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The Birth of the Town of Crown Point

Kama Lee Ingleston

The end of the French and Indian War on the North American continent seemed to foretell the end of the great military might of Crown Point as well. The British Crown would maintain a minimal presence at the fortress and some repairs were executed. There would be some civic and political changes during this decade of peace. In 1768, a proposal for the establishment of the Town of Crown Point would be forwarded to British authorities but no action would be taken. Four years later, the original Albany county would be divided and Charlotte county would encompass the northern section on both sides of Lake Champlain to the Canadian border.

The fortress at Crown Point was being ravaged by nature. The construction of the massive complex from earth and wood invited water infiltration. The heavy Spring snows of 1772 added further stresses to the structures and major portions collapsed. In the following year, a fire in a chimney of the Soldier Barracks could not be controlled and spread throughout the timbers. The flames eventually made their way to the powder magazine and the massive explosion laid waste to the entire fort. The damage to Crown Point was so extensive that it was abandoned. British engineer, John Montressor, recommended the improvement of the Grenadier Redoubt near the shores of Lake Champlain in 1774.

In the spring of 1775 a decade’s worth of dissension between Great Britain and her American Colonies came to a violent turning point on the greens of two small Massachusetts villages - Lexington and Concord. The British ordered the reoccupation of Crown Point as well as the improvements to the lakeshore redoubt. Before a substantial force could occupy the British holding, Col. Seth Warner and his Green Mountain Boys captured the dilapidated redoubt on May 11th. This once great military complex was garrisoned by less than a dozen British troops and their dependents. Warner’s expedition was just two days after the capture of Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold.

More important than the British forts on Lake Champlain, the cannon and other military stores would prove to be critical to the American rebellion. In the winter of 1775 - 76, Col. Henry Knox would lead a "Train of Artillery" over 200 miles through the wilderness to Boston to aid George Washington in its defense. There would be new northern focus in the Champlain Valley and Crown Point would be the staging area for an invasion of the British colony, Canada. American Generals Schuyler and Montgomery would prepare, and then lead, an army of 1200 from Crown Point.

The American forces would see victories at Isle-Aux-Noix St. John, Montreal and during the Canadian campaign. The final aim of the invasion was the city of Quebec and to this end the Americans were unsuccessful. With General Schuyler convalescing at Crown Point from fever and gout, the rebels were reinforced by General Benedict Arnold. On New Year’s Eve 1775, the Quebec defenders repulsed the assaults and General Montgomery was slain and General Arnold wounded. The defeated rebel army was harassed by British forces under General Guy Carlton. The decision was finally made to return to Crown Point by the American military leadership under General Thomas.

The new American commander would die en route to Crown Point and General Sullivan would assume command. The weakened condition of the troops lead to a smallpox outbreak and the grounds of old Fort Amherst became a hospital upon their arrival. During the fateful month of June 1776, it was decided to withdraw from the old fortress at Crown Point in favor of the site at Mount Independence on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. The area surrounding the point would continue to be a resource for timber to build a small fleet to challenge the British ships on the northern waters of the lake. The final preparations by General Arnold and his naval group were made at Crown Point before they moved to block the British at the battle of Valcour Island.

The American forces at Crown Point, specifically the 6th Pennsylvania Battalion, would construct a fort in August at Coffin Point. The new military outpost’s life would be measured in a few short weeks. The defeat of Arnold’s fleet near Plattsburgh on October 11, 1775 would signal her demise. Two days later the American forces would burn the timber structure and retreat south. The victorious British forces would arrive at the orphaned Crown Point on the 14th but winter comes early in the Champlain Valley and they returned north. The once vital position fell silent and would not be occupied until the next summer.

