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Drafting tools that belonged to Verplanck Colvin
Drafting tools that belonged to Verplanck Colvin

Adirondack Attic: tools for making maps

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We continue our series, the Adirondack Attic, with Andy Flynn. You may know Andy from his series of Adirondack Attic books on local history. He uses the objects people make, use and leave behind to tell stories about the life and times of the region. NCPR is collaborating with Andy and his sources at the Adirondack Museum and other historical associations and museums in the region to bring these stories to air.

Today, Andy takes a close look at 19th century drafting tools from the collection at the Adirondack Museum.

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Reported by

Andy Flynn
Adirondack Correspondent

Andy Flynn joined the chief curator of the Adirondack Museum, Laura Rice, and library director Jerold Pepper to examine some drafting tools from the late 1800s. The tools were stored in a leather-covered case lined with green velvet. “These were things that would have been used to make maps, take measurements, so you have compasses and you have things that would have held pencil lead to make marks with,” said Rice.

The museum staff believes that the set was owned by Verplanck Colvin. According to Pepper, Colvin was a gentleman explorer. He was also president of the department of physical science at the Albany Institute. Colvin also surveyed the height of Mount Seward and led a bear hunt in the Adirondacks. Pepper said, “So he sort of got interested in the Adirondacks. He was the first one to advocate for the preservation of the Adirondacks as a park in print and convince the state legislature to produce a map of the Adirondacks. He never did produce the map, but he published reports, maybe six or eight published reports, and they’re wonderful; they read like adventure stories.”

These widely-read reports brought public attention to the Adirondacks. The first report was published in 1874 and it detailed Colvin’s discovery of the source of the Hudson River. Colvin purchased surveyor equipment with his own money and drove his men through all types of weather. They were the first ones to reach many of the summits of the Adirondack Mountains by making their own trails. “He was really a popularizer and really an adventure writer. His early reports are just amazingly interesting and beautiful,” said Pepper. “I think his real achievement was in popularizing the place, bringing it into the public eye and advocating the preservation of the park.

Though he never finished his map of the Adirondacks, Colvin completed many illustrations of the area and also brought a photographer with him on his travels. From pushing a boat on a frozen lake to men climbing mountains, the images captured the sense of adventure inherent in Colvin’s trips. Colvin was also interested in mining, which contributed to his not completing his large map.

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