Fort Blunder

Stumbling my way around the impressively dangerous ruins of Fort Montgomery, as my presence disturbed hundreds of Pigeons that are now the fort’s permanent residents, I was nothing short of awe inspired. Though only 1/3rd (give or take) of the fort actually remains, it was immense in anyway you can measure it up. Stone and brick walls several feet thick, uniform archways framing collapsing brick ceilings and leafy hardwood trees lead into cavernous casemates that entombed a dank chilliness that left residue on the aging stones, regardless of the out of seasonal 80 degree fall day that we chose to explore.

For being an abandoned relic relatively hidden in plain sight and yet, out of the way, it’s evident it receives a lot of foot traffic. Its arched hallways have almost no wall space left intact, covered by layers of graffiti, going back to as early as 1971. Or – the earliest we were able to find at least. Countless names, cultural expressions, slanderous accusations of obvious enemies and the occasional term of endearment could be read as you wondered around the property, which was pretty stimulating and could easily stand out alone as part of the experience.

Fort Montgomery was quite the fascinating place – something that I could explore, but in a sense, never be able to relate too. It was built during a time of when America had real fears of being invaded by the British via Canada, and our independence was actually in jeopardy.

But despite the resilient bones gently losing their will to fight mother nature, the fort has a rather underwhelming and ironic history, which would explain it’s rather unintimidating nickname, as far as forts go.

Its location was strategic, where Lake Champlain empties into Quebec’s Richelieu River, right on the Canadian Border between New York and Vermont. Construction on the unnamed fort began in 1816 and called for an octagonal structure with 30-foot walls. However, when President James Monroe visited the location in 1814 to see how the progress was going, he discovered they had made a huge mistake. Because of survey errors, the fort was inadvertently built in Canada. Oops. The resulting mistake lead to the fort’s nickname, Fort Blunder, which carried on into the 21st century. Construction was immediately halted and the fort was abandoned.

After much dispute between Canada and the United States over the sloppy boundary agreements and who owned what, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 finally would resolve the problem for good, annexing Island Point – the location of Fort Montgomery, as part of the United States.

It was decided again that a fort should be constructed there, and in 1844, laborers broke ground on what would be known as Fort Montgomery. Fort Montgomery was a “third system” fort, or, one of the forts that were being built along the Northern frontier. Work on the fort was continuous through 1870, as the civil war raged on and another fear of a possible British invasion (the bad type) had everyone panicking.  And when the Saint Albans Raid happened in 1864, that fear seemed very reasonable now.

During the 30 year construction period, the attention to detail was immaculate – nothing was left unplanned, and with cutting edge military tactics and a round-the-clock labor crew of 400 of the best stone cutters and masons working at the site, it was intended to be a showpiece, a symbol of brazen resilience.

The fort also had a rare feature that only 9 forts in the United States possessed at the time; a moat. With the moat dug around the fort, it was situated on it’s on private island, with a drawbridge and a stone causeway it’s only land entrance. The moat can still be seen today, though, now filled in with layers of mud and runoff, with the creeping forest getting ever closer to ramble down it’s dirty stone retaining walls. The drawbridge also had a very unique feature – it acted essentially like a seesaw, being able to teeter on both sides with a central balance point.

Though it was intended to house 800 men, the fort never actually saw battle, and was really only used as a form of visual intimidation at the border – allowing your mind to really do the rest. One man manned the fort, and lived in a caretaker’s house nearby. Because the fort never saw battle, some surmise that this was also the reason why it was bestowed the notoriety of the nickname “Fort Blunder”. However you look at it, both of these huge mistakes are fitting reasons.

The fort officially went defunct in 1926 when it became obsolete, and the government sold it. Residents of Rouses Point took it upon themselves to salvage material from the fort, considering it was great material, and most importantly, free. Stone, brick and wood were used for construction projects all around town. Houses, sidewalks and retaining walls can still be seen today that incorporate a little Fort Montgomery in them. My friend, who is also an adventurer and who was playing the role of tour guide that day, said that he remembers someone in Alburgh he knew with original wood from the fort inside their farmhouse.

