Whitehall: Rich in History
By PJ Ferguson
Whitehall’s history is often forgotten but is quite interesting, as the town served as a major industry hub during the Revolutionary War.
Becoming the first settlement on Lake Champlain in 1759, the town was originally founded by British Army Captain Philip Skene and subsequently named Skenesborough.
Skene oversaw the construction of sawmills, grist mills and an iron foundry, developing Whitehall into a town of industry and trade.
However, Skene’s tenure was cut to an end with the capture of his trading schooner by Benedict Arnold’s colonial fleet. The fleet that engaged in battle at Valcour Island in October of 1776 was established by Arnold in Whitehall.
British General John Burgoyne in 1777 captured Fort Ticonderoga and began the charge to Saratoga, where he ultimately met defeat.
The War of 1812 saw Whitehall again become a site of military happenings with the harbor producing ships used for service by the United States Navy.
To honor the town’s place in history, the New York State Legislature in 1960 officially declared Whitehall as the Birthplace of the U.S. Navy, a title plastered all over the village and town limits.
Interestingly, the canal wasn’t built until 1819, after wartime, but assisted in making the town as a center of trade. In 1848, Whitehall underwent a rebirth with the introduction of the railroad industry. The Canadian Pacific Railway via the Amtrak, still transports people and goods to this day.
To celebrate their history, the Skenesborough Museum was founded in 1959, stationed in an old canal terminal building on the waterfront of Skenesborough Drive.
The museum features artifacts and photographs that honor Whitehall’s role in the wars of the 18th and 19th centuries and founder Philip Skene.
To contact the museum and set up a visit, call 518-499-0716 or 518-499-1155.
There are several local historic locations to visit if you wish to learn about the town’s history.
Skene Manor is a Victorian Gothic-style mansion built in 1867 and provides tours on the weekends along with lunch.
The Riverside Memorial Park features a memorial wall that serves as a tribute to veterans from Whitehall who have served in various wars over the nation’s history.
Skenesborough Park also features historical facts spread throughout the grounds and serves as an excellent destination to take your family and observe the sights of Whitehall, especially in autumn.