on building styles and specific architectural features. Although quite comprehensive, the index does not include any buildings by name; if you’re looking for, say White Pine Camp or Aiden Lair, you need to know where it is. On occasion there’s a photo that needs to be better identified

Considerable work (and plenty of mileage) has clearly gone into producing “A Guide to Architecture in the Adirondacks,” and the final product is well worth the effort. The book marks a considerable achievement. Both casual and more academically inclined users will find it a major contribution to available resources on the region. I’m sure I’ll be picking it up literally dozens, even hundreds of times over the coming years.

(Editor’s note: Richard Frost serves on the board of Adirondack Architectural Heritage but had no role in producing this book.)

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