Located in the Mid-Adirondacks, Hamilton County offers its myriad forested mountains, seventy-seven major lakes, and countless streams, with beauties that only nature can provide. Farming was the major occupation of its earliest settlers, who came to the county’s southern section just prior 1800. However, the rocky soil and short growing seasons in the county’s elevated lands proved discouraging.
For about 100 years, until around 1912, lumbering was the principal industry. Due to the prevalence of Hemlock bark, the tanning of leather became a secondary industry. The tanneries began to falter around 1890 because of new chemicals used to treat the skins.
New York State created a provisional county, named for Alexander Hamilton, in the Adirondacks in 1816. On April 22, 1837 the State Legislature determined Hamilton should be given full status as a county. In 1839, construction of the first county buildings began on a promontory 1,760 feet above sea level in the hamlet of Lake Pleasant. By 1902, many people had settled in the area, including several large hotels to accommodate the booming summer trade.
The county buildings had become inadequate by 1928. In the following year, a new courthouse and clerk’s office was built and the enlarged Hamilton County jail was opened August 1, 1940. In December of 1989 the county expanded its departments and moved several facilities to Indian Lake.
Poor roads were a problem in the early years of this sparsely populated region. Not until 1955 was a paved road built between Indian Lake and Speculator, connecting the upper and lower halves of the county. Previously, legislators from the northern section had to detour 150 miles one way to reach the county seat.
This semi-isolation brought a unique culture to Hamilton County residents. They were essentially a brave, hardy people. Residents often faced living on a reduced income, working in dangerous occupations such as river driving and logging, waging an annual battle with the elements, and encountering predatory animals.
Tourism has been a source of income for the county since its early years. Sportsmen first made their way into the Adirondacks, returning with ample stores of fish and game. In 1869, the Rev. William Murray published his “Adventures in the Wilderness,” which caused a new influx of people into the area.
The building of the Adirondack Railroad from Saratoga to North Creek, in 1861 by Dr. Thomas Durant, opened the central part of the county to travel. His son, William West Durant, developed Racquette and Blue Mountain Lakes by constructing large summer homes In 1880, Frederick Durant built the Prospect House at Blue Mountain Lake. This structure was completed with electric lights, telegraph, and with a capacity for 500 guests. A railroad was then built from Dr. Seward Webb’s Mohawk and Malone Railroad, on the west side of the Adirondacks, to Raquette Lake. Meanwhile, Long Lake began to draw its own set of distinguished visitors. Lake Pleasant became a fashionable resort area with the Hamilton Inn at its center. Headed by the world heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney, Speculator became the center for the training of prizefighters in the mid 1920’s, drawing hordes of enthusiasts.
Tourism had taken over. With modern roads and rapid travel many of the larger hotels began to disappear. People now built their own summer homes, flocked to the local inns, or made use of the state’s many campsites. Summer vacationers, fall sportsmen, and winter sports enthusiasts swell Hamilton County’s population.
The world-famous Adirondack Museum, opened in 1955 at Blue Mountain Lake. Other cultural and entertaining opportunities are available in villages from time to time, and are often sponsored through by the Adirondack Center for the arts at Blue Mountain Lake.