Homegrown Entertainments

While visitors with the financial means to spend the summer months far from home filled the hotels and hostelries along the shores of Lake Champlain, local folks enjoyed their hometown amusements.  Many of these perched by water, where a breeze could soften the summer heat.  Anyone who tired of their own environs could hop the excursion steamer Maquam, later replaced by the Chateaugay, that made the trip through the Champlain Islands to Saint Albans Bay, where a floating theatre and a dance pavilion drew crowds all summer.

Two attractions in the Village of Champlain brought folks in from Quebec as well as the surrounding countryside.  A trotting park at the International Fairgrounds tested the speed of steeds from all over the North Country.  Quieter entertainment could be found at Island Park, developed in 1877.  Bridges connected two islands in the Chazy River to each other and the shore so people could stroll over to hear concerts in the bandstand.  A bathhouse, conservatory, and dance pavilion provided varied entertainments.  Electric lights, installed in 1901, turned the pathways into a fairyland on summer evenings. 


The Plattsburgh Traction Company extended service south from the city to take people to “The Barracks” for the military spectacles, or further on to Cliff Haven to attend events at the Catholic Summer School of America, modeled on the Chautauqua communities in western New York and Ohio.  The trolley ran extra “Buffalo cars” to Clinton Park when the Northern New York League teams played baseball.  Fans could buy coupon tickets good for both transportation and admission.   A short train ride to the west brought people to Chazy Lake for summer outings.


A bicycle craze swept through Plattsburgh in the mid-1890s, triggering calls for speed limits and consideration for pedestrians.  Lots of people embraced the opportunity to explore further a-field on their personal sets of wheels.  A Stoddard photograph captured one such expedition to AuSable Chasm.


The decades of the Great Depression and World War II would completely change the face of tourism, forcing the grand places to close or find a new function.  The Catholic Summer School of America survived into the 1930s, and was eventually redeveloped into the residential neighborhood of Cliff Haven.  Hotel Champlain still survives thanks to the Society of Jesus, who bought it in 1951 and converted it to a Jesuit Seminary, Bellarmine College.  The modern, fireproof structure proved so perfectly suitable for schooling, it became the obvious choice as a home for Clinton Community College in 1969.  A cannon and an anchor retrieved from the waters off Bluff Point on display in the grand entryway bear solid witness to the battles fought just off shore. 

the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Andrew Alberti

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