Keene, NY Friday Oct. 3
So how many of you have heard of the fort at Crown Point? How many of you have heard of Fort Saint-Frederic? How many of you have heard of Fort Ticonderoga? Before today, we had only heard of Fort Ticonderoga.
Lake Champlain is less than an hour east of Keene and was our destination for the day. Lake Champlain extends for 125 miles north-south and up to 14 miles in width. For most of its length, it is the border between Vermont and New York states. It is named after Samuel Champlain, French explorer. Remember him from our Canada excursions?
More importantly, in the days before railroads, it was an integral part of the water superhighway connecting Montreal area to New York City area via the Richelieu River, Lake George, the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, and two relatively short portages.
When the French and British were both trying to add North America to their empires and to cut out the other country, this waterway was extremely vital. It was a main route for battles and skirmishes for two hundred years. It was also the area of battles between the Algonquin Indians and the combined Iroquois Confederacy of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. As the Europeans tried to expand into this area, the Algonquins allied with the British and the Iroquois with the French.
The French out of New France (Canada) built Fort St. Frederic, starting in 1734, on a peninsula near the southern end of Lake Champlain to guard against British and colonial intrusion. It was the base for French settlers in the area. Fort St. Frederic was never attacked directly but was destroyed by the French in 1759 to avoid having it fall into the hands of the British.
Crown Point was a much larger fort built almost on top of the ruins of Fort St. Frederic. Crown Point was built by the British in 1759 and was the largest earthen fortress constructed in the U.S. It burnt due to a chimney fire in 1773. It was lightly guarded by the British after this and not reconstructed. In 1775, the Americans captured the fort, taking the cannon from here to fight the British in Boston.
There is obviously a lot more history to be recounted, but that is my summary. We toured the ruins of the two forts, the museum and the Champlain Memorial Lighthouse. The state historical park of Crown Point has been described as: “Crown Point Fort, in its ruined but unaltered state, is probably the finest existing architectural and archaeological type specimen in the United States of a superior example of 18th century military engineering.”
The lighthouse was built in 1759 and served for 70 years. The lighthouse has a statue of Champlain and a bust done by Auguste Rodin.
We had lunch in Vermont, crossing the Champlain Bridge to the Bridge Restaurant, a small family diner with home-cooked food. We passed on dessert because we noticed Fort Ticonderoga was only 15 miles away. Our original plans were to visit it when we were in Lake George next week. But the distance from Lake George to Fort Ticonderoga was one hour and it was a half hour from the Bridge Restaurant.
Fort Ticonderoga was always associated in our minds with the battle to win its cannons for use in Boston. Today’s history lesson was that Ticonderoga was only one half of the cannons brought to Boston, Crown Point was the other half. Fort Ticonderoga could fit five times inside Crown Point and still have space left over.
We spent several hours at Fort Ticonderoga. The Fort was destroyed by the British in 1777 prior to their abandoning the fort. Despite the hopes of some Americans, the focus of the war shifted to the south, Canada was not a major target, and this area was no longer of strategic value. After its destruction, it fell into ruin. Locals took most of the stone and brick to make their own buildings. It was stated that only 12% of the building today dates back to its original construction.
A wealthy family, the Pells, purchased the property in 1820, mainly for a summer residence. Over time, the descendants came up with the idea of making the fort a historical landmark. It opened as such in 1909; making their effort one of extreme foresight and generosity, since this pre-dated the U.S.income tax and tax deductions. It remains a tax-exempt educational institution today.
Besides our touring of the fort, we took an hour guided tour by a costumed guide. He gave a very interesting talk. I could go on about Benedict Arnold, the Green Mountain Boys, and other stories but will leave you with one tidbit. The guide told us that Fort Ticonderoga was the first fort built by the military architect. It should have been 200 yards closer to the water, the site selected did not give a clear view of any ships trying to sneak by. The architect also designed the barracks so they were higher than the walls, thus an easy target for the enemy.
To come back to Keene, we took a small car ferry over Lake Champlain to Vermont. The Fort Ti Cable Ferry has been operating since 1759-but today’s version does meet U.S. Coast Guard standards. We drove back to the Bridge Restaurant and had soup and dessert before completing our day back in Keene.
Ed and Chris 10/3 10 pm