We have taken our family to the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train since my children were little tykes. Not only is the event a fun way to dance off that Thanksgiving meal, it is a community-wide opportunity to give back.
It is always important for my kids to remember while making that second turkey sandwich; some families may not have had enough food for firsts.
Since 1999 the Holiday Train has offered free concerts and a festively decorated train to help raise food and cash donations to local food banks. This year Tracey Brown, formerly of award winning country bank The Family Brown, has taken on the US section of the tour. Each stop is about 45-minutes where communities can put on their own unique twist. » Continue Reading.
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).
At about the same time, recently retired World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Gene Tunney passed through Rouses Point after touring through southern Quebec.
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.
Every so often a flutter of activity is spawned in the northern extremes of the Adirondack Park (Clinton County) when a few sandhill cranes put in an appearance in a farmer’s field or nearby wetland. Sandhills are not common birds in the eastern US, and most of the Adirondacks is a bit too mountainous for their tastes. So it’s to the lowlands and the agricultural belts around the Park’s perimeter that these birds head if they come here at all.
This last weekend I was in Michigan, where I got to witness the migrating sandhill cranes as they flew in to their evening roost at the Haenhle Audubon Sanctuary. A lone whooping crane, a highly endangered species, joined them in some late afternoon snacking in the marsh, much to the great delight of the dozens of spectators who stood on the chilly hillside to witness the spectacle. Now, to be honest, I never really gave cranes much thought. To me they were simply another “foreign” bird that I was unlikely to see (I’m not the kind of birder who will travel to the ends of the earth to add a particular bird to a lifetime checklist). There were a couple white-naped cranes at the zoo where I used to work, and I knew that of the fifteen crane species worldwide, ten are listed as threatened, critically rare, or vulnerable throughout their ranges, but that was about it.
The tall, long-necked, wading wetland birds with which I am most familiar are great blue herons, which to the untrained eye look a lot like cranes. Both are tall, long-necked, and wade about it wetlands. But the heron, despite outward appearances, is not a crane. And neither are the various egrets that sometimes turn up in ponds and wetlands within the Blue Line.
If one wants to get into specifics, one can start with the fact that herons are in the family Ardeidae (which includes the egrets and bitterns), and cranes are in the Rallidae family. When a heron flies, it tucks its neck back into its body; a crane flies with its neck stretched way out in front, much like a Canada goose. Herons flap their wings with slow up and down movements, while cranes flap slowly downwards, but have a more rapid up-stroke.
I saw my first pair of wild cranes Saturday morning. I was driving northward into southern Michigan when a pair of long birds flew across the road and out over a farmer’s field. I did a double take – those weren’t herons! The wings were all wrong, and the outline didn’t seem right. They had to be cranes, I thought. A short while later, another pair flew by. There was no doubt left in my mind – these were cranes.
The third pair I heard long before I saw them. I was walking along a trail at a nature sanctuary when through the woods I heard this strange croaking call. It was a sound I’d never heard before, and I thought to myself “those can only be cranes” (had I been back here in the Adirondacks, I might’ve written it off as a raven experimenting with its vocal cords). I walked a little faster, heading toward the field I could see up ahead, hoping I just might see the birds out foraging. No luck – they were on the wing and a few seconds later I watched as they passed above the trees in front of me.
I was thrilled, but at the same time disappointed that I hadn’t gotten a closer look.
When I mentioned the cranes an hour later to the gentleman who was manning the gift shop, he told me of the nearby Audubon sanctuary where hundreds of sandhills were coming in to roost every evening. Why, they had over 2000 the other night! I pulled out my road map and with much pointing and the drawing of lines, we had worked out the directions to get me there.
When my interview concluded later that afternoon, my new friends all encouraged me to head to the sanctuary. Grab a bite to eat, go to the refuge and sit back to enjoy the show – that was their advice.
So, I stopped for a quick dinner, then, braving the road construction and some confusing detours, I wound my way toward Haenhle. When I got there, the parking lot was nearly full. I found a spot, changed into my Bean boots, and, laden with camera and binocs, headed into the fields.
