Location: Crown Point, New York
Webpage: New York State Park
General Description: Crown Point State Historic Site is the location of two forts, Fort St. Frederic and Fort Crown Point when this wilderness area was in contention between the English and French. Since the mid-1600s the French had trapped and traded with the native American Wabanaki Confederacy. With the rise of the English colonies to the south tensions grew over control of Lake Champlain which was the major route between New York and Montreal through the wilderness. Both France and England sought control of this route with the consequence that the European Wars known as King William’s War, 1688-1697 and Queen Anne’s War, 1702-1713, saw expeditions and raids by both sides to seize control and limit access. According to the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht the boundary between New York and New France was set some 10 miles north of Crown Point. However, the half-mile narrows created by the peninsula at Crown Point provided an excellent location for a fort that would control all travel, so the French broke the treaty when the built wooden fortifications at Chimney Point on the west side. Three years later they began construction of a more permanent stone fort on the east side named Fort St. Frederick. The fort was completed in 1737 and established control of the lake for the French. The stone fort was 300 foot square with six bastions and an eight sided stone citadel with its own moat and drawbridge in the north corner. The fort mounted 62 cannon and housed a 100 man garrison. In addition, the French built Fort Carillon in 1755 to the south to control access to Lake Champlain from Lake George. In 1754, war erupted again in Europe, the Seven Years War. The extension of this war to North America was called the French and Indian Wars and Fort Carillon and Fort St. Frederick were keys to control of the region. After a disastrous attempt to capture Fort Carillon in 1758, the English forces succeeded in driving out the French in 1759. The French forces also abandoned Fort St. Frederick before an overwhelming 12,000 man English force under the command of General Amherst. The blew up the magazine and the fortified granary before retreating. Even though a good bit of the fort remained, General Amherst immediately had the land cleared and began the construction of a new fort, Crown Point. Crown Point, initially called Fort Amherst, was the largest English fort built in the colonies with ramparts reaching 27 feet and housing 100 cannon. The fort was built on top of the limestone rock on the peninsula, which means the dry-moat surrounding the fort had to be blasted. The fort was never completely finished, only one of the two barracks along with officers quarters were finished within the fort, as the French and Indian War came to an end in 1760 with France giving up all claims to the area. It was never attacked and was used mostly as a staging area during the remainder of the war. After the French and Indian War, the British left only a skeletal force at the fort. On May 12, 1775, at what is called the Battle of Crown Point, Captain Seth Warner and 100 Green Mountain Boys easily captured the fort and its remaining cannon, 29 of which were included in the over winter march of cannons by General Knox to free Boston from English occupation. It was then used as a staging point for Benedict Arnold’s navy on Lake Champlain. However, after the defeat of this navy in the Battle of Valcour Island in 1776 the fort was abandoned to the British until the end of the Revolutionary War. No longer needed by the Americans it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. Today the ruins of both forts are part of the New York State Historic Sites and open to the public.
1) The Crown Point State Historic site is free to the public, although the museum and visitor center is operated by a non-profit organization that has a nominal charge. I strongly recommend visiting the museum as it is very well done. The movie they have does an excellent job of giving the history of both forts and part way through the screen lifts up showing a map that is then highlighted with lights to show the key locations. There was also a volunteer dressed as a French soldier that was more than happy to provide explanations and answer questions of literally everything in the museum. I learned more from him then I did the exhibits themselves. This was partly due to the fact he hovered over my shoulder the entire time and partly because I asked a lot of questions.
2) By paying the admission you are also given a tour guide for the forts that provide some additional information about what you are seeing in the ruins. There are some interpretive signs as well, but I found the guide to be a great addition.
3) Fort St. Frederick was essentially destroyed by the French when they left and a lot of the stone was used in the construction of Fort Crown Point, therefore there is not a lot to see except for some depressions. I was intrigued by the eight sided three story tower they had built in the north corner and I am still not sure its intention except as a final line of defense within the walls of the fort.
4) Fort Crown Point is the largest British fort in North America and it is huge! We have seen a lot of forts from that time period and none are anywhere near the size of this fort. Much of the stone walls and moat are in good condition, but you have to visualize that the walls were extended to four times the height they are today with some wood!! The remains of the officer quarters and the only complete barracks are mostly intact except for the second story and of course all the interior wooded floors and doors. They also had a large well in one of the bastions that is still functional, which is the only well I have seen that has not filled in over time.
5) The fortifications also included three redoubts situated out in front of the fort itself. You can still visit one of these redoubts across the highway from the fort. There is not much left of this small structure except for the moat out in front of the redoubt.
6) Even with time spent in the museum it takes only a couple of hours to explore the fort, but if you like old forts and history it is well worth the trip. Besides there are a lot of nice views of Lake Champlain.