Many know the name Thoreau and are familiar with his book Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854), but here in the Adirondacks, a different name is associated with wilderness living: “Woodswoman” Anne LaBastille. LaBastille lived on a 32-acre tract in the Adirondacks, and her Twitchell Lake “West of Wind” property was recently donated to New York State so it may be preserved and protected, as LaBastille wished.
Anne LaBastille’s life on Twitchell Lake began in 1964 when she built a 12′ x 12′ log cabin with no plumbing, electricity, television, or phones. Her only heat source was a Franklin stove, and there was no road to her property.
LaBastille was more than just a female Thoreau, though. Many considered her a pioneer for women in the previously male-dominated environmental conservation field. She became one of the first female licensed guides in New York, was the first female professor in Cornell’s Natural Resources Department, and served as Commissioner of the Adirondack Park Agency for 17 years.
LaBastille was also an award-winning author, perhaps best known for her autobiographical Woodwoman series. In the four book series, LaBastille combined fascinating stories about her experiences at Twitchell Lake with her thoughts about environmental issues. Woodswoman, Book Four (2003), for example, describes the effect of climate change in and around her property. She also wrote more than 150 popular articles and more than two dozen scientific ones.
It’s important to note that LaBastille wasn’t a hermit or a recluse. According to a New York Times article, she “wanted tranquility and to be close to the wellspring of life.”
After LaBastille passed away in 2011, her estate’s trustee donated the property’s cabin to the Adirondack Museum, so it could be preserved according to LaBastille’s wishes. In the winter of 2014-15, it was dismantled and transported to the museum. It will be reconstructed for the museum’s upcoming 2017 exhibit, “The Adirondack Experience,” which will take visitors on a journey through Adirondack history.
Although the cabin has been moved, the “West of Wind” property will continue to be preserved under the State’s ownership. A press release from the DEC revealed that LaBastille wanted her treasured property to continue to serve as a place, “where writers can find inspiration in the Adirondacks.” A writer’s retreat in her name will occur annually at her property.
LaBastille’s legacy will surely live on in those who find inspiration at the site of her former home, and in those who follow her footsteps into the field of conservation.
- DEC – Western Adirondack Estate of Famed Conservationist Anne LaBastille Donated to New York State (Press Release link is no longer active on the DEC website and has been removed.)
- Adirondack Explorer – Anne LaBastille, 1933-2011
- The New York Times – Anne LaBastille, Advocate, Author and ‘Woodswoman’ of Adirondacks, Dies at 75