Press-Republican

August 4, 2013

Local vacation ideas explored

By RICHARD FROST, A Day Away
Press-Republican

---- — OK, here’s the scenario. Your sibling calls to tell you they’d like to bring the family for a long weekend. It’s always fun to get together, but it’s been a while since you’ve hosted any relatives for an extended stay.

If you have kids, they’re no help. They always complain there’s nothing to do, though it’s amazing how busy they seem to be all the time. You decide it’s your vacation, too. Let it be an opportunity for your own family to see a few new things, or revisit some old favorites.

For simplicity (and a bit of local pride), I’ve limited this potential itinerary to Clinton County. It goes without saying opportunities increase exponentially if you choose to roam a little farther in any direction. Please understand I am not calling these the 10 best places to see in the county, nor am I rating them against each other. My selections are listed alphabetically.

ALICE T. MINER MUSEUM

The wife of William Miner began this collection because of her interest in early American history. Thus, there’s plenty related to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Marquis de Lafayette. However, her predilections became almost incredibly eclectic. Not only are there early colonial cooking implements and plenty of artwork, but also Babylonian tablets and fragments of Roman frescoes.

Anyone interested in glass, silver or ceramics could spend a lot of time here. I find myself fascinated by the silhouettes. There’s a collection of furniture samples that traveling salesmen might carry by stagecoach or train. Should a customer want a full-size piece for his or her home, the factory could promptly supply it. 

For helping facilitate a friend’s escape from Revolutionary-era Russia, the Miners received a unique handmade doll every year, with an accompanying letter about the traditions behind the doll. These fill two shelves in one alcove.

The museum is at 9618 Route 9 in Chazy. For more information, call 846-7336 or visit www.minermusuem.org.

CATAMOUNT MOUNTAIN

This is a good challenge for hikers of any level. Catamount is more strenuous than nearby Silver Lake Mountain but not quite in the High Peaks category. The guidebooks make it sound modest since the peak is only 3,168 feet high, but don’t let that fool you. This is actually a pretty steep climb. 

The trail is generally easy to follow. Pay attention to the stone cairn as you near the top. Expect a little bit of clambering about on rocks, but there’s no need for special equipment. People always snap photos of companions winding their way through the narrow rock clefts near the halfway point. You’ll probably have to remove your day pack to get past them. 

At the top, views in all directions are excellent, well-compensating for the work involved in reaching them. You’ll see Whiteface Mountain, Silver Lake, Taylor Pond and more.

HEART’S DELIGHT FARM HERITAGE EXHIBIT

Contributions to the community from philanthropist William H. Miner are the focus of this interpretive center on the Miner Farm complex. Learn more about Miner, who was orphaned early in life, then raised by his aunt and uncle in Chazy. He made his fortune in Chicago then came back home to initiate a state-of-the-art farming operation.

It’ll take some explanation to appreciate a model of Miner’s first big invention, a tandem draft-rigging device that cushioned the coupling of railroad cars. Study the intricate scale model rendering of Heart’s Delight Farm. Then marvel at the scientifically advanced farm operation that he built; it still continues its research and educational role as the Miner Institute.

Peek inside the Coach House at the early horse-drawn school bus, which brought students to the state’s first centralized rural school system. Stroll the grounds past more display panels, and pay attention to the self-improvement aphorisms Miner memorialized in bronze.

The William H. Miner Agriculture Research Institute is at 1034 Miner Farm Road in Chazy. For questions, call 846-7121.

HOTEL CHAMPLAIN

Bluff Point now has Clinton Community College as its centerpiece, but once this was the nationally known resort Hotel Champlain. President William McKinley used this as his summer White House in 1897 and 1899. William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt and FDR all stayed there, too. 

Take your visitors to the back veranda for perhaps the finest view in town. Interpretive panels relate some history. You’ll see Valcour Island, just opposite the hotel, where Benedict Arnold and the first American Navy held off a superior British fleet in the fall of 1776. To the north is Crab Island, location of a hospital during the Battle of Plattsburgh, and then Plattsburgh Bay, site of the battle itself. Views across to Vermont are superior.

Go into the lobby, once the hotel’s grand concourse, to examine displays about this and other resorts in the Adirondacks. And look at a French and Indian War cannon salvaged from Lake Champlain some years ago.

Clinton Community College is at 136 Clinton Point Drive in Plattsburgh. For more information, call 562-4200.

CHAMPLAIN VALLEY TRANSPORTATION MUSEUM

This ever-expanding facility has grown well beyond its beginnings, when a single Lozier automobile dominated displays. But it’s still the Plattsburgh-made luxury automobile that’s the must-see. In its day, a Lozier cost three times as much as a Cadillac. Two on display can help you see why. 

A superb assortment of other antique cars will grab your attention. The oldest is a 1911 Kissel Kar Speedster, with the most recent one a 1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria. Motel T and Model A Fords are represented. Look for the unusual 1960 BMW Isetta, a three-wheel car that opens from the front and uses its “sunroof” as the emergency exit. 

Also in the museum is a late 19th-century trolley car converted to a diner in 1938, some wonderful model-train arrangements and an area devoted to the bicycles that Henry Lozier manufactured in Ohio before relocating to Plattsburgh and beginning auto production.

