This week is the anniversary of a horrible attack upon the United States. At the time it occurred I was working in a field related to policing and intelligence. As I watched the agonizing drama unfold along with so many riveted Americans I could not have foreseen how much my world, how much everyone’s world, would change, how much was truly at stake. I have many ties to New York City and at the time almost all of my closest family lived in Manhattan. In November of that year I went to the city and was pulled to the raw, still-smoldering ruins of ground zero. I’ll never forget it. » Continue Reading.
Posts Tagged ‘Canada’
Visitors can explore the Continental Army’s first major initiative during the Revolutionary War at Fort Ticonderoga’s upcoming living history weekend “Onward to Canada: Reinforcements Head North to Join the Attack on St. John.” The September 1-2 event will recreate how the American army prepared to invade Canada in the fall of 1775.
Special programming offered throughout the weekend will recreate a unique and busy moment in Fort Ticonderoga’s history when the “Old French Fort” served as hub of activity for the fledging American Army and a launching point for an invasion into Canada. Programs will highlight close-order marching; the issuing of muskets, supplies, and clothing to the troops; special tours, weapons demonstrations; and regimental training exercises. » Continue Reading.
Although it has taken a backseat to the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and has been largely forgotten outside the areas it was fought, this year marks the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. In the reissued The American Invasion of Canada: The War of 1812’s First Year (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012), Pierre Berton transforms history into an engrossing narrative that reads like a fast-paced novel. To America’s leaders in 1812, an invasion of Canada seemed to be “a mere matter of marching,” as Thomas Jefferson confidently predicted. How could a nation of eight million Americans fail to subdue a struggling British colony of 300,000 already enmeshed in a life and death struggle with the armies (and navies) of Napoleon?
Burton is deft at describing the mood of the nation at the outbreak of war, and lends a well-needed dose of Canadian perspective. The War of 1812, he says, was “the war that Canada won, or to put it more precisely did not lose, by successfully repulsing the armies that tried to invade and conquer British North America. The war was fought almost entirely in Upper Canada, whose settlers, most of the Americans, did not not invite the war, did not care about the issues, and did not want to fight.”
Drawing on primary sources such as memoirs, diaries, letters and official dispatches, Pierre Berton gets inside the characters of the men who fought the war, from common soldiers to generals, bureaucrats, profiteers, traitors, and loyalists. Berton is at his best when describing the lives and motives of individual soldiers and politicians, an effort he doesn’t accomplish as well for Native American warriors who were as much a part of the story of the War of 1812.
This shortcoming is perhaps understood, considering Berton’s relaince on primary written sources, few of which are Native American. And it is outweighed to some extent by the author’s broad inclusion of lesser battles, attacks and massacres in which Native Americans played the key role. Still, his “Cast of Characters” list precious few Native American names: Tenskwatawa, “The Prophet”; Tecumseh, the Shawnee killed in the Battle of the Thames, in October 1813, who is considered one of Native America’s most important political leaders; the Wyandot Chief Roundhead; and the Mohawk Chief John Brant, the son of Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) who was instrumental in stopping an American attack at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812. Overall however, this book is a fascinating popular history of a complex war from an outstanding historian; the first of two volumes. His second work in the series, Flames Across the Border, picks up where this account ends.
Pierre Berton was an internationally renowned bestselling author of fifty books including Vinny, Klondike, and The Last Spike, and the recipient of over thirty literary awards including three Governor General’s Awards for Creative Non-Fiction. He was raised in Yukon (he was Chancellor of Yukon College), served almost four years in the army, was an editor at the Toronto Star, and a writer and host of CBC programs (and a member of the Newsman’s Hall of Fame).
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As has happened for so many, many years now, the Rooftop Highway is in the news again, with plenty of pros and cons presented and a whole lot hanging in the balance. While listening to some of the arguments, it struck me that the idea is perhaps a little older than some of us think. Paul Sands of WPTZ recently commented that the Rooftop Highway idea hasn’t moved for 20 years, but at the very least, I’m old enough to recall the intense discussions during the 1970s, and that takes us back 40 years.
Of course, the record shows that the concept was legitimized a half-century ago when, in early 1961, the New York State legislature passed a bill that included the proposed road as part of the federal interstate highway system.
In the 1960s, the idea was pushed by State Senator Robert McEwen (an Ogdensburg native) and Clinton County Assemblyman Robert Feinberg (Malone native and Plattsburgh resident). In fact, Feinberg said it would happen “sooner or later,” even if Governor Nelson Rockefeller vetoed the bill (which he did, after both houses passed it).
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Feinberg’s father, New York State Senator Benjamin Feinberg, was highly critical of the condition of the state’s highways in the late 1930s. At that time, he called for the construction of four-lane highways to help make travel safer. Decades later, Robert followed up on his father’s ideas.
Unnoticed in the mix was New York State Assemblyman Leslie G. Ryan (of Rouses Point), who presented serious arguments for the establishment of a main highway north to the Canadian border, and another running east from Clinton County to Watertown, the same concept known today as the Rooftop Highway.
Ryan’s ideas may well have been adopted by Congress when the interstate highway system later became reality. In 1940, when he proposed the idea of a multi-lane route across northern New York, his motivation came from several sources. Some of those same reasons were cited years later in the battle over the Rooftop Highway.
At the time, the United States was still fifteen months away from entering World War II. England and Canada, however, were at war with Germany. It occurred to Ryan and many others that a German victory could suddenly place the Nazis on our northern border, which was basically undefended.
(From the days of the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, the northern border had been a constant security concern. Since that time, the level of worry had waned, but it was still an issue.) By mid-1940, the Germans had won many victories, and Canada and Britain (among others) had already been at war with them for a year.
With German dominance a real possibility, Assemblyman Ryan addressed the problem eloquently in a letter to Congressman Clarence Kilburn, who in turn presented it at the federal level to the War Department. Ryan’s arguments were compelling.
“It seems to me that a weakness in our national defense, and one that would seriously hamper our cooperation with Canada, is our present system of main highways in northern New York. Over our narrow roads, it would be practically impossible to move large numbers of troops and military equipment, including heavy guns and tanks, with the speed necessary for effective operation in modern mechanized warfare.
“Because our Northern border is completely undefended, our inability to speedily concentrate forces in this section might well prove disastrous to our national defense, more particularly if Germany should defeat England and attempt an invasion of this country through Canada.
“It is my belief that the main highway from Glens Falls to the Canadian boundary at Rouses Point should be widened to provide three or four lanes, and the U. S. Highway No. 11 from Rouses Point through Champlain, Mooers, Ellenburg, Chateaugay, and Malone to Watertown and south to Syracuse, should likewise be widened, and much of it resurfaced with concrete.
“Such improvements would provide broad military highways from Albany, Syracuse, and then south to and along the Canadian boundary over which troops and military equipment could be moved speedily to the northern frontier if it should become necessary.
“They would also give direct connection between Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River, and the three United States Army posts at Plattsburgh, Madison Barracks [Sackets Harbor], and Fort Ethan Allen, the latter by way of the Rouses Point bridge.”
Looking to the future, Ryan added, “In ordinary times, these three or four lane highways would be no more than adequate to care for our constantly increasing local and tourist automobile traffic.” In other words, the changes wouldn’t be overkill, even in peacetime.
In the 1960s, twenty years later, McEwen’s plan cited a top priority that was remarkably similar to Ryan’s: “From a defense standpoint, this Rooftop Highway could be very important. Such installations as Rome Air Force Base, Camp Drum, Plattsburgh Air Force Base, Atlas missile sites in the Plattsburgh area, and the Burlington dispersal area would be served by this Rooftop Highway.”
Most, if not all, media refer to the “original” plan floated in the early 1960s for a Rooftop Highway, but the concept was promoted by Assemblyman Leslie Ryan of Rouses Point two decades earlier. Depending on which side of the argument you’re on, part of the blame or credit goes to Mr. Ryan.
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
Few villages in New York State can lay claim to as rich a heritage as Rouses Point, and like the oft-used real-estate axiom says, there are three primary reasons—location, location, location. As New York’s northernmost and easternmost village, Rouses Point can be found at the north end of Lake Champlain. Bordering on Canada to the north and Vermont to the east, for decades it was a shipping and transportation crossroads, serving both water and rail traffic.
