Preservation At Ticonderoga

I recently came across the picture above and the ones below, which do a good job showing the state of Fort Ticonderoga circa 1902. (Actually, came across them again, as I used one here six years ago.) There is a complete fort at the site today, and that is the structure we are currently working on. The fort was in ruins 120 years ago. I’m not much of a theoretician for historic preservation work, but obviously this situation requires a bit of thought.

Perhaps a good place to start is that there is no pretense that the fort as it appears today is the original, unaltered and preserved. If you visit, it’s made clear that fort itself and the buildings within were restored in the early twentieth century – some 140 years after it was abandoned and 100 years ago. Honesty is good, but in this case it raises the question of whether a replica (or reconstruction, or however you want to phrase it) is worthy of preservation today. The answer, to me, is yes.

The site itself is historic regardless of the condition of the fort, for its role in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Its closest counterpart is probably the Saratoga battlefield where there is no fort or other structure (other than an ordinary house) connected the critical battles of the revolution fought there. In other words, if Fort Ticonderoga had never been restored, and was now a disorganized pile of stones, it would be exactly as important as it is today because the historical events that are the reason for its fame would be no different.

(One comment about the pictures: the visible ruin is one of the barracks buildings. The fort itself is the group of grass-covered mounds around that ruin.)

The reconstruction is old enough, by US standards, to be considered historic in itself. It was also a serious attempt to rebuilt the fort in the same manner that it was originally built in the 1750s (and again in the 1770s) without updating it to the 1910s. That’s admirable and meets the requirement of the Secretary’s Standards: “A reconstructed property will re-create the appearance of the non-surviving historic property in materials, design, color and texture.” On the other hand, this was never really meant to be a permanent structure. It was a rapidly-built fort constructed for a campaign in one war, more or less torn down, reconstructed for a campaign in another war, and then allowed to rot. It was, prior to its reconstruction, never maintained in any meaningful way. It seems, to me, fitting that a massive temporary structure has been preserved as a reconstruction.

One last thought… A lot of the difficulties with maintaining the fort that have led to the current repair project stem from the effort that was made in reconstruction to match the original structure. Had it been rebuilt to the standards of the 1910s and 20s for a permanent building, it would be in much better condition today.

TL;DR: it’s complicated.

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