Fall is a wonderful time to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Adirondacks and, for 78 years, sightseers have been driving up Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway in Wilmington to enjoy the majestic views from the top.
Souvenirs from this monumental highway, along with those from Santa’s Workshop and neighboring ski areas, abound because the region was (and remains) a popular vacation destination.
Bob and Karen Peters of the Wilmington Historical Society are avid collectors of Whiteface souvenir memorabilia, and they also recently spearheaded the writing of a new Images of America book on the history of the area titled “Wilmington and the Whiteface Region.” The book, which was the collaborative effort of 11 authors, is jam-packed with historical photographs and captions that tell the story of how Wilmington went from an agricultural-based community in the early 1900s to a tourism-based economy by the mid-1930s.
It all started with Whiteface, the state’s fifth-highest mountain peak at 4,867 feet. The first trail up the east side of the mountain was cut in 1859 by pioneer guide Andrew Hickok Jr., who was soon leading hikers to the summit. By the 1890s, boating, hiking and horseback riding were established recreational activities for tourists who stayed in the many grand hotels and lodges that dotted the region.
As the new century dawned, so did the age of automobile travel, and motor roads began to crisscross the Adirondacks. In the early 1920s, a group of local businessmen and politicians lobbied for a paved highway to the top of the mountain. The state-funded project was finally approved with Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt breaking ground at the four corners in Wilmington on Sept. 11, 1929. The highway was opened to tourists in the summer of 1935 with the official dedication to World War I veterans taking place on Oct. 14, 1935.