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Following Fort Blunder...
Few places have played a more prominent role in local history and folklore as the great, hulking edifice just north of the Village of Rouses Point, New York. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the property was, from colonial times, regarded as "the Commons." The island and the rising ground to the west of it, was part of a huge grant known as the "Canadian and Nova Scotia Refugee Tract." The Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State 1 tells us about this property:
So it was that Rouses Point's earliest settlers built their homes on the Commons. We have recounted the names of these pioneers earlier in this account. The land was purchased and the homesteads removed. Yet, the "locals" never really stopped considering the area their own. Perhaps this was due to the fact that a significant military force was never established here. Certainly the fact that most residents outside of the Military Reservation brought their livestock through the lakeside gate onto the grounds to graze each day contributed to this sense of community ownership. Rouses Point was a small village, from the earliest days of "Fort Blunder," the edifice on the lake held its appeal. Unfortunately, access into the fort itself was, and remains to this day, strictly forbidden. There are sound reasons for this prohibition.
Oftentimes, the fort grounds were viewed as a fascinating playground for local youth. Many a boy or girl found their way onto the grounds of the fort. They delighted in the views from atop the high walls and the sights and sounds from within the cavernous curtains and magazines. The fort itself never saw action, but we can be sure there were many imaginary wars and battles conducted here. The fort became a popular refuge on hot summer days, when the appeal was the coolness of the interior and swimming in the lake.
Another reason for visits by locals was not so benign, however. Much of the original fort was carted off by local inhabitants, we will see how that practice continued with the more modern structure. Much of the destruction was perfectly legal; brick and stone from both forts can be found in structures all around the Rouses Point area, the most significant of which was the long bridge that links Rouses Point with Alburgh, Vermont.
Photos of the fort tell the tale. The earliest images show a structure largely intact, the most noticeable feature being the large peaked roofs that protected the beautiful spiral staircases to the barbette tier. Despite being labeled "guardhouses" on the glass negatives, these structures served mainly to protect the stairways from the elements and allow light and ventilation into the well of the staircases. Photos of the top of these cleverly designed stairways show they simply opened up to the top-most areas of the fort. It is likely they were made largely of wood, however, hence they were among the first pieces of the structure to be dismantled and carted away.
Something else that probably went fast was the finely finished wood from within the structure like that from the magazines. John Ross tells us that "the wood in the walls was about two inches in thickness, planed, and probably sanded... the whole magazine was an example of the cabinet-makers art."2 Photos of the magazines today show not a trace of any wood left.
Early photos of the interior show wooden doors, glass, and window frames. These, also, seem to have been removed fairly early, since the majority of photos show gaping holes in their place.
(Click on the thumbnails to see a large image)
Above, left to right: Another view from the parade towards the east bastion. Courtesy of Ralph Gilpin. Center: One of the staircases. Photo from the collection of Ralph Gilpin. Right: View towards curtain II (south), the gorge Officer's quarters is on the right. There are two women in front of the last portal on the south curtain. Note that all doors, window frames, etc. have been removed. Courtesy, Clinton County Historical Association.
Left: This photo, looking towards the southeast bastion from within the southwest bastion, shows at least two people in the embrasures (or gun ports). Courtesy, Clinton County Historical Association.
What remains of the fort has suffered the modern-day plague of graffiti. Most of it doubtless was applied during the drug and alcohol parties that occurred too often in the recent past. The owners have worked hard to prevent these events, their motives are not at all heavy-handed, these trespassers risk much by being there. Last summer the author was contacted by New York State troopers asking for information on the fort to be distributed to a force of local police who were assigned to prevent a large party at the site. In addition to local police enforcement of trespassing laws, the close proximity to the border makes trespassers subject to an encounter with the US Border Patrol. Fort Montgomery is privately owned, trespassing is unsafe, and the owners have prudently forbidden access to their property. These same people have generously agreed to cooperate with this writer to tell the story.
Their rights should be respected, please do not trespass on the fort grounds.
Did you enjoy this page? For more information and some wonderful vintage photos of Fort Montgomery, we highly recommend you visit Charles Barney's Fort Montgomery Collection page here on America's Historic Lakes!
1 J.H. French, Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State. 1860: R.P. Smith
2 John F. Ross, Sidelight on History. 1978
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