Historic Fort Montgomery; One
devastation after another
Photos by Dustin Zimmer
on a cloudy day
Many who know of Fort
Montgomery, associate it with error and humiliation. Published stories
on this topic portray the fort as a disaster that never amounted to
anything, but local residents know better than to make such judgments.
Maloy says, “ It’s a shame that Fort Montgomery has
not been preserved. It’s a travesty to allow that to happen. No
place else in the world would you see something so beautiful, left to
rot.” Maloy has many wonderful memories, but the history of Fort
Montgomery is a long and devastating story.
In 1916, two years following the end of the war, Colonel Joseph Totten
of the U.S. Engineers established his headquarters in Rouses Point,
New York. The relationship between the United States and Great Britain/Canada
remained uneasy after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. Because
of a remaining suspicion between the two nations, Totten gave Malcomb
McMartin, James MacIntyre, and John Stewart a construction contract
to begin securing the groundwork of Fort
Montgomery on an island called Island Point. It was proposed that
three million bricks would be used in the construction of this octagon
shaped structure, and was estimated to cost approximately $200,000.
While the men were busy at work, New York State was in the process of
giving Island Point to the United States government for military use.
Much to their surprise, construction of the fortress had already begun
two years prior to their arrival, marking the first big "oops"
of this development. Not only was there confusion in the building plans,
but also Totten had carelessly constructed the foundation of the fort.
Stumps, hemlock logs, timbers, rails, and boards were taken from the
old battleground at Plattsburgh, and dumped aimlessly into the quicksand
that covered the ground at Island Point. Soldiers, who were stationed
at Plattsburgh, were sent to Rouses Point in June 1818 to help work
on the fort. Many were so opposed to the hard construction work, that
they quit without notice. In August, they were ordered to return and
assist in building the military turnpike, and countrymen were hired
to replace the soldiers at the fort.
In the midst of the hopeful renovation, the United States and Great
Britain decided it was necessary that the boundary between the United
States and Canada be more accurately determined. Surveyors were hired
to locate the 45th degree of north latitude, long acknowledged as being
the northern limit of the State of New York. In January of 1819 the
surveyors announced that the fort was being built about three-fourths
of a mile north of the 45th parallel and within the territory of Lower
Canada. Work on the fort was immediately stopped, the contractors sued
for work already completed, and local residents took the stone, brick,
copper and iron for their own private purposes. This second oops influenced
the adoption of the nickname, “Fort Blunder".
From 1819 to 1844, Fort Blunder remained untouched while the local laborers
used the bricks and stone from the fort to build other town structures.
The Thomas Brisbin house at Odelltown was constructed from stone intended
for the fort, as was the old stone schoolhouse and the Methodist Church
on Champlain Street in Rouses Point. Also, many of the houses that remain
in Rouses Point still stand on foundations constructed with stone from
As the residents of the area continued to seize materials, the fort
continued to deteriorate. In 1842, because an agreement over the boundary
line had still not been reached, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty was signed.
The treaty settled land disputes and announced that Island Point was,
in fact, within the boundaries of the United States. Construction of
the fort launched once again in 1844 under the supervision of Captain
Brewerton of the Engineering Corps. Due to the years of destruction
by the locals, Brewerton had to start almost entirely from scratch.
Still, problems arose two years later when major contributors to the
construction, Lieutenant Mason and his men, had to suspend operations
long enough to take care of some business on the Mexican boarder. When
Mason returned he was replaced by Captain Meigs, under whom the plans
were again revised and enlarged. Everybody contributed his own ideas
until it was finally finished in 1870.
When completed, the fort covered three and a half acres, had 60-foot
walls and space enough for 164 guns, but it has never been armed. As
several decades, it was obvious that Fort Blunder would never be put
to use. In the 1920s, this $600,000 investment was sold at a public
auction together with 140 acres of land, for only $45,000. Oops.
There was talk of converting Fort Blunder into a military museum or
a lakeshore resort for the vacation season, but these plans never took
off. Although there is a natural pathway leading to the Fort in the
dry season, trespassing is now prohibited. Maloy reminisces, “We
used to take the path and play hide-and-seek in there. It was highlight
of my childhood until neglect finally starting impacting the structure
of the Fort. My brother’s friend fell into a well and was killed,
immigrants from Canada hid in there, and people started using it as
a place to abuse alcohol and drugs.”
This stone palace that once possessed so much potential and held so
many memories has now become a dark and gloomy place that is barely
standing. At most, it has amounted to a historical curiosity, a disappointment,
or childhood playground. It still rests on the North side of the New
York-Vermont Bridge, struggling to maintain its beauty, as discouraging
as it always was.
What do you think
should they do with this place? Let us know?
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