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How New York’s Adirondacks Made Vacationing a Thing

The term 'vacation' was first used by city folk heading for the pristine landscapes of the Adirondack Park.

Great Camp Sagamore in Raquette Lake was built in 1897 as a summer retreat for the Vanderbilt family. (Jessica Riehl)

In the US, Christmas is a holiday. Thanksgiving is a holiday and the Fourth of July is a holiday. But those two weeks you took off from work to go to Bora Bora? That’s a vacation.

Of course, across the Atlantic, the English consider both Easter and your sunny South Pacific excursion a “holiday.” Here, it wasn’t until the second half of the 19th century, when Americans began to enjoy more free time, that the term “vacation” came about. Back then, vacation literally meant to “vacate” one’s home and head for—wait for it—the Adirondacks.

The rise of the vacation coincided with the publication of 1869’s Adventures in the Wilderness, an Adirondack guidebook written by Boston preacher William H.H. Murray. Amid the rapid industrialization of America’s cities, wealthy New Yorkers saw a trip to the untouched countryside, where lakes sparkled “like gems…amid the folds of emerald-colored velvet,” as therapeutic. 

Thanks in large part to Murray’s book, the Adirondack region’s summer population grew from 3,000 in 1869 to 25,000 in 1900. Now, annually, between 7 million and 12.4 million tourists visit the Adirondacks—even more than visit the Grand Canyon. That’s a lot of vacation!   

Natalie Moore

Natalie Moore is the director of content at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living.

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