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Taking Initiative: Fort Ticonderoga and the Creation of the Northern Department

September 28, 2023 9:04 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

Fort Ticonderoga, New York. Photo by Roy Johnson/Alamy

More than fifty organizations, museums, and historic sites from across New York. Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Canada have joined together to create the 250th Northern Department, an initiative led by Fort Ticonderoga as part of its plans for the national 250th commemoration of the American War for Independence. This initiative will promote and market regional historic sites during the commemorative period from 2024 to 2027 through print and digital content. “Fort Ticonderoga was in a great position to take the lead, as a private nonprofit, a major destination, and historically the hub of the Northern Department[1] ” said Beth Hill, Fort Ticonderoga President and CEO. The Fort will build, fund, develop, and serve as the lead organizer for this multi-state and US-Canada partnership. 

Built by the French between 1755 and 1757 Fort Ticonderoga, played strategic roles in the Seven Years’ War and other conflicts between Great Britain and France during 18th century, and again during the American War for Independence. To interpret this history, Fort Ticonderoga takes a year-by-year approach. “One of our biggest challenges is being strategic with our interpretation because there is so much history and so many stories to share,” said Hill. The concept was created by Stuart Lilie, Fort Ticonderoga’s Vice President of Public History. “The whole concept of a year-by-year interpretation has allowed us to do what many museums do with rotating exhibitions.” This strategy allows the Fort to tell different stories year to year and attract repeat audiences. 

Planning for the year that is selected begins 1 to 3 years in advance.  It starts with the collections management team to make sure collection objects are ready and accessible for the Fort’s Graduate Fellows to research and prepare for visitors. “The fellows research, develop tours, develop what historic trades will be happening at the fort and the material culture which is a large part of our front facing programs. It includes our teacher institute and other education-related work as well as our preservation work. This approach really does touch every aspect of what we do and because Fort Ticonderoga has such a complicated and rich history, there really is no other way to approach it in our opinion. This has been masterful for both our staff to be focused and strategic as well as proving this content to our visitors.”

Map of Fort Ticonderoga, on Lake Champlain. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

To maximize the 250th, Fort Ticonderoga is applying this same method of interpretation and calling it “Real Time Revolution.” In 2024, historical interpretation will center on 1774 and the British guard from the 26th Regiment of Foot under Captain William Delaplace who was stationed there. They will focus on peacetime garrison life for soldiers and families contrasted with growing political dissent. “We’re going to dive into this time period and understand the context of who was here, the women and the children, and carry that story forward in time.”

“Real Time Revolution” will end in 2027, interpreting the year 1777, portraying soldiers from different regions and nations from around the Atlantic as Ticonderoga historically changed hands between armies. 

Ahead of 2024, Fort Ticonderoga decided to partner with organizations from throughout the Northern Department including NYS Parks, Vermont State Parks, Saratoga National Park, and Parks Canada. “We’re excited about the opportunity to raise awareness for the 250th,, but also for cultural tourism that will increase in economic impact,” said Hill. “Taking the initiative is a wonderful position for us to be in because, in a way, it empowers us to determine our own fate and get our own resources to develop programs.”

Hill said that they are in the early stages of acquiring additional funding, both private and public. For now, funding for the 250th Northern Department is being built into Fort Ticonderoga’s operational budget. “We’ve been communicating with leadership and building support by looking at the American Battlefield Protection Program from the National Park Service and  other avenues to build support and receive funding. We’re looking at all sources of potential support to be able to make the 250th Northern Department possible and to amplify not only what we do, but create a lasting legacy,” said Hill.

In 2022, Fort Ticonderoga was awarded a $237,630 Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Museums for America grant to focus on interpretive components, exhibition design, and digital resources. “This grant will help us highlight the interpretive themes that we’ve developed around the 250th.” Those five key themes are Power of Place; Subjects, Citizens, Service; Revolutionary Possibilities; Manufacturing Independence; and Shaping Nations, Forging Identities. 

Organizations participating in the 250th Northern Department anticipate hundreds of thousands of visitors to the region during the commemorative period. “The next step is engaging people and inspiring them to learn more about local history because our local history is of an international scope. We wanted to take action and make it happen so that we’re ready for this commemoration.” Hill hopes that with the creation of the Northern Department and Fort Ticonderoga creating content centered around the new interpretive themes, these sites will broaden their audiences and make a lasting impact on people’s memories through connections to our nation’s stories. “It’s the diverse stories of our nation that we’re really excited about,” said Hill. “This is a landmark initiative that will help define Fort Ticonderoga for generations.”

Learn more about the 250th Northern Department:


[1] The Northern Department (also known as the New York Department) was one of six regional departments of the Continental Army of the American Revolution organized for command and administrative purposes. The Northern Department was those parts of New York north of New York City. It was first called the New York Department, but after the Highlands Department was created on November 12, 1776, it was always referred to as the Northern Department. This department was the only one to remain after the war. The last elements of the Continental Army were kept to guard the western frontier outposts.

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