The British forces under General John Burgoyne used the grounds as a staging area during June 1777 before their march south to meet the Americans. Burgoyne’s forces easily captured the force at Ticonderoga and continued their course of invasion. The five days of battle at Saratoga from October 7th - 13th were great successes for the rebel troops under Generals Gates, Schuyler and Arnold. There were a series of Loyalist raiding parties from 1778 - 1780 who used Crown Point as a base of operations. 1780 was known as “the year of the burning”, settlements from Queensbury and Kingsbury south to Burnt Hills were destroyed. Settlements on the Winooski and Black rivers in Vermont were also laid waste. The end of the War of Independence came with the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in October, 1781.

While both sides awaited formal peace, General George Washington, Governor Clinton, Alexander Hamilton and others inspected the old forts at Crown Point in July 1783. This would be the most northerly point ever reached by our future first President. The following year, British removed for the final time from this military post after the Treaty of Paris was signed by the warring parties. The once active military grounds would now be the building blocks, literally, for a new town of Crown Point and West Addison, Vermont.

With peace in the Champlain Valley, civic and political issues came to the fore. The northern section of the state was part of the original Albany County formed in 1683. Prior to the Revolutionary War, the county was subdivided in 1772 into a northern county - Charlotte - with Albany county encompassing the southern section. After the formal peace and declaration of our independence, the northern county was renamed Washington, in honor of the general who had visited just a year earlier, in 1783.

Crown Point would finally gain formal recognition as a township on March 23, 1788. This would come at the same time as the formation of a new county, Clinton, in honor of another traveler from 1783. The new county would contain four towns, Champlain, Plattsburgh, Willsborough and Crown Point. The quartet of communities would encompass all of the present counties of Essex, Clinton and eastern Franklin. Crown Point’s boundaries would take in the present towns of Ticonderoga, Moriah, Westport, Elizabethtown, Schroon, Minerva, Newcomb, North Hudson and part of Keene. This new town contained well over 1100 square miles of virgin land and water.

The first town meeting took place in December 1788 at " Old King’s Store " near the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga. The representatives included men from the small lakeshore enclaves within the expansive borders of the town. Soon after the community celebrated its first decade, a new county was formed. Essex County was established on March 1, 1799 from the old Clinton. Crown Point’s lake community remained a small population center until a new breed of pioneer arrived about the turn of the nineteenth century. The first settlers to the area would come from the east across the lake. The Vermonters would be infected with "York Fever" and first among them would be Stephen Spaulding. It is recorded that the first men to clear three acre plots in the western section were Spaulding, Abner Newton and Solomon Chase in June 1801. This virgin territory would be known as "Hogback" from the geological term for a mountain that contained two distinct water drainage systems, in this case Putnam Creek flowing east toward Lake Champlain and Paradox Creek flowing west toward the Schroon River and thence to the Hudson River.

It must be noted that the original land patents granted prior to the American Revolution were Adolphus Benzel, Allen Campbell, Donald Campbell, Robert Grant, Francis Legge , and Alexander McIntosh. In the 1780s two additional land patents were granted in the western area in the name of Pliny Moore and the Summervale/Cockburn patents. At this juncture, the first of many land speculators purchased tracts within the original boundaries of Crown Point. George and Alexander Trimble can be counted among these earliest speculators for the growing community. By 1804, forty families were "homesteading" in the wild lands of Crown Point. On the present day border with Moriah, there were also a few hardy families who claimed homestead rights at "Big Hollow". Among the first arrivals were Amos and Elisha Stanton and Ezikial Strong. The first civic organization in the young town was the Congregational Church organized on September 10, 1804 with Benjamin Wooster, missionary from Vermont. At the same time, the Towns of Ticonderoga and Schroon were established as independent communities by the New York State Legislature, Crown Point‘s size would be reduced for the first time but not the last.

The first merchant was Elisha Rhoades who opened a small store near the western settlement. He provided a short stock of household necessities with the main source of payment being ashes which the industrious storekeeper turned into potash. Within a year or so the first school was in session with Mrs. Rhoades as schoolmaster of 5 young scholars. James Morrow would soon after establish a store and tavern in Crown Point Center then a mill. In 1806, about 80 men of Crown Point, Schroon, Ticonderoga and Moriah were called for military duty. They drilled on Amy Hill and Spaulding’s History notes, "I saw them march around among the smoking log heaps; for the land at that time was in the process of being cleared."

