Whitehall, at the intersection of Lake Champlain and the Champlain Canal, commands a historically significant shipping and transportation corridor as well as a place in American history. Whitehall's history is interpreted at the Skenesborough Museum, located along the canal in the center of Whitehall.
French and Indian War veteran Philip Skene established Skenesborough, a vast 56,000-acre empire at the head of Lake Champlain, in 1759. Skene, a committed Loyalist, was in England petitioning the King to designate Skenesborough a Crown Colony when the Revolutionary War broke out. Skene's sawmills and the harbor and shipyards of his settlement were commandeered by the Americans to build the first American military fleet over the summer of 1776. The War of 1812 was fought farther north on Lake Champlain, however, the shipyards of Whitehall supplied ships for the American fleet. After the Battle of Plattsburgh, the boats were scuttled in Whitehall harbor. Today, Whitehall is considered the birthplace of the American Navy.
The local economy depended on the waterways. Boat building in the local shipyards brought skilled tradesmen and artisans to the village during the eighteenth century. Throughout the nineteenth century, goods-laden boats from Pennsylvania and New York City coming up the canal passed boats coming down the lake from Montreal and Burlington. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought silk mills to Whitehall, where abundant water powered mills helped produce finished silk ribbon and cloth that was sent on to urban markets by canal boat, lake sloop, or rail.
Up until the advent of the motor car, local steamboats provided passenger and freight service to businesses, farms, summer homes, and hotels along the Whitehall Narrows. For example, the small steamer, Eloise, had a regular, daily route from Whitehall to Ticonderoga around 1900 until sometime around 1910. The service was run by the “Gentle Giant” Captain John V. Mock, who towered over 6 feet and held his 300-plus pounds with authority. The steamer left Ticonderoga at 7:30 am and stopped at: Benson Landing, Pulpit Rock, Dresden, Cold Springs, Hotel Narrows of Dresden, Ottenburg Landing, Chubbs Dock, and Lakeside Club House, arriving at Whitehall by 10:40 am.