July 12, 2009

Property owners clear portion of historic local fort



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CUMBERLAND HEAD — Fort Izard sits on a rise overlooking Lake Champlain, a sentinel guarding the region from invaders traveling south on the lake.

At least that is what Gen. George Izard believed when he ordered construction of the earthen structure in May 1814 as American troops prepared for the arrival of a British flotilla from Canada.

The fortress included high walls of stone and dirt on four sides with wooden towers erected on each of the four corners and a moat surrounding the entire structure.

By August, the fortification was ready to protect Plattsburgh Bay as a refuge for the American fleet.

But then Izard received orders to move most of his troops to Sackets Harbor, and Fort Izard was abandoned as the remaining troops moved back to fortifications built in and around Plattsburgh.

The fort never played a significant role in the ensuing Battle of Plattsburgh and became a mere footnote in the archives of American military history.

But for Jane Babbie, who grew up as one of six Hagar children on the property where the remains of Fort Izard survive, the walls of the structure provide a plethora of memories.

"We used to slide down the hill and onto the ice," Babbie said as she walked along a path at the top of the fortress walls. "We used to skate on the ice. We even had a little bridge that went across the moat."

In those days, the family used the property as grazing land for their cattle, and the fort remained relatively clear of brush.

But over the years, Fort Izard fell to the power of nature as underbrush quickly covered the site and made it nearly impassable.

"I have so many memories of this area as a child, but it got so overgrown that you couldn't get in here anymore," said Babbie.

Her family has owned the property for seven generations and dates back to the late 1700s, when founding resident John Addoms married the daughter of Luther Hagar.

Late last year, Babbie, her husband, Matthew, and some neighbors started working on clearing some of the thick scrub brush from the walls and within the fort's interior.

This summer's foliage has obscured the historic marker again, but a few accessible spots enable the landowners to recall their connection to America's defense of its liberty during the War of 1812.

"It is remarkable to think that those men spent so much time building up these walls," Babbie said of the American troops' efforts, pointing to an area where researchers from Plattsburgh State conducted an archeological dig at the fort in the early 1970s.

The significant connection between civilian and military efforts is also highlighted in the family cemetery, which lies near Fort Izard, 100 yards directly behind the home where Babbie grew up and still lives.

A marker recently placed on the roadside near the entrance to the Cumberland Head Ferry by the Cumberland Head Tomorrow community group identifies the history surrounding Fort Izard.

Although the Babbies are not opening the fort to public access, the marker provides visitors with significant background information on what was once hoped to be a bastion protecting the United States from hostile invading forces.

E-mail Jeff Meyers at: