Fort Ticonderoga is best known for its military structures and associated history, but what many people do not realize is that the site played a very important role in the history of 19th-century American tourism. Once steamboat travel became the principle mode of transport on New York’s northern lakes, Fort Ticonderoga became the location where travelers made the connection from the steamers plying Lake George to the steamers waiting to take passengers to on the next leg of their journey over Lake Champlain. As a result, multitudes of people passed by the Fort’s ruins virtually every day.
In 1820 the Fort’s grounds were purchased by William Ferris Pell. Nearly a century later his great-grandson Stephen Pell and his wife Sarah undertook the project to restore the Fort and open it as a museum. In 1826 William constructed The Pavilion on the flat plain to the east of the Fort. He and his family occupied the building as a summer home until his death in 1840. From the early 1840s through the end of the 19th century the building was rented to a variety of people who operated the building as a hotel, while one part, the north wing, was retained by one of Pell’s daughters, Mary, who lived there until her death in 1884.
Over the nearly sixty years that The Pavilion served as a hotel, it was visited by thousands of travelers including such notable people as Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln; the prominent French & Indian War historian, Francis Parkman; and prolific Adirondack photographer, Seneca Ray Stoddard.
The hotel was named at various times, The Pavilion Hotel and The Fort Ticonderoga Hotel. One visitor in 1872 describes the building: “The central portion is two stories high, with a double piazza; the front supported by massive columns on which vines climb to the roof above; on either side extend long, low wings with glass enclosed verandas, and rooms en suite at the extreme ends. The house faces the east, and is fronted by an extensive lawn covered by locusts and Lombardy poplars through which a plank walk leads down to the steamboat dock… The accommodations are first-class, but limited, the chief business being the dinner provided for excursionists, and for which the house has become celebrated.” In addition, an advertising handbill from 1868 notes that the hotel “has been newly furnished” and that the rooms are “airy, large, and it [has] suites, or Private parlors, as may be desired.” Meals served at the hotel that year included “Fine trout, bass, pike and pickerel, which are served up daily” and “Game Dinners served up at the Fort Ticonderoga Hotel at short notice.” It seems that the hotel was, in the words of one traveler, “Altogether it is a very enjoyable place.”
During the 20th century the house underwent major renovation and again served as summer residence for the Pell family. The Pavilion has not been occupied since 1987 and today Fort Ticonderoga is developing plans for its future use. In the meantime, the museum is offering, for the first time ever, special tours of the inside of the building where visitors will be guided by the museum’s curator on an exploration of the building’s past looking at evidence that survives from its 19th century use as an summer home and hotel, and the critical role it played in the restoration of Fort Ticonderoga.
For more information on tours of the Pavilion follow this link.
Blog post by Christopher D. Fox, Curator, Fort Ticonderoga