Local News

February 6, 2011

Finding history close to home

A day away need not be a long excursion.

In fact, on this particular weekend, we only drove across town to the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base. One of the wonderful outgrowths of base redevelopment has been the museum campus there that also includes the Battle of Plattsburgh Museum and Lake Champlain Transportation Museum.

This time we sampled what the Clinton County Historical Association has to offer.

Six galleries comprise the museum. Not surprisingly, the first concentrates on the strategic waterway that determined so much of our area's early history.

Panels tell the story of Samuel de Champlain and his discovery of the lake that came to bear his name. No portraits of him exist, so any renditions reflect the artists' imaginations as much as anything else. A picture of him with sword and suit of armor may project more of a military bearing than he would have wanted. Biographer David Hackett Fisher describes him as an explorer and colonizer who sought peace and a good relationship with native peoples.

Wars did follow in the Champlain Valley. These stories are told through artifacts and an impressive diorama. The latter, created by the legendary Arto Monaco for the Bicentennial Celebration of 1976, served as my first introduction to local history upon moving here some three decades ago. Unfortunately, it no longer functions as a sound-and-light show about the Battles of Valcour and Plattsburgh. Still, it's a tribute to Monaco's craftsmanship.

The finest artifacts on display relate to the War of 1812. Elaborately designed presentation swords given to Major Gen. Benjamin Mooers and Gen. Alexander Macomb are among the real treasures of Clinton County history. There's also one of 17 rifles presented to the teenage Aiken's Volunteers who served during the Battle of Plattsburgh.


I referred to the next area as the Music Room, but Director Carol Blakeslee-Collin suggests a better name — "iPods of Yesteryear." Along with the Estey Reed Organ and a rosewood-veneered melodeon — both commonly found in 19th-century homes — there's a home-made dulcimer with strings stretched across pine boards.

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