September
15th 2008
Fort Ticonderoga

Posted under: American history, European history, O Canada

Tom Watson has a post on the peril that faces Fort Ticonderoga now, and about the nice afternoon he spent with his family there this summer.  Fort Ticonderogawas originally the French Fort Carillon, built during the Seven Years’ War, and renamed Ticonderoga when it was taken over after the British victory over France in that war.  Ticonderoga is known to most U.S. Americans (if it’s known at all) as the site that Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys daringly captured from the British in 1775, sending its artillery overland to Boston to help George Washington liberate Boston in 1776.  Ticonderoga then served as a base of operations until it was lost to the British again in 1777, but the American forces were able to contain the British at Ticonderoga by halting their advance at the Battle of Saratoga, September 19, 1777, and eventually forced the British to surrender Ticonderoga again the following month.  These two engagements–Ticonderoga and Saratoga–were sufficient to help secure French assistance on the American side, which is why they are known as the “turning point” in the military history of the American Revolution.  

From a purely jingoistic perspective, Fort Ticonderoga is clearly one of the most important historical sites for the history of the Revolution, linked as it is to the greatest American victories in the first half of the war (1775-1778), and credited (in part) with securing French intervention, which proved decisive in 1781.  And, let’s face it:  the other tales of the first half of the war around New York and Philadelphia are for the most part stories of British victories and American failures.  Watson nicely describes his most recent, and why sites like Ticonderoga are worthy of our patronage and our money:

We visited Ticonderoga – my third visit, my children’s second – last week on the way home from Lake George, and spend an hour wandering the battlements and peering at the collection of arms and other archeological wonders in the simple galleries housed in reconstructed barracks. It remains a wild and beautiful spot, its bloody history aside, and the views across the farmlands and up toward Mount Defiance (where the British mule-hauled cannon to eventually force Ticonderoga’s surrender from the rebels) are singularly beautiful. Moreover, they tell almost the complete story of New York’s importance to the new United States – sitting astride one of the great inland trade routes linking Canada with Albany and the Mohawk, New York and the Hudson.

Watson links to a New York Times article that explains the financial and management problems that face the fort.  Memo to people working in museums and historic preservation:  don’t depend on a single quirky and immensely wealthy donor to bankroll your project.  Keep cultivating other donors, and be sure that the public knows about the important work you do in preserving local and national history.  And everyone, when you travel, please consider dropping in on that old house museum, or that historic site you’ve always meant to get to, but you’ve always been in such a hurry to get somewhere else you’ve never made the time to get there.  You never know when it might not be there for you to visit.

9 Comments »

9 Responses to “Fort Ticonderoga”

  1. Indyanna on 15 Sep 2008 at 2:36 pm #

    Growing up in (very) DOWNstate New York, I have to say that my first memory of the term “Ticonderoga” is mixed in a Proustian way with the aroma of that staple of the elementary schoolroom, the Dixon-Ticonderoga Number 2 Pencil. A quick Wiki discloses that this company was based in Jersey City, but that–you’ll like this part, Historiann–it originated as a “crucible” company that mined its graphite, or pencil lead, from the old Tantiusque lead mine in Sturbridge, MA–an operation going back to John Winthrop, Jr. in the mid-1660s.

    But this is to digress. It’s kind of amazing that Ticonderoga is not run by the National Park Service (not that that would guarantee its financial stability). Fighting along that ancient corridor goes back to Samuel de Champlain’s first months in North America, and extends right down to the War of 1812 I think. It kind of reminds me of Valley Forge, which the state of Pennsylvania ran (into the ground) for eighty years, before trying to turn it over to the NPS. The Ford administration sent its Interior Department political appointees to Congress to testify that the state was “doing a fine job with it” (which the state explicitly denied), and thus should just keep doing it. Fortunately, Senate Majority Leader Hugh Scott, of PA, had more power than an accidental president and so the park became a federal facility, decked out as “Pennsylvania’s Bicentennial Gift to the Nation.” Three decades later it’s not out of the woods yet, however, budgetarily or in terms of development threats. But it’s definitely better to be funded by a poor uncle than by a rich candy bar maker, I think.

  2. dance on 15 Sep 2008 at 3:35 pm #

    I like to sign the guestbooks for those little museums with my furthest legit home. That is, maybe I’ll write California (childhood home) even though I live in grad school town one hour away. I figure it sounds good in the grant requests.

    Also, having been to 3 national parks in the last month, I would just like to announce that I LOVE the National Park Service and what it does.

  3. Historiann on 15 Sep 2008 at 9:16 pm #

    Good question, Indyanna–why isn’t the NPS in charge up there at Ticonderoga? You’re right that that’s no guarantee of budgetary solvency, but at least if it’s an NPS site, it presumably won’t have to face shut-down or the wrecking ball…

    Ticonderoga no. 2: I haven’t thought about them since I took my last standardized tests, back in 1989. What a nostalgia trip! I’d better go lie down with a baseball mitt over my face and take a nap.

    Dance–good idea on signing the guest book. I hadn’t thought about that. The NPS does good work–and, unfortunately, leans on a lot of good people to work for less money than they should, because they do much more than they’re paid to do.

  4. hysperia on 15 Sep 2008 at 9:26 pm #

    I say give Ticonderoga back to Canada! We’re well known for looking after our historical sites. Come on up and see. Upstate New York would be good too.

    lol

    Sort of.

  5. Historiann on 16 Sep 2008 at 8:24 am #

    But hysperia–you’ve got the installation at Cape Breton, which is a pretty terrific 18th C fort. (I heard that the fort and barracks in Halifax burned recently–did you hear that too, or am I imagining things?)

  6. Indyanna on 16 Sep 2008 at 8:49 am #

    I say all hands on deck. If Ticonderoga falls, we’ll have to evacuate Albany and fall back to what, Kingston, or maybe even New Paltz? This could get interesting…

  7. ortho stice on 16 Sep 2008 at 6:59 pm #

    Interesting post, Historiann! I thought about it today during my class, when the guest lecturer said, “The U.S. National Parks are quasi-mystical places that Americans visit to commune with nature and rejuvenate the American Spirit.” Ha!

  8. Indyanna on 16 Sep 2008 at 7:20 pm #

    I hope I won’t be ‘jacking the thread, too much, if I use it to report that Valley Forge National Historical Park is facing a very different kind of threat. A well-funded and seemingly very whiggish private group is trying to build a museum devoted to the American Revolution as a whole (itself a worthy idea) on an “inholding” (an unacquired private tract) within the Congressionally-authorized boundary of the park. The complex would include a “conference center” and a 99-room “residence facility,” and bears the marks of a very commercial orientation. Until recently this was to be a partnership with the NPS on a less sensitive site within the park, but conflicting egos and budget priorities sent the outside group off on the current tangent. The issue is in preliminary township level zoning appeal proceedings, supported by the park, local residents, and the National Parks Conservation Association. It will doubtless go into litigation whatever the result at this level. A project of this broad character, minus the operational overkill and under appropriate interpretive guidance, would be a very good thing, on the model of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, but this version is not the right one.

  9. betje klier on 29 Aug 2011 at 5:23 am #

    Improved by punctuation: Just as Lazarus’ poem lacks a comma, Indyanna’s comment would be enhanced by adding a period… To wit, “The complex would include a “conference center” and a 99-room “residence facility,” and bears…” Stop there. It’s a great idea, Indyanna! I guess that would set off a new debate with animal rights advocates and Canadians, since they have more bears and perhaps bigger, better, and fiercer bears, but it would certainly differentiate this park from others and provide an authentic touch and special sight for children from hotter climes. Oh, where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him! bk