The fort was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and today, the property is actually for sale, and as far as I know, it hasn’t received any offers. Admittedly, the remains of a 19th-century fort in your backyard would be a far cooler feature than lawn gnomes or pink flamingos. While tromping around the overgrown grounds, we were discussing other great uses for the property, like a great outdoor music venue location.

My friend was the perfect tour guide. He used to come here back in high school, along with many of his friends, back when the fort was really forgotten. They had paintball matches here, which seems like an ideal location for such activities, and just generally hung out underneath the brawny yet ethereal stone archways. Countless area kids (and adults like myself) would also hangout there, as evident by the plethora of graffiti and Natural Ice cans left behind. Modern day relics. Walking around, he knew many of the names spray painted on the walls. One person in particular he recalled getting hit by a train when she was walking her dog years ago. Less poignantly, he also pointed out where his high school band rebelliously self-promoted themselves on a wall inside.

The ruins of the fort were disorienting, something else I didn’t expect. The place was so overgrown, that there were times while exploring the upper levels, that you actually perceived as just a walk in the woods, until you looked over and noticed you were actually 30 feet in the air, above a row of arches vanishing into thick vines and forests shedding their Autumn jackets. At times, literally climbing up earth banks to get to the second floor, you notice a black hole beneath your feet, with crumbling bricks falling into the dark and the deep below, reminding you that you are on a man-made structure.

And of course, walking through the airy hallways as the fragrant breezes blasted through the windows, countless Pigeons would swiftly bolt down the hallways, coming very close to smacking me in the face. Sort of an Alfred Hitchock type of situation, except, this was real.

Walking back across the moat and down the access road – which was no more than a 4 wheeler trail at this point, we noticed the old trees that lined the path had white chalky residue over their aged bark, evidence of the water levels of the lake. The lake was incredibly low this Fall, some of the lowest we’ve seen it we both agreed. It was sort of strange to see those marks well at waist level as we walked by.

“Fort Blunder” certainly added another layer to my prowess, an intimidating ruin that was both venerable and deceitful. But honestly, I enjoyed hearing the stories from my friend and his personal accounts there far more than it’s faded history – it somehow adds an entire new layer of mystery and character to it – something that is a little more tangible to me as I trudged through piles of dead leaves on the way back to the car.

I can’t help but think. What will archaeologists be able to uncover about our time in the distant future, and what will those things say about us?

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Throughout the fort, there was this sort of undulating stone used, with ambiguous patterns found in their surface. Me and my friend speculated they might be fossils from the Champlain Sea, which once covered the area we walked on over 480 million years ago. If these fossils can be found in Isle La Motte, which is nearby, it may be possible that the same rock was quarried and used in the fort walls. Or, so we assume...

Through-out the fort, there was this sort of undulating stone used, with ambiguous patterns found in their surface. Me and my friend speculated they might be fossils from the Champlain Sea, which once covered the area we walked on 480 million years ago. If these fossils can be found in Isle La Motte, which is nearby, it may be possible that the same rock was quarried and used in the fort walls. Or, so we assume…

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A feature of the fort I liked. It once had duel stone spiral staircases linking top to bottom. Today, both have collapsed, but the remnants of some steps still remain, retaining their circular motion down curved stone walls. One of them (not this one) was filled with so much earth and compost that it was still usable for a trip up and down.

A feature of the fort I liked. It once had duel stone spiral staircases linking top to bottom. Today, both have collapsed, but the remnants of some steps still remain, retaining their circular motion down curved stone walls. One of them (not this one) was filled with so much earth and compost that it was still usable for a trip up and down.

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7 Comments on “Fort Blunder

  1. That is a stunning image, loved the shapes and colours. I also enjoy exploring old forts – pidgeons can be messy 😉

  2. love the fort.. i’d never seen the moat dry like it was on our visit. would have been a good opportunity to metal detect. oh well. the graffiti there is so great, bilingual, international, spanning multiple decades. Bedroom Boys woohoo. That slightly exposed archway in the floor makes me wonder what could be down there.. Also love the shot of the big ‘dark’ room. lots of great photos, glad we made that trip happen

