National History Day at Fort Ticonderoga

Later this month students from four northern counties in New York State will compete in North Country History Day at Fort Ticonderoga’s Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center. These students from Clinton, Essex, Franklin, and Warren counties will compete for the opportunity to represent the region at New York State History Day, held in Cooperstown, New York, on April 23rd.

History Day is a national program that teaches students the components of practicing good historical techniques. With an emphasis on primary sources, History Day requires students to research a topic related to an annual theme. Students present their findings in a final project that demonstrates not just good research, but the students’ ability to interpret their findings and draw conclusions—skills essential not just in history, but in life.

Students compete at two levels: Junior Division (grades 6-8) and Senior Division (grades 9-12). They can enter Individual projects or be part of a Group project. Students can choose to enter a Historical Paper, an Exhibit, a Documentary, a Website, or a Performance. The choice of entries enables a student to match their historical interest with a method of presentation best suited for their skills and abilities.

New York State is divided into fourteen regions stretching from eastern Long Island to western New York and from New York City to the Canadian border. Competitions often begin at the school district level and advance to the regional competitions. The top entries in each category earn the right to advance to the state contest, where winners advance to the national competition, held in College Park, Maryland, each year.

Natasha LaFrance and Rachel White 2010 NYS History Day

Natasha LaFrance and Rachel White, from St. Mary's School in Ticonderoga, after placing 2nd at New York State History Day, April 2010.

In 2010, two 6th grade students from St. Mary’s School, here in Ticonderoga, advanced all the way to the national competition. Natasha LaFrance and Rachel White did their project on the innovations in fortifications promoted by Sebastien Vauban. Natasha and Rachel were able to make a research appointment at the Fort’s Thompson-Pell Research Center, where, working with Curator of Collections Chris Fox, they found a great deal of information for their exhibit.

This year, students from Beekmantown Middle School, Edison Home School (Glens Falls), Moriah Central School (Port Henry), Peru Middle School, St. Mary’s School (Ticonderoga), and Ticonderoga Middle School will present their History Day projects at North Country History Day on March 10th. Judges from the local region—educators, museum professionals, and community leaders—will review their projects and interview each student. Every student receives positive feedback and constructive criticism from the judges with suggestions on how to make their projects better. This is especially useful for students advancing to the State Contest, because they are allowed (and encouraged) to make changes and improvements after the Regional Contest.

History Day is a great program for students and teachers. It teaches valuable skills that serve students well as they continue their education. I encourage you to get involved—as a parent, encourage your child and child’s teacher to participate; as a community member, become a judge or volunteer at a regional competition; as a teacher, be a mentor and advisor for your students.

I look forward to North Country History Day at Fort Ticonderoga every year. It’s so gratifying and amazing to see the skills and creativity of students that helps make history come alive!

Rich Strum
Director of Education

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Portraying a Citizen Army: 1775 at Ticonderoga

We all can picture the minute men of Lexington green on April 19th 1775. The image of armed patriot citizens, spontaneously fighting for their rights is indelibly burned into our collective memory of the American Revolution. This summer at Fort Ticonderoga we’re looking at the next chapter, what happened in the rest of 1775? How did we go from minutemen to an army so quickly? This summer we’ll explore with visitors the first American soldiers of the American Revolution.

While the image of farmers and shopkeepers suddenly taking up arms for their nascent country is a powerful one today, in terms of winning the war, we’re lucky it’s not the whole story. This American army didn’t just appear out of the ether, the groundwork was laid well before the shots heard around the world. The winter of 1775 was a very mild one, not unlike the winter of 2012. It was mild enough that the town militias of New England, including the famous minute companies of Massachusetts, drilled and trained all winter long. While certainly not regulars, by April 1775 they could hardly be called rabble in arms.

