Skip to main content

Paul Schaefer collection

Identifier: ARL-013


The Paul Schaefer collection consists of ca. 62 cu ft of correspondence, maps, litigation manuscripts, legislative documents, pamphlets, circulars, published materials, photographic material, audio recordings, video recordings, and art prints. The collection is in good condition, however some of the material exhibits water or insect damage. The dates within the collection range from 1870 to1997, with the bulk of the collection falling between 1940 and 1997. This collection documents Schaefer’s lengthy career as an environmental grass roots organizer and author, his work in home building and historic restoration projects, and his family life.


  • Majority of material found within 1908 - 1997


Biographical / Historical

Paul Aloysius Schaefer was born in Rotterdam, NY on September 13, 1908 to Rose Agnes Merkle Schaefer and Peter Aloysius Schaefer. Before becoming a clerk at General Electric, Peter Schaefer studied for the priesthood in Germany, a pursuit he left due to failing health. During this time Peter became a skilled mountain climber.

In 1920, the family relocated to the edge of what is now known as the Siamese Ponds Wilderness. It was hoped that a period of time in the mountains would restore Rose’s health which had become quite poor. Paul would later say his mother’s illness “turned out to be a blessing in disguise for all our family” due to the proximity to the Adirondacks and the natural world.

By 1923, his parents’ health had dwindled alarmingly and in order to help support his family Schaefer left high school to begin work as an apprentice carpenter. Schaefer disliked this work and to escape, he began hitchhiking to the Adirondacks on weekends and voraciously reading books on the Adirondacks during his workweek.

In 1929, Schaefer joined the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club. Founded by John S. Apperson Jr. and Paul’s older brother Vincent Schaefer, the organization promoted an appreciation of the outdoors and encouraged conservation. It was in the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club that Schaefer met Carolyn Keseberg. Carolyn was also an enthusiastic outdoorswomen and conservationist. In 1934 the two married.

In the early 1930s, Schaefer met John S. Apperson, Jr., a noted conservationist who became his mentor, and Robert Marshall. Apperson and Marshall brought Schaefer under their wings during the grass roots campaigns against the Closed Cabin Amendment and the proposed fire truck trails in the Adirondacks.

In 1945, Schaefer began the fight against a series of proposed dams in the Adirondack Park that would last for eleven years. Later known as the Battle for Moose River Plains or the Black River Wars, Schaefer’s campaign was one of the largest and most successful grass roots environmental operations in U.S. history. It was during this fight that he would befriend Howard Zahniser, author of the 1964 National Wilderness Act. During the 1950s Schaefer served on the Joint Committee on River Regulation, the Joint Committee on Natural Resources and was involved in developing the Adirondack Northway. During the 1960s he continued his work with the Joint Committee on Natural Resources and served as an advisor to the Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks. He also organized the fight against the Gooley Dam on the Upper Hudson River. Additionally, Schaefer and a number of local residents organized to preserve the Lisha Kill area in Schenectady from development.

In the 1970s Schaefer served on the Adirondack Highway Council and was involved in organizing support for the fledging Adirondack Park Agency. He was involved in producing two films on the Adirondacks: “Of Rivers and Men” and “The Adirondack-the land nobody knows,” the latter of which went to win a Cine Eagle award. He received an honorary doctorate from Union College in 1979 and taught a number of very popular non-credit courses on the Adirondacks there in the late seventies and early eighties.

Schaefer also served as a leader in the conservation movement in New York State as a member or founder of numerous organizations dedicated to preserving the wilderness including the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the Friends of the Forest Preserve, the Adirondack Hudson River Committee, the Adirondack Moose River Association, the Couch-sa-chra-ga Association, the New York State Conservation Council, and the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club.

Schaefer ran many of these organizations out of his home in Niskayuna and made his personal library of Adirondack reference materials constantly available to activists. Schaefer’s Adirondack library grew into the Adirondack Research Center in the 1970s and today is a part of Union College as the Adirondack Research Library of the Kelly Adirondack Center which is located in Schaefer’s former Niskayuna home.

While Schaefer devoted his life to wilderness conservation, he also supported himself as a builder who specialized in historic renovations, unique period-style homes, and adaptive reuse.

Schaefer passed away in 1996 at the age of 87. He was survived by four children. His work was carried on by his numerous conservation organizations and his home became the Kelly Adirondack Center of Union College to encourage the study and preservation of the Adirondacks.


91 Boxes

Language of Materials



In the time between Schaefer’s death and Union College’s assumption of responsibility for the collection, the papers were moved several times among various buildings and passed through the hands of many volunteers. In order to preserve as much extant original order possible, all of the subject files created by Schaefer and the volunteers have been preserved in their entirety. The majority of the other series, consisting of previously unprocessed material, are arranged chronologically or by topic.

The collection consists of ten series: Correspondence, Litigation and Legislation, Publications, Subject Files, Moose River Plains, Business Records and Patents, Organization Records, Sundry, Audio Visual Materials, and Additions. Correspondence is arranged chronologically and spans 1895-1996 with a run of undated letters with known decades at the end. Legislation and Litigation is separated into three subseries, each arranged chronologically: Litigation (1930-1987), Legislation (1918-1996), and Government Documents (1840-1996). Publications is separated into nine subseries: Articles, arranged chronologically (1930-1990), with the undated articles arranged alphabetically by title; News Clippings, arranged chronologically (1900-1996); Pamphlets, arranged chronologically (1859-1996) with the Couch-sa-cha-ga Association separated; Periodicals, arranged chronologically (1900-1996) with large recurring periodicals arranged alphabetically; Press Releases arranged chronologically (1930-1996); Speeches, arranged chronologically (1870-1996); Bound Publications, arranged alphabetically; Hearings, arranged chronologically; and Sundry Publications, arranged chronologically. Subject Files is arranged alphabetically. Moose River Plains is arranged into five subseries: Correspondence, arranged chronologically (1944-1956); Legislation and Litigation, arranged chronologically (1946-1956); Organizational Records, arranged alphabetically; Publications, arranged by format ; and Sundry, arranged topically. Business Records and Patents is arranged into two subseries: Projects, arranged by project and Business Documents, arranged chronologically (1930-1996). Organizational Records is arranged chronologically (1910-1996) with a run of undated material at the end of which the undated Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks material has been separated. Sundry is arranged both chronologically and by format. Audio Visual Materials contains eight format-based record groups with either topical or format-based subseries: Audio Recordings; Facsimiles and Lithographs; Photographic Prints; Photographic Slides; Photographic Negatives; Photogravures; Moving Images; Oversize. Additions are arranged chronologically (1926-2003).

Paul A. Schaefer collection
Under Revision
Abigail Simkovic
March 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
CLIR Hidden Collections

Repository Details

Part of the Adirondack Research Library Repository

897 St. David's Lane
Niskayuna NY 12309