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. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Lake George NY, Adirondack beauty

Regular readers know that one of my organizing principals in traveling is to avoid crowds. So, I scheduled my trip to Lake George in early June, the period when it is just waking up and preparing for the summer crowds. It is a time where this tourist haven is (mostly) open for business, but not yet overrun by crowds. In other wards, a perfect time for me.

Lake George is located about two-hundred miles north of New York City, in the Adirondack Mountains. It is thirty two miles long and up to two miles wide. The Lake George valley is a rift valley, formed by the  stretching of the continental plate along a fault. The lake itself was created when the glaciers of the ice age left a terminal moraine along the southern end of the valley. This geologic history has created a beautiful valley, filled with a gorgeous lake. Together, they form one of New York’s most beautiful areas. One so pretty, it has drawn tourists for over one-hundred years.

Today, the town of Lake George is home to many choices and activities for visitors. South of the lake, you will find new hotels, along with an outlet mall and most of the chain restaurants you might want eat at. Travel north along route 9N, and there are a multitude of lake-side resorts. These offer a wide variety of sleeping options, along with in-site activities and dining. My choice was to stay in town. The main drag in Lake George is Canada Street, and it is lined with motels and resorts that date back back to the 1950’s. These offer a nostalgic place to stay, while being in walking distance to everything the town offers. I stayed at the Heritage of Lake George, which offers both motel rooms and cabins. While it doesn’t offer direct views of the lake, it has lovely rooms, a pool and a good, if limited breakfast.

The Heritage
Canada Street Motels

The center of Lake George is the intersection of Canada Street (NY 9 & 9N) and Beach Road. This is a good place to start your visit because here is where you will find the Lake George Visitor Center, a great place to find out what is happening in the area. Walk north, south or east from this intersection and you will find a plethora of restaurants, activities and souvenir shops. There are haunted houses, arcades and even place with rides for small kids.

The Old Warren County Courthouse

The Old Train Station

Miniature Golf along the lake

After driving up from New York City, I had lunch at Christie's On the Lake. It is not a fancy place, but they serve good sandwiches and they have a great terrace overlooking the lake. Chrisite’s is one of several restaurants that offer views of the water. Another choice is The Lookout Cafe, on Beach Rd. Part of the Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center, the Lookout serves great salads and sandwiches for lunch with wonderful views looking north at the whole length of the lake.

The view from Chritie's

The view from the Lookout

After lunch I took a drive up to the top of Prospect Mountain, where there are great views of Lake George and the surrounding valleys.

One of my favorite activities was taking a cruise on the lake. There are two main companies offering lake tours. The Lake George Steamboat Company, on Beach Road, offers trips on the Minne-Ha-ha and the Lac du Saint Sacrement. These are bigger boats, that specialize in lunch and dinner cruises. The other is Lake George Shoreline Cruises, which sails the Adirondac and the Horicon.

For dinner there are many options. I visited Mario’s, a white tablecloth southern Italian restaurant. Full meals, heavy on the tomato sauce, are available here, and they even had a three-course prix fixe on the night was there. If you want something lighter, try Ali Baba Express, which offers Middle Eastern salads, platters and wraps. For something more pub/family oriented try The Garrison. Burgers, salads and a wide range of beers are on the menu.

Lake George is one of those tourist places, that, if you haven’t been there, you might wonder if it worth the trip. But its beauty makes it worth the trip, especially if you can make the trip when the crowds are low.