Until Interstate 87 was completed in the late 1960s, adding a major customs facility at Champlain, Rouses Point was one of the busiest border crossings in the state. That made for an incredible mix of good, bad, famous, and dangerous folks passing through the village every day.
A book could be written on that subject alone, but in deference to space limitations, here’s a smattering of the interesting visitors to pass through a village whose population has stood at around 2,000 for more than a century.
In 1893, thirteen rail cars filled with British soldiers and their horses passed north into Canada, returning after appearing at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was the largest British presence in the village since thousands of defeated foot soldiers from the Battle of Plattsburgh (September 11, 1814) fled north in retreat.
In 1904, two circuses crossed at Rouses Point into Canada. For locals, this was a frequent and enjoyable event. Dealing with customs regulations was time-consuming, which meant the circus animals had to be walked, fed, and tended to, allowing curious visitors to view lions, tigers, elephants, and other critters … sort of a free show.
Besides Rouses Point’s proud legacy as a stop on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves to freedom in Canada, there were also instances of white slavery in the opposite direction, bringing young girls into the states to work as prostitutes.
Noted financier J. P. Morgan, Jr., son of one of the wealthiest individuals in American history, reportedly traveled through the village in his plush, private rail car following the end of World War I. Destination: Ottawa, to pay Canada for armaments used by the US during the war. He was said to have been accompanied by $50 million in gold (worth $630 million in 2011). It was nothing unusual for Morgan, who handled hundreds of millions of dollars in such payments each year for the governments of France and England as well.
New York City’s legendary vanishing judge, Joseph Force Crater, was reportedly seen in Rouses Point in 1930. Though his acquaintances believed he had been murdered, authorities were dispatched to the border village to conduct a search (unsuccessful, of course).
Following a state visit to Washington, the King of Siam traveled north through the village in 1931. Five years later, Anna Hauptmann spent time in Rouses Point after being denied entry into Canada, even though she was accompanied by her lawyer. Anna was well known as the widow of Bruno Hauptmann, who was executed five months earlier after being found guilty of kidnapping and murdering the Lindbergh baby, a deed that became known as the “Crime of the Century.”
In 1940, prior to America’s entry into World War II, millions of dollars worth of armed and battle-ready planes, built on Long Island, streamed north through Rouses Point to assist Canada’s war effort.
Considering the level of traffic that once passed through the village on road and rail, the village is much quieter today. In the 1920s, for example, more than a million people crossed the Rouses Point border in a single year. On one busy weekend, 9,000 cars went through customs, and in 1925, officers reported that six and a half miles of boxcars passed south from Canada daily.
Of course, those statistics occurred during Prohibition, which saw increased traffic due to smuggling. The high number of border crossings reduced the chances of being caught. Since thousands were arrested, it’s certain that a much larger number of booze smugglers escaped detection. (Flo Ziegfeld was among those caught by local customs officials.)
Rouses Point has also been visited by several US Presidents, among them James Monroe, William McKinley, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.
The most famous of foreign visitors to the village were British royalty. In 1919, the Prince of Wales toured Canada and accepted an invitation to visit President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. Wilson was bedridden with illness at the time, so a “bemedalled staff of admirals and generals” was dispatched to greet the Prince when he first stepped onto American soil at Rouses Point.
On November 10, 1919, Edward, Prince of Wales, arrived at the train station. Awaiting him were Secretary of State Lansing, Major General John Biddle of the US Army, Rear Admiral Albert T. Niblick of the US Navy, and Major General Charleston of the British army.
The band of Plattsburgh’s 63rd US Infantry was on hand to play the British and American national anthems. A group of young ladies held an unusual canopy (the flags of both countries sewn together) while Prince Edward strolled beneath it, shaking the hand of each girl.
Augmented by a contingent of several hundred from Plattsburgh, the throng, estimated at around 2,000, offered a gracious welcome to the future king, whose friendly, pleasant demeanor endeared him to the crowd.
(Years later, Edward made his lasting mark on royal history. After ruling as king for less than a year, he famously chose to abdicate the throne in order to marry a commoner, Wallis Simpson.)
Another royal visit to Rouses Point twenty years later lacked the details of Edward’s sojourn, though it was considered a great honor for the private rail car of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to pass through any village.
