Fort Montgomery is located at the northern end of Lake Champlain in Rouses Point, NY. At the same location, construction began in 1817 on an unnamed fort that amusingly became known as Fort Blunder.
When land disputes sprung up between the United States and Canada, building of the fort stopped and parts were cannibalized by locals for their own building needs as the arguments went on. By the time those disputes were resolved the need for the fort was over, and it was never garrisoned (Everest, Allan Seymour. Our North Country Heritage; Architecture Worth Saving in Clinton and Essex Counties. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra, 1972. 95-96).
In 1844, construction of Fort Montgomery took over what remained of the original project. This fort was also never garrisoned although it was armed (Following Fort “Blunder”… The Strange and Sad Tale of Fort Montgomery). This structure has a truly interesting and unique history.
Fort Montgomery’s story is an all too tangible reminder of a pretty embarrassing strategic error. This fort sits on Canadian land, or at least on land that was once Canadian.
With an invasion by the powerful British navy a looming possibility in the wake of the War of 1812, the United States shored up its defenses on Lake Champlain […] A new fort was built, but the Americans were left red-faced when the small, sandy peninsula where it stood proved to be on Canadian soil.
They promptly abandoned the fort, and for 24 years, it was effectively part of Canada. When the Canada-U.S. border was firmed up in 1842, the structure known as Fort Blunder was ceded to the United States. The modest fort was replaced with an impressive stone fortress. The new Fort Montgomery was imposing, but it nevertheless retained the stigma attached to its ignominious predecessor. (National Post)
This sense of embarrassment remains and has allowed the fort to decay. The fort is listed on the U.S. National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places, but it has not been renovated nor undergone the preservation efforts that other United States forts have received.
The following video gives a virtual tour of the fort, and shows how badly it has decayed.
During the Great Depression parts of the fort were actually dismantled to use in constructing a bridge to Vermont from Rouses Point, NY. Though this damaged the fort, it also gives us a unique perspective on parts of a historical fort that we would not normally be able to see because of the usual preservation efforts.
“Nowhere else can we see cross-sections of a fort’s massive walls, or the arches within the casemates built to support heavy guns.” (National Post)
This is still a culturally and historically rich site despite the current damage and neglect, and it’s a shame that it may not survive. A restoration may not be possible, but Fort Montgomery needs stabilizing or it will eventually crumble to complete ruin into Lake Champlain.
Ownership of the Fort
Fort Montgomery is not in the hands of any state or government agency, and is instead privately owned. The Fort grounds are posted and trespassing is strictly prohibited. Please do not trespass on the ruins of the fort. We can only hope that someday the grounds will be reopened to the public.
“The fort has been in private hands since it was auctioned by the U.S. government in 1929,” says Jim Millard, a historian who has advocated for the fort’s preservation for more than a decade. “And it’s been put up for sale many times over the years, but the last big burst of publicity came when the owners put it on eBay in 2006.” (National Post)
The fort is currently for sale. Go to the Fort Montgomery website to learn more! It also has its own Facebook page. You can make inquiries in either place to perhaps get a chance for permission to see it in person. Though it is possible to see it from a distance from the Rouses Point- Alburgh, Vermont bridge—the very bridge that the fort’s parts helped to build.
James Millard has written two books that can help you learn more: Fort Montgomery Through the Years… and Bastions on the Border: The Great Stone Forts at Rouses Point on Lake Champlain.
Additional Resources for Fort Montgomery
This map (with satellite image overlay) will help you locate Fort Montgomery and see how its location relates to other day trips in the vicinity of Essex, New York. (Note: Please inquire before visiting, and avoid trespassing. Thank you.)