One of my many goals with homeschooling my 3 children is to give them hands-on experience learning about the world; traveling is a huge component to this goal. Sometimes this means traveling across the world or country, but there are many amazing things to experience in our own backyard. Books abound for learning about history, and there is no shortage of picture books for kids about the American Revolutionary War and colonial times. But when kids can physically go back in time to live out history as a French soldier living in a fort in the wildnerness, it makes a huge impact on their brains and imaginations. We decided to end our summer, or start our ‘school year’ by visiting Fort Ticonderoga to experience living history.
Since discovering Hamilton: The Musical last year, we have been full-force learning about colonial America and the American Revolutionary War. Now, I grew up in the western United States, so I learned through books and movies, sure, but I am absolutely giddy at being in the Northeastern United States to teach my kids about this time in American history…to “be in the room [state] where it happened” so to speak.
Fort Ticonderoga: Living History
New York State played a large role in America’s fight for freedom, but most of which I learned about as a kid, and even have heard about as an adult, has been related to New York City. NYC is a wealth of ALL things, really…BUT, the rest of New York State also played pivotal roles in the war.
One such important part is Fort Ticonderoga on the shores of Lake George, on the eastern side of the state. Fort Ticonderoga was founded as Fort Carillon by the French in 1755. It changed hands a couple times between French and British, and in 1775 the Green Mountain Boys from Vermont came and took the fort for the colonists/patriots. It did go back to the British, and was abandoned at the end of the war. In the turn of the 20th century, the Pell family started restoring the fort, and today it is still being restored and is a great place for people (especially kids!), to learn about what it was like to be a soldier during that time; life in a fort; how meals, clothes, and shoes are made; how artillery worked; and the war strategies of that time. You can read more of the history and timeline here.
We spent one day plus some at the the fort, and we will definitely go back. Every year the fort depicts a different year in the life of the fort-so next year things will be a little different! This year they were depicting 1757, next year will be 1781. This is a great way for kids returning to see the differences between the way the fort was run and the soldiers lived betwixt the French and British armies.
There is admission to get in for the day; they were running a special and it was cheaper for us to get a one year membership than to pay for us for 2 days. We live 4 hours away, so we will return. There is definitely more than enough to do and see for one day. There are several tours run throughout the day, most of them are free. We arrived just in time for the ‘children’s tour’ where our guide, soldier Madeline, showed us a few key parts of the fort, and told us some of the fun children’s activities. It was about 20 minutes, the kids paid attention, and loved ‘getting to know’ Madeline, as we came across her several times throughout the day.
There are different rooms set up throughout the three main buildings of the fort, with various soldiers/craftspeople making things: a tailor demonstrating making and repairing clothing; a shoemaker and apprentice making a pair of leather shoes. It was very hands on, and made for good conversations afterward. The boys were really intrigued by the shoemaker, and asked the maker, and me afterward, all sorts of questions about making shoes, and their shoes, and materials….homeschool win.
We saw a couple musket demonstrations- and more than just firing muskets, the soldiers and marksmen explained the process,the why of how they lined up, various strategies (rotating through vs loading weapons for 1 marksman to shoot), the anatomy of the musket. The boys also got to help in a cannon demonstration and learned the many parts to loading and firing a cannon.
Everything at the fort was very kid friendly and very welcome to kids exploring. The kids got to try out a straw bed (it got a thumbs down for comfort), touch the shoe-making tools, and touch the cannons. There is a newer building in the fort (complete with a/c, restrooms, and a movie room) which had a kids area upstairs for the kids to explore artillery. The silly hats the boys are wearing in the photos are the French “off duty” hats, made with the help of our soldier friend, Madeline.
Garden and Corn Maze
The King’s Garden is a short walk outside the walls of the fort. While a fraction of the size it used to be (it was larger than the fort itself-it had to sustain many people!), it is beautiful, and was lovely to walk through. There is a large flower garden and courtyard area, lovely to sit and rest and nurse the baby if needed, and then there is a very lovely vegetable garden. I was quite envious of the veggie garden; it was spectacular compared to my meager efforts at home. The cafe, America’s Fort Cafe, serves veggies grown from the garden! I thought that was really cool. We did not eat there; we packed our lunches.
Seeing as we were visiting in late August, the corn maze was fully functional! The kids had a blast wandering through and answering the trivia questions! They have 3 sections of the maze: a kiddie section, a section 15min. Maze section, and a 30min. section.
Mt. Defiance is a short drive from the fort itself. A short but steep walk to the top provides an excellent view of Lake George, the fort, and the land beyond. There’s a pavilion for picnicking, some giant boulders to climb up, and a few cannons. Vermont’s Green Mountains are in the background. This is a gorgeous piece of country.
More to Explore
There is more to explore and experience at the Fort than we accomplished in our visit; sometimes we stop a little sooner than we would like since we still have a 1 year old in the family. But that’s okay, more to look forward to for next time!
The fort rents canoes; you can hike a battlefield trail. There are behind the scenes tours; you can take a boat tour aboard the Carillon, a 19th century replica vessel.