Today, smartphones make everyone a photographer. But it used to be a special skill. There was heavy equipment, chemicals to use and thick glass plates to hold the exposed image.
A 19th century photographer named Seneca Ray Stoddard used to haul what amounted to a portable darkroom deep into the Adirondack woods, visiting lumber camps and the great luxury “camps” of the wealthy and trying not to crack the fragile glass plates during travel.
The images he took in the 1880s and 1890s have become iconic. Currently, one hundred of them are on display at the New York State Museum in Albany as part of a high-profile exhibit.
But Stoddard also wrote popular guidebooks, some of the earliest encouragements for lowlanders to take advantage of new travel technologies like the railroads to visit nature. “He was sort of the original Adirondack entrepreneur,” said Janet Kennedy, executive director of Lakes to Locks Passage.
Lakes to Locks Passage, based in Crown Point, is a government-supported program to promote historic tourism in an area from Troy to Quebec, telling the stories of European settlement around Lake Champlain and Lake George, of several wars fought in the Champlain Valley and of the epic Battles of Saratoga and of the great Industrial Revolution and the canal system created to serve the new mills and old farmsteads.
Among the great quirky characters of regional history was Stoddard, who was born in Wilton in 1844 and lived most of his life in Glens Falls.
Lakes to Locks is using Stoddard’s original 1873 guidebook and some of his historic pictures in a campaign to reach what are called geo-travelers — people who don’t want to be ordinary tourists, who seek different destinations, who “collect experiences,” in Kennedy’s words. They tend toward higher incomes and can perhaps be encouraged to spend several days in the great valley between the Adirondack and Green mountains, finding fine lodging and decent dining along the way.
Historic site visits have been growing across the country, so recently the state launched a new promotion plan geared specifically to what’s sometimes called heritage tourism.
The state has made $1 million available to regional organizations to promote Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new “Path Through History” initiative.
It is estimated that such tourism brings the state $5 billion per year, according to Cuomo’s office.
Speaking of paths through history, some can involve an excuse to serve chocolate cake.
Malta resident Ernie Kunz turned 100 years old Monday, and to celebrate he attended the Malta Town Board meeting. There was cake, and a couple of dozen people — from volunteer firefighters there to explain a funding request to residents unhappy with town plans for more roundabouts — sang him “Happy Birthday.”
Kunz helped found the Malta Ridge Fire Co. in 1948, and firefighters gratefully remember. Then, two decades later, Kunz helped craft the town’s first zoning laws.
“The Northway had just been built, and immediately there was growth pressure,” recalled former Town Supervisor David Meager. “It wasn’t all good. There was no zoning.”
Meager credited Kunz, along with the late John Coffman and former Town Attorney Arne Heggen, as the men who pushed through Malta’s first zoning law. It gave the town some control
over the coming wave of development, especially around the three Northway exits.
“It was controversial. It took a courageous Town Board in 1968 to adopt zoning,” said Meager, a young insurance salesman at the time.
Kunz served as one of the first chairmen of the town Planning Board in the 1970s. A professional engineer, he also sat on the Saratoga County sewer commission for many years — another seat from which he dealt with the consequences of development.
The Malta that Kunz moved to after World War II barely had 2,000 residents and was still dominated by farms. Oh, the changes he’s seen.