As the town grew so did the businesses of the first entrepreneur, Elisha Rhoades, who built a tavern and dance hall at Buck Hollow. The new establishment, dedicated on New Year’s Eve 1807, would be known to all as "The Old Rookery". Starting in 1810, more milling facilities were established in Crown Point. Allen Penfield would build both grist and saw mills near present day Ironville and a year later Ebenezer Hopkins would duplicate the feat at Buck Hollow. With a school well established, the community would add to its civic register in 1811 "The Crown Point Social Library Society".

The expansion of the community did not slow even for the War of 1812. In fact, in 1813 the town’s surplus food was shipped to Skenesborough (Whitehall) for the American troops. When messengers spread the word of the approaching British Army, Crown Point militiamen marched north to participate in the American victory at the "Battle of Plattsburgh" in September 1814.

With the Champlain Valley now in peace, farmers and storekeepers returned to their homesteads and shops. Their thoughts turned to commerce and the production of a wide variety of trade goods for Vermont and other Lake Champlain communities. The commodities included potash, wooden wares, maple sugar and hay for livestock. After fifteen years of "good times", the year 1816 was to test the farmers and merchants of Crown Point. Known as "The Year with No Summer", no crops grew and the livestock had no forage in the fields, due to frosts in July and August. By the spring of 1817 the town’s surplus was exhausted. Those who made it through were now about to enter an era of prosperity and expansion.

The Champlain Canal, providing a connection to the Hudson River for the farms and shops of the Adirondacks, was begun in 1818. Crown Point was bulging with lumbering gangs in the woods, mills along Put’s Creek, small wharfs on the lakeshore and stores popping up near population centers in the town. The need for lumber to build the new American nation and the accessible water highway - Lake Champlain - were the catalysts for new mills and companies in Crown Point.

In response to call for men of industry, Allen Penfield formed a lumbering company in 1821 with Phineas Wilcox, Ebenezer Hopkins Jr. and John Pressy. It took 2 days and 40 men to raise their mill on Paradox Creek. One year later, Allen entered into a second lumbering partnership with Job L. Howe, and two of his brothers-in-law, Eleazer Harwood and Charles Hammond. C.F. Hammond and Co. had a saw mill on "Overshot" pond. The beginnings of a Main Street were initiated with the construction of a brick store at "Hammond’s Corners" in 1827.

Sometime during the mid 1820s, Allen Penfield made the decision to build an inn with a "tap room" on his property in the western part of town - the Penfield Homestead Museum of present day. The exact date of the construction is in doubt but there are clues. There is strong evidence that Penfield and his family had moved to the residence by 1828 so the house must have been built prior. There is also strong evidence that the family may have migrated from Vermont a year earlier; in the records of the Crown Point Congregational Church it states that as early as 1827 Rev. S.L. Herrick, pastor, conducted religious services in the house of Deacon Allen Penfield. If the Penfields moved in 1827 and a public house was operated prior then we can conclude that original construction was in 1825-26.

Our community was taking shape through a system of roads, churches, civic organizations and commercial establishments. The next great industrial opportunity for the residents of Crown Point would come with the discovery of a special black rock. The iron ore found in the western highlands would command the formation of a new industry. This iron industry would be the driving force in Crown Point for the rest of the century.

Regional Information
- Crown Point Telephone History
- Crown Point History
- Penfield Homestead
- First Congregational Church of Crown Point

Area Histories
- Lake Champlain History
- The War of 1812
- Ticonderoga 1804 - 2004
- Schroon Lake 1804 - 2004
- Town of Moriah

Area Places of Interest
- Lake Champlain Bikeways
- Lake Champlain Birding Trail
- Fishing in the Adirondacks
- Adirondack Sport Fishing
- Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
- Continuing Education

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