New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Bureau of Real Property Field Books of Verplanck Colvin for the Adirondack Survey

Held by the New York State Archives

Overview of the Records


New York State Archives

New York State Education Department

Cultural Education Center

Albany, NY 12230

This series consists of field books used by Colvin during his survey of the Adirondack region. The majority of information found in Verplanck Colvin Field Books consists of survey notes and sketches. Many also contain notes, topographical sketches, and letters. Indexes, legends, and conversion tables are often found. There is a distinct subset of volumes known as the "T" volumes that consist of surveys conducted using a theodolite survey instrument.
17.88 cubic feet (442 volumes); 44 microfilm reels (442 volumes)
Inclusive Dates:
Series Number:
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Numerical by volume number.

Administrative History

Verplanck Colvin (1847-1920) was a prominent surveyor and promoter of the Adirondack Park. He began surveying the Adirondacks in 1865. In 1870, he spoke to the New York State Regents about surveying and preserving the Adirondacks. In 1872, the Regents appointed him the Supervisor of the State Survey and established the Commission of State Parks to investigate setting up the Adirondack Park. By 1880 Colvin had completed the most thorough survey of the Adirondacks ever accomplished. He continued to work as the State Surveyor for twenty-eight years. During the time he was carrying out his survey work, he gave speeches and campaigned for the establishment of the Adirondack Park. In 1900, after thirty-five years of advocating his cause, Colvin inexplicably abandoned the crusade. He died in 1920 in a hospital for the mentally ill.

These field books were created from 1872 to 1900 as the result of Chapter 733 of the Laws of 1872 which appropriated money "to aid in completing a survey of the Adirondack wilderness of New York." Chapter 848 of the Laws of 1872 appointed commissioners for two years to survey "the timber regions lying within counties [of the Adirondack region]", with an eye to converting them into a public park. The Superintendent of the State Land Survey was authorized to make any surveys which the State Comptroller and the State Forestry Commission deemed necessary to settle the boundaries of lands having disputed titles.

Subsequent appropriations were passed to continue the survey. As the Superintendent of the Adirondack Survey, and later as the Superintendent of the State Land Survey, Verplanck Colvin conducted the survey with his assistants during the 1870s and 1890s. Geographic localities surveyed include Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Herkimer, Oneida counties; Totten and Crossfield Purchase and MaComb's Purchase; and Vrooman's Patent, along with the myriad of natural and built-environment features located on the land.

Scope and Content Note

The majority of information found in the 442 volumes consists of survey notes and sketches. Other types of information include solar observations, triangulation observations, and observations of zenith distances, measurements and computations. Some or all of the following information can be found in each field book: surveyors name; name of assistant(s); name and/or lot number of the locality or landmark; and date the survey was conducted, completed and/or filed. Many of the field books contain notes, topographical sketches, and letters tipped-in or inserted between the pages. Indexes, legends, and conversion tables are often found either in the front or back of the volumes, sometimes bound or tipped in. A few of the volumes contain journal-type entries which focus primarily on the survey work, descriptions of location, weather, and daily activities. There is a distinct subset of volumes known as the "T" volumes (nos. 417 to 442) that consist of surveys conducted using a theodolite; a survey instrument used for the measurement of horizontal and vertical angles.

The fieldbooks are arranged by volume number and are roughly grouped together chronologically and by geographic location. The bulk of the field books are bound in leather with summary/title information printed and/or written on the cover. At the time of reformatting onto microfilm, volumes were renumbered consecutively for ease reference. Three volumes were found to be missing or were never transferred and volume 132 has only a cover extant.

B1406-18: This accretion consists of original field books.

Use of Records

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions regarding access to or use of the material.

Alternate Formats Available

Microfilm is available at the New York State Archives through interlibrary loan.

Microfilm 44 reels : 35 mm.

Related Information

Related Materials

Series B1405 Verplanck Colvin Maps of the Adirondack Wilderness.

Other finding aids

Microfilm roll list is available at the repository. List gives roll number, volume number, date, names of surveyors, and brief description of survey areas.

Related Publications

These field books are cited in the publication: Colvin in the Adirondacks: a chronology and index / Francis B. Rosevear. Utica, New York : North Country Books, 1992.

Location of Original MaterialOriginals held by Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

Processing Information

This series was filmed by State Archives staff in 1995 as part of a cooperative reformatting project with the State Dept. of Environmental Conservation, funded by a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Access Terms

Personal Name(s):
Geographic Name(s):