By April of 1775 the patriots of Massachusetts were itching for a fight. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress formally drafted their own Articles of War for the regulation of a new army on April 7th. By April 11th delegates were dispatched to Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire to secure their military alliance in an upcoming war. There was plenty of tinder prepared for that spark of April 19th. Even so, the other New England colonies weren’t quite as ready to dive into war. Connecticut governor, Jonathan Trumbull eagerly corresponded with British General Gates in Boston, attempting to find a peaceful resolution. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress all but called Jonathan Trumbull a traitor when they found a copy of his last letter trying to negotiate peace on April 28th.

These efforts for peace were dwarfed by the mobilization for War. Even as Governor Trumbull worked for peace he led the Connecticut Provincial Assembly to create an army in their resolves of April 26th, 1775. Far from a spontaneous popular army, Connecticut’s resolves created seven regiments by drafting every one able-bodied man per four out of the colony’s militia. In other words, they conscripted 25% of the militia into a regular army for seven months of emergency service. The Assembly resolves required these citizen soldiers to bring all their own arms, clothing, and personal equipment. The colony resolved to supply food, ammunition, medicine, camp equipment and pay these soldiers a good wage. The colony of Connecticut reserved the right to impress weapons from citizens to supply this new army. To top it all off, the Provincial Assembly raised taxes to pay for this new army.

These patriots were certainly bold and idealistic, but they weren’t stupid. They knew that it would take an incredible amount of organization to mobilize an army for a rebellion. The Governors, Colonial Assemblies, and Committees of Safety throughout New England worked amazingly fast to assemble an army in 1775. However, by April 29th a report from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress listed only six 3-pounder cannons and one 6-pounder cannon mounted and ready for service. This was clearly not enough artillery to equip an army besieging Boston. Therefore, it’s not surprising that both Massachusetts and Connecticut eagerly funded expeditions to capture the guns of Fort Ticonderoga. Thus in less than a month after Lexington and Concord the Revolutionary War was rushing through the sally port into Fort Ticonderoga. One month after that Fort Ticonderoga would have its first regular garrison of citizen soldiers from Colonel Benjamin Hinman’s Connecticut Regiment.

For further reading check out:

“Paul Revere’s Ride” by David Hackett Fischer

Connecticut Soldiers at Fort Ticonderoga

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Notes from the Landscape: Winter Tree Identification

An identifying feature of the Shagbark hickory are lenticels; small pore-like structures on the twig that allow the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide

Trees can be identified in winter by looking at the shapes formed by their trunks and bare limbs. Each tree species has a distinct shape, and its bark, twigs, and inactive buds give clues to help reveal its identity.

To find the answers all you need is a key. A key uses a series of paired questions in which each alternative leads to the next unique question. The questions begin with general tree characteristics and end with individual traits that are specific to only one species.



Samaras – The winged fruit of ash trees

Typical twig parts described in the key include buds, leaf scars, pith, bundle scars, lenticels and others, so it is necessary to learn the structural features of woody plants to effectively use the key. Other helpful features are the tree’s architecture or overall shape, bark, remnants of fruits and seeds, thorns, scents, and unique characteristics.

Choosing a key that is specialized for a certain geographic region or habitat will make the process faster and easier. Uncommon species and cultivated varieties used in the ornamental landscape may or may not be included. Some helpful resources are Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter (Eastern US) and Fruit Key & Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs. These books use a dichotomous (divided in two parts) key as described above. The Tree Identification Book: A New Method for the Practical Identification and Recognition of Trees uses pictorial keys and “master pages” that place all of the important features of a tree in one place. This book includes leaf depictions as well as twigs and buds, bark, fruit, and flowers in separate visual keys so that side by side comparisons can be made, often with actual size images.

Honey locust do not always have thorns. Popular modern cultivars of this tree are thornless.



To help study individual characteristics a hand lens, small folding knife and binoculars may aid in examination. Observation of the local site condition such as soil type, elevation and situation are clues that can help determine what types of trees are most likely to exist there. Consider whether the trees are naturally occurring or planted. Some foreign trees have established themselves in our landscapes and may be found mixed among common native species. Realize too that variations exist within species so a particular specimen may exhibit slightly different traits than its kin. Structural damage or disease may also affect the appearance of the tree.

