Greetings everyone, Oscar the Grotesque here, joining you for another week to look more closely at Adirondack architecture, historic buildings, and preservation opportunities.
Have you ever wondered who lived in your historic house? When was it built? By whom? Or driven past an abandoned old house and thought there must be a story to that home? This week we are going to explore how to get started researching your home using online tools. As we are increasing are doing more online, there are some helpful tools and links to aid in your quest. The more information you can gather on your own will assist in focusing your efforts when asking for assistance from historians, librarians, county clerks, and others.
My good friend, Christine Bush, is here to tell you about how she started to unlock the mystery of the Adirondack Mountain House in Upper Jay, NY.
Casting a line in the East Branch of the Ausable River in Upper Jay today, it would be hard to imagine that back in the day, this was the premier fly fishing spot in the northeast. The 1920s and 1930s were the golden years of trout fishing along the East and West Branch of the AuSable River, written into legends in countless books and magazines. Fishermen traveled great distances for the opportunity to fish the mighty Ausable. As noted by Ray Bergman and other notable anglers, the place to stay was the Adirondack Mountain House in Upper Jay.
The location, when was it built, what did the ADKMH look like has long been a mystery to my husband and myself. For a place which was so notable among anglers in its day, it is odd that very little if anything is noted in local history. This weekend I decided to see what I could discover.
My first step was to do a simple google search using both Adirondack Mountain House and Blanchard’s Mountain House as it was sometimes referred too. That did not yield much useful information. Next, I searched for the Town’s History. Knowing a bit about the history of the Town your building resides, when it was settled, early history and evolution can help you place your building in context and establish a time frame for possible construction. There were a few useful websites with several mentions of a hotel and a few names of potential owners. I also explored the Adirondack History Center online resources and Essex County History postcard collection.
I decided to visit the Cultural Resource Inventory System (CRIS) to see if there might be buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. CRIS is New York State’s database of historic buildings, structures, sites, and surveys. By entering as a guest and searching either spatially or by criteria, you can access a tremendous amount of information. Make sure you zoom in close to reveal detail. CRIS showed me there were five National Register listed buildings in Upper Jay. Since nominations include a detailed history of the area and people and places associated with them, I hoped I might find mention of the ADKMH, no such luck.
It was time to explore historic maps of the area. An excellent place to start is the Sandborn Maps. The Sanborn fire insurance maps, which depict the commercial, industrial, and residential sections of more than 12,000 American cities and towns from ca. 1867 to 1970. Fire insurance maps were developed in the United States in the mid-19th century in response to the insurance industry’s need to assess fire risks. The Upper Jay area was not mapped.
Since this is in Essex County, NY, I could visit the 1876 Essex County Atlas online. Make sure you search for your county map records online. I could see that a hotel does appear in Upper Jay at this time. I know this location is flat, so it did not correspond with references to anglers walking down the hill from the hotel to the bridge. The history of the town would indicate that tourism of this nature did not get into full swing till around 1890s or later, so I was suspicious that this was the correct location
A visit to the New York State Historic Newspapers website was next. Be forewarned; this site is so much fun that it is easy to get lost for hours exploring. While secondary source material, newspapers can be essential for connecting the dots and putting pieces of the puzzle together or sending you down an entirely new path. Since I did not know when the ADKMH came into existence, I started my search in 1850. The first mention of the Adirondack Mountain House in the Lake Placid News appears on March 29, 1926. From that date on, regular reports of meetings, suppers and boarders are mentioned in the papers up until 1942. We learn of Bryon Blanchard, the proprietor’s death, in April of 1939. Accounts indicate that Mrs. Blanchard continued to run the hotel till 1942 when she re-marries (to her former brother-in-law) and returns to Lake Placid, where she had grown up. A January 6, 1950 report in the Lake Placid News tells us that sadly, the hotel was lost to fire.
I could find no more mention of the house after 1950, so it most likely was not rebuilt. On a hunch, I visited the Adirondack Experience online collections database; to my delight, I was able to find postcard images ca 1920 of the Adirondack Mountain House. The images are copyrighted, so please visit the link to view.
The architectural features indicate it is possible this building was constructed before we see the first mention in 1926, so more research will need to be done.
Now that I had an image showing a little more context combined with a little bit of history, I took a drive to see if I might be able to ascertain its original location. The sites with pre-1950 homes could be eliminated. That left me with three possible locations, a vacant lot, and a couple of newer home sites. The vacant site, in particular, grabbed my attention with remnants of old stone steps and ancient maples. I was optimistic I’d found it. Entering into the Essex county GIS tax parcel viewer, I could get an excellent birds-eye view as well as the name of the property owners. Knowing the tax parcel number will allow you to do deed research at the county office or wherever these documents are housed for your town. It was my good fortune that I was acquainted with the property owner of the vacant lot and was able to reach out and ask if he had any information. As it turns out, this was not the property, which left only the sites with newer homes on them. By referencing the postcard image, returning to the GIS map, and another site visit, the approximate location of the Adirondack Mountain House could be identified.
I was excited to find images, puzzle out its location, and learn a bit more about the Town of Jay, the Adirondack Mountain House, and the Blanchard’s. I was unable to find out who designed and built the house, but I will continue my research on the quest and hope to discover stories and more detailed accounts of life and fish stories at the Adirondack Mountain House.
Other sources such as census records can help you find out the names of family members who lived in the home, as well as their ages, birth states, year of immigration, marriage status, occupations, personal belongings, and other interesting information. Depending on the location of your property, local preservation organizations may have valuable online knowledge, and don’t forget to visit the AARCH website for informative articles on identifying architectural styles, caring for your h.
We would love to hear your stories of historic house sleuthing and discovery.