Americans were hitting the road in the years after World War II. The post-war economic upswing in the United States allowed for more consumerism and leisure time, and what better way to take part in the flourishing of America than the great family road trip. The authorization of the Interstate Highway System in 1956 would lead to construction of thousands of miles of highway roads. The “Adirondack Northway,” the corridor of I-87 that runs from Albany to the Canadian border and the major highway closest to Fort Ticonderoga, was finished by 1967. As these roadways expanded, conveniences and entertainment along routes followed—gas stations, motels, even strange roadside curiosities. But for most travelers, these roads brought them to their ultimate destination: majestic landscapes, historic monuments, and sites celebrating the country’s patriotism. Here, Fort Ticonderoga stood (and still stands today) as the best site in America to tell the story of the origins of the nation’s military and its role in the founding of our country.
The Fort Ticonderoga Museum opened to the public on July 6, 1909. A look into the museum’s early Visitor Record book shows travelers coming from as far as Ohio, Missouri, Texas, and in August of 1913, even Sydney, Australia. While curious visitors have walked the ruins on the Ticonderoga peninsula as early as the 1790’s, there was the new draw of the museum in the rebuilt Barracks and an extensive object collection. The Museum Notes section of the Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, started in January of 1927 by founder Stephen H.P. Pell, kept readers up to date with recent collection acquisitions. Over the first half of the 20th century, the museum acquired numerous objects either owned by figures connected to the fort’s history or reflecting, in general, the two wartime eras of the site. As the history of the site grew, so too, did other parts of the campus. The wider entrance area would include a post office, gas station, and lodgings. An old house outside the entrance gate was converted by Curator Eleanor Murray into the Black Watch Lodge. The growing group of American road trippers had much to experience at the ‘Old Fort,’ and what better way to direct and teach travelers than nice, helpful (and even colorful) signage.
The Fort Ticonderoga Museum’s focus on collecting material culture of the 18th century still remains, but in its one-hundred-year history, the museum itself has produced its own cultural heritage. Now, years later, these objects have taken on their own symbolic meaning as part of the institution’s history. A team of collections catalogers, hired through a major Institute of Museum and Library Services Grant, have been busy cleaning, photographing, and cataloging a variety of these collections, including mid-20th century informational and destination signs from the main campus and in-town locations. No doubt, some of these signs can be found in the back of old family road trip photographs!
Many of the signs date from the 1920’s through 1960’s and are made from wood and bright paint. Popular colors include rich earthy green and brown. A photograph from the 1950’s shows the signs “ENTRANCE FORT & MUSEUM” and “OPEN 9 A.M. CLOSED 6 P.M.” hanging on the stone pillars to the site’s entrance. Other signs direct to destinations that developed in the wake of Fort Ticonderoga and were later acquired by the museum: “FORT MOUNT HOPE 1/2M.” and “THE BURGOYNE TRAIL TO MOUNT DEFIANCE.” The 4-foot tall “THE BLACK WATCH LODGE” sign would have (hopefully) caught the eye of guests about to enter the grounds. These signs have now been accessioned into our museum collections management database, which holds digital records and photographs of the museum’s collection.
Inside the main campus, informational signs gave facts about the British 6-Pounder Knox gun or Punishments for infractions and crimes committed by soldiers. In the 1920’s and 30’s, a sign sporting “THE LOG HOUSE TEA ROOM” directed hungry visitors to the site’s own version of a family-friendly roadside eating establishment. Today, the Log House now holds the America’s Fort Café and is a living reminder of the first generation of site orientation, refreshments, and cultural tourism on the campus. As our institution has expanded on research and visitor hospitalities, older signs have been changed out for new and updated versions. And though no longer having their original use, these older signs now are part of their own history – as part of a more than century-old museum. Unlike like the “CLOSED FOR THE SEASON “sign now hanging in collections storage, we remain open year round for events with daily visitation starting May 6th. Make sure to plan your family road trip for 2017 season and don’t forget to check out some of our signs!
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant # MA-30-16-0178-16.