Professor explores the history of the Adirondack Mountains

Research is a major component of any academic undertaking, whether it’s about finding a cure for something, answering a question or preserving history. Researchers often set out on one path and find themselves uncovering information that takes them in an entirely different direction.

Associate professor Peter Hopsicker didn’t start his career intending to write about the Adirondack Mountains. He majored in physical education (K-12) at Ithaca College. He followed that with a master’s degree from the University of Maryland, intending to start a career in collegiate athletic administration.

It was while he was getting his doctorate in kinesiology at Penn State, though, that his path in at least one aspect of his research was set.

“When I first started taking sport history class, everyone else was writing about football and baseball. I wanted to be unique so I asked my adviser what if I did something like this?”

“This” was sports history in the Adirondack Mountains, where Hopsicker grew up.

By writing two papers he saw the potential for four topics and could expand on what he had uncovered. “Through the process of becoming a scholar I got more in-depth. There is very little written about the '32 Winter Olympic Games or their impact on the region and I saw that as an opportunity.”

The first article published was about the Adirondacks becoming an outdoor recreational destination in the late 1800s. Wealthy city dwellers hired local guides to accompany them and do the work required to survive in the wilderness, even if just for a week. Of course people recognized that not all travelers wanted a rugged experience and so hotels and resorts sprung up.

Then, in 1877 hotel owner Judge Henry Hilton made a decision that would impact the region for nearly a century when he decided that Jewish people would not be allowed to stay at his hotel. While Hilton’s hotel was located outside the Adirondack Park boundaries, other innkeepers within the park followed suit and segregation took hold in much of the area.

This discrimination may not seem to be in the realm of sports history, but the 1932 Olympic Games were held in Lake Placid, N.Y. A required element for any Winter Olympics is the bobsled run. The organizers had difficulty finding suitable land on which to build the run, first because the land had to have certain topographical specifications, but also because the New York State Constitution strictly protects the Adirondack Forest Preserve from development, and finally because the Lake Placid Club — which owned some of the land considered for the bobsled run — was still anti-Semitic.

The editor of the Jewish Tribune newspaper initiated a protest over the use of public funds for Olympic facilities being built on segregated property. Finally, a compromise was reached where the Lake Placid Club would not profit from the bobsled run at any point in the future, and the Olympics were held with a bobsled run and without incident.

Topics for research continue to expand for Hopsicker. He was inspired to write about bobsled crashes because “when the Georgian luger died in 2010 (on the Whistler Sliding facility) that made me think.”

He just wrote an article about disability and sport from a theological perspective. And — on a personal level — a family member recently informed him that there is a Hopsicker Pond in the Adirondacks, although no one is sure why it has the family name. Surely that too will be a future research project.

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Last Updated September 10, 2013