For more than twenty years, archaeologist David Starbuck, historian Russ Bellico and leaders of the Lake George Battlefield (Fort George) Alliance and the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce have argued that ground as historically rich as the head of Lake George deserves a visitors’ interpretive center.
They, along with the rest of us, residents and visitors alike, may now get one.
Dave Wick, the executive director of the Lake George Park Commission, has announced that if his agency’s new headquarters is built as proposed, it will include space for the interpretive center.
“A new building will not happen without an infusion of cash, and we’re looking to work with Albany to get funding into the Environmental Protection Fund for the building,” said Wick. “If we’re successful, it will have a dual purpose: offices and meeting space for the Lake George Park Commission and a visitors interpretive center for Fort George and the Lake George Battlefield.”
According to Wick, the Commission’s current headquarters, a 140-year-old farmhouse owned by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, does not meet the needs of the agency, and because of the building’s structural condition, “The DEC does not see the merit of putting a ton of money into it.”
Given its condition and appearance, “officials do not believe this is an appropriate building for a New York State agency, especially given the amount of people passing through it,” said Wick.
Wick has proposed an alternative to renovating or enlarging the old farmhouse: razing it and replacing it with a new modular building, similar to one erected for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District when he was its manager.
The new building, which would include two stories dedicated to office and meeting space, could be constructed for less than $700,000, said Wick.
“We hope people see the value in this, and we want to emphasize that no boat or dock fees would be used to pay for it. It requires outside source of funding from Albany,” said Wick. “Senator Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec support it. Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais and Supervisor Dennis Dickinson have written letters of support, offering assistance. And, of course, the members of the Lake George Park Commission support it.”
According to Wick, “one of the cooler parts of this proposal is the opportunity to create a walk-out basement from the foundation, with that entire basement, with its 9-foothigh walls, open concept and large windows, becoming a new Lake George Park Visitors Interpretive Center.”
Even without consulting experts like author Russ Bellico, DEC Historic Preservation Officer Chuck Vandrei or Fort George/ Battlefield Alliance president Lyn Karig Hohmann, Wick has been aware of the need for an interpretive center.
“Every summer, people come into the Lake George Park Commission’s office asking for historical information. We’re in the middle of a battlefield park, so we’re perfectly positioned to house a visitors interpretive center that could be accessed from the park,” said Wick.
This represents exciting news for historian Russell Bellico, who first proposed a Fort George Visitor’s Center at a 1996 conference on Heritage Tourism.
After having been the site of battles in 1755 and 1757, Fort George became the headquarters of the British as they prepared to launch attacks on the French at Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Montreal. In 1759, General Jeffery Amherst ordered a stone fort to be constructed, replacing a stockaded. During the War of Independence, the fort was occupied by both the Americans and the British, said Bellico.
“The ruins were a tourist attraction in the nineteenth century,” said Bellico. “A visitors’ interpretive center would renew interest in the park, which is an excellent example of an 18th century fort and battleground, and attract visitors interested in history to the whole area.”
Fort George is the only 18th century military site of national significance in the US without a museum or interpretive center, said Bellico.
Bellico views Mount Independence, opposite Fort Ticonderoga on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain, as a model for what could be done at Fort George.
First, he said, sunken boats were discovered near the shore of the Revolutionary War fort, then artifacts were discovered as archaeologists conducted digs at the fort, and finally, a visitors’ center to house the artifacts uncovered there opened in 1996.
“We’ve discovered the wrecks of the sunken bateaux, and David Starbuck and his crews have fascinating relics from the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution,” Bellico said. “Now is the perfect time to create the visitors’ center.”
And unlike Mount Independence, the Fort George “is not in a remote out-of-the-way location, but in a perfect spot for maximum exposure, located in the middle of a major tourist hub and in an existing public park. Research on tourism has shown that a clustering of attractions is likely to create an incentive for tourists to stay longer and make repeat visits to an area,” he said.
According to Bellico, the visitors interpretive center would be furnished with artifacts from archaeological digs and shipwreck sites, replicas of 18th century military vessels, illustrations and models of the forts and battles and interpretive signage.
“There’s no shortage of resources,” said Bellico.
Bellico said that whatever funds are needed to outfit the interpretive center can be raised by through grants and donations to groups such as the Fort George Alliance, which was established in 2002 to assist the DEC protect and promote the historic site. According to Dave Wick, the DEC is currently reviewing the proposal.
Illustration: Proposed LG Park Commission Headquarters and visitor center.