From Waterford to Whitehall—history lessons

We awoke to rain the morning we left Waterford; as a result we weren’t motivated to get going early. We only had 40 miles to go, but six locks to get through, and that makes for slow going. We also were a bit worried about our “air draft”–how much Golden sticks up from the water–because there are some extremely low bridges (as in 15.5 feet) on the Champlain. We lowered our mast and our antennae’s, and crossed our fingers that the former owners had taken accurate measurements. We were supposed to call the lockmaster at Lock 3 the day ahead—he had the ability to lower the height of the water above his lock so we would be certain of having 17 feet between the water and the bottom of the bridge. As we approached the bridge, I had my eyes sticking just above the Bimini (canvas covering our flybridge) to make sure, and had to duck my head as we approached because I could tell that I would’ve hit my forehead on the bridge if I hadn’t. Whew. Here’s a couple of pictures taken just before going through one of the higher bridges, and at one of the locks:

We tied onto the cleats at the free walls (including electricity and water!) provided by Fort Edward, an incredibly important historical site.

I”m going to spare you the details of everything that’s happened there, because this is not a history blog, but the stories are well worth hearing. Oh ok I’ll tell you one. In 1777, a woman named Jane McRea was affianced to a British Loyalist garrisoned at Fort Ticonderoga. On her way from her home in Saratoga, NY, to join her fiancé, she stopped in Fort Edward, and was killed there. The story is that, though she was a Loyalist, she was scalped by an advance party of the English army made up of natives who were never punished for the deed. This incident made it appear as if the British Army could or would not protect the Loyalists as vigorously as they’d claimed. A painting of her slaying (which greatly accentuated her beauty and the fact she was a Loyalist) was used as a successful recruiting tool for the Patriots for several years afterwards.

Interestingly enough, her body was exhumed about 15 years ago, and only bullet wounds, not tomahawk marks were found on her remains. There is now speculation that she and her accompanying compatriots were shot by pursuing Americans. There are some who even claim she was being escorted by Native Americans hired by her fiancé to bring her to Fort Ticonderoga. Her gravesite is nearby, but we didn’t see it.

We did have a couple of other memorable experiences there. One was eating at the “Ye Old Fort Diner”.

The prices would’ve been consistent with those in the 60’s, and the quality was as well; we probably had our lifetime quota of iceberg lettuce and crisco by eating there. It was obviously the town meeting place, and we really enjoyed the down-home, rural atmosphere. People stopped to talk to us and ask questions as they went in and out, and on the whole, it was an unusual, but worthwhile experience.

Next, another 4 locks and 25 miles to get to the free wall at Whitehall, NY (also completely free moorage, including electricity, water, public bathrooms and showers). We LOVED Whitehall. Also incredibly historic. Unfortunately it’s a dying town. Although it enjoyed a beautiful setting nestled on both banks of the Champlain Canal, and serviced by Amtrak, a highway, and by boat, it is obviously severely economically depressed. Walking through the downtown area, we passed empty store after empty store, windows plastered with “for rent” signs, and cobwebs in the corners. We don’t know the reason–we were told by Joan, the groomer, (Hunny had her toenails clipped) that it was because past residents were too successful keeping out potential competitors, so jobs eventually dried up. I do not know if that’s true. However, what is clear is that the townspeople are desperate to make it successful once more. What was striking to me was that, despite the obvious hard times, there was not ONE speck of litter to be found, nor was there one bit of graffiti to be seen. Despite the hardships, the people were friendly, hospitable, and still had pride in their town and their history. Wherever we went, people would be genuinely interested in us and our travels, and were happy to tell us a bit about the town and its history.

Some pictures of the town, and a short clip of Amish riding through:

In the morning, we had an amazing breakfast (local maple syrup!) in a cafe called “Historic Grounds” located in a re-furbished brick bank building from the 1800’s. Their espresso drinks, food, and ambience could easily compete successfully in Portland or Seattle. We also heard of a highly rated waterside restaurant at the marina on Lock 12 in the middle of town, but we had too much food in the fridge that needed eating. We also met and talked a long time with Keith, who takes immaculate care of all the municipal grounds and buildings surrounding the canal.

We did our bit to help out by buying items from their farmer’s market just down the road (4 vendors; we were the only customers), eating at Historic Grounds, and donating money to the Community Center to show our gratitude for their generosity in providing our mooring spot. Heartily wish them good luck in saving their town–they deserve it.

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