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John S. Apperson, Jr. papers

Identifier: ARL-012

Content Description

The John S. Apperson papers contain 44 cu ft of correspondence, maps, charts, litigation, pamphlets and published materials, photographs, photographic negatives, slides, lantern slides, and audio recordings within 48 boxes and one Map Drawer. Digital surrogates of selected items have been created.


  • Majority of material found within 1899 - 1963
  • 1756 - 2004


Conditions Governing Access

Open to research.

Biographical / Historical

John Samuel Apperson, Jr. (Apperson) (1878-1963), known to his friends as “Appy”, was born to Dr. John Samuel Apperson (1837-1908) and Ellen Victoria Hull Apperson (1840-1887) on April 6, 1878 in Chilhowie, Virginia. Both of his parents supported the Confederacy in various capacities during the Civil War. Dr. John Samuel Apperson served as a hospital steward in the Stonewall Brigade and bore witness to the amputation of Stonewall Jackson’s arm (Dr. Apperson’s Civil War diaries were published as Repairing the March of Mars: The Civil War Diaries of John Samuel Apperson, Hospital Steward in the Stonewall Brigade, 1861-1865 by Mercer University Press in 2001). Ellen Victoria Hull Apperson received an official letter of commendation in 1861 for saving a train car of Mississippi Confederate troops from crashing into a wrecked car around a blind-bend of track by ripping off and waving her red petticoat while blocking the moving train’s path on the tracks.

John S. Apperson, Jr.’s childhood in postbellum Virginia was reportedly pleasant. The sixth of seven children he shared a close relationship with his siblings and a deep love for his mother. In 1887 Apperson’s mother Ellen passed away. After his wife’s death, Dr. Apperson moved his family from their home in Chilhowie to Marion Virginia to pursue employment at the Southwest Virginia Lunatic Asylum for one year before leaving to be a founding physician at the Eastern Asylum of the Insane, also in Marion. In the two years after Ellen’s death Dr. Apperson employed a string of female housekeepers to help care for his seven children, however they did not last long. In 1889 Dr. Apperson married his mentor’s daughter Elizabeth Black, a marriage which produced four more children.

John S. Apperson found family life with his stepmother unbearable, particularly after his only brother Alfred Hull Apperson left home to attend Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) to become an electrical engineer. John S. Apperson followed his brother’s footsteps and began studying electrical engineering at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in the late 1890s, although he did not finish his degree. During this time Apperson’s relationship with his father grew increasingly strained, particularly with regard to finances.

In 1900 Apperson left Virginia for Schenectady, New York, where he would live for the rest of his life. For his first four years in Schenectady Apperson worked as an electrician before being hired as an engineer by General Electric in 1904, despite his unfinished degree and lack of license. Apperson worked for General Electric until his retirement in 1947.

Apperson’s arrival in Upstate New York marked the beginning of his regular outdoor recreational activities, starting with canoe trips around the Schenectady area on the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal before graduating to regular visits to Lake George. It was not long after his introduction to the lake that he began visiting the area year-round and his life-long love affair with Lake George and its islands began. Apperson was known to say that he never married because “Lake George is my wife, and, her islands our children”. During this time Apperson was a leader and innovator of outdoor recreation sports in America introducing and updating many winter-sports such as skate-sailing, skate-skiing, cross-country skiing, and downhill skiing. Apperson is considered by many to be the father of skiing in America. Apperson designed and created much of his own and his friends’ equipment and purchased outdoor recreation clothing from as far away as Germany.

Apperson’s activities as an avid sportsman and fiery conservationist gathered together a large group of likeminded and influential men and women. His sphere included engineers, scientists, artists, authors, politicians, professors, lawyers, and many others. Apperson’s associates and close friends included Nobel Prize winner Irving Langmuir, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

It was Apperson’s outdoor recreation that lead to his fervent conservation activism. As early as 1907 Apperson fought to protect Lake George. First he personally evicted “island squatters” in a relentless battle to enforce the 1885 law limiting or abolishing the use of state land by squatters. These “island squatters” crossed all echelons of society from the poor mountain men in shacks to General Electric executives in stately homes. In 1909 Apperson began his fight to protect the fragile shorelines of Lake George’s islands by rip-rapping (placing rock barriers against) the shorelines. Apperson’s fight to protect the shorelines led to his popular and successful 1915 pamphlet which garnered state-funded aid in 1917 to continue the struggle to preserve the disappearing islands. Over the next 40 years Apperson continued to support rip-rapping on Lake George by gathering volunteers to carry boulders and topsoil across the lake year-round.