Winter Landscape Trek on the grounds of Fort Ticonderoga





Using a key can open the door to learning more about the landscapes around you. Trees provide year-round beauty and enjoyment and winter is the perfect time to appreciate the details often overlooked in other seasons. Fort Ticonderoga offers opportunities to explore our landscape throughout the year to study topics including nature, history and horticulture. I hope to see you in the 2012 season!

Heidi teRiele Karkoski
Curator of Landscape

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Preparing the Arms Collection for a New Exhibit

A significant part of developing a new exhibit at Fort Ticonderoga is the preparation of collection objects before they go on display. Some objects require very little preparation, others require somewhat more attention. In the case of the museum’s newest exhibit Bullets & Blades: The Weapons of America’s Colonial Wars and Revolution, the objects slated for exhibition required significant attention.

Fort Ticonderoga’s core collection of historic weapons was largely assembled during the first half of the 20th century. In the 1960’s museum staff, concerned that the iron elements of the firearms and swords were at risk of damage by rusting, undertook a project to help prevent the weapons from being damaged by systematically coating each piece with a lacquer or shellac-like compound. While the theory was sound and the coating did largely prevent further oxidation, the material was thickly applied and, over time, became yellow. The coating on some pieces became so yellow in fact that it caused some iron musket barrels to appear as if they were made of brass.

Today there are better solutions to prevent the oxidation of metal.

Over the past month, curatorial staff has been systematically treating each weapon that will be included in the new exhibit. Fortunately, the coating applied to the weapons nearly a half-century ago is almost always easily removed.

The first step in the process (for firearms) is the dismantling of the weapon. Locks are removed, completely disassembled and barrels, whenever possible, are removed from the stock. The lock parts are soaked for 5-10 minutes in acetone which softens or dissolves the lacquer or shellac-like coating and softens other accumulated dirt and grime. Using cotton balls and swabs, the compounds are carefully wiped from each piece and each piece is then rinsed in clean acetone to remove any residual material. Barrels are wiped using acetone soaked cotton balls to dissolve and remove the coating and then rinsed with clean acetone. The butt plates, trigger guards, rammer pipes, etc. are not removed; they are carefully cleaned in situ on the stock.

Once the chemical cleaning is done, the iron parts then receive a careful cleaning with extremely fine (0000) steel wool. This gently removes any surface oxidation without interrupting the patination of the object’s surface. Screw threads and tight crevices are cleaned using fine wire brushes and dental picks.

The final step in the process is the application of microcrystalline wax. Three coats of wax are applied to the metal providing an imperceptible but durable clear coating that protects it from atmospheric pollutants and light handling.

In all, this process of dismantling, cleaning, waxing and reassembly of each weapons takes between 2 ½ to 3 hours. It’s a painstaking process, but is an essential part of the care and preparation of the weapons before they are placed on exhibit.

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New Conferences and Symposia at Fort Ticonderoga in 2012

Fort Ticonderoga will host the Seventeenth Annual War College of the Seven Years' War May 18-20, 2012.

Fort Ticonderoga has a lot of new initiatives underway in the Education Department for 2012. I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to tell you about a few of them.

In early 2011, we offered two one-day workshops focused on 18th-century material culture. This year we decided to combine the two into a weekend-long seminar. “Material Matters: It’s in the Details” was held January 28th & 29th with 35 people taking part. Participants had the opportunity to examine 18th-century examples and meticulous reproductions up close and interact with the six presenters throughout the weekend. We’re still evaluating the timing for this seminar before scheduling next year’s.

For home gardeners we will host the First Annual Garden & Landscape Symposium: “Planting Seeds of Knowledge for Home Gardeners” on April 14th in the Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center. This one-day symposium features gardening and landscaping experts from the New York-Vermont region. Heidi Karkoski, Curator of Landscape, has lined up a great list of speakers talking about things like using native plants in landscaping and home composting.

