August 17, 2009

Peru honors two historic settlements on Lake Champlain


PERU — It's been nearly two centuries in the making, but Peru has officially identified a pair of historic lakefront communities that connected the town to Lake Champlain and beyond.

Town Historians Ron and Carol Allen recently hosted a dedication to Peru Landing and Port Jackson, two early settlements where commerce traveling up and down the lake docked to load and unload cargo.

"The dedication of these markers during the quadricentennial celebration for Samuel de Champlain is most appropriate," Mr. Allen said as he greeted several dozen dignitaries, history buffs and area residents during a ceremony at the Valcour Conference Center.

"Both sites are within view of beautiful Valcour Island," he added. "I'm proud to say the majority of the island falls within the Town of Peru."

He greeted his guests inside the historic boathouse, with picture windows behind him giving the visitors a clear image of Valcour Island as he thought aloud what it must have been like for Champlain to gaze upon the island as he passed by 400 years ago.

Peru Landing, situated three-tenths of a mile north of the entrance to AuSable Point State Park, was established in 1787 as the only port on the New York shoreline between Essex and Cumberland Head.

"Many of Peru's first settlers landed here," Mr. Allen said as he listed a dozen names of those first arrivals, including Everett, Baker, Jackson and Allen.

Peru Landing, which to this day can be located by a small jetty sticking out into the lake, also served as the landing site for the Vermont militia on Sept. 11, 1814, when they arrived to join in the Battle of Plattsburgh, Allen noted.

The site was ideal in that nearby AuSable Point acted as a natural breakwater.

But when the Champlain Canal opened in the early 1800s, it became clear that Peru Landing was not deep enough for the larger vessels now entering the lake.

Port Jackson, located where the Valcour Conference Center now sits, provided a much deeper port and soon became the landing of choice.

The port grew to be a substantial community and included a post office, church, school, tavern and residents. In fact, when the post office opened, locals attempted to name it the Port Jackson post office, but a settlement near Amsterdam had already claimed that name, and the facility was named Valcour.

The era of lake commerce was coming to an end in the later half of the 1800s, however, as a rail system was put into place that would eventually connect the North Country to New York City.

But the significance of both Peru Landing and Port Jackson will now be remembered with the two historic road markers.

"We know we are a vital part of history," said Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru). "There is never a more proud moment than when one can stand in her hometown like this. We, in Peru, are doubly fortunate to have two fine historians."

Celine Paquette, co-chair for the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Celebration Committee, also praised the Allens for their efforts to recognize the town's heritage during the Samuel de Champlain celebration summer.

Clinton County Historian Anastasia Pratt took a moment to recognize the significance of the dedication, adding that she grew up in Peru cherishing the importance of history.

"It's one of the most beautiful places in the world," she said.

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