” ‘Here a scene of indescribable sublimity burst upon us. Before us lay the waters of Lake Champlain, a sheet of unruffled glass, stretching some ninety miles to the south, widening and straitening as rocks and cliffs projected in the most fantastic shapes into the channel. On each side is a thick and uninhabited wilderness, now rising up into mountains, now falling into glens, while a noble background is presented toward the east by the Green Mountains, whose summits appear even to pierce the clouds. On the west mountains still more gigantic in loftiness, pride and dignity. I cannot by any powers of language do justice to such a scene.’ ” ~ R.G. Gleig, a member of Gen. Fraser’s staff, Burgoyne Campaign, June 1777
Beautiful Lake Champlain, stretching south from Quebec and dividing New York and Vermont, has justifiably been called the most historic body of water in North America.
Lake Champlain has long been part of an important waterway passage between the St. Lawrence and Hudson Rivers. Flowing south to north, the lake stretches some 120 miles from its beginning at Whitehall, New York to the Richelieu River in Quebec.
The first European to discover the lake was Samuel de Champlain in 1609. Champlain claimed the waterway and the virgin forested lands surrounding it for his sovereign, setting in motion a long conflict between France and Great Britain.
Lake Champlain, together with Lake George, played a crucial role in the early history of the United States and Canada. Due largely to its strategic importance as the only navigable passage between the Adirondack and Green Mountains, many important forts were built and several critical battles were fought upon its shores. Among these are some of the most storied names in colonial history — Ticonderoga, Crown Point, and Valcour Island to name but a few. The lake also figured prominently during the War of 1812, culminating in the Battle of Plattsburgh (also known as the Battle of Lake Champlain).
Once these early conflicts ended the lake lost its strategic importance to military planners. During the mid-nineteenth century the lake became a vital transportation corridor for all sorts of cargo, especially after canals were constructed on both ends of the lake. Sailing vessels gave way to steamboats, which eventually were replaced by the railroads. As the lake became less important for commercial carriage, it became a recreational haven.
Today, Lake Champlain, together with Lake George to the south, is an important recreational playground for millions. The lake faces challenges brought upon by it by increased recreational use and population growth but it retains its appeal and natural beauty.
Lake Champlain Facts
Elevation: 95.5 feet above sea level
Length: 120 miles
Width: 12 miles at widest point
Drains: South to north into the Richelieu River at Rouses Point, New York
Number of islands: Over 70
Maximum depth: 400 feet, average depth is 64 feet.
Shoreline: 587 miles- New York, Vermont and Quebec
[This content originally appeared on America’s Historic Lakes and is republished here with permission from Jim Millard.]
- 2011 Flood of Lake Champlain Basin (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Are Lampreys an Invasive Species? (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Vintage Brochure: Visit Essex on Lake Champlain (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Lakes to Locks Passage Awarded Battlefield Preservation Grant (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)