By Ted Como
Perhaps the most valuable piece of real estate in Northern New York is Ogdensburg’s Van Rensselaer Point, comprising 20-some acres that nearly 300 years ago was a French fort and Native American village of “statewide, national and international importance and interest,” wrote Garrett Cook, an archaeologist who conducted excavations there in 1987 and 1988.
To the passerby approaching Ogdensburg’s twin bridges over the Oswegatchie River the site presents a well-kept field of trails interrupted by a large monument. But its worth is in its history and what that history represents. Said Cook, “The work reported here is, hopefully, yet another step in the long delayed and often interrupted process of recognizing the cultural and scientific importance of this unique site and of planning to protect it.”
Why protect it? To preserve the story of a place that played a critical role in the development of the United States as well as Canada, a place where a foreign nation’s fate on the North American continent was decided. The history of a community is the foundation of its character and the very rich history that is the legacy of Ogdensburg residents still permeates the community in ways seldom considered, from the gravy on french fries at Phillip’s Diner (Poutine, from Quebec) to why there are two large Catholic churches serving historically different populations, to the local surnames duplicated in the Montreal phone book.
Historic preservation provides a link to the roots of the community and its people and Ogdensburg is fortunate that for the past 35 years, a not-for-profit organization of volunteers has been dedicated to and focused on preserving and securing that history with an ultimate goal of duplicating what was here. And that is of critical importance to Ogdensburg and its future because of the economic potential it offers.
The accomplishments of the Fort LaPresentation Association are impressive: archeological excavations establishing the fort’s exact location while collecting artifacts for future local display; obtaining title to invididually owned properties most recently the Thomas Duffy property to add them to the preserve; establishing activities to celebrate our history such as Founder’s Day Weekend; cleaning up a century or more of soil contamination; inclusion of the site on the National Register of Historic Places; returning the Abbe Picquet Monument to the point; establishing walking trails and information signs and most recently, protecting the shorelines of the St. Lawrence and Oswegatchie Rivers.
There is much more to be done including the eventual construction of a replica of the fort and its native village, occupants of which numbered in the thousands. But to continue its work the association needs your help and support. It asks that you become a member.
You can do that and be counted among those who are protecting their history by visiting fort1749.org and clicking on the “Join and Support” tab. You’ll see opportunities to go beyond membership by purchasing a dedicated bench, interpretive panel or tree along the fort trails or a brick at Abbe Picquet Memorial Plaza. In the dropdown menu click Become a Member or make a donation.
It matters how we build our communities and how we preserve them and every resident of Ogdensburg “owns” this heritage and has a vested interest in preserving it, as does the city itself which holds title to a 4.3-acre section in the middle of the association’s property and very near the fort site. Under an agreement signed years ago the parcel was to be sold by the city to the association for $1 after remediation of contaminants, a process the city was to undertake. But now, the city wants to abandon the agreement. To what purpose?
This property should immediately come under the protection of the association lest the current, or some future shortsighted or misguided council sell or use it for some purpose which would forever rob residents of their heritage, and destroy any opportunity to capitalize on it.
For the benefit of all residents the city should stand by this agreement and sell the parcel to the association fors $1 so that the association may protect and preserve it, not to just hang onto yesterday but to build for tomorrow. City residents should see to it.