Preserving Fort Ticonderoga

  • Arts & Culture
  • 1909

The scene (during the French and Indian War) of the bloodiest battle in America until the time of the Civil War, Fort Ticonderoga on the New York shore of Lake Champlain went on to become one of the most important historical sites in the birth of America. Several crucial U.S. victories in our Revolutionary War were centered on Ticonderoga, including Ethan Allen’s seizure of the fort’s cannons, which were then used to drive the British out of Boston, Benedict Arnold’s heroic Battle of Valcour, and the seminal British defeat at Saratoga in 1777.

In 1820, the crumbling fort and its 546-acre grounds were acquired by New York City merchant William Pell, a wealthy importer of mahogany and marble, for $6,008. Thus began his family’s almost single-handed preservation of the historical battleground. In the early 1900s, Pell’s great-grandson Stephen Pell proposed a thorough rebuilding of the fort, and asked his father-in-law Robert Thompson to finance the construction. A Naval Academy graduate who earned a fortune in copper and nickel mines (and later became chairman of the American Olympic Committee), Thompson replied, “Have it done, and send the bill to me.” He pledged $500,000 to the project, which commenced in 1909.

Stephen Pell and his wife assembled the museum’s collection of weaponry, historical documents, and accoutrements of all sorts, and in 1931 established the private Fort Ticonderoga Association to maintain the site as a national shrine open to the public. Many visitors assume it must be a national park, but it is instead a product of philanthropy. Leading military historian Eliot Cohen describes the current privately preserved site as “a standard setter in terms of reconstruction and presentation.”

  • Fort Ticonderoga,
  • Eliot Cohen, Conquered Into Liberty, (The Free Press, 2011)