January 11, 2011

Plans begin on how the region will celebrate War of 1812 bicentennial


PLATTSBURGH — The North Country has begun in earnest its plans to hold a massive celebration commemorating the War of 1812 and its impact on the Lake Champlain region.

Dozens of cultural leaders from New York, Vermont and Quebec gathered at Clinton Community College Tuesday to participate in a day-long summit to kick off formal planning for the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration next year.

"This is really a great opportunity to talk with other communities about what they are doing to commemorate the War of 1812," said Michele Powers, vice president of marketing for the Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau.

"A lot of different things will be happening. There's no reason to reinvent the wheel; we can learn from each other's experiences."


For years, the North Country has focused on mid-September and the Battle of Plattsburgh celebration as the focal point of the region's connection with the War of 1812.

However, Powers envisions a stronger connection that will last throughout the year and extend far beyond the bicentennial itself.

"If someone wants to come to this area and experience our heritage (in connection to the War of 1812), it's hard to do that unless they come in September," she said.

"We want to expand on that, to expand on the (Battle of Plattsburgh) event throughout the year."

Powers praised the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemorative Committee, which has been organizing the September events for more than a decade, and said that event will continue to offer a magical look at what happened during the Sept. 11, 1814, battle.

But other War of 1812 events, such as Pike's Cantonment, can help create a year-long celebration that can promote the region's heritage to the entire world, she said.


"The War of 1812 is clearly one of the defining events of our region's history," said Jim Brangan, assistant director of the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership.

"The American victory of the Battle of Plattsburgh set the stage for 200 years of peace in the Champlain Valley and made the U.S. a sovereign state that no longer had to fear invasion from Europe."

Although Tuesday's gathering brought together some of the region's finest experts on local and regional history, core members of the War of 1812 Bicentennial Council have been working together for more than eight months, targeting the International Heritage Summit as the springboard for more community involvement.

"It's a way we can come together to develop a plan to show the country and the rest of the world the important events that happened here," Brangan said.


One of the concrete images that has already begun to unfold is a War of 1812 Interpretive Trail.

Two exhibits already exist on Cumberland Head — one to mark the location of Fort Izard, which overlooked Lake Champlain near the current location of the Grand Isle Ferry Dock on Cumberland Head, and a second along the Cumberland Bay shoreline honoring Commodore Thomas MacDonough's victory during the Battle of Plattsburgh.

Another six trail signs are planned for such locations as Dewey's Tavern in Champlain, Pike's Cantonment in Plattsburgh, Culver Hill in Beekmantown and Halsey's Corners in Beekmantown.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program also announced Tuesday that it is seeking proposals for four more interpretive sites along the trail. Exhibits can focus on events, historic sites and individuals associated with the war and the causes and lasting effects of the conflict.

Plans will also be developed to expand on what officials are calling Phase 1 of the Interpretive Trail, Brangan said.

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