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The history of the Adirondacks in 3-D


Tom French of Potsdam is the author of “River Views: A History of the 1000 Islands in 3-D.” A silver medal winner of the 2012 Independent Book Awards for best regional nonfiction book in the Northeast, the book includes a collapsible Loreo 3-D viewer so that readers can enjoy the Victorian-era stereoviews in the book in 3-D.


Special to the Times

With the recent resurgence and popularity of 3-D movies, some might believe that 3-D technology is a 21st century innovation. In fact, it is decidedly 19th century, as old as photography itself.

It’s little known that the early photography of the Adirondacks was in 3-D.

Almost as soon as photography was invented, scientists started experimenting with depicting depth. Remarkably, until the 1830s, many people believed that we had two eyes simply to see more of an object. Although some theorized two eyes allowed seeing “around” an object, there was little understanding as to why drawings and paintings appeared flat, despite great efforts by artists to accurately reproduce the subjects being painted.

It wasn’t until 1838 that science began to understand that our eyes produced slightly different perspectives that allow us to perceive our world in 3-D. A year later, in the same year that photography became commercially viable with the daguerreotype, the first 3-D photographic stereo images were produced — though it would be more than a decade before a practical method of viewing stereo images was invented along with a binocular camera, a camera with two lenses separated by about the same distance as between the eyes (2 inches).

William and Frederick Langenheim, brothers who became the first commercially successful photographers in America, produced some of the first stereoviews in the U.S. in 1854, a series of shots from Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Within a decade, millions of people owned stereoscopes, along with collections of stereocards. The market for stereocards from around the world had begun. By the end of the 1860s, stereoviews existed of hundreds, if not thousands, of locations. Over the next 30 years, the cards and viewers became ubiquitous — the entertainment of the day until it was replaced by radio, moving pictures and eventually television.

Photographers across the globe set out to chronicle the world in 3-D. The most common views were of cities, natural wonders and tourist destinations — including the Adirondacks.

Some of the earliest Adirondack stereoviews were taken by J.C. Moulton of Springfield, Mass., who took 3-D views of Ausable Chasm in the early 1860s. A.F. Styles of Burlington, Vt., and H.K. Averill Jr. of Plattsburgh also photographed and produced their own sets of Ausable Chasm stereoviews prior to the chasm’s opening to the public in 1870. Even then, access into the chasm was limited until late 1873, when stairways, bridges and trails were built.

Ausable Chasm figures large in the history of Adirondack stereoviews because this “natural wonder” of the Adirondacks was easily accessible due to its proximity to both a rail line and ferry. Tourists could reach the chasm, just three miles west of Port Kent on Lake Champlain, without having to suffer the vagaries of a long journey on primitive mountain roads through unpredictable weather.

The first visitors arrived on steamships from Whitehall and Plattsburgh. From Port Kent, tourists paid 10 cents for the stagecoach. By 1873, the Delaware Hudson Railroad had started construction on its link from Albany to Montreal. One of its major tourist stops during the summer was Port Kent for the stagecoach connection to Ausable Chasm.

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It was from Keeseville and through his connection to the chasm that photographer George W. Baldwin got his start. Born in 1849 in Jay, one of 10 children, he built a career that spanned 55 years. His parents were farmers who moved to Essex County from Vermont. By 1860, they had moved to the town of Black Brook, two miles east of Ausable Forks. The 1870 census indicates Baldwin’s occupation as “artist,” a common nomenclature at the time for photographer.

He married into the family of Judge Mathew Adgate in 1872. Adgate had been granted more than 3,500 acres along the Ausable River, including all of the Ausable Chasm, for his service in the Revolutionary War. Baldwin married Judge Adgate’s granddaughter, Margaret Hargraves.

Although Baldwin married into the Ausable Chasm dynasty, the family access was short lived. The chasm was purchased by interests from Philadelphia in 1873, the year Baldwin opened a studio in Keeseville, in the Mould Block Building on Front Street. At first, Baldwin was simply a portrait photographer, though he also conducted business as the sales agent for all the stereoviews and other photos sold at the Ausable Chasm entrance lodge.

Those photographs might have included two sets of chasm stereoviews advertised in Seneca Ray Stoddard’s 1874 Guidebook — the Adirondack Series (38 views) and the Ausable Series (32 views), published by W. Mould & Son of Keeseville. The photographer was probably Frank Robbins of Keene, N.H., who had an Adirondack series of 38 views with the same titles and corresponding numbers.

Other views of the chasm that Baldwin would have sold (and noted by Stoddard in his 1874 Guide) were of the series “The Picturesque of the Adirondacks,” by William T. Purviance of Philadelphia, the official photographer of the Pennsylvania Central Rail Road.

Soon Baldwin was experimenting with outdoor photography and stereography himself. His first photos were winter stereoviews of the chasm and Keeseville taken in late 1874 or early 1875. About the same time, he began producing stereoviews under the imprint Gems of the Adirondacks. He took the earliest known stereoviews of Ausable Forks and the ironworks of the J. and J. Rogers Co. In July 1875, he took a remarkable stereoview of the steamer Champlain, run aground near Westport.

By 1877, Baldwin was traveling throughout the Adirondacks with his stereoscopic camera. He seems to have stopped taking stereoviews by 1880 and relied on his existing stock of 400 to 500 negatives to produce views for the tourist trade. He moved his studio to Plattsburgh in 1883 and spent much of the rest of his career on 8-by-10 landscape photos of the Adirondacks, considered by some to be his finest work. He moved to Saranac Lake in 1893 to take advantage of the boom in portrait work due to the influx of tuberculosis patients at the Trudeau Sanatorium.

In 1904, he returned to Vermont, where he operated a studio in Rutland until he was struck and killed by a car on Dec. 10, 1930. He was buried in the family plot at Fairview Cemetery in Ausable Forks.

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Seneca Ray Stoddard, perhaps the most prolific Adirondack stereoview photographer, took his first Adirondack photography tour in the fall of 1873. Stoddard got his start in stereo photography in the late 1860s in the Glens Falls and the Lake George areas, where he formed a partnership with J.H. Carpenter, a Lake George photographer. Although they produced a small group of Lake George stereoviews with the imprint of Carpenter & Stoddard, it was a short-lived business arrangement. By 1867, Stoddard was on his own.

A notice in the Glens Falls Republican at the time praised his local stereoviews. In 1871, E. and H.T. Anthony and Co., the largest supplier and distributors of photographic supplies in the U.S. during the 19th century, promoted Stoddard’s views of Lake George as a Christmas present.

Born on May 13, 1843, in Wilton, Stoddard left the small family farm at 19 for Troy, where he was an ornamental painter of railroad cars. Eventually, he moved to Glens Falls, where he would spend the rest of his life and maintain his studio.

Stoddard was a versatile artist who dabbled in landscape paintings, sketches, drawings and publishing, in addition to photography. The first tourism boom of the Adirondacks in the 1870s provided him with many opportunities to promote these skills.

He traveled extensively throughout the Adirondacks in the 1870s, publishing a regular tourist and guidebook series, “The Adirondacks Illustrated,” from 1874 to 1914. He also produced souvenir photos and stereoviews and began producing his own catalog of stereoviews in 1875.

By 1877, he listed 1,400 stereoviews, and they were soon being sold around the world. He also photographed and produced 5-by-8 and 11-by-14-inch landscape views, which he referred to as “Studies for Artists.”

His stereoviews and photographs were soon being sold around the world, and Stoddard traveled internationally, presenting his magic lantern slide show of his Adirondack photographs. He is often credited with having an influential role in the establishment of the Adirondack Park, having presented the lantern show to the state legislature on Feb. 26, 1892, to influence lawmakers to vote for passage of the bill creating the park.

He died at age 73 in 1917 at his home in Glens Falls.

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There were easily thousands of historic stereoviews taken of the Adirondacks during the heyday of 3-D photography from 1860 to 1890 and probably more than the handful of other photographers discussed here, both professional and amateur.

Elbert “E.M.” Johnson took stereoviews of Crown Point, including a bridge being constructed there. A Union corporal in the Civil War, Johnson served in the New York Harris Light Cavalry Corps, Custer’s division, under Gen. Philip Sheridan, setting up his photography studio after the war. A book containing his diary entries from the Civil War was published by Penfield Homestead Museum in 2005.

“Gems of Lewis County Scenery” was published by Van Aken’s Gallery in Lowville. A photographer named John Moore produced stereoviews with his imprint in Trenton Falls.

Views can be found by Fay & Ferris of Malone and Fay & Farmer. One label of Fay & Farmer lists 42 different stereoviews from Meacham Lake (seven views) to St. Regis Lake House (six), Big Clear Carry, Bog Pond, Bear Pond and Green Pond to Corey’s, Bartlett’s (five), Harrietstown (two) and John Brown’s House & Grave.

Robert “R.J.” Stead was a Canadian photographer out of Lanark Village, near Smith Falls, from the 1870s until the turn of the century. He crossed the border and took a number of stereoviews under the “Views of St. Lawrence Co., N.Y.” imprint, but his “best trade” was in the spring when lumber camps broke up and the lumberjacks would have their portraits taken before heading home.

Many photographers produced views without labels, imprints or any type of identification, so not only has the identity of the photographer and publisher been lost, the subject is unknown as well.

Likewise, stereoviews can be found that clearly were produced by amateurs. The photo edges of these card are often uneven, and the seam between the two images rough. Some amateur photographers might have had an actual stereo camera, but others simply took two slightly different photos using a board as a level platform — moving the camera slightly for the two different pictures and then pasting them later onto the mount.

Although many stereoviews have been lost, many still can be found readily through the Internet. Some libraries, museums and historical societies maintain an online database for public viewing (New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Library of Congress Digital Collections, Wikimedia Commons). Several online auction houses specialize in the sale of stereoviews (eBay, and and there are also online retailers ( and

The National Stereoscopic Association ( is also an excellent resource for people who would like more information on all aspects of 3-D photography, both historical and current.

Individuals wishing to view the stereoviews included with this article in 3-D can purchase a modern-day, low cost, collapsible viewer at (specifically, or ( There are also a number of attachments available for cameras so that individuals can take 3-D pictures.

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