Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Glens Falls - A Great Place to Spend a Day in the Adirondacks

Lake George and the Adirondacks are beautiful. You can go boating, hiking or just spend some time sitting on the shore. But, what if it rains? What is there to do other than sitting in your room? Luckily, just ten miles south, on route NY-9 is the city of Glens Falls.

Glens Falls sits along the Hudson River, at the point where there is a large waterfall. It was originally founded by a group of Quakers, and in 1766 it was named Wing’s Falls after that groups founder. In 1788 the hamlet was transferred to Colonel Johannes Glen, who renamed it Glen’s Falls. The falls afforded a source of water and power. Today Glens Falls is still a manufacturing center, producing medical devices, industrial valves and specialty paper.

On my way to Glens Falls I took a trip to the town of Lake Luzerne. My research found a couple of small museums there, but they were not yet open for the season in early June. However, Main Street has some beautiful old houses to look at, and the Adirondack Folk School was open, although there were no classes on the day I visited. On my way out of town I stopped at the Hadley Bow Bridge, which spans the Sacadaga River, just before it joins the Hudson.

My first stop in Glens Falls was the Chapman Historical Museum, located in the historic DeLong House in the center of downtown. It is home to a collection of historical artifacts and stories related to the history of the city. One gallery held a show of photographs from the 1870’s and 80’s taken by Seneca Ray Stoddard. Another exhibit, titled “Building Stories” gives a pictorial history of commercial buildings in Glens Falls. Both of these exhibits are open until Oct 27th 2019. The main draw is the DeLong house itself. Built in the 1870’s, this two-and-a-half story brick building is now home to a large collection of interactive exhibits covering the history of living in Glens Falls.

Guess the Kitchen Utensil

An Old Victrola

The Game Room

After visiting the Chapman Museum, I walked down to the falls. It is about a one mile walk through the heart of downtown Glens Falls. There are signs of renewed life in the area, with restaurants, cafes, and boutiques opening up. It is hard to get near the base of the falls as there is an electric generating plant in the way, but there is a path alone Cooper Cave Drive.

My last stop in town was The Hyde Collection. This museum was founded in 1952 by Charlotte Pruyn Hyde, the daughter of local paper manufacturer Samuel Pruyn. Charlotte and her sisters built houses along a tract of land that overlooked the Hudson River. She and her husband, Louis Hyde, collected art work from around the world. When Mrs. Hyde died in 1963, that collection, and her Italianate mansion became the heart of the museum.

Today there are two main parts of the museum. There is an addition that houses three galleries where temporary exhibitions are shown. When I visited in June, there was an exhibit of drawings of Albert Flanagan. The primary collection is housed throughout the Hyde House. As you walk from one room to another it unfolds with one masterpiece following another.From Botticelli, Rembrant and Rubens to Cezane, Degas and Picasso, The Hyde Collection covers the wide history of European art.

Towers of Manhattan by Arthur Flanagan

Head of a Moor by Rubens

Annunciation by Botticelli

Estelle with a Red Hat by Renoir

So, don’t let the rain get in the way of enjoying your time in the Lake George area. In fact, even if it is a sunny day, Glans Falls is worth a visit.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Visit Fort Ticonderoga - History in a beautiful place

When you visit Lake George, a trip to Fort William Henry might not be history for you. If so, head about thirty miles north to visit Fort Ticonderoga, at the juncture of Lake George and Lake Champlain.

As I discussed in last weeks blog, Lake George and Lake Champlain formed a key water passage for traveling from Quebec to New York. In order to complete that journey, there is a two mile portage between the lakes. This portage was an important place to defend in order to control the movement of goods and troops. In 1755, the French army began construction of Fort Carillon, along Lake Champlain, at the mouth of the La Chute River.

Fort Carillon was a stone faced, star-shaped fort, built on a bluff. It offered firing lines north and south along the lake. It was placed at a narrow point where it could control the passage of boats. The walls were seven feet tall and fourteen feet thick.

In 1757 the French army captured Fort William Henry, at the southern end of Lake George. This brought their control of the area near to Albany, the northern-most city in New York, at the time. In 1758, the British countered with a massive attack on Fort Carillon. 16,000 British troops attacked the fort and its 4,000 defenders. However, the British general did not rely on his advantage by out-flanking the French, or by laying siege to the fort. Instead, he attacked their defenses head on, suffering 2000 losses. The British retreated to Albany. In 1759, the British returned with 11,00 troops, but the French had decreased their garrison to only 400 soldiers. The French abandoned the fort, dynamiting the walls and destroying their cannons. The British took control of Fort Carillon and renamed it Fort Ticonderoga, after an Iriquios word meaning “at the junction of two waterways.”