In 1939, Rouses Point was featured in articles from coast to coast as the place where “the first reigning monarchs ever to visit the United States and Canada” departed from American soil.
Security for the trip was at the highest level ever seen in the North Country. D&H Railroad Police, FBI agents, NYS Police Troop B officers, and the entire 26th Infantry from Plattsburgh handled an important assignment: “… practically every station, crossing, culvert, underpass, and overpass will be patrolled for hours before the royal train passes through this section.”
Separately, a massive crew was charged with ensuring against any equipment failures: “… every inch of the roadbed from Troy to the Canadian boundary at Rouses Point will be patrolled by section men and other railroad employees just ahead of the train to make certain there are no broken rails or obstructions on the track.”
The royal tour of Canada received worldwide media coverage, but the US excursion, described as “a private diplomatic mission” related to impending hostilities in Europe, was more low-key. Small crowds gathered at northern New York rail stations to watch the royal train pass by on the trip’s farewell leg.
Traveling north along Lake Champlain’s shores, the train bearing the King and Queen reached the Rouses Point station at 5 a.m. on Monday, June 12, their last stop in America. A number of Canadian Mounties, having stayed overnight at Rouses Point’s Holland Hotel, assumed security duties at the border crossing. Within about fifteen minutes, the royal couple was on their way to Halifax, where they would sail back to England.
Interesting visitors are just a small part of the village’s story, which spans many and diverse subjects: the discovery of the Lake by Samuel de Champlain; various conflicts, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Lower Canada Rebellion, and the Fenian struggle during the Civil War; the stories of Fort Blunder and Fort Montgomery; a lengthy border dispute with England; smuggling of just about every commodity imaginable; the wild times of rum-running during Prohibition; and more.
Rouses Point is one of New York State’s historical treasures.
Photo Top: Edward, Prince of Wales, 1919.
Photo Middle: Gene Tunney headline.
Photo Bottom: Headlines touted the royals’ departure point from the United States.
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
Eccentrics—they’re part of virtually every community, and, in fact, are usually the people we remember best. The definition of eccentric—behavior that is peculiar, odd, or non-customary—certainly fit Watertown’s John L. Dunlap. Historians noted his “peculiar kinks of mind,” and referred to him as “a person of comic interest,” but they knew little of the man before he reached the age of 50. His peculiarities overshadowed an entertaining life filled with plenty of substance. And he just may have been pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.
Dunlap’s story began more than 200 years ago, rooted in the American Revolution. In 1774, his father (John) and grandfather emigrated from Scotland to Washington County, N.Y. In 1777–78 they fought in the War of Independence and saw plenty of action. According to a payroll attachment from his regiment, Dunlap served at Ticonderoga.
Years later, he became a Presbyterian pastor in Cambridge, N.Y., and in 1791 married Catherine Courtenius. It took time for the reverend to see the light about the rights of man—records indicate that he freed Nell, his slave, in September 1814, not long after several of his parishioners had liberated their own slaves.
Among the children born to John and Catherine Dunlap was John L., who arrived in the late 1790s. He was reared on stories of his dad and grand-dad battling for America’s freedom. While his father ministered to the spiritual needs of several Washington County communities for many decades, John L. became a doctor in 1826 and likewise tended to their physical needs for more than 20 years, serving in Cambridge, Salem, and Shushan.
Dunlap focused on two passions in life: his line of self-developed remedies for all sorts of illnesses, and a consuming interest in politics on both the state and national level. He pursued both with great vigor and developed a reputation as an orator in the Albany-Troy area.
On July 4, 1848, John delivered a stirring oration at the courthouse in Troy, an event so popular that reportedly “thousands were unable to find admission.” Repeat performances were so in demand that for the next two years he gave the same speech in Troy, Utica, and elsewhere, at the same time marketing and selling his various medicines. Dunlap’s Syrup was claimed to cure Consumption, Dyspepsia, Scrofula, Liver Complaints, and other ills.
Just as his father had left Washington County decades earlier to help establish churches in several central New York towns, Dunlap took his speech on the road to Schenectady, Utica, and other locales. Crowds gathered to hear his famous lecture and purchase his line of medicines.
