|Date||1880 ca.-1880 ca.|
Packbasket made by Old Mountain Phelps for Mrs. Charles Goodwin of Hartford, Conn.
A pack basket (or packbasket) is a basket with shoulder straps that is worn on the back; it is one of the oldest surviving traditions inside the Adirondack Park. These baskets were used to carry the heavy supplies needed for hunting, fishing, trapping and other pursuits in the mountain wilderness.
Most early Adirondack pack baskets were made using wood from the black ash; the wood is hand-pounded into wood splints and then split into strips that are woven around slightly thicker ash splint uprights. The bottom is flat, allowing the pack baskets to stand upright when set on the ground. Pack baskets have a flat or slightly curved back, and a "belly" that bows out to increase the volume. A leather or woven webbing harness with adjustable shoulder straps allows the basket to be worn comfortably on the guide or hunter's back.
This very old pack basket was originally owned by Mrs. Charles A. Goodwin of Hartford, CT. It was given to the museum by her niece who had inherited it and who lived in Keene Valley. It has a round mouth and a wide belly. Many of the ash splints have broken or slipped out of place. The harness is made of leather with metal buckles. A canvas strap, possibly a replacement, is buckled just beneath the rim.
This pack basket was made ca. 1880 by Orson Schofield Phelps (1817-1905), an Adirondack guide from Keene Valley, New York. Adirondack guides are wilderness professionals who are often expert hunters and fishermen. They were commonly hired to lead sportsmen and sportswomen into the remote and trail-less Adirondack wilderness.
Orson "Old Mountain" Phelps was the first man to cut a trail up Mt. Marcy; he blazed the trail to the summit from the east in 1849. During his long career he guided many parties to it and other summits. He boasted of having climbed Mt. Marcy more than one hundred times. In ca. 1850 he guided the first women to the summit of Mt. Marcy; the feat of getting them safely to the top and back gave Phelps his first local renown. He is also remembered for his close association with surveyor Verplanck Colvin and writer Charles Dudley Warner.