We are really excited about our new Conference on Lake George and Lake Champlain August 11 & 12. We’ve teamed up with the Lake George Association to develop a conference that explores the history, geography, culture, ecology, and current issues related to the Lake George and Lake Champlain region. The Conference features three history-related sessions, three ecology-geology-current issues sessions, and two sessions focused on the arts in the region. This conference offers us an opportunity to reach new audiences with an interest in these beautiful lakes that were so crucial to Fort Ticonderoga’s history and continue to be important in today’s economy as major tourist attractions.

Those of you who have attended our War College of the Seven Years’ War (May) or our Seminar on the American Revolution (September) may wonder how we go about planning these programs. Locating and booking quality speakers is a collaborative effort. Fort Ticonderoga staff meets to discuss possible speakers more than a year in advance of the programs. We consult participant surveys from the past year; many of the speakers we book have been recommended by attendees at previous seminars. We also talk with our colleagues in the field for recommendations, and we peruse upcoming publications for authors who might be appropriate presenters. While it’s still early in 2012, we are already hard at work on our conferences and seminars in 2013.

While the War College enters its seventeenth year and the Seminar on the American Revolution is in its ninth year, it’s exciting to branch out with our new offerings in material culture and gardening and landscaping. The Conference on Lake George and Lake Champlain provides us with an opportunity to take a holistic, interdisciplinary approach for those interested in the history and conservation of these two lakes.

I look forward to seeing you at one or more of these programs in the coming year!

Rich Strum
Director of Education

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Fort Ticonderoga Brings 1759 to Life During Clash For Empire Re-enactment, June 25-26

Historic Interpreters at Fort Ticonderoga

Reenactors portraying French and British soldiers of the Seven Year’s War, also known as the French and Indian War, will converge upon Fort Ticonderoga on Saturday and Sunday, June 25 and 26 to recreate the tumultuous and chaotic events by which General Amherst’s British army captured this vital Fort. Visitors will experience the life of British soldiers and besieged French soldiers recreated around them, with all the sights and sounds they would have encountered at Fort Ticonderoga in the summer of 1759!

The highlighted schedule will feature a battle each day (1:30 pm on Saturday and 1:00 pm on Sunday), British and French Drill, Artillery Demonstrations and a Captive Ransom program at 2:30 pm on Saturday.  Join the British troops for a game of Cricket at 3:30pm!  Learn more about sutling for the army at 4pm on Saturday or enjoy the sounds of 18th century music performed by Robert Mouland throughout the weekend. 

French troops will be camped in the Fort for the first time since 1759 and there will be a great deal of activity in the Fort and on the surrounding landscape.  Don’t miss the more than 25 historic merchants selling their period wares!

Admission to 1759 is $15 for adults, $13.50 for seniors and $7 for children (7-12 yrs) and children 6 yrs and under are free.  Fort Ticonderoga is a private non-profit organization. The event is 9:30 am – 5pm, Saturday and Sunday, June 25-26.

Entrance to the Clash for Empire event is located at the lower entrance, near the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry and Lake Champlain. 

Experience Fort Ticonderoga!  Experience 1759!

Don’t miss this extraordinary experience which will sure to be fun for the whole family!

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Fort Ticonderoga Opens Today, May 20, 2011 for 102nd Season!

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Fort Ticonderoga opens for the 102nd season today, May 20 and will offer new programs, events, exhibits, gardens and a six-acre corn maze designed in the shape of the Fort! Visitors will immerse themselves in nearly 2000 acres of exquisite … Continue reading

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New Exhibit! Art of War: Ticonderoga as Experienced through the Eyes of America’s Great Artists

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Fort Ticonderoga’s newest exhibit, The Art of War: Ticonderoga as Experienced through the eyes of America’s Great Artists brings together for the first time in one highlighted exhibition fifty of the museum’s most important artworks. Fort Ticonderoga helped give birth … Continue reading

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Fort Ticonderoga 2011 season begins May 20th!

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The adventure begins on May 20th! Fort Ticonderoga is a family destination, a center of learning and an interactive, multi-disciplined experience. It’s exploring the beautiful gardens, finding adventure in our events, marching with the Fife and Drum Corp, and learning … Continue reading

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