On this page we will explore what some of the names of Adirondack peaks,
lakes, and places mean and where they originated. One thing to note about
Adirondack names is that many are Native American words applied by
Europeans. The Iroquois and the Algonquin, the two tribes dominant in New
York, rarely entered the Adirondack region, or Couxsachrage (dismal
wilderness), and therefore did not have names for many of the places. Even
where these natives did name specific landmarks, in many cases the names
were replaced later by Europeans.
Mountains (click a link in this section to be taken
to photos of the peak)
- Algonquin, Boundary, and
Iroquois: Reportedly Boundary peak
was so named because it was the boundary between Algonquin and Iroquois
territory. Algonquin territory was on the north side, towards Algonquin Mt,
and Iroquois territory was to the south, towards Iroquois Mt. There is no
evidence to support such claims, however. According to the Adirondack Mountain Club's Guide to
Adirondack Trails: High Peaks Region, Boundary was the southern boundary
of the Old Military Tract (see Misc. section below).
- Basin: Yes, it seems very strange
that the 9th tallest mountain in the Adirondacks would be called
"Basin," but the peak is actually named for the basin that it
forms one side of. I believe the entire basin is formed by Sawteeth,
Saddleback, Basin, and Gothics, but
don't quote me on that.
- Colden (the Mountain): Both Mt.
Colden and Lake Colden are named for
David S. Colden, a potential investor in the McIntyre Iron Works. Colden was
present on an 1836 expedition which reached Lake Colden and named it such.
The mountain was named McMartin in an 1837 expedition to Marcy, but for some
reason in the 1850's the name Colden gradually became applied to the
mountain as well. And with a little help from Verplanck Colvin, who referred
to the peak as "incorrectly known as Mt. McMartin," the name
Colden has stuck.
- Colvin: named for Verplanck Colvin, long-term superintendant of
the Adirondack Geological Survey and one of the earliest proponents of
creating the Adirondack Park.
- Couchsachraga: derived from the Native American word
Couxsachrage, meaning "dismal wilderness" or "winter
- Dix: named for John Dix, Secretary
of State under Governor William Marcy. He would later be a governor of New
York, a U.S. Senator, and Secretary of the Treasury.
- Emmons: named for Ebenezer Emmons, a college professor and
employee of the New York Natural History Survey. Emmons organized the first
recorded ascent of Mt. Marcy and named the
- Esther: after Esther McComb, who
made the first recorded ascent of the peak as a 15-year old. Click the link
to see the plaque that was placed on the summit to commemorate her
"indomitable spirit." Esther is the only peak in the Adirondacks
named after a woman. Incidentally, Ms. McComb is no relation to Alexander
Macomb, after whom Macomb Mt. is named.
- Gothics: supposedly named by
Old Mountain Phelps because to him its slides resembled Gothic architecture
from his vantage point on Marcy. No one knows for sure though.
- Haystack: named by Old
Mountain Phelps because it supposedly resembled a stack of rocks. So he
called it Haystack. Go figure.
- MacIntyre Range: Named for Archibald McIntyre, founder of the McIntyre Iron Works, located in
Tahawus (near Newcomb). The USGS added the "a" to the name of the
mountain range despite the fact that it does not appear in the name of the
man the range is named for. The range is made up of Algonquin, Boundary, and Iroquois Mountains (see above for the naming
of these peaks) and Mt. Marshall (see below).
- Macomb: after Alexander Macomb, who was a land speculator in the
Adirondack region in the late 1700's. At one time he held title to a
whopping four million acres. In comparison, the State of New York owns 2.5
millions acres in the Adirondacks today.
- Marcy: after state governor
William Marcy. Ebenezer Emmons named the peak Marcy on making the first
recorded ascent of the mountain in 1837. Marcy has in the past been referred
to with the Indian word Tahawus, meaning "cloud-splitter,"
but I have never seen any solid proof to indicate that Native Americans ever
actually referred to the peak using this name.
- Marshall: named for Robert
"Bob" Marshall, who was one of the original 46-ers. This peak's
name has been changed several times in its history, but its present name is
likely to stick. The Adirondack
Forty-Sixers pushed for the name to be changed to Marshall after Bob
Marshall's death in 1939.
- Nipple Top: this is an easy one. Named for its characteristic
shape from the Elk Lake area.
- Phelps: named for Orson "Old Mountain" Phelps, famous
Adirondack guide. Phelps coined the names for many of the Adirondack high
- Saddleback: named for the characteristic saddle shape of its
- Santanoni: the name Santanoni is a bastardization of "Saint
- Upper and Lower Wolf Jaw:
supposedly these two peaks together look like the jaws of a wolf. I have yet
to find an angle from which I agree with this observation.
- Colden (the Lake): See
Colden in Mountains section above.
- Flowed Land: this
lake south of Lake Colden in the High Peaks was the result of the damming of
the Opalescent River by the proprietors of the McIntyre Iron Works. Click the link
for more information on both the mine and Flowed Land.
- Indian Lake: named
after the presence of the Penobscot Indian Sabael Benedict on the shore of
this lake. Benedict was the first settler in Hamilton County, and lived to
be 108 years old, attesting to the life-giving powers of clean air and
wilderness. The hamlet of Sabael, located along the western shore of Indian
Lake, is also named after him. (Benedict's family, and especially his son,
Lewis Elijah, who led the the future proprietors of the McIntyre Iron Works to a rich vein of
ore on the Hudson, are often considered part of the Abenaki tribe of Canada.
This is true; however, Sabael was born on the Penobscot River in Maine, and
his family later joined the Abenakis.)
- Lake Tear of the Clouds: this name originated from a quote by
Verplanck Colvin describing the highest source of the Hudson River:
"Far above the chilly waters of Lake Avalanche ... is a minute,
unpretending tear of the clouds ... the well-spring of the Hudson." See
the Quotes page for the full quote as well as many
more quotes from other authors.
- Middle Settlement
Lake: named because one of John Brown's
colonies, the one known as the Middle Settlement, was located near this
small lake. Brown, not the John Brown of abolitionist fame (who lived in
Lake Placid, incidentally), held title to many lands in the Old Forge area
and attempted to sub-divide and sell them to prospective farmers. His
attempts eventually failed due to the harsh climate, short growing season,
and poor soil of the Adirondacks.
- Adirondack: originally a derogatory term used by the Iroquois to
describe their neighbors, the Algonquins. When food was scarce, the
Algonquins would eat the inside of the bark of the white pine. The word
Adirondack is a derivation of the Iroquois word for "bark-eater."
The Ha-De-Ron-Dah Wilderness area in the western Adirondacks is an attempt
at a more accurate spelling of the original Native word.
- The Garden: This is actually a very heavily-used parking lot in
Keene Valley. It is primarily used by hikers accessing the Johns Brook
Valley, but the trail to Big Slide via
the Brothers also departs from this lot. It is referred to as the
Garden because it was built in 1970 atop a former vegetable garden.
- Old Military Tract: This tract was a
665,000-acre plot of land located in the northern Adirondacks that was set
aside by the state in 1781 in order to compensate troops that protected the
north from Indian raids. Very little of the land was ever used for that
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