Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Fort William Henry Museum | Lake George, NY | Adirondack Mountains

Pros: Tons of history, Nice views, Interesting guided tour, Hands on
Cons: Kind of expensive

Located along the southern end of Lake George, the Fort William Henry Museum is a great place to understand the historical significance of the region in our Nation's early wars (actually we weren't even a Nation, just colonies at that point).

While Fort William Henry didn't exist for very long, it was host to some fierce battles between the British and the French, along with their Indian and Colonial allies.  The Fort sat at the southern end of Lake George and was at the beginning of a portage to the Hudson River.  Whoever controlled the area controlled the flow of people and goods in a north-south corridor between New York City and Canada.

The British established Fort William Henry to protect that route and the French attacked in 1757 to win control over the route.  While the fort fell in the battle, eventually the British were victorious, preventing the French from cutting the American colonies in half.

What's there?

The original fort was destroyed in its final battle by the French.  They overtook the fort and drove the British to the south.  After taking over the fort, it was burned and destroyed by the French so that it couldn't be used by the British in the future.

The Fort William Henry you visit today is a reconstruction based on the descriptions, plans and archeological evidence at the site.  The fort is built roughly in the same area as the original fort and where it was possible, original portions of the fort were incorporated into the reconstruction.

In addition to the fort itself, there are a number of different exhibits scattered throughout the fort describing life and the battle the fort faced.


In order to view the interior of the fort and make your way through the exhibits, you must purchase an admission to the tour.  This tour consists of a short film and then a short guided tour of the fort that explains the weapons and manners of warfare from the time period of the fort.  You'll get to see a musket and cannon firing demonstration (it's really loud!) and you'll get to see the guide (who's dressed as a British solider) make his own lead musket ball.

After the guided portion of the tour, you're left to your own devices and you can wander the fort in any way you'd like.  There are a number of different "stops" throughout the fort which let you get different views of life there and of the battle that destroyed it.  You can take a look at the hospital, which is where injured British soldiers were also killed by the French Indian allies (as evidenced by photos of the mutilated skeletons that were found there).  Take a walk through the barracks and see what life for a soldier in the fort was like.  Down in the dungeon there's still some of the original fireplace left.  There are also exhibits on the archeological research done on the site, the history of the French and Indian War along with a number of other interesting things.

All told between the guided tour and the self-guided portion, a trip to the Fort will probably take 2 hours or so, depending on how much time you spend exploring the various exhibits.

It's also worth spending some time to enjoy the views from the top of the fort.  You have an unobstructed view of Lake George to the north and all around are the mountains surrounding the lake.


In order to get into the fort and to view the exhibits and take part in the guided tour, you must pay an admission fee.  In 2008 the fee was $14.95 per person with reduced rates for children and seniors.

I thought this was a bit high, but if you want to see the fort, it's the only way to get in.  In the end I guess it was worth it, but I was still a bit shocked at how much it cost.

Can I see anything without paying?

There isn't much to see if you don't pay.  The entrance to the fort before you get to the ticket counter offers a few small exhibits on the fort and the region's history, but beyond that and a gift shop, you won't really get to experience anything unless you pay the admission fee.

How do I get there?

Fort William Henry is located right off of Route 9 in Lake George.  It's just south of the beginning of the downtown Lake George area and its next to the Fort William Henry Resort.  There's plenty of free parking and it's a short walk from the parking area down to the entrance of the fort.

When's the fort open?

The fort is open daily from May through October from 9am to 6pm.  The tours begin on the hour through 5pm.

I had been to Fort William Henry when I was younger but didn't really remember much beyond the loud bang of the cannon firing.  That's why on my last visit with my partner, we decided to spend some time here.  We went in the late afternoon and caught the last tour.  It was a great experience because we were the only two on the tour and really got to see the firearm demonstrations up close and got to speak to the tour guide in a one-on-one manner, which was a lot more interesting than just being part of a large group.

I was a bit taken back by the price.  Almost $15 a person does seem slightly steep, but you do get the guided tour and we spent almost an hour beyond that wandering around the fort taking in all the exhibits and just exploring the fort itself.

It was really interesting and it gave me a better appreciate for the history of the region, which I had known, but this just helped to reinforce it.

In the end I'm glad we sp
ent the money and the time to explore Fort William Henry.  It's an interesting chapter in our Nation's history and its cool that there's a piece of that history right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Lake George region.

Final Thoughts

If you have a few hours to spare and don't mind spending the admission money, a trip to the Fort William Henry Museum is well worth it in my mind.  You'll get to explore the reconstructed fort, learn about the history of the French and Indian War and learn about the role that this fort played in those battles.

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