Wish You Were Here – Fort Ticonderoga and the 19th Century Tourist
Fort Ticonderoga is considered one of the oldest tourist attractions in America. Shortly after the American Revolution tourists began visiting the Fort ruins to pay homage to the site of important events in both the Revolution and the French and Indian War. Among those early tourists were Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, the painter Thomas Cole, and the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as thousands of other everyday tourists with their families.
Thanks to the foresight of William Ferris Pell, the Fort ruins were preserved beginning in 1820 when Pell purchased the Garrison Grounds comprising 543 acres on the Ticonderoga peninsula. Pell quickly realized that the growing tourist trade visiting the Fort via steamboat needed a place to stay, and so in 1826 he built The Pavilion as a hotel in the shadow of Fort Ticonderoga and overlooking Lake Champlain.
The Fort ruins, now with a first-class hotel, became a must for 19th century travelers taking the “Northern Tour.” These tourists were eager to discover the history of this new young nation and to view the spectacular scenery found in the Adirondacks.
The staff of Fort Ticonderoga is slowly piecing together the history of The Pavilion hotel, which operated throughout the 19th century. Adirondack guidebooks from the period praise the accommodations, the food, and the wonderful scenery and history found here. Photographs of the hotel were taken by professional photographers and sold as souvenirs.
Always on the search for new historic material on The Pavilion, the Fort recently acquired through auction a letter dated September 30, 1868 from a tourist named Hayes to his friend Herbert Hutchens of Dover New Hampshire. The letter is written on Fort Ticonderoga Hotel stationary, the name used for the hotel from the mid-19th century on, and notes J.B. Wicker as the proprietor. From Fort archives the staff know that in 1868 the hotel had undergone extensive renovation and reopened with Wicker as hotel manager. This four-page letter sheds some light onto a typical tourist vacation of the period, which included a visit to Fort Ticonderoga, Mount Defiance, fishing and sailing on Lake Champlain, and taking the steamboat down Lake George to visit the village. Some things never change. Here is the letter reproduced:
Fort Ticonderoga, September 30th 1868
I presume that you would like to receive a letter from this romantic old spot, and I have just time before starting for Lake George to commence one. This is a very beautiful place. There is a good Hotel here, and the old ruins are still standing, of Fort Ticonderoga. Here you will recollect the Enterprise.
Ethan Allen utterred those illustrious words in demanding the surrender of the fort from the british officer telling him that the authority by which he demanded its surrender was “by the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” And you could spend a few days as pleasantly here rambling about the old ruins and battle grounds, going fishing and sailing on Lake Champlain and have a grand time generally. The scenery about here is very pretty. On the south is Mount defiance upon which the americans climb, planting their artillery, and stormed the old Fort, and captured it. On the lake the scenery is very beautiful, although a few miles up, when you have passed Crown Point it widens and the views are constantly increasing in beauty the entire length. On the west side are the Adirondacks beginning at the waters edge and rising imposingly up in to the heavens, looking down upon us poor mortals in defiance. On the east shore the scene is far different and affords a very pretty contrast. Fertile meadows begin at the waters edge instead of high barren rock, and graitvally rising and making their way back into the country until the Green Mountains a few miles back are seen rearing their lofty peaks, and piercing the clouds until they are lost and seem to be part and parcel of them.
There is some of the finest scenery here that can be found in any part of the world, and in looking at it we cannot but feel thankful for being blessed with such priviledges as we are in every respect. The waters of Lake George are very clear and it was called by the Indians Lake Horicon on account of the purity of them.
In an awful hurry, Stage waiting. You can judge the haste that I am in from the appearance of this. Of course you will understand it. Believe me to be as ever, your true friend,