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The Finest Square Mile -- Mount Jo and Heart Lake.

The Finest Square Mile -- Mount Jo and Heart Lake, by Sandra Weber. 175 pages, Purple Mountain Press, P.O. Box E3, Fleischmanns, NY 12430, 1-800-325-2665. $16 paper.

Anyone who has ever visited Heart Lake and Adirondack Loj will enjoy this romp through a history of the area with its fascinating array of characters -- the colorful inventor Henry Van Hoevenberg (builder of the first Adirondack Lodge), his mysterious love, Josephine Schofield (for whom Mount Jo is named), as well as Melvil and Godfrey Dewey and many lesser lights.

The author is a fine writer, with a crisp, narrative style and colorful descriptions. Her extensive research is clearly documented in unobtrusive footnotes, revealing broad scholarship.

She weaves a chronicle among many disparate people and events, fostering suspense as each chapter leads delightfully into the next with a web of interactions and relationships. Early chapters retell the legend of Henry Van Hoevenberg's love affair with the elusive Jo, enhanced by some surprising facts, previously unknown. Well-accepted myths are proven false and alternative identifications and explanations are provided -- rational, believable but unprovable.

From heartbreak came inspiration. Henry (known as "Mr. Van") built a magnificent memorial to his lost love -- the original Adirondack Lodge, completed in 1878, a huge, rustic log structure overlooking Heart Lake in Essex County. Details of its construction and operation and the rising and declining fortunes of Henry Van Hoevenberg are related, culminating in another tragedy -- destruction of the lodge in the forest fires of 1903. The loss might have been even greater: Van Hoevenberg's attempt to die with his masterpiece was narrowly averted by the foresight and courage of a trusty friend who risked his own life to save him.

The record flows on to "Mr. Van's" connection with the Lake Placid Club, and his close friendship with Melvil and Godfrey Dewey. It includes many years of active employment and residence at the Lake Placid Club, an abortive attempt to rebuild the lodge (now spelled "loj" in Melvil Dewey's phonetic style), many more technical inventions, introduction of winter sports at Lake Placid by the Club's Snobirds and founding of the Adirondack Camp and Trail Club (a precursor of the Adirondack Mountain Club) which devoted itself to trail construction and maintenance, including many miles originating at Heart Lake.

The story continues into the present day, recounting construction of a new "loj" in 1927, rental and then purchase of the Heart Lake property by the Adirondack Mountain Club, and subsequent improvements carried out in the spirit and philosophy of "Mr. Van" -- to serve the hiking public while conserving natural resources. A final chapter details the glacial, climatic and natural history of the region around Heart Lake.

This is a delightful book, attractively laid out and illustrated with black and white photos, maps, line drawings and some original etchings by Ryland Loos. The author refers to Mr. Van's "gift for weaving and telling a tale which made him a boon companion." She displays much the same talent.

Edith Pilcher is a seasonal resident of both Schenectady and Herkimer counties. She is an Adirondack historian and author of three books and many articles about the area.

COPYRIGHT 1998 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Pilcher, Edith
Publication:New York State Conservationist
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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