He had sought public office in the past, but his increasingly high profile and passion for politics presented new opportunities. At the 1850 State Democratic Convention in Syracuse, Dunlap’s name was among those submitted as the party candidate for governor. Horatio Seymour eventually won the nomination.
Shortly after, Dunlap resettled in Watertown and announced his Independent candidacy as a Jefferson County representative. He was as outspoken as always—some viewed him as eccentric, while others saw in him a free thinker. Fearless in taking a stand, he called for the annexation of Cuba and Canada, and was a proponent of women’s rights.
Viewed from more recent times, some of those stances might sound a little off-the-wall, but there was actually nothing eccentric about the annexation issues. The Cuban idea was a prominent topic in 1850, and the annexation of Canada was based in America’s Articles of Confederation, which contained a specific clause allowing Canada to join the United States. And as far as women’s rights are concerned, he proved to be a man far ahead of his time.
In late 1851, Dunlap went on a speaking tour, including stops in Syracuse and Rochester, and announced his candidacy for President. The Syracuse Star said, “We suspect he is just as fit a man for president as Zachary Taylor was.”
From that point on, Dunlap was a perennial candidate for office, always running but never winning. In 1855–56, he announced for the US Senate; not gaining the nomination, he announced for the Presidency (he was promoted as the “Second Old Hickory of America”); and not winning that nomination, he announced for the governorship of New York. And he did all of that within a 12-month span.
All the while, Dunlap continued selling his medicines and seeing patients in his office at Watertown’s Hungerford Block. An 1856 advertisement noted: “His justly celebrated Cough and Lung Syrup, to cure asthma and bleeding of the lungs, surpasses all the preparations now in use in the United States.”
Another of his concoctions was advertised in verse:
“Let me advise you ’ere it be too late
And the grim foe, Consumption, seals your fate,
To get that remedy most sure and calm,
A bottle of Dr. Dunlap’s Healing Balm.”
His vegetable compounds were claimed as cures for dozens of ailments ranging from general weakness to eruptions of the skin to heart palpitations. There was no restraint in his advertisements, one of which placed him in particularly high company.
It read: “Christopher Columbus was raised up to discover a new world. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, captivated by her charms two Roman Generals, Julius Caesar, and Marc Antony. Napoleon Bonaparte was raised up to conquer nearly all of Europe and put down the Inquisition in Spain. George Washington was raised up to be the deliverer of his country. Dr. John L. Dunlap of Watertown, N.Y. was raised up to make great and important discoveries in medicine, and to alleviate the sufferings and prolong the lives of thousands of human beings.”
In 1863, urged by New York’s 35th Regiment to run for President, Dunlap consented and was again promoted as the Second Old Hickory of America. He wanted Ulysses Grant as his running mate (Grant was busy at the time, leading the North in the Civil War), and he received impressive promises of political support at the Chicago convention.
A poll of passengers on a train running from Rochester to Syracuse yielded surprising results: For Abraham Lincoln, 50 votes; George B. McLellan, 61; John C. Fremont, 6; and Dr. John L. Dunlap, Watertown, 71.
History reveals that Lincoln did, in fact, triumph, but Dunlap didn’t lose for lack of trying. He secured the nomination of the Peoples’ Party at their convention in Columbus, Ohio, and none other than Ulysses S. Grant was selected as his vice-presidential running mate. Dunlap received congratulations from New York Governor Horatio Seymour for winning the nomination.
The widely distributed handbill (poster) for Dunlap/Grant used the slogan, “Trust in God, and keep your powder dry,” and promised, “Clear the track, the two Great War Horses of the North and West are coming! The one will suppress the rebellion with the sword, and the other will heal the nation with his medicines and his advice.”
Among Dunlap’s early campaign stops in the 1864 election were Troy, Albany, and Washington, D.C. He was handicapped by having to stump alone since Grant was still pursuing Lee on the battlefield. But as always, Dunlap gave it his best effort. Known as a fierce patriot and a man of the people, he was very popular at many stops.
Two years later, he sought the nomination for governor and also received 12 votes for representative in the 20th Congressional District—not a lot, but higher than four of his opponents.
In 1868, Dunlap again pursued the presidency, this time seeking General Philip Sheridan as his running mate. Had the effort been supported, he would have squared off against two familiar faces—his former running mate, Grant, was the Republican nominee, while his former opponent for governor, Horatio Seymour, won the Democratic nomination.