  3. I’m a member of the HISTORY SOCIETY OF LACOLLE_BEAUJEUX and just to let you and your vewers that the firs fort was nickname fort BLUNDER because of the mistake in it’s location.But fort MONTGONERY was not call fort BLUNDER since the border line was move 2 years (1842) before the begening of it’s construction in 1844.I explore this fort several times way back when it was more axcessible and it was really a fantastic place, also did some diving around it.
    Just tought that this commun mistake should be point out for the benefice of those history reseachers like me.
    Congratulation on the pictures ,beauteful honnor to the fort.very well done.
    Pierre Desaulniers

  4. Love your article on Fort Montgomery and especially enjoyed all the photos. Great stuff.

    One point of clarification: Lake Champlain flows into the Richelieu River, not the other way around. The Lake flows from south to north.


  5. Explored this Fort in June 2000 for the 1st time and had a ghostly experience. We heard from a friend that he thought it was haunted so we went with him, we had ONE case of beer between 6 ppl, so no drugs were used, if thats what you may be thinking. It all started with us hearing “whispers in the wind” but that was easily overlooked as wind often makes sounds like that. However I noticed that rocks were sounding as if they were being skipped along the floor as opposed to just merely falling. We got the feeling someone else might be there but shrugged it off, prolly just a squatter playing with us from their hideaway… we broke up into groups of 3 and took turns tending the fire and going for a walk along the walls between one bastion and the other. On the way back along the wall the stands on the lake, 2 of my friends heard a death rattle-like scream and all 3 witnessed a blueish human-shaped apparition in a room the had caved in and thus had no light from outside coming through a window. One of the 3, the one who didn’t hear the scream, was able to make out the apparition well enough to see that it was in Civil War era uniform. Upon arriving back at the fire pit to tell us all of their experience I got agitated and rose a up declared that IF there were such things as ghosts, I wanted to see, hear or *feel* the presence of a ghost without any doubt in my mind as toward it’s origin- since I didn’t believe in such things. I went for a walk around the corner of the main room, a room photographed a number of times above, it is adjacent what I assume was a kitchen (LOTS of ash, an oven-like shape to the bricks and old cans inside) and inside the 1st bastion you arrive at upon walking the trail that leads from the road near the St Albans bridge, to the fort itself. It’s the room that has a half-circle scooped out of the 2nd story roofline and obvious signs of a fire pit in the middle. A walk into the darkened kitchen and within a minute I felt the feeling like a cold draft just blew past me, that weird “just got off the elevator” feeling [the ghost had walked through me] and then the definite feeling of a fist hitting me square in the stomach lightly but firmly from directly in from of me (all the knuckles were felt at the same time with the same slight push, as opposed to from a side angle indicating someone *could* have snuck up on me)… another factor in making this real for me was that as I walked back slowly I noticed even walking lightly made the gravel crunch and obv there was a little bit of light since there was a gun slit window directly in front of me. Since that day I could no longer say I was what called a “strong” or “militant” (hardcore) atheist… “spiritual but not religious” or “weak atheist” at best… this all happened a few years before I had ever heard about “professional” ghost hunters, before any reality shows featuring them, and long before I knew anything about “calling out ghosts” and asking them to perform certain tasks…
    Upon arriving home later I began to do some research. Keep in mind this was the year 2000, so the internet was primordial and web pages that once exist are now long gone. I stumbled across a conspiracy theory website that was set up kind of like reddit is now. Within it I found a story about the Fort and the people within it during its last functional days in the early civil war. There were supposedly two people stationed there. An engineer/mechanic who’s job was to maintain all the weaponry, a task which kept him busy during every waking moment. And of course, there was an infantryman who stood guard over the entire edifice whose life was a boring drudgery that would drive anyone insane. Well, the mechanic found this guard’s diary one day and read through it. In the diary the guard detailed an insane plan to single-handedly take over Quebec with the Guns of the Fort. The guard had heard the not too far-fetched rumor that the South might utilize Canada’s royalty to the crown to smuggle Confederates up and back down through Lake Champlain. IF the guard had followed through it would’ve turned the US Civil War into an international incident, which would’ve been catastrophic for the US in general. SO the guard shot the caretaker and like many ghosts, this caretaker never left his post. Granted I’m sure the ghost is somewhat aware of his fate and mainly just messes with random people. I think I got lucky the day we went because there was an electrical storm not far from the fort on the VT side, def. giving the air that ionized/ozone smell to it I have been 3 times between 2001-2004 and have not experienced anything since in my entire life, not there or anywhere. If you go, you’re more likely to experience getting detained at the gate by border patrol agents who will thoroughly check your bags and coats for contraband as smugglers use the fort on the border to smuggle drugs and people back and forth. The border station has infrared heat-seeking cameras trained to the roofline of the Fort, so if you go, do not light fires, use LED flashlights in moderation (no heat signature), wear long pants and coats, and try to stay off the roof, if for no other reason than it’s probably very dangerous climbing onto the roof from the rubble at the furthest bastion, though it can be done and one can walk the length of the fort on the rooftop. Make sure whatever you’re driving is completely up to inspection standards b/c after leaving a state trooper will follow you and attempt to pull you over on some minor offense to have an excuse to further search your vehicle. If you go at night you can avoid a trespassing change by claiming ignorance to the presence of signs if the signs are too dark to see, which at night, they are. Have fun and be VERY safe! This fort is crumbling as we speak, each winter it gets worse.

