A Champlain Valley Icon Worth Saving

Citizens of the Champlain Valley were in an uproar when the Press-Republican revealed that the Old Stone Barracks was purchased by a Canadian developer in 2010. The planned apartment complex and parking lots would fill the open space but allow the Barracks to remain fallow. “How could that happen”, we asked, “to a property that was on the National Register of Historic Sites.”

Of the many older buildings in the Champlain Valley, the Barracks stand out as emblematic of the indomitable spirit of the North Country. The Old Stone Barracks stood guard as a northern outpost for nearly 175 years. It was ordered into military service by none other than Major General Alexander Macomb, hero of the Battle of Plattsburgh, who rose to Command the entire U.S. Army.

Over the years, the Barracks housed Army, Navy and Air Force personnel, a hospital, convalescent rehabilitation center, and Champlain College for returning veterans of WWII.

They were home to John Philips Sousa’s band. Other associations with the barracks include Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, and Gen. Leonard Wood. It was the site of training in WWI and II, associated with the largest field training exercise in peacetime history (1939) and arguably the conceptual birthplace of the ROTC.

The Old Stone Barracks is historically significant as the oldest extant structure on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base, which was itself historically notable as the most long-standing combat-ready military installation in the United States while active.  It represents one of the last remaining examples of the first generation of permanent U.S. Army Barracks in the United States. Its history is our history.

Out of that 2010 protest, the Friends of the Old Stone Barracks was born. Its mission is to bring ownership of the Barracks home, consult with the community to find the property’s highest and best use, and create a way to preserve it for future generations.

The Friends knew that there would likely be one chance to save the barracks, and it better be done right! After long and hard negotiation, a deal was struck to secure the property with a down payment.

But there is no guarantee yet that the Barracks are saved. Many hurdles remain. The Friends must first buy the building. Ownership of the property is necessary to establish a “preservation in perpetuity” clause in any future title. Approximately $160,000 has yet to be raised by December. While a proposed brewery, shops, small apartments and public space have been suggested, further public comment for its use are being solicited at the Plattsburgh Town Hall, 151 Banker Rd., 7 PM, September 23.

Though the thick stone walls are sound, anyone developing the barracks property will have extensive hurdles to overcome with the gutted interior and weathered porches.

Open board meetings are held each Monday, 4 PM at the War of 1812 Museum.

To guarantee the Barracks’ future, now is the time for those who wish to preserve this historic piece of our collective lives to step up with their donation. Go to www.oldstonebarracks.org or contact any board member.

 

Jerry Bates, President

Friends of the Old Stone Barracks, Inc.

200th ANNIVERSARY AND COMMEMORATION OF THE BATTLE OF PLATTSBURGH

Well, here we are with the biggest birthday event to be seen in the North Country right on our doorstep through September 14.

Why all the hullabaloo here for something that happened so long ago?

For one thing, the Battle of Plattsburgh is nationally significant.  The war had been going badly for the U.S. from the beginning. President Theodore Roosevelt, an accomplished historian, recognized it as the most decisive battle of the war. The British defeat at Plattsburgh and Baltimore was altered the complexion of the war. It was the key to change the whole tone of peace talks which had been leaning toward a huge concession of U.S. Territory to the British. Had the U.S. continued its pre-Plattsburgh trajectory of losses by the British taking Plattsburgh and control Lake Champlain, our nation could well number as few as nineteen – yes 19 – states in the Union.

There are some basic things most residents of our region know. Most know that local people were killed in an outgunned defense of our then small town. Many locals know the basic story line of how 8,000 British Army came swooping down from Canada to lay siege to what was a relatively tiny village defended by 1,500 men, most of them physically unfit for duty. They were remnants of General Izzard’s Army after Washington sent his main force to defend Sackett’s Harbor near Watertown. Most know that a big naval battle took place in our Cumberland Bay where Cmdr. Thomas Macdonough’s fleet defeated a stronger British fleet that effectively ended the siege of Plattsburgh. And most important, our region recognizes the enduring peace and friendship that eventually came out of all that strife.

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But it’s the details of all that that remain fascinating. A good way to refresh oneself of those details can be had attending the various reenactments, demonstrations, and venues of the Commemoration from the Town of Champlain on the Canadian border down to Plattsburgh. Battle maps depicting the route of the invasion are available from local museums and the Chamber of Commerce and Town Halls. The maps provide a graphic picture of the daily progress of British troops engaged in the siege of Plattsburgh. A full schedule of activities can be found daily in the local paper and on the website http://www.Champlain1812.com.

On this 200th anniversary, the commemoration is special in its scope of activities and opportunity to learn and share. This is a part of our local heritage for which we can be justly proud and share with our out-of-state friends and family.

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