CHAMPLAIN — It had its beginnings as a land grant to a colonial soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Now, the Town of Champlain is celebrating its 225th anniversary.
The occasion will be marked by Champlain Day, a day of festivities on Saturday. Events will include a free Gibson Brothers bluegrass concert, the unveiling of a historical marker, a stamp cancellation and many other offerings.
“It’s going to be a big day for us,” said Celine Racine Paquette, curator of the Samuel de Champlain History Center in Champlain. “We’re an old town.”
Paquette noted that the town was founded by Pliny Moore, who came to survey the lots that he had received for his service in the Revolutionary War.
Moore had risen to the rank of lieutenant during the war. But having survived the musket fire and the cannonballs of that conflict, he found the task of surveying his new land to be an adventure in itself.
The exploration took him through uncharted territories of forest and swampland.
Undeterred, Moore settled on his lands, bringing his wife and son up from Kinderhook.
“He was quite an entrepreneur,” Paquette said, noting his establishment of sawmills, long an important feature of life on the Great Chazy River.
In time, Moore contacted influential friends in Washington County to the south and, Paquette said he told them: “I know we’re in the wilderness here, but we need our own judicial.”
Paquette said that led to the formation of Clinton County as well as the Town of Champlain.
The county originally included the areas that are today Franklin and Essex counties, and the Town of Champlain had huge boundaries and few people.
In fact, the town’s first boundaries included Isle La Motte, today part of Vermont.
GUIDED ESCAPED SLAVES
A man of many interests, Moore carved out a life for himself and his family.
“He brought the first piano in town; it came from Montreal,” Paquette said.
Moore was bringing the musical traditions that he had grown up with to the lands he described as “wilderness.”
One of his sons, Noadiah, played a role in another chapter of American history as a a key man for the Underground Railroad, helping fugitives from slavery escape to Canada.
Given Champlain’s location on the border, Noadiah had the distinction of providing a place of refuge for men and women who were about to attain their freedom.
“He took them right into Canada,” Paquette said.
Only there could they be safe from bounty hunters.
Historians are still not certain where Noadiah created his hiding place for escaped slaves, though it may have been on his farm.
“They didn’t publicize those things, of course, so we don’t have much in writing,” she said.
So the old secret, in a way, is still being kept.
In addition to his work for the Underground Railroad, Noadiah was a founder of the Clinton County Anti-Slavery Society. H
is wife, Caroline Mattocks Moore, was a leading member of the Champlain Female Anti-Slavery Society.
Paquette also noted the importance of the French influence in Champlain’s history. French refugees who were fleeing British rule in Canada had a presence at least since the days of Pliny Moore.
Another distinctive feature of the town’s history is the building of canal boats; more of the vessels were built in the Champlain area than in any other place on Lake Champlain, she said.
Whole families lived on canal boats, carrying trade goods between New York City and Quebec City.
It’s an aspect of history that is close to home for Paquette.
“My husband’s ancestors were canal-boat people. It was a dangerous life, to raise children on canal boats.”
There was the peril of drowning, she noted — not to mention the discomfort of small quarters.
SHERIDAN IRON WORKS
Important industries of the 20th century included a ski factory founded by a Swedish family that supplied the skis for the mountain divisions of troops during WWII.
Soldiers crossed the Alps wearing skis made in Champlain.
Sheridan Iron Works had a 100-year history in the town, with generations of residents working for the company, which manufactured bookbinding equipment.
The History Center has an exhibit on the plant on Elm Street in the Village of Champlain, later called Harris Graphics.
From the land grants that Pliny Moore received, all those years ago, a colorful history emerged — one that is now being remembered.
CHAMPLAIN DAY EVENTS
Champlain Day starts at noon at Town Office Complex, 729 Route 9, and includes a petting zoo, brushed tattoos, refreshments, face-painting, food for sale, and a special postmark cancellation recognizing the anniversary.
At 4 p.m. is the unveiling of historic panel with a free Gibson Brothers concert at 5 p.m.
The Samuel de Champlain Museum in Village of Champlain will be open, featuring the works of former local Artist's Nook artist Irene Lalonde; display of Harris Bindery history with former workers present; exhibit of Edmond Lalonde's barber equipment.
The third-annual Village of Champlain Village Fest is noon to 4 p.m. in Riverfront Park on River Street. That celebration includes an ice-cream social with fixings donated by Stewart's Shops, face-painting, music by Jim Tatro, bouncy house for kids sponsored by Dunkin' Donuts and demonstrations and displays by the Champlain Fire District, Champlain EMS and the U.S. Border Protection Border Patrol, including helicopter and ground displays.
The Champlain Telephone Company Open House also takes place Saturday in the Village of Champlain.
Also, the plaque honoring Noadiah Moore and the Underground Railroad will be dedicated at 11 a.m. on Church Street in front of St. Mary's Church.
On Sunday, more Champlain history will come alive with the Champlain School District No. 9 Schoolhouse Open House from noon to 4 p.m. at the building's new location at the far end of Bechard Road in the hamlet of Coopersville.
The one-room schoolhouse, first located on Mason Road, closed due to centralization in 1931. It is in the process of restoration as the Coopersville Schoolhouse of History. Event features former students with exhibits on schoolhouse history, the process to move the building home, woodworking by pupil Ken Lord and more. Old-time refreshments. Free but donations accepted.