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Interpreting the Evidence

Adirondack Logging Camp

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    North Country
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Adirondack Logging Camp, Sleeping Tent, c. 1900 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
The sleep tent, or bunkhouse, at a logging camp in the Adirondacks, circa 1900.
Historical Context
Life was not easy in the mountains. Lumberjacks usually worked from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., a fifteen-hour day. Accidents were frequent, the work was hard, and the pay was low. The top pay for a lumberjack was only $2.50 a day. When the lumberjacks went to work in the fall, they sometimes didn’t come down from the mountains until the drive was finished the next summer. Men from Europe and Canada, as well as America, came to work as lumberjacks in the Adirondacks. They were of all nationalities.

Lumber camps were semi-permanent villages. Early logging camp buildings were often over-heated, poorly ventilated, and smelled terrible. The men slept in rooms called dog rooms. These were large, one-room buildings with bunk beds built next to the outer walls. The dog rooms had a single wood-burning stove in the center for heat.  The men would wash their clothes outside in a kettle full of melted snow. This is also how they took a bath, even in the winter!

Lumberjacks required enormous amounts of food to keep their axes swinging. The cooks in the cookhouses would prepare four full meals a day for the lumberjacks, plus desserts such as pies, cakes, cookies, and donuts. The meals would typically consist of salted pork, bread, and baked beans.  While the lumberjacks were on a river drive, the men would sleep in tents or shanties. Then the meals were prepared by a traveling male cook and his assistant, known as a cooke. The cook and cooke would follow the men in a horse-drawn wagon or gang boat.

Lumberjacks, massive and tough, became mythic and the character of a lumberjack developed into American tall tales, such as Paul Bunyan and Tony Beaver. Paul, of the Northern states, and Tony, of West Virginia, probably never existed, but the exaggerated essence and characters of the lumberjacks is evident in the many versions of their tall tale adventures that are still available today.

Essential Question
How does industrialization impact society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the impact of industrialization on the workers and their working environment.
Historical Challenges
Peripheral industries sprouted around logging centers, such as tanning. How and why were tanning and logging connected? Locate Tannersville, New York, on a map. Research its local history in connection with the logging industry.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: One egg has approximately 80 calories, one pancake 120 calories, and one sausage 95 calories. If a lumberjack eats 10 eggs, 7 pancakes, and 9 pieces of sausage, how many calories did he eat?
Science: Research the environmental impact of deforestation and conservation efforts. Experiment with recycling paper in your classroom.
English Language Arts: Compare the tales of Tony Beaver (Appalachia) and Paul Bunyan (Northeast States). What similarities can be found? What do these stories say about the life of a lumberjack?