- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. — Somewhere under the unblinking gaze of the giant rooster, not far from the 38-foot-tall Uncle Sam figure and a chip shot away from Goony Golf lies the original route of an old road with a bloody past.

Names such as Bloody Pond and Battlefield Park dot the landscape along what was known as the Military Road, incidents such as the Bloody Morning Scout and the Fort William Henry massacre hint at its violent origins.

Today, a group of historians and researchers is using old journals, land deeds and maps — along with modern technology — to chart the original Military Road that linked Fort Edward on the upper Hudson River to Lake George in the southeast corner of the Adirondacks.

Thousands of American, French and British soldiers and American Indian warriors used the road during two 18th-century wars, and over it trod some of the most prominent figures in the nation’s early history.

Paul Revere, Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison traveled the 16-mile road, built in 1755 to move troops and supplies during the French and Indian War.

“When you had lots of troops to move to the front, that was the only route,” said David Starbuck, an archaeologist who has conducted excavations at the 18th-century military sites located at both ends of the road.

Two centuries of growth and development make the mapping difficult. Most of the road’s original north-south route cut through what is now Warren County. It’s roughly the same path followed by today’s Route 9, a busy two- and four-lane thoroughfare lined with kitsch merchants, carryout joints, mom-and-pop motels and name-brand outlets in this tourism-dependent stretch of eastern New York.

“This is a community that has played an important role in the founding of this country,” said Tom Nesbitt, a history buff and member of the research team for the Warren County Historical Society. “The development has been done without any regard to the historic fabric of the community.”

Following an old Indian trail, a force of provincial troops led by Col. William Johnson built the Military Road in August 1755 as the French and Indian War erupted. Starting at Fort Edward, a key British outpost 40 miles north of Albany, the militiamen hacked a path through the wilderness to the southern shore of a 32-mile-long lake, which Johnson renamed Lake George in honor of the king of England.

Among Johnson’s force was a militia captain from the Mohawk Valley named Jelles Fonda, an ancestor of actors Henry, Jane and Peter Fonda. In the following year, Revere and Arnold marched along the road with their New England militias.

Soon after reaching Lake George, Johnson’s New York and New England militiamen defeated a French-led force at the Battle of Lake George, one of the few British victories in the early years of the war. A prelude to the battle — the Bloody Morning Scout, an Indian ambush south of the lake — and a later action at what became known as Bloody Pond also occurred along the road’s northern end.

Two years later, the French returned with a much larger force and captured Fort William Henry, the British post on a bluff overlooking the lake. After the British surrendered, the French-allied Indians fell upon the survivors, including women and children, as they set out on the road to Fort Edward. Scores were killed while others were taken back to Canada as captives.

What became known as the Fort William Henry massacre was one of the most infamous incidents in America’s Colonial era. It also served as a setting in James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel “The Last of the Mohicans.”

Americans and redcoats again made use of the Military Road, this time as adversaries, during the Revolutionary War. Franklin traveled the route during a diplomatic mission to Canada. While waiting for the peace treaty that would end the war in 1783, Washington traveled north from his headquarters near Newburgh and used the road to tour the key sites of the northern campaign.

In the late 1700s, Jefferson and Madison traveled the Military Road while touring the lakes region. The road was put to military use briefly during the War of 1812, and in between the wars it was a vital conduit for settlers moving into New York’s northern frontier.

The mapping project is funded by a $22,000 grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, which encourages the preservation of the nation’s historic battlefields. Since 1992, the program has helped fund everything from underwater archaeology projects at Pearl Harbor to historical surveys at Gettysburg, Pa.

Part of the Military Road mapping project includes locating, as closely as possible, where battles occurred along the original route. Most of the action, though, consisted of hit-and-run attacks, and those exact locations are harder to pin down, said Marilyn Van Dyke, executive director of the Warren County Historical Society and head of the mapping project.

“We’re trying to sort out exactly where these ambushes occurred,” she said. “That’s the fun part of the research.”

While portions of the original road are now part of the Warren County bike trail that cuts through dense forest, civilization is never too far away.

The giant rooster stands atop the sign for Martha’s Motel, near the sprawling Great Escape amusement park. Just north along Route 9, an Uncle Sam figure towers over the entrance to the Magic Forest amusement park. Miniature golf courses, tourist motels, convenience stores, restaurants and bars surround the area.

It’s a landscape that dismays Paul Hawke, director of the battlefield program for the park service.

“If water slides and miniature golf and all sorts of paraphernalia that go along with that is what people want, that’s wonderful,” he said. “But other people might want to enjoy the history. … You have layers and layers of history, and a lot of that is being ignored.”

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