New York State's Adirondack Park spans some 6.3-million acres. Within the Park sits 46 "High Peaks," with all but four towering about 4,000 feet in elevation. Perhaps the most famous and recognizable is Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, N.Y. Standing a majestic 4,867 feet high, Whiteface is the state's fifth highest mountain, making it a favorite skiing and riding destination in the winter month. The mountain is also home to the Veterans' Memorial Highway, a popular summer attraction with running, biking, hiking and breathtaking views.

How did Whiteface Mountain get its name?

You may know Whiteface as the go-to destination for winter fun but do you know how the mountain got its name? Which of the four theories do you believe?

  1. Original Native American names are preserved by scholars in certain works such as William A. Beauchamp's "Aboriginal Place Names of New York" published in 1907, as Bulletin 108 of the New York State Museum. According to Beauchamp, the Algonquin name for the mountain was Wa-ho-par-te-nie from Waapenot, "it goes upward," or Woapen, "it is white." (Donaldson, p 49) A Mohawk Indian name for the mountain was Thei-a-no-gu-en meaning "white head," with reference to the bare white rock near its peak. 
  2. The name is also said to come from an 1804 landslide which exposed a glare of bare whitish gray rock (whiteface anorthosite) extending from the summit to part way down the mountain on its eastern side. (Doug Wolfe)
  3. Frozen cloud water called rime ice impacts the mountain from 3,800 feet up and occurs 10 months out of the year. Snow is also common. Both rime ice and snow lend a white "head" or white "face" appearance to the mountain. (Doug Wolfe)
  4. At one time, the High Falls Gorge pamphlet and many souvenirs in the area gift shops featured a Native American Legend. It was entitled, "White Face Mountain, the Land of Romance." It appeared this way:

Those of us who love the Adirondacks in northern New York often gaze at the lofty White Face Mountain near Lake Placid with admiration. To the people of the Iroquois Indians of centuries ago, the Adirondack region was the land of legends and myths—the land of romance. The mountains, they believed, were home to many great gods, and it was here that the mysterious Great Bear roamed, regarding which many an adventurous tale was told. The mountain lakes, they said, were the tears of the gods and the Great White Stag was seen in the gray mists that hung about the head of White Face Mountain. It is told that a certain young brave was much in love with a beautiful Indian maiden and did much to please her but she was not contented as she wanted the skin of the White Stag to make a ceremonial dress. So the young brave spent many an hour trying to kill the noble animal but without success. Finally, one night the mists about the mountain lifted and there, standing on a rocky ledge, bathed in the light of the Sister of the Sun, stood the Great White Stag. Now it seems that the young warrior had been given two magic arrows by an old Indian whom he had fed and befriended. Quickly he fitted both arrows to his bow and just as they sang through the air the White Stag leaped straight up the barren, rocky face of the mountain. So powerful was the magic of the two arrows that they pierced the neck and the haunch of the stag and pinned his body against the precipice and there it hung, but try as he would the warrior could not scale the steep crest of the mountain to claim his quarry. The next day the body of the stag had disappeared but the space where it had hung had turned from a stone gray and black to white, and from then on the mountain has been known to us as White Face. Even now it is said that those who see with the eyes of romance can distinguish in the mountain mists the form of the White Stag standing alert on a rocky ledge just below the white face of the mountain.

SIDENOTES

  • In Wilmington in the 1960's & 1970's, a resort/restaurant near Whiteface Mountain was named "The White Stag".
  • Recently a white deer has been spotted in the Whiteface area.
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