The British held Fort Ticonderoga after the end of the French and Indian War as a key supply and communication link between Canada and the colonies. During the American Revolution, the British had a plan to send troops from Canada along the Hudson River to divide New England from the rest of the colonies. In 1775 Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold led a raid by the Green Mountain Boys that captured the fort from the British. This stopped the advance of troops south, and the captured cannons were sent to Boston, where they help force the British to evacuate the city. In 1777 the British recaptured the fort and held it until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1781.

In 1803, Fort Ticonderoga, now in ruins, was sold by New York State to Union and Columbia Colleges. They, in turn, sold the land to William Pell in 1820. In the early 1900’s the Pell family decided to restore the fort as a historic and tourist destination. In 1909 the family reopened the fort, and in 1931 the family formed the Fort Ticonderoga Association, which runs the fort to this day. The latest renovation of Fort Ticonderoga was completed in 2009, with the building of a new modern gallery and education center. They have also restored the “Kings Garden,” which was part of the Pell family living space, and a beautiful place to visit when you come to Ticonderoga.

When you visit, I recommend two other stops. First, drive up to the top of Mount Defiance. It is a free entry with your admission to the fort. You will have great views of Lake Champlain and Fort Ticonderoga.

In town, visit Bicentennial Park. There are beautiful falls at the western end of the La Chute River, and a great walk along the river. 

The eastern Adirondacks is a beautiful part of the country. It is also an area filled with places of important historical events. So come and visit.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Fort William Henry is a journey back to the 18th Century

Visiting the Adirondack Mountains is a trip into beauty. It is also a trip into history. There are several bodies of water that were very important for travel during the 18th century. As a result there were several important battles fought in the area.

Let’s say, back in the 1700’s, you wanted to travel from New York City to Quebec. Now, look at a  map of New York State. You can follow the Hudson River for two-hundred miles before you reach a series of waterfalls that make it unnavigable. From that point, there is a relatively flat passage twelve miles to the southern end of Lake George. You could then travel thirty-two miles north up the lake. At the northern end of Lake George is the La Chute River, which flows from that lake to Lake Champlain. While the La Chute has many rapids and falls, it provides a two-and-a-half mile portage. Once on Lake Chaplain it is a 107 mile sail up to Quebec.

To make this journey required two portages, where goods had to carried over land. This meant that there were key places that had to be defended in order to maintain control of the route. The British built a fort at the northern end of the Hudson River, called Fort Edward. The French built Fort Carillon at the southern end of Lake Champlain. This whole area became a key battle ground during the French and Indian War. 

In 1755, at the start of the Seven Years War in Europe, the British Army started an expedition north from Albany in an effort to expel the French from North America. The French decided to strike first, and sent troops south from Fort Carillon. The two armies met along the southern shore of Lake George. The battle raged all day on Sept. 8 1755, with the British forces victorious in the end. After gaining control of the area, the British contracted Fort William Henry to protect the portage, and to stop the French from attacking Albany.

In 1757, the French prepared a second attempt to take Albany. The British had approximately 2000 troops at Fort William Henry. The French came south with over 8000 troops and Indian allies. They laid siege to the fort for  five days. The British were forced to surrender. They negotiated terms that allowed the British soldiers to keep their equipment and firearms. These goods had been promised to the Iroquois as payment for their support of the French. As a result, the Iroquois attacked the British camp, causing the death or injury of around 200 people. This battle and the resulting attack became a key scene in The Last of the Mohicans, written by James Fenimore Cooper. After the battle, Fort William Henry was dismantled by the French troops before their return to Fort Carillon. 

Two hundred years later, in 1953, local businessmen brought the land in order to prevent development on the site. They working with archeologist Stanley Gifford, they excavated the area and then recreated the fort on its original footprint. Today, the fort is home to a museum displaying many of the artifacts collected in the initial excavations along with another dig in the 1980’s. There are also people on site playing the role of the British soldiers. They offer tours that explain the what happened during the two battles, along with demonstrations of musket  and cannon firing.

Most people come to Lake George for the beauty of the area and fun of activities on the Lake. Some come for the Six Flags amusement park nearby. But there is a long history in the area, and it is worth exploring when you visit.