© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Battle of Plattsburgh marks 25 years of continuous commemorations

A reenactor takes aim during a 2013 Battle of Plattsburgh reenactment
Pat Bradley
A reenactor takes aim during a 2013 Battle of Plattsburgh reenactment

The Battle of Plattsburgh Weekend begins Thursday and this year marks 25 years of continuous commemorations of the September 11th, 1814 battle. Organizers say there are some special events to celebrate the milestone as they emphasize the historic importance of the naval battle Winston Churchill called the most decisive of the War of 1812.

In September 1814 land and lake battles in northern New York helped change the course of the war. The fighting between the British and Americans on Cumberland Bay in Plattsburgh helped lead to the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.

1814 Commemoration President Tom Donahue say this week marks the 25th anniversary of modern celebrations of the battle.

“Although there have been more, sporadic, actually right after the battle there was the first celebration. So over the years there’s been many of them. But when Kit (Booth) started back in 1998 it’s been 25 years to this year that we’ve had one every single year here in Plattsburgh. Even during COVID, even though it wasn’t an actual outdoor celebration, we put together our website so there was a virtual commemoration that year also. Our commemoration is a history lesson. You get immersed into what happened back in 1814 for four days during this event and learn about the history of Plattsburgh at the same time enjoying the other festival-type events that we have.”

Former Co-Chair and advisor to 1814 Commemoration Kit Booth says he became involved in 1998 when a committee of the Kent DeLord House Museum started working on a way to remember the battle.

“It started small. We had a 12-page program and three days of activities the first year. And when we ended up in 2014, the 200th anniversary of the battle, we had a 96-page program and it went for 17 days. So it was an evolutionary thing that just got bigger and bigger and we just kept adding to it. Community support was great. We started out as a committee of the city, actually, for two years. But then I realized that at the end of each year if we had a surplus it went back to the city’s general fund and we didn’t keep it to start the next year with. So that’s when we decided to go on our own and became a not-for-profit organization so that we could actually hold on to any surplus. And that worked out very well for us.”

Donahue says there are traditional and special events planned for the anniversary.

“We finally can get our reenactors from Canada across the border. We’ve been fighting with the COVID and border restrictions and gun laws and this year it looks like the border is open and we have a large group coming out of Canada as reenactors. We’re also going to have a great parade this year. We’ve got the U.S. Navy Band for one. We’ve got the Norwich University Marching Band and Drill Team coming. And it is 25 years of continuous so we do have some special events starting on Thursday with the U.S. Navy Band free concert. We have a concert on Saturday with a Beatles tribute band. We have music and entertainment in the park all during the event. It’s going to be a big event. We’re going to have fun and hopefully instill a lot of history into people.”

Booth says when he led the group his focus was the 200th anniversary of the battle in 2014.

“That goal isn’t there now and it’s hard to get the enthusiasm that we had. It’s an important part of history and I do think that over the last 25 years that an awful lot more people know a lot more about Plattsburgh and the Battle of Plattsburgh than they ever did before we started. So I think that was something that we can be pleased and proud to have accomplished.”

1814 Commemoration has started an education program and provides materials on the battle to fourth-grade teachers in Clinton and Essex Counties.

“The fun part is the history. You know we open up what we call living history where people immerse themselves in ‘this is what life was like in 1814’ when this battle was happening. It’s a great thing for children to learn because they don’t teach it in school anymore. They don’t teach U.S. history. And we want people to know that this is what saved this country. The Battle of Plattsburgh was fundamental in the end of that war in keeping America, America.”

The Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration continues through Monday with a memorial on Crab Island where both British and American soldiers who fought against each other are buried.