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Creator Record

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Name Colvin, Verplanck
Dates & places of birth and death 1847-1920
Occupation Surveyor
Photographer
Engineer
Author
Illustrator
Notes Verplanck Colvin (1847–1920) was a lawyer, author, illustrator and topographical engineer whose understanding and appreciation for the environment of the Adirondack Mountains led to the creation of New York's Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Park.
In 1865, when Colvin was 18, Alfred Billings Street gave him a copy of his 1860 book, Woods and Waters, about his adventures in the Adirondack Mountains.[1] The next three years, Colvin spent his summers exploring the Adirondack wilderness. By 1869, he had formed the idea of doing a geological survey of the Adirondack region.[1] To gain experience, he recruited friend Mills Blake for a trip to nearby the Helderberg Mountain; he wrote an illustrated report of the trip that was published in Harpers New Monthly Magazine, a national publication.[1]

During the summer of 1869 he climbed Mount Marcy, and in 1870 made the first recorded ascent of Seward Mountain.[1] During the ascent of Seward, Colvin saw the extensive damage being done by lumbermen in the Adirondacks. His report of the climb was read at the Albany Institute, where it garnered the attention of state officials, and was printed in the annual report of the New York State Museum of Natural History.[1] In it, he tied clear-cutting of Adirondack forests to reduced water flow in the state's canals and rivers, an idea that had first appeared in George Perkins Marsh's Man and Nature, published in 1864.[2]

In 1872 he applied to New York for a stipend to cover the costs of a survey; he was subsequently named to the newly created post of Superintendent of the Adirondack Survey and given a $1000 budget by the state legislature to institute a survey of the Adirondacks. He was an able administrator, managing crews of up to 100 men separated by difficult terrain with only primitive communication methods. He also designed and built some tools for the job, including a folding canvas boat, and a wind powered spinning reflector to enable precise sighting of a mountain top from many miles away.
During the first year he discovered Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, the source of the Hudson river. He directed surveying parties throughout the Adirondacks and determined the altitudes of most of the highest peaks, becoming obsessed with his task. Determined to fix the precise altitude of Mount Marcy (having decided that the barometric method of determining altitude was insufficiently accurate) he ran a series of eight hundred chains and levels over forty miles long from Lake Champlain to Marcy, each intermediate altitude being calculated to one thousandth of an inch. As the crew approached the summit of Marcy, they encountered an October snow storm with ice and freezing rain; despite urging by his guides and assistants to wait for better weather, Colvin pushed on despite the danger of becoming trapped in Panther Gorge.

In 1873 he wrote a report arguing that if the Adirondack watershed was allowed to deteriorate, it would threaten the viability of the Erie Canal, which was then vital to New York's economy, and that the entire Adirondack region should therefore be protected by the creation of a state forest preserve. He was subsequently appointed superintendent of the New York state land survey, which led to the creation of the Adirondack Forest Preserve in 1885. His work ended in 1900 when then Governor Theodore Roosevelt transferred his duties to the state engineer.
Places of residence Adirondack Park
Albany, NY
Role Artist
Titles & Honors Superintendent of the Adirondack Survey, 1872
Education Albany Academy
West Point Academy

Associated Records

Image of Camp Comfort - Drawing

Camp Comfort - Drawing

Drawing, pencil sketch: depicts a campsite with tent and fire set in the forest. Two men sit around the fire, one with rifle over his shoulder the other holding the rifle up right.

Image of View of the Hermits Mill - Drawing

View of the Hermits Mill - Drawing

Drawing, pencil and wash sketch: depicts a rustic cabin with smaller building near, tall trees around the buildings. Mountain in the background.

Image of Sub-Base Triangulation - Drawing

Sub-Base Triangulation - Drawing

Drawing, pencil sketch: depicts large tree covered mountains with a triangulation tower upper right.

Image of Method of Monumenting Important Stations - Drawing

Method of Monumenting Important Stations - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & wash sketch: depicts a cross section of bed rock, both above the ground with a triangulation tower and two men working, mountains in the background and below the ground with a large hole and rock in the center.

Image of Cornish Skip - Drawing

Cornish Skip - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts a metal bucket being lowered into a hole below, two men stand nearby. Sketch served as originals to illustrate Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37. Dome #7

Image of Untitled - Print

Untitled - Print

Lithograph, black and white: depicts a panoramic view of a mountain range on two connected pieces of paper. In the left foreground a group of four men surveying near a forest. Tall bare trees to the left and right.

Image of Humility With Wealth - Drawing

Humility With Wealth - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts an "s" shaped path coming down a mountain with a line of donkeys descending. Man on a horse lower left corner. Sketch served as originals to illustrate Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37. Dome #10

Image of Gulch Mining - Drawing

Gulch Mining - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts a mountain road that leads to a mine with smoke coming from the chimney. Mountains on both sides. Sketch served as originals to illustrate Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37. Dome #4

Image of Gold Retort - Drawing

Gold Retort - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts a small metal cup with top and straw sticking out. Sketch served as originals to illustrate Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37. Dome #5

Image of The Shaft - Drawing

The Shaft - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts two men climbing down a tall ladder into a mine shaft. A second ladder leads to a lower level. Sketch served as originals to illustrate Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37. Dome #6

Image of The Heading - Drawing

The Heading - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts a mine shaft with a cart on rails being filled from a tube above. Two men stand nearby. Sketch served as originals to illustrate Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37. Dome #8

Image of View South From Moosehead Mountain - Drawing

View South From Moosehead Mountain - Drawing

Drawing, pencil sketch: panoramic view of mountain range.

Image of Georgetown, View Eastward - Drawing

Georgetown, View Eastward - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts a birds eye view of a small town set between mountains. Sketch served as originals to illustrate Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37. Dome #9

Image of Little Chief Hare - Cony - Drawing

Little Chief Hare - Cony - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts a small mammal with short ears and tail. Sketch served as originals to illustrate Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37. Dome #11

Image of Life Limit - Drawing

Life Limit - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts two men on horse back riding up a mountain in the snow. Sketch served as originals to illustrate Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37. Dome #1

Image of Gray's Peak - Drawing

Gray's Peak - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts the top of large, jagged mountains. Sketch served as originals to illustrate Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37. Dome #13

Image of A 'Whim," Nevada District - Drawing

A 'Whim," Nevada District - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts a man standing by a donkey attached to a harness, buildings in the background. Sketch not included in Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37.

Image of Antelope - Chyenne [Sic] - Drawing

Antelope - Chyenne [Sic] - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts an antelope in a desert. Sketch not included in Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37.

Image of Shanty at Livermore - Drawing

Shanty at Livermore - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts a one story log cabin with porch and chimney, man coming out of the front door. Sketch not included in Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37.

Image of Rocky Mountain, Red Cliffs - Drawing

Rocky Mountain, Red Cliffs - Drawing

Drawing, pencil & pen sketch: depicts a rock cliff to the left and a jagged mountain to the right. Sketch not included in Verplanck Colvin's, "The Dome of the Continent," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XLVI (December 1872-May 1873). P. 20-37.