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Living history

New book chronicles the Lake Champlain’s storied people, history and biology

July 11, 2009
By HEATHER?SACKETT, For the Enterprise

The 110-mile-long freshwater lake that separates New York's Adirondack coast from the Green Mountains of Vermont is the subject of a new book, published by Adirondack Life magazine, which is based in Jay.

In celebration of the arrival of the first European explorer to the lake - Samuel de Champlain in 1609 - towns on both shores are commemorating this year's quadricentennial, and the book itself provides a useful primer on virutally all aspects of the storied lake.

"Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History," is a 216-page tribute to the people, communities, history and science that made Lake Champlain what it is today. The book is a compilation of essays by people who know the lake best.

Article Photos

Lake Champlain certainly has been no stranger to any number of vessels throughout its history. Here, sailboats from the Lake Champlain Yacht Club glow in the afternoon light.
(Photos and images provided)

"I think Lake Champlain is really a forgotten entity," said Adirondack Life's Creative Director Elizabeth Folwell. "Whether it was moving iron ore from Tahawus or logs from the interior of the Adirondacks, Lake Champlain was really a commercial hub and now it's a recreational mecca. It's easy to lose sight of how important waterways were to the development of the Adirondacks."

Folwell said the book may be the first of the "coffee table" variety on the Adirondacks that contains text as well as more than 300 pictures and illustrations. Contributors are college professors, military history buffs and people with a long family history with roots that run deep in towns along the lake. The book was at least two years in the making.

Beginning with a forword by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy that sets a reflective tone, the book devotes two pages to each of the towns along the lake. From the tiny historic hamlet of Essex, with just 713 people, to the bustling cities of Plattsburgh and Burlington, Vt., the unique characteristics of each are highlighted.

Chapter two chronicles the story of Lake Champlain's natural history and the animals that call it home. Laura Hollowell reaches back 1.3 billion years to tell the story of how the Lake Champlain basin was formed. Chapter three tells of the first people who populated the area long before Champlain and other Europeans arrived - the Abenaki, Mohawks, Mahicans and St. Lawrence Iroquoians all lived on the shores around the lake.

Interspersed with historical drawings, folk art, maps and paintings, the next chapter tells of the bloody battles for control of the lake, in particular the American Revolution's Battle of Valcour and the War of 1812's Battle of Plattsburgh. Chapter five tells of Lake Champlain's conversion from hinterland to international waterway. The final chapter deals with the medium through which most people know Lake Champlain best today - recreation. Ferry boats, steamboats, sailing, fishing and even snowkiting are some of the sports that are covered, in addition to the hotels, resorts and summer camps that line the shores.

Folwell said Lake Champlain was instrumental in how people experienced the Adirondacks for the first time. She said she hopes the book coveys that message to the reader.

"As a soldier on Lake Champlain in Benedict Arnold's fleet is how some saw the mountains for the first time," she said. "If you look at the impact on American history as a whole, there were three major wars in and around and on Lake Champlain."

As Leahy says in his opening line, "Lake Champlain, its history and our present-day way of life are inextricably linked."


"Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History" can be found in bookstores throughout the Adirondacks or by ordering directly from Adirondack Life at



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