John S. Apperson, Jr. papers
- Majority of material found within 1899 - 1963
- 1756 - 2004
- Apperson, John S., Jr., 1878-1963 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
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
Language of 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.
- Apperson, John S., 1878-1963 -- Political activity Subject Source: Library Of Congress Subject Headings
- Adirondack Mountains (N.Y.) Subject Source: Library Of Congress Subject Headings
- Adirondack Park (N.Y.) Subject Source: Library Of Congress Subject Headings
- Catskill Mountains (N.Y.) Subject Source: Library Of Congress Subject Headings
- Conservationists Subject Source: Library Of Congress Subject Headings
- Environmentalism -- United States -- History -- 20th century Subject Source: Library Of Congress Subject Headings
- General Electric Company -- Officials and employees Subject Source: Library Of Congress Subject Headings
- Lake George (N.Y. : Lake) Subject Source: Library Of Congress Subject Headings
- Nature conservation -- New York (State) Subject Source: Library Of Congress Subject Headings
- John S. Apperson, Jr. Papers
- Abigail Simkovic
- January 2015
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