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Rustic Retreat, New York Mountain Museum

"The best of its kind in the world." So writes a New York Times art critic, describing the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York. Crowning a hilltop in the heart of the state's six million acre Adirondack Park, this 31-year-old regional museum looks west over Blue Mountain Lake far below, and east over Blue Mountain, which is 75 miles from Albany, 180 from New York City.

A long vista of the lake - a sapphire embedded deep amidst the forested hills - greets visitors as they enter and leave the 22 exhibit buildings. These include the 1876 Log Hotel, a painting gallery, a typical early Adirondack cottage, a Road and Rail Transportation building which houses horsedrawn vehicles, sleds, wheeled buggies, and the symbol of wealth of early millionaire tourists - a luxuriously appointed private railroad car.

There is also a locomotive which operated from 1900 to 1929 on the three-quarter-mile carry on Raquette Lake, a mining building, a blacksmith's shop, the steamboat Osprey, the excursion launch Mountaineer and the elegant sloop Water Witch, floating on an outdoor, plexiglass-domed pool of its own. Rustic Bull Cottage is filled with early Adirondack twig furniture. In the large auditorium a film, The Adirondacks, runs continuously. In the boat building are displayed the famous 19th-century Adirondack guide boats, those light, graceful vessels that float like an autumn leaf on the water and can be carried overland by one man, yet are sturdy enough to navigate the roughest passages. Called "the best handiwork of the region", such boats are designed to carry two people and their gear and are used to this day by Adirondackers for hunting, fishing, transporting tourists and, in an emergency, to sleep under.

Built and operated almost entirely through private contributions, the museum is the result of the desire of William Wessels, owner of The Blue Mountain Lake House, and Harold Hochschild, who had been coming to the lake since 1904, to preserve the history of this unique area. They formed the Adirondack Historical Association and, in 1953, purchased the Blue Mountain Lake House as a site. (The museum compound consists of 30 acres, with another 150 of forest as a protective buffer.) The library, "the most important collection of Adirondackana anywhere", holds paintings, manuscripts, old maps, historic photographs and 7,000 books. It is used internationally by writers, researchers and historians.

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