Over the next 50 years Apperson battled lumber and logging companies, paper mills, campers, New York State, and many others in the fight to protect Lake George and the Adirondacks from being exploited for commercial gain. His legacy contains a long list of achievements and victories, which include the fathering of multiple successful grass roots activism organizations; the inclusion of Lake George in the Adirondack State Park in 1931; multiple conservation pamphlets of national impact; a Supreme Court victory over International Paper Company removing control over the water levels in Lake George from the hands of industry; and the protection of Dome Island as “forever wild”.

In addition to his political activities Apperson also held multiple annual retreats in the Adirondacks in order to educate others on the importance of wilderness conservation. Apperson’s love and commitment to the wilderness created a true legacy of conservation activism, lighting a spark in the generation of activists that followed, including Paul Schaefer and Howard Zahniser.


44 Cubic Feet

50 Boxes

1 Drawer

17 Items

Language of Materials



In order to preserve extant information in the collection, the arrangement of the previous processors has been maintained nearly in its entirety as it came to the processing staff in 2014. Certain deviations needed to be made, as some segments of the papers (such as the maps) had been disarticulated from the collection over time. The arrangement schema has two sub-fonds: Manuscripts and Miscellaneous Materials and Photographic and Audio Materials.

Manuscripts and Miscellaneous Materials has five series: Correspondence, Litigation and Legislation, Organization Records and Publications, Maps, and Sundry. Correspondence contains three sub-series created by the previous arrangers: Chronological Correspondence, Dome Island Correspondence, and General Electric Professional Correspondence. Litigation and Legislation contains Apperson’s records from various environmental legislative battles and the litigation records of the “Lake George Trespass” lawsuit. Organization Records and Publications contains the organizational records of select nongovernmental environmental organizations with which Apperson was involved as well as the pamphlets, circulars, and articles that the earlier processors retained. The Maps series contains a large collection of historical maps of wilderness lands in New York. Photographic and Audio Materials contains six series determined by media: Photographic Prints, Photographic Negatives, Ambrotypes, Lantern Slides, 35mm Slides, and Audio Recordings.

Custodial History

Upon John S. Apperson, Jr.’s passing in 1963 his papers were passed on to the Friends of the Forest Preserve where they were stored in a home garage. The papers sat unprocessed, but not untouched, for the next five years. From 1968 to 1998 members of the Friends of the Forest Preserve (primarily Bill White, Phil Ham, and Arthur Newkirk) reorganized Apperson’s papers. In 1979 segments of the Apperson papers were bought to the Adirondack Research Center, now Adirondack Research Library (ARL), when it was founded at Union College. From 1979 until 1998 Bill White continued to bring newly processed segments of the Apperson papers to the ARL. The photographic portion of the papers was sizably expanded in 2008 when additional materials were donated to the ARL by Ellen Apperson Brown. In the time between at least 1998 and the beginning of the 2013 Council on Library and Information Resources Hidden Collections grant, which funded the 2014 processing of the Apperson collection, multiple hands passed through his papers, at times reorganizing and adding layers of occasionally conflicting annotations to the photographic materials. In 2011 Union College assumed responsibility for the collections of the ARL on the basis of a long-term loan.

Processing Information

In 2014 under the aegis of the Grass Roots Activism and the American Wilderness: Pioneers in the Twentieth Century Adirondack Park Conservation Movement project, funded by a Hidden Collections Cataloging grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), the Apperson papers were arranged and described to archival standards. Selected items were digitized and uploaded to the New York Heritage digital catalog as well as the Digital Public Library of America. Abigail Simkovic succeeded Ann Mulfort in the role of Project Archivist and Project Manager during the course of this project. Abigail Simkovic, Kimberly Kunker, and Jennifer Moore served as Graduate Assistant Archives Processors. Emily Pastore and Arthur Schutzberg served as Undergraduate Archives Assistants.

John S. Apperson, Jr. Papers
Abigail Simkovic
January 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
CLIR Hidden Collections

Revision Statements

  • 2018-07-27: Changed collection prefix from UCAK to ARL, added box of original Roosevelt letters stored at Schaffer, and fixed some of the more obvious data entry errors.

Repository Details

Part of the Adirondack Research Library Repository

897 St. David's Lane
Niskayuna NY 12309