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This wonderful photo from the collections of the Clinton County Historical Association bears this inscription on the back- "One of only two forts with moats in U.S.A. Me climbing up in what was moat before Weston, the contractor, ruined it. Beautiful soft shaded bricks line roofs of corridors as you see over window (English Brick). Two inch row hand-polished on each block."

 Following Fort Blunder...

Fort Montgomery
Rouses Point,
New York
 

-Part IV-
Fort Montgomery and "the locals"

By James P. Millard

 

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:

"A tract of 231,540 acres in the northeast and central parts of the county was included in the lands granted by the legislature of New York to the refugees from Canada and Nova Scotia at the close of the Revolution. These lands were divided into 80 and 420 acre lots, except 5,000 acres, which were granted to the officers and privates among these refugees."   

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.

Unidentified infant sitting near the top of one of Fort Montgomery's spiral staircases. Courtesy, Clinton County Historical AssociationOftentimes, 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.



Above left: This fascinating photo shows an infant sitting near the top of one of Fort Montgomery's beautiful and ingenious spiral staircases. Not only is it one of the best images we have found showing what the stairs looked like, it also brings home the point that the fort was visited by other than "military personnel." Courtesy, Clinton County Historical Association.
Below: One of the structures that sheltered the spiral staircases at the barbette tier. From a glass negative, courtesy of Powertex, Inc.

Staircase shelter, Courtesy of Powertex, Inc.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.

The Northwest magazine at Fort Montgomery has long since lost any traces of its wooden inner walls.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.

This early photo shows a view towards the east bastion. Notice the doors and windows with glass intact. Courtesy, Powertex, Inc. 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.


Top: The NW magazine has long since lost any traces of its wooden inner wall. Photo by the author.
Above: This early photo shows a view towards the east bastion. Notice the doors and windows with glass intact. Courtesy, Powertex, Inc.

(Click on the thumbnails to see a large image)

Another view from the parade ground towards the east bastion. Courtesy of Ralph Gilpin.  One of the staircases. Photo from the collection of Ralph Gilpin.  View towards south curtain, the west wall barracks section 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.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.

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.


Today, the fort itself is but a shadow of its former self. The most devastating blow came in the 1930's when most of the structure was dismantled to make fill for the Rouses Point bridge (we discuss the demolition in a future section). The south curtain and SE and SW bastions are in the best condition, but the structure has suffered much from the elements and appears to have been seriously weakened structurally by the efforts of the contractors during the Depression years. The current owners have wisely forbidden all but a very limited number of guided tours to the property, and trespassing is strictly forbidden. Those who choose to ignore the signs and go onto the island risk arrest and personal injury.

Curtain interior, showing the traverse circles, upon which the wheels that supported the gun chassis would roll. Photo courtesy, Clinton County Historical Assn.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 Modern-day view from within the fort walls. Photo by the author.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!

Continued here...
Click here to go back to Part III  Click here to go back to Part I  Click here to continue on to Part V
-Part V-
The Destruction of Fort Montgomery


Note: Fort Montgomery is privately-owned.
The Fort grounds are posted and trespassing is strictly prohibited.
Please do not trespass on the ruins of the fort.
 

Sources/Notes:

The author is grateful to the Clinton County Historical Association, Powertex, Inc., Feinberg Library and the late Ralph Gilpin for permission to publish images from their collections.

1 J.H. French, Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State. 1860: R.P. Smith

John F. Ross, Sidelight on History. 1978

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