The Birth of the Town of Crown
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.