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“In sight of the ruins, a quarter mile distant…” Part 1

The story of a visit to Fort Ticonderoga in 1872.

Part 1, The photographer and his book.

This is the first in a four-part blog series describing a visit to the ruins of Fort Ticonderogain 1872 by Seneca Ray Stoddard.  Stoddard (1844-1917) was a prolific photographer and writer focusing much of his work on New York’s Adirondack mountain region.  His guidebooks to northern New York are valuable resources that provide a unique window into the past.  Stoddard’s work at and about Fort Ticonderoga offers a rare glimpse into an aspect of the Fort’s past that we are only now beginning to fully appreciate.

Seneca Ray Stoddard left an exceptional combination of photographs and a written record that, when used together, offer unique insight into the history of Fort Ticonderoga.  By studying his works in tandem, we have the ability to retrace the steps and thoughts of a visitor to the Fort at a time when the Fort was still a romantic ruin and the events that occurred at the site were still vivid in people’s imaginations.

In 1873 SeTiconderoga: Past and Present book title pageneca Ray Stoddard published Ticonderoga: Past and Present.  This book chronicles his visit to Fort Ticonderoga in 1872.  He begins his narrative with a description of the trip to Ticonderoga via Lake George steamboat, and the overland stagecoach ride to the ruins.  Upon reaching Fort Ticonderoga, Stoddard provides a rare and detailed description of a visit to the ruins and its outlying defenses and offers an interpretation of the Fort’s historic landscape and features; an interpretation based in part on his own knowledge of the Fort’s remarkable history and, in part, on the interpretation of other, more military-minded individuals who have visited the ruins before him.  While not necessarily published to be a guide to the Fort, Stoddard’s Ticonderoga does read as an unofficial guide book to this historic site that in the 19th century was already a well-known destination for America’s earliest generations of heritage tourists.  When combined with Stoddard’s extensive stereo photography of Fort Ticonderoga’s ruins, this book creates a veritable time machine in which one can travel 140 years into the past and visit the Fort at a time when it was still a pristine ruin.

Fort Ticonderoga Hotel guest book signatures
Seneca Ray Stoddard visited Ticonderoga at least five times between 1868-1874. We can document his visits to the day through his signatures in Fort Ticonderoga Hotel guest books.

To get to Ticonderoga, Stoddard traveled the route followed by countless people before him; by boat down Lake George.  Whether idle travelers seeking respite in the peace of the northern lakes, businessmen traveling between New York City and Montreal, or armies seeking to capture or control Fort Ticonderoga during the French & Indian War and American Revolution; Lake George was the crucial link in the historic water highway passing through northern New York.  In the 19th century the Lake George steamboats disembarked their passengers at the Baldwin docks south of Ticonderoga.  From there travelers passed overland by stagecoach to the steamer dock on Lake Champlain below Fort Ticonderoga’s ruins.  By the early 1870s, with the construction of the railroad along Lake Champlain, travelers had the option of catching the speedier train to continue their journey.

Stereoview of stagecoaches
William Baldwin’s stagecoaches at Fort Ticonderoga, September 25, 1874. This rare stereoview illustrates some of the very stagecoaches that Stoddard describes in his book.

Upon landing at the Baldwin dock, Stoddard boarded a stagecoach for the second leg of his journey to Fort Ticonderoga.  Of the transportation before him, Stoddard notes “Five great box-like stages, one baggage wagon, twenty-two horses and six drivers waited for us at the foot of Lake George, as the little steamer came to rest against the dock, and we passed out over the plank to the clay-bespattered platform, where stood the driver-in-chief, with always a pleasant word or a happy retort at his tongue’s end.”  Stoddard is referring to William Guy Baldwin, the famed stagecoach operated who transported travelers between the Lake George and Lake Champlain steamboat docks during the later decades of the 19th century.  Stoddard describes Baldwin as “a genial, obliging, gentlemanly man; the joy of seekers after knowledge; the terror of those who know too much.”

To be continued…

Blog post by Christopher D. Fox, Curator, Fort Ticonderoga.