Site History

In 1961 the State of Vermont began buying parcels of the southern section of Mount Independence in keeping with the goal to develop a system of Vermont State Historic Sites that would preserve, protect, and present for the public’s interest and education places of state and national importance. 

In 1966, a system of four trails was designed to wind past the many archaeological sites and features, and provides vistas of Lake Champlain and the surrounding countryside. 

Mount Independence MuseumThe architecturally distinguished museum was constructed and opened in 1996.  The museum was designed by the Burlington, Vermont firm of Truex Cullins & Partners, winners of a design competition sponsored by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.  The building, in the shape of a bateaux to symbolize the naval activities and strategic importance of Lake Champlain in the American Revolution, is nestled into the hillside, fully visible to visitors as they arrive yet hidden in the landscape from the trail system.  The interior also reflects the site’s history, with structural details modeled like the inside of a bateaux and exhibit design mimicking the stockade fort.    

In the late 1990s the grazing of cows on the Mount was discontinued to prevent further soil erosion and damage to the sensitive archaeological remains.  Trails have been built or improved as funding permits.  The Baldwin Trail opened in 2007 and meets outdoor trail standards for handicapped accessibility.

Highlights

  • a National Historic Landmark
  • ​one of the nation’s most significant Revolutionary War sites
  • one of the best preserved Revolutionary War archaeological sites in America
  • one of America’s largest population centers in the fall of 1776, with over 12,000 men stationed here and at Fort Ticonderoga
  • Revolutionary War site where such notables as Gen. Arthur St. Clair, Lt. Col. Jeduthan Baldwin, Lt. Col. Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Col. John Trumbull, and British Brig. Gen. Henry Watson Powell served

History and nature unite at Mount Independence in a one-of-a-kind experience for people of all ages and interests. Large and small artifacts on exhibit at the museum tell the gripping story of this significant Revolutionary War fortification and the lives and times of the soldiers who battled to survive the challenges of war and Mother Nature. Each year, not-to-