It was early evening, the sun only just headed toward the horizon, and already the birds were arriving in pairs and small groups. Some flew in fairly low (we could see their toes), while others were high enough to be merely silhouettes. We could hear them coming long before they arrived – their harsh calls can carry up to a mile in good weather.
They glided in, losing altitude as they neared the marsh. They then spilled the wind from their wings, and put down their landing gear – those long, gangly legs that trail out behind when the birds are in flight. With some back winging, they gently settled in to the shallow water to preen and feed.
As each group arrived, the hushed crowd of human spectators would gasp and murmur at the sight. Spotting scopes caught individual birds as they hopped and fluttered among the grasses and their peers. A lined formed to view the whooping crane, which was lurking behind some shrubbery, barely visible.
Now I knew why the Adirondack birding community gets all excited when a report comes in across the wires that a group of sandhills has been spotted in Farmer John’s field up in Rouses Point. To catch a glimpse of these ancient birds (a fossilized sandhill crane bone was found in Nebraska that was dated at over nine-million years old, making these birds among the oldest lineages on Earth) is to witness a bit of pre-history that still walks among us.
Over the past two weeks dozens if not hundreds of birders from New York and nearby states have traveled to Rouses Point to see an Ivory Gull, one of the rarest birds in the U.S. With its striking white plumage and blue-gray, orange-tipped bill, an adult Ivory Gull is also one of the most subtedly beautiful birds in the world. Ivory Gulls spend most of their time feeding along the edges of the pack ice in the Arctic Ocean, where they search for food, only rarely venturing further south than coastal Laborador and Newfoundland. Feeding mostly on small fish, Ivory Gulls also search out and scavange the carcasses of seals killed by polar bears. The Rouses Point bird seems to have been enticed to remain for a couple of weeks by handouts from ice fishermen. » Continue Reading.
The Preservation League of New York State announced it’s Seven to Save for 2009. As part of New York State’s Quadricentennial celebration, the Preservation League will use its endangered properties program, Seven to Save, to support and enhance the year-long commemoration of the voyages of Henry Hudson, Robert Fulton and Samuel de Champlain. In 2009, all Seven to Save designees are located in the Hudson and Champlain Valleys – in Clinton, Columbia (2), Dutchess, Essex, New York and Rensselaer Counties.
Two are located in the Adirondacks: Gunboat Spitfire Lake Champlain, Essex and Clinton Counties (1776)
Threat: Natural, including non-native aquatic species, and vandalism. This vessel was part of the American fleet which held the British at bay for a year and contributed to the American victory at Saratoga in 1777. The Spitfire is not only the most significant underwater archeological site on the bottom of Lake Champlain, it illustrates the interconnected history of the Hudson and Champlain Valleys.
Fort Montgomery Rouse’s Point, Clinton County (1844-1872)
Threat: Deterioration, need for stabilization. Situated on the border between the United States and Canada, Island Point is where Lake Champlain enters the Richelieu River. It was first fortified in 1818 as the Northern Gateway linking the St. Lawrence and Hudson Rivers. Fort Montgomery was built in the mid-19th century and seen as a crucial fortification by Civil War strategists. This site symbolizes the shared history of these two nations.
The Preservation League will provide targeted support for these seven threatened historic resources throughout 2009, and will work with local groups to protect them. The complete list can be found here.
“We are looking forward to providing strategic attention, extra effort, and new tools to secure the future of these endangered resources for generations to come,” said Erin Tobin, the Preservation League’s eastern regional director for technical and grant programs. “We are delighted to report that through the community involvement and preservation strategies we have created together with local advocates, many significant properties have been saved.”
The Preservation League of New York State, founded in 1974, is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the protection of New York’s diverse and rich heritage of historic buildings, districts and landscapes. From its headquarters in Albany, it provides the unified voice for historic preservation. By leading a statewide movement and sharing information and expertise, the Preservation League of New York State promotes historic preservation as a tool to revitalize the Empire State’s neighborhoods and communities.
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