Most of us have read James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. His novel retells the story of one of the bloodier chapters of North American history – the narrative of the 1757 siege and surrender of Fort William Henry to the forces of New France on the southern shores of Lake George. Fort William Henry Museum recently celebrated the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of the battle.
After the siege and capture of the fort by General Marquis de Moncalm the fort was torched and the fires burned for two days. The glow was visible at Fort Edwards eighteen miles to the south.
Very little remained of the fort – four bastions, a fireplace, a well – and soon nature reclaimed the site which remained undisturbed for many years until businessmen Harry Veeder and Aiden Shaw recognized the coming threat of tourist development. The 28-acre property was purchased in 1953 and the Fort William Henry Corporation was formed. Archeologist Stanley Gifford was hired to head an archeological team and photocopies of original maps, drawings, blueprints, and manuscripts relating to the fort were obtained from British and Canadian archives, the Library of Congress, and the New York State Museum. A systematic approach to the excavations was drawn up based on these records.
What you see today is nearly a total reconstruction. Original features include the remains of the powder room, a few foundation walls, and the well. The display cases and dioramas are dusty and tired and desperately need to be redone, but for those with a sense of adventure and bit of imagination, the place is worth the visit. There are dress-up activities for children and visitors can witness the hourly firing of the cannon from the fort's walls. The gift shop is a paradise of cheesy gifts for children of all ages.
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