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How much do you know about Wilmington’s history?

Over 200 years have passed since Wilmington first got its name. For a town that has never housed more than 1,200 permanent residents, Wilmington has seen more than its share of history. From numerous presidential visits and important historical figures to its influence on the whole of American history, Wilmington is a proud and unique representation of the Adirondacks.

From its beginning, Wilmington has derived meaning and power from the mountains and river that it was founded on. First finding its footing as a small industrial town, Wilmington got its name in March of 1822 when a group of settlers from Wilmington, Vermont decided to carry their hometown’s name with them. With nothing more than a wooden bridge and dam for water power, these first residents would build their foundation on an iron forge, a sawmill, a potash factory, and rye as a cash crop.

Logs being quarter-sawn — Courtesy of the Wilmington Historical Society, Haselton Lumber Company collection

Important people

Town members would go on to influence the course of American history, fending off the British army at the Battle of Plattsburgh, and serving as crucial stops along the Underground Railroad.

Many Wilmington natives have gone on to do great things elsewhere, but most make their way back if for nothing more than a breath of fresh mountain air. Once resident, Henry Harrison Markham, would have a successful political career, becoming a United States Representative and the Governor of California.

Other notable figures include esteemed U.S. Army members, the 15-year-old Esther McCombs, accredited with the first recorded ascent of Esther Mountain, and internationally recognized athletes, such as Olympian speed skater Jeanne Ashworth. 

Top of Whiteface ca. 1900 — Courtesy of the Wilmington Historical Society, Carol Latone collection

Important visitors

Wilmington is a town of innovation.

As the lumber industry slowed, the Adirondack Park was protected, and the economy transitioned from production to tourism, the town’s accommodations, attractions, and people adapted to match.

Numerous mountain house hotels, restaurants, and national attractions became regular vacation spots for those looking to escape closer to nature. The once solitary town would soon be connected to the world through wagon paths, highways, and telephone cables.

It’s no surprise that Wilmington garnered the attention of many important visitors throughout the years. President Grover Cleveland would make many trips into the Adirondack wilderness. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would inaugurate and dedicate the Whiteface Memorial Highway, and influential skiers like Hannes Schneider and Otto Schniebs would leave their mark on the U.S. ski industry in Wilmington and beyond.

A boy sprays a squirt gun at the Wilmington town beach

Fast forward

Now, in the year of Wilmington’s 200th anniversary, it’s time to celebrate! 

August 20, 2022 will mark Wilmington Day! A parade will lead to festivities at the town beach, but the fun doesn’t end there. Throughout the year, we’ll continue to celebrate this historic moment with music, events, and celebrations of our town including a 50-year time capsule, not to be opened until 2072. 

Stay tuned for more information and big events coming soon!


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