Daytrips: The Other Ticonderoga
By Patricia & Robert Foulke
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Decades ago Lowell, Massachusetts remained a dormant relic of its once prosperous industrial past. Not until the city fathers began to tap into that past did the tourist industry pay much attention to industrial history. Now you can appreciate another 19th-century industrial powerhouse on a smaller scale nearby. Ticonderoga’s museums tell the story of its heyday as a manufacturing center, with rapid growth and prosperity through the second half of the 19th century. So there’s more to enjoy in the Ticonderoga area besides the fort.
The strategic military fort of the 18th century controlled the shortest portage to Lake George. The 220-foot drop of the LaChute river in three miles which made the portage necessary created the falls and rapids that later fueled Ticonderoga’s industrial growth. Lumbering and mining in the Adirondacks fed Ticonderoga’s sawmills and later its two seminal industries, paper and graphite. (Remember those Ticonderoga pencils that school kids all over the country used?) Other industries burgeoned around this compact source of water power, including wool and cotton mills, machine works, and a variety of manufacturing plants.
Did you know that the tiny hamlet of Ironville claims to be the “Birthplace of the Electric Age?” In fact, the first known industrial application of electricity in the country took place here. As you tour the house you will come to a large shed and a surprise–a replica of a large electromagnet. Allen Penfield bought the original, now housed in the Smithsonian, from its inventor, Joseph Henry, to use in the ironworks in 1831. Iron mine owners had a problem separating even rich iron particles from the ore. Joseph Henry was able to create a powerful electromagnet, and it could more efficiently remagnetize the smaller magnets mounted on cylinders to attract the iron particles.
The attractive facade of the Penfield Homestead has a wraparound porch. The building was originally an inn with a tap room dating from 1826. Allen and Anna Penfield moved in with their children in 1828. For forty years Allan ran the mining business from a home office, and as you enter the house you’ll see his desk. The parlor is furnished with some family pieces and others typical of the 19th century. We marveled at the large collection of family bibles in a glass case in the former dining room, important because they record births, marriages and deaths of generations on their flyleaves. A large quilt made by local women shows details of life in Ironville, once a burgeoning village. The kitchen also served as a family room where people spent most of their time. A Rumford fireplace kept them warm.
The shed is large and includes the ice house. Collections there include wringer washing machines, irons, a lathe run by peddling feet and finally–the Electromagnet with a description on the wall beside it. We took time to look through a collection of Seneca Ray Stoddard photographs of the mines, locomotives, a kiln, tracks and trestles, and a blast furnace. Iron from here not only provided iron plates for the U.S.S. Monitor but also cable for the Brooklyn Bridge. It was nice to see the photographs because the mine shafts are in ruins and no one is allowed in the area.
Upstairs Annie Penfield lived in her bedroom until her death in 1954. The nursery has a collection of toys, a rocking horse and doll carriage. Another room has displays from the Civil War, including discharge papers and information about the 100 Morgan horses used by the cavalry unit from this area..
Take a look in the carriage barn behind the house. It contains a Crown Point hearse with an ice box to keep the body cool, a one-horse open roadster, and an 1884 treadmill powered by large dogs. The Penfield carriage is there as well as a carriage jack for changing a wheel.
The Penfield Homestead Museum ,County Rt. 2, 518-597-3804, www.penfieldmuseum.org. Open June-October, Thursday-Sunday 11-4.
Directions: From I87 take exit 28 to Route 74E and drive on a pretty winding road for 15 miles past Paradox and Eagle lakes to the Corduroy Road on your left. Follow around Penfield Pond into Ironville, about 3 miles. The Penfield Homestead Museum is on your left. Distance from Lake George Village: 51 miles.
Summer 2007 Event: August 19, Annual Heritage Day–Pony rides, games, craft fair, BBQ, flea market, lectures, historical demonstrations
October 7, 2007: Applefolkfest–chili, hot dogs, fresh donuts, apple desserts from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Craft fair and flea market at 10:00 a.m.
After your visit drive back to Rt. 74, turn left and enjoy the panoramic view as you head down the long hill into Ticonderoga.
This house is a replica of Thomas Hancock’s house on Beacon Street in Boston between 1737 and 1863. (He was an uncle to John Hancock, who later lived there.) It was home to Horace Augustus Moses, who owned the Strathmore Paper Company. Now it houses a regional museum, fine art gallery and research library. Furnishings and exhibits date from the 1700s to the present and focus on Lake Champlain, Lake George and the Adirondacks.
Period furnishings include 18th and 19th century Duncan Phyfe and Chippendale pieces as well as colonial-era furniture. In the drawing room the painting over the fireplace depicts “Death of Wolf-Plains of Abraham before the City of Quebec, 1759.” On the second floor landing the clock belonged to “Diamond Jim” Brady, a financier who was seldom seen without his signature diamonds.
The exhibit room is chock full of some of the vessels bearing the name “Ticonderoga,” including a photograph of Stephanie Pell christening the aircraft carrier “U.S.S. Ticonderoga” in 1944. The schooner “Ticonderoga” was in the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. The sloop “Ticonderoga” appears in an engraving as she leaves for the African coast in 1862. The 1906 steamboat is now in the Shelburne Museum. There’s also the Captain’s Chair from the “U.S.S. Ticonderoga,” decommissioned in 2004.