The museum is at 12 Museum Way in Plattsburgh. For questions, call 324-6666 or visit www.cvtmuseum.info.

NORTH STAR UNDERGROUND RAILROAD MUSEUM

A relative newcomer among our area venues, this compact series of exhibits tells the story of the Champlain Route, part of a national network that assisted black Americans fleeing slavery in the South. Local residents who assisted slaves in the flight to Canada are denoted. A smattering of artifacts, most notably a shackle found in an attic on Hallock Hill, testify to the cruelty of slavery. Maps, text, news clippings and photographs help propel the story.

A multimedia presentation entitled “The Forgotten Story of John Thomas” traces the 1839 journey to freedom for this Maryland-born slave. One room focuses on local clergy and places of worship that played roles in the abolition movement. A quote from the Rev. Andrew Witherspoon of Peru rings out: “The day is not far distant, when the impenitent slaveholder will be renounced as a monster unworthy of the fellowship of any church.”

The museum is at 1131 Mace Chasm Road, Ausable Chasm. For questions, call 834-5180.

PLATTSBURGH CITY HALL LOBBY

If it’s a weekday, consider beginning here. An impressive set of murals commissioned in 1985 remains under-seen and underappreciated. These four paintings depict a spectrum of local history — back to prehistoric native periods, on to development of industry and up through the Air Force era.

Not surprisingly, the Battle of Plattsburgh gets top billing. In the action painting of Commodore Macdonough on his ship, point out the rooster to your visitors, so that they learn the legend of how its crowing stimulated the sailors to victory. Be sure to point out agriculture, the role of waterpower, early logging and the city beach, too.

The anchor from the British flagship Confiance is also displayed in City Hall. Its recovery and preservation are well-detailed in accompanying panels. As you leave, point out the Macdonough Monument across the street.

City Hall is at 41 City Hall Place. To learn more, call 563-7701 or visit www.cityofplattsburgh.com.

POINT AU ROCHE STATE PARK

We enjoy a nice selection of state-park facilities in the county, but I think this one offers the broadest variety of experience. Admittedly, I tend to go there more frequently in the winter for cross-country skiing. However, those same trails make for good leisurely walking in the summer. Choose between lakeside trails and those deeper in the woods. Either will be a good choice.

Depending on your route, count on running into one of several notable points, such as grave sites of a previous owner, or an amphitheater from the days when children’s camps operated here. Interpretive signs will teach you some natural history.

And after a day of hiking, what could be better than time at the beach? All one need do is head for the swimming area along the shore of Lake Champlain. In fact, plan ahead and bring a picnic lunch. There’s a spot to enjoy that, too.

The park is at 19 Camp Red Cloud Road in Plattsburgh. 

SILVER LAKE BOG 

This is an especially good choice for those who have been sedentary but want to spend some time outdoors, and it should be satisfying even for the seasoned hiker. Formerly part of a girls’ camp, this well-interpreted series of boardwalks and trails is only a short drive away, and it’s rarely crowded. 

The boardwalk traverses a cedar-spruce-tamarack swamp. Aided by brochures available at the entrance, visitors will be able to identify Labrador tea, pitcher plants and other botanical specimens.

At the end of the boardwalk, the Bluffs Trail leads gently uphill for about a mile. The change to a mixed northern forest should be immediately evident, as birch, beech and maple replace the conifers of a bog environment. Atop the ridge, red pine becomes dominant. At the end, there’s a view toward Whiteface Mountain.

To learn more about the bog, call 576-2082.

WAR OF 1812 MUSEUM

No visitors should leave the area without learning about the Battle of Plattsburgh. After watching the introductory video, spend time in the permanent exhibit learning about the causes and significance of the War of 1812. Remember, this was the conflict that gave us “The Star Spangled Banner” and our image of Uncle Sam. A sound-and-light presentation outlines the progress of local fighting in September 1814. Ship models are notable. 

This year’s temporary installation is “Smuggling, Soldiering, Shipyards and Skirmishes: Prelude to the Battle of Plattsburgh.” It provides just what it promises, with a combination of time lines, insightful explanatory text and artifacts. There’s a diorama of Gen. Pike’s winter cantonment, plus a few recently recovered objects from archaeological studies on the site. Also on display are period weapons, a drum and Gen. Mooers’ beaver hat.

The museum is at 31 Washington Road in Plattsburgh. For questions, call 566-1814 or visit www.battleofplattsburgh.org.

Certainly there are additional worthy destinations. I’m a fan of both the Museum Without Walls and the Rockwell Kent Gallery at SUNY Plattsburgh. The Lyon Mountain Mining and Rail Museum is a significant addition to our cultural heritage. Valcour Island, with its trails and lighthouse, merits a day. If it’s hot and sunny, so does the City Beach. And there’s always Ausable Chasm.

If your relatives enjoy their visit, just tell them to come again next year. I’ll promise to have a new list for them (and you).

Richard Frost is the author of “Hotel Champlain to Clinton Community College: A Chronicle of Bluff Point.” Reach him at rbforiole@aol.com.