Shortly after President Grant’s inauguration, he received a special congratulatory gift: a case of medicines from Dr. John L. Dunlap. In a related story (from the Watertown Daily Times in the 1920s), the Scott family of Watertown claimed that Dunlap once sent a bottle of cough syrup via Judge Ross Scott to Secretary of State William Seward (in Auburn, NY).
Seward delivered the bottle to Lincoln, who reportedly said, “Tell Dr. Dunlap I’ve tried it on my buckwheat pancakes and it’s the best substitute for maple syrup I know of.”
Next week: Part 2 of the John Dunlap story.
Photo: Official handbill of the People’s Convention promoting the candidacy of Dunlap and Grant (1864).
Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
Loggers win the 2010 Adirondack Bracket. The legendary industry that defined life in the Adirondacks during the boom period of American expansion in the late 19th and early 20th century was dominated by that era’s vertically integrated corporate giants like International Paper and Finch, Pruyn & Co. In contrast, today’s landscape is a vast horizontal tangle* of protected lands, timber investment management organizations, environmental regulations, industry mechanization, international tariff wars, and a deep economic recession, set in motion by the swift currents of global economic trade. In this environment, as on the massive log drives one hundred fifty years ago, survival favors the smaller more agile operator: the independent logger.
Eric Fahl is an independent logger from Franklin Falls whose down-sized business model was profiled in Adirondack Life in February 2003. No employees, no capital-intensive equipment, no big jobs, Fahl focuses on small lots, often the result of large parcel residential subdivision:
There’s more than enough work if you’re willing to stay small. . . There are no employees here and there will be no employees here. As soon as you start cutting high volumes, you have to find high volumes to cut.”
True to the mantra of flexibility, Fahl has, for the past five years, served as forestry consultant to North Country School/Camp Treetops, where he also instructs students in the principles of sustainable forestry.
*To place the Adirondack’s in the proper context of global timber/lumber/pulp trade, consider the following comparison:The province of Quebec has 207.3 million acres of timberland, about 120 million acres of that softwood. The entire six million acres within the Adirondack Blue Line—forest and non-forest, public and private—is one twentieth of this fraction of a fraction of Canada’s entire timber reserve.
The arrival of widespread frost marks the end of the harvest season for most local crops, and the close of cat-and-mouse season for North Country police and marijuana growers. Police made their biggest bust this fall in Jay, where from a helicopter they spotted about 800 plants scattered around the town and charged two men with growing about 300 of them.
Adirondack Life has just posted its recent article on the dynamics of local marijuana farming as well as this region’s separate role as a gateway for Quebec-grown hydroponic. It was reported by Adirondack Life associate editor Niki Kourofsky and Almanack contributor Mary Thill. Well worth a read.
The photo is an aerial taken by State Police of some of the 1,900 plants police discovered growing in a boggy area north of Irishtown, in the Essex County town of Minerva, in 2008. Police say the cannabis is the shrubby emerald green growth on the open bog. In September the tropical plants remain vibrant while native vegetation begins to fade.
It’s been two and a half months since a Border Patrol checkpoint was last staffed on the Adirondack Northway, but the federal agency says the North Hudson post is still in operation, though more sporadically than after it was established in 2002.
The checkpoint is temporarily down because the New York State Department of Transportation is doing roadwork in the section of I-87 southbound between Exits 30 and 29, says David Matzel, public information officer for the United States Border Patrol sector in Swanton, Vermont, which covers five northern New York counties.
The post was last manned on May 11, Matzel says. Its infrequent use of late has nothing to do with budgeting, he says. Authorities decide to staff it “based on intelligence,” he explains. The intelligence pertains “only to immigration and terrorist activity. . . . Anything else we get past immigration is just a factor of someone trying to run drugs through there at the wrong time.”
The checkpoint has netted a lot of marijuana and ecstasy in its lifetime. The questioning stop was instituted in reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Four motorists were killed when a tractor trailer rammed into a line of cars there in 2004. Since then, officials have added rumble strips and other safety measures designed to better warn motorists to stop.
