In my youth the mention of history would make me wrinkle my nose. That was during the school years of course when I related history to a classroom setting with nothing but a boring memorization of strange names and odd dates. On Lake Champlain, I was living in the birthplace of America and enjoying history on a daily basis, but did not connect the dots. Textbooks aside out of the classroom, the historic sites of our Lake Champlain Region were and are really quite the playground. Today these sites offer some first-class entertainment and recreation. There are opportunities that you don’t want to miss regardless of your interest in history; hands-on fun, live entertainment, and feasts for the senses. You don’t have to be a history buff. Visit for the fun of it.
Ideas for your summer travel plans:
More than just an 18th century fort, great things are happening at Fort Ticonderoga; ghost tours, gardening, and guns to mention a few. Things are blooming and booming there, literally. Fireworks and firearms fans will surely enjoy “Guns by Night”. Set against a backdrop of night sky and fortification, 18th century firearms used in both the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War are displayed in action. Muzzle flashes light up the dark sky. I can almost smell the gunpowder just thinking about it. Where else could one experience such a dramatic spectacle in such a realistic setting? Think ‘privileged experience’ and brace yourself for the cannon booms. This 90-minute tour is held on select nights of July and August. Advanced reservation is required, so plan ahead, reserve early to not be disappointed.
If gardening is a passion of yours the King’s Garden is a definite must see. Situated on the grounds of Fort Ticonderoga, the walled King’s Garden was originally designed by the famous female landscape architect, Marian Cruger Coffin in the 1920s. It was designed for the museum’s original founders to complement their adjacent summer home, The Pavilion. In recent years it has been undergoing a rebirth of sorts. The name “King’s Garden” was taken from 18th century maps that identified gardens on the grounds of the fort used to feed the troops. Guided tours are offered daily as well as specific themed tours, symposiums, a garden party, and a harvest festival. You will come away with a multitude of ideas for your own garden.
For those with an interest in the supernatural, Fort Ticonderoga offers a unique opportunity to explore the garrison in the dark investigating reports of unusual occurrences recounted by both staff and visitors for over 100 years. Throughout select evenings in July and August, a 90 minute guided exploration can provide you with a rare insight into Fort Ticonderoga’s often grievous past. Again, make reservations early.
Open May 10th to October 19th this year, Fort Ticonderoga also offers 2,000 scenic acres for exploration. Enjoy the walking trail, rent a canoe to gain a paddler’s perspective of the fort and enjoy a picnic lunch on the grounds. Tips: Allow plenty of time for your visit, more than one day if possible. There is so much to see and do there! Bring along appropriate clothing and footwear for outdoor activities like canoeing and extensive walking; even garden gloves if attending one of the hands-on King’s Garden programs.
Champlain Bridge Heritage Area
Spanning Lake Champlain, while connecting the states of New York and Vermont, the Lake Champlain Bridge also connects significant historic sites and grounds. Crown Point State Historic Site on the New York side encompasses two distinct National Historic Landmarks, Fort St. Frederic and His Majesty’s Fort at Crown Point. It is very rare to have two NHL in such close proximity to one another. The grounds here are open year-round for walking, biking, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Plenty of interpretive signage will help you find your way around and identify the significance of what you see. Consider attending their annual French and Indian War Encampment the second weekend in August. See costumed reenactors conduct battle reenactments and observe 18th century living.
This site is also the eastern terminus of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,600 mile trail whose western end is in North Dakota. Hiking around any of the 400+ acres of this site will provide you with boasting rights as having accomplished at least some of that trail.
The CPSHS museum is open mid-May through mid-October. Inside acquire the guide to the walking tour of the site. Also, see “Eye of the Storm” a fantastic audio-visual presentation that will give you an appreciation of the significance of this particular piece of geography and why this “point”, jutting into Lake Champlain, was such a coveted piece of ground during the birth of America.
Birders should note that a Bird Banding Station is in operation on the Crown Point State Historic Site grounds for three weeks in early May of each year. Over 100 species of birds have been recorded and banded at this site which is on the Eastern Atlantic Flyway for spring migration. The public is invited to visit and participate between 7:30 AM and 5:00 PM. If you miss the spring migration you still may be able to see bald eagles and osprey who frequent this site.
The Lake Champlain Bridge Interpretive Trail begins between Fort St. Frederic and the ramp of the bridge. It will wind you under the bridge and onto the trail near the boat launch at the NYS DEC Crown Point Reservation Campground; an interesting perspective of the bridge’s foundations and steel structure. Check in with campground staff for a day use ticket that will allow access to the Crown Point Memorial Lighthouse, pier and picnic area. Tip: Visit the Crown Point Historic Site Museum first, save your ticket, and it will provide you free access to the Champlain Memorial Lighthouse! Just display it to the campground staff.
The lighthouse is not to be missed. During good weather, you are permitted to climb to the top. Take your camera! The parapet there will provide you with a phenomenal 360 view. Back down on the ground note the sculpture on the lakeside of the lighthouse. The larger sculpture above by Carl Heber depicts Samuel de Champlain and his scouts while exploring this vast lake. Below is a bust entitled La France by Auguste Rodin. This was a gift to the people of NY and VT from France in the early 1900s. At the time we were honoring the 300th anniversary of Champlain’s exploration of this lake by creating a memorial out of the original 1858 lighthouse. Since we were honoring one of their explorers, France gave us a gift, the Rodin sculpture.
If you have brought along a fish pole and some lures, try fishing for a nice sized bass off the pier. In fact, some good smallmouth bass is caught regularly off the pier and along the shore nearby. Walk back across the campground to the Lake Champlain Visitors Center located in the former 1929 Bridge Toll Collector’s House. Inside you will find a wealth of area information and an exhibit dedicated to the entire “life” of the former bridge.
Now consider walking the 2,100 foot Lake Champlain Bridge to Vermont. If the wind is right, the bridge’s structure may “sing” to you, but at the top take time to gaze out over the water west toward the Village of Port Henry. There you will be on the official Champ Viewing Platform and you never know when he may make an appearance. Also at the top, you have the opportunity to straddle the state line and be in two different places at once! Something we have all wanted to do at one time or another.
The Chimney Point State Historic Site is directly on your right as you cross the bridge. Stop in this early 19th century tavern, now museum. It has many stories to tell. Exhibits and special events at Chimney Point present the story of three cultures; Native American, French Colonial, and early American. Human habitation goes back 7,500 years here. Now that is history!