    • Hi David – thank you for commenting! I’m enjoying the read. The fort is no doubt a weird place. Funny you mentioned a weird experience. I felt a bit uneasy there in certain sections. My experience wasn’t anywhere near as noteworthy as yours, but I definitely felt like coming out of my own skin in a few of the collapsing lower chambers. That, and I recall that upper hallway near the crumbling brick stove seemed to feel differently than the rest of the area. Can’t quite explain why, though. There were fresh ashes there on one visit I recalled.

      Your story though, is for lack of better words, incredible and bewildering! It honestly might be one of my favorite accounts that have been told to me since I started my blog. Wow. I must confess – with all this ghost hunting nonsense on TV now, and it becoming so popular, it’s turned a bit silly, and I’ve shied away from it a little bit. But then I hear a great story like this. I’ve spoken to a few folks who grew up around Grand Isle and Franklin County in the 80s and 90s, and they all seemed to think that there was, at least, a “weird energy” at the fort. Some of its foundational rocks actually have ancient fossils in them, like you can find around Isle La Motte. Also, water is apparently a great conduit for weirdness. But that scream you heard….yikes. I have a scream story of my own that happened years ago. But not at the fort. This was at an abandoned farmhouse. It was around Halloween, and me and some friends wanted a scare. I knew of this creepy old farmhouse out in the woods, so we decided to take a trek out with a few flashlights and our bravado. Well, we start walking down the old forest road, and it’s pitch black by now. All of the sudden, we all hear this terrible scream, coming from the distant woods. It was far off, but it sounded like a woman in terrible agony, in the middle of a pretty big patch of woods. We had stopped and waited, and everything had gone completely silent. Because we were young and stupid, we decided to continue on towards the house. A few minutes later, we heard that terrible scream again, this time, it was closer! It was coming from the woods immediately behind the house. At this point, our flashlight beams were hitting the front side of it. As we were silently debating whether or not to continue ( I was pretty freaked out by now), we heard it again! And this time, it sounded like it was coming from within the building. We all bolted for the car and never went back. To this day, I have absolutely no explanation for what happened. I tried to rationalize it being a practical joke, but I can’t see anyone who would have randomly been in the woods around midnight in the country, just waiting for a bunch of stupid teenagers to stop by.

      I’m wondering if that journal entry is archived somewhere, or is still accessible somehow? I’m really curious about that. I’ve heard spotty tales over the years about the lone maintenance man who once guarded the place. Nothing really substantial, but some people reasoned that there was something “not right” about the fellow. Man, I remember the old days of the internet. The sites were pretty primitive, but I recall there being some great ones that really fueled by curiosity and held my attention. Today, there’s sort of an oversaturation of, well, everything online. I try to stay in my own little corner of it.

      I saw border patrol boats when I was visiting, but damn, we paid them no mind and leisurely wandered around (we didn’t ever go near the water though) I had no idea visiting the fort had gotten that risky. Geez. I may use some of your great stories in a re-write of this post – if that would be alright with you? I could mention you by name or leave you anonymous – if you’d prefer.

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