Things have changed along the Northern New York border over the past decade. People have always smuggled things across — alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, immigrants, guns, depending on cycles in the underground economy — but marijuana, once mostly a southern border import, now streams into the U.S. from Quebec.
And there are more federal law-enforcement officers on this side of the line than ever, trying to stop it and other contraband.
A phalanx of officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Customs and Border Protection Office of Air & Marine, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), other Homeland Security personnel and the U.S. Attorney’s Office joined with local and state law enforcement Tuesday at the DEA’s newly built two-story Plattsburgh headquarters to announce they had broken a billion-dollar marijuana smuggling ring, wrapping up the largest drug case in the North Country ever, the DEA says.
Police are charging 13 men, from Montreal to Boston to Florida, with felony drug offenses for allegedly conspiring to import and distribute tons of weed across the eastern United States over the past few years.
“Eleven years ago when I first became involved in criminal prosecutions on the northern border, DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were two essentially unknown federal agencies in Franklin County,” said Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne. “Today they’re partners in dismantling a 300-pound-a-day marijuana operation, an operation which led to movement in excess of $250 million a year in marijuana over the past four years.
“What I’ve seen is we went from one DEA agent, who I was really happy when he would come over and work a case with us, to this building we’re in today,” Champagne continued. “And I think back then, yes, was there smuggling? Absolutely. But what’s occurred is we’ve gone from an intelligence-gathering stage to fully executing something like this, something that takes out an entire network. It’s really a growth that I could only have dreamed of ten years ago for the North Country.”
DEA and local law enforcement joined Champagne in Franklin County last week to announce arrests in a different, $25-million marijuana importation ring.
“Although all the locals knew what was going on for years and years, and I remember as a kid everyone talking about the smuggling in Malone and the area, now there are the resources to assist,” Champagne said.
Police say the marijuana came across the border in two places. The first has been implicated in smuggling since boundaries were established: Akwesasne, the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation that overlaps the U.S./Canada border on the St. Lawrence River, including several islands. Police say 35-year-old Richard Todd Adams, aka “Frank,” coordinated shipments across the river to his compound in Snye, Quebec, which is on the reservation and contiguous to New York tribal land. Adams is indicted but remains at large. Asked by a reporter how police plan to deal with perennial smuggling via Akwesasne and related sovereignty and jurisdictional issues, Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith was vague, stating, “We are very vigilant when it comes to the exploitation of that area.” Investigators don’t give many details of their surveillance methods, but the Customs aviation unit provided high-aerial photographs of the Snye compound, and officers on the ground kept tabs on couriers, who traveled with “blockers,” drivers of other vehicles who intentionally broke traffic laws to distract police.
The second point of entry was described as a “secluded wooded area” just north of Churubusco, near the Clinton/Franklin County line in the vicinity of Frontier and Lost Nation Roads. Police would not comment on who owns the land or how drugs were moved across the border. Twenty-eight-year-old Anthony Plata of Montreal was in charge of smuggling through that point, they allege.
Police did not offer many details about how the bust actually went down, and whether any of the marijuana was distributed in this region. But they said they arrested the alleged ringleader, 23-year-old Steven Sarti of Montreal, in Vermont on June 17. They executed warrants in the arrest of eight other people today. In addition to Adams, two other indicted suspects have not yet been arrested.
Officials Tuesday seemed to prefer to focus on sending a message.
“It’s easy to forget in these idyllic surroundings and friendly communities and with our close relationship with our Canadian neighbors that there are people who wish harm or who are so interested in lining their own pockets that they don’t care what harm they cause others — and exploit this area to move large quantities of narcotics throughout the United States,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaquith said. “We hope this collaboration will stand beyond this tremendous success in bringing the curtain down not only on this drug trafficking enterprise but also on all who follow in their footsteps.”
The DEA said that money confiscated in previous drug cases helped build their new Plattsburgh office building, and money from this and future cases will go to strengthen local agencies that work hardest to break them. Police charged ten men with money-laundering conspiracy and seized $7 million in cash and drugs in this sweep. Prosecutors are also seeking “a money judgement in the amount of $25 million,” according to a press release.
Map of an alleged marijuana importation base at Snye, Quebec, on the Akwesasne Reservation, provided by federal law enforcement officials. You can see more images here.