Traveling in the 20's #2

[Visiting Ticonderoga]

It was one of those short vacation trips our family took in the shiny black Model T with the oval rear window. This trip was in the late 1920's when I was about 8 years old. Our destination was to be Ticonderoga, N.Y. in the eastern part of the state.

In addition to sights on the way to and from we mainly wanted to visit the old fort. We kids knew about its history from school lessons, and my parents had told us many times about the dramatic taking of the fort by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys in 1775. We had traveled previously in Vermont's Green Mountains and the story of those backwoods people capturing a fort from a well-trained British army was especially exciting to us.

When we arrived in the Village of Ticonderoga we first toured the pencil factory. I don't remember too much about the process of making pencils there, but I remember the fragrant smell of the wood, and the sample pencils we were given with the name Ticonderoga printed on them. For years after that we looked for Ticonderoga pencils for use in school and at home.

We had time the first afternoon to go through the factory and then engaged a tourist home in the village for the night for the five of us. After supper there was a long summer evening ahead of us, so we drove up to the old fort.

The family who owned the fort property planned to repair and reconstruct it to make it into a historical tourist attraction. They had just begun the cleanup and restoration. When we arrived, the grounds had been fenced, and a few sections of the fort rebuilt, but most of it was in its original somewhat dilapidated condition. The gate into the grounds was made of wire like the cow pasture gates of the time, and was open. A caretaker who was working nearby came over and collected fifty cents for our admission. We were his only customers.

The big old cannons were still in place behind the high, stonewalls, overlooking Lake Champlain. We sighted over them at imaginary attackers. We could hardly believe what would happen if one of those big, round, cannon balls were to hit someone or something. We ambled on through the main part of the fort, exploring every corner. It was beginning to be late and starting to get dark as we entered the underground rooms used for such things as storing the powder and ammunition, and dungeons where prisoners were held. These rooms had not been restored at all. The floors were of dirt, and strewn with rocks that had come loose and fallen from the walls and ceiling. It was dark and damp and a little spooky. We were glad we were not prisoners being held there. It was not a pleasant feeling knowing people were once kept in there.

We started back to our car at the entrance and to our dismay the gate was chained, closed and padlocked. No one was in sight.

We kids began to worry that we might be prisoners for the night. However, my father evidently had noticed a dim light showing from the second floor of a building in the center of the fort itself. Leaving my sister, Dora, and my mother, at the car, Alyce and I followed my father back into the fort proper.

We stumbled along through the darkening stone corridor, our footsteps echoing eerily from the stone walls. I got the feeling there might be British soldier ghosts lurking in the shadows. What if it was really 1775 and we were Vermonters following Ethan Allen to take the defenders by surprise!

We followed our leader toward the light and mounted the stairs to the heavy wooden door. From history I knew what our leader would say when the door opened. He would say sternly, " Surrender in the Name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!"

The door opened and the illusion faded. The caretaker in his shirtsleeves and overalls appeared wiping his chin with a napkin. Instead of demanding surrender our fearless leader said, " Sorry to interrupt your supper, sir, but we seem to be locked in." The man laughed and told about another exit, a roadway out around and in back of the fort where there was no fence.

So we weren't held prisoners in Fort Ticonderoga after all.

Charles E. Page May 26, 2003