September 15, 2009

Huge turnout for Fort Montgomery Days

Visitors swarmed Fort Montgomery for open house


ROUSES POINT — Organizers were overwhelmed but excited by attendance at Fort Montgomery Days this past weekend.

Ann Thurber, one of the event's organizers, said that about 2,000 people visited the fort over the course of the weekend. She and the other organizers expected maybe a few hundred each day, a thousand total at most.

"We're really reeling from this," she said Monday. "We never expected it to be so large."

Fort Montgomery historian Jim Millard originally was to lead all the tours. The crowds resulted in additional guides volunteering to help meet the demand.

"I have to say we were just flabbergasted," Millard said. "It was just an overwhelming turnout. It was so gratifying to see that."

About 200 to 300 people were still waiting for a tour as the event wound down Sunday afternoon, Thurber said. Those people were allowed to take an unguided tour at their own pace, with volunteers stationed to keep them safe.

Millard has spent 10 years researching and detailing the fort's history, including two books on the subject. It was built during the pre-Civil War era to protect the waterway.

He said visitors were very focused as he described the Officers' Quarters, moat and drawbridge, armory, powder room, bakery, kitchen and more.

Mooers residents Brian and Maggie Garrand were among those who went on a tour.

Maggie said she had never been at the fort.

"This was a great idea. Without a day like this, I probably wouldn't have had a chance to see it."

Brian was surprised by the crowds, given the Battle of Plattsburgh celebration was also held that weekend. He was glad the community had been given the chance to tour the historic site.

"This is a real chance to see our past."

Scott Rheaume of Swanton, Vt., was there with his family. He has been to the site in the past but had found it very overgrown at that time.

"It looks like they've done a lot of prep work for this event."

He hopes the property owners and other organizers of the event provide more opportunities to see the fort's interior. There were even some surprises.

"I would've never thought they would have a bakery in a fort," Rheaume said.

The adjacent kitchen area was 7-year-old Joshua Bleaux's favorite part of the tour.

"Because the floor was dented," he said, referring to some holes in the stonework.

His grandfather, Chris Bleaux of Plattsburgh, said he was impressed by the surviving architecture. To see the large and growing crack in the bakery ceiling, once supported by since-removed iron rods, was interesting, he said.

It's unfortunate the fort was partially destroyed, Mr. Bleaux said, because pictures show it was in good shape.

The fort was partially demolished in the 1930s, with its stone used for the causeway for the previous bridge to Vermont.

Millard said the fort can't be restored, but the event could serve as a catalyst for additional cleanup and stabilization.

Millard thanked the fort's owners, Victor and Stephen Pod of Powertex, as well as the many volunteers who helped clean up the grounds.

The event came about after the fort was named one of Seven to Save by the Preservation League of New York State.

Millard said the fort serves as a lesson in what not to do with such a remarkable historic resource.

"Person after person told me, 'Why did they let this happen?'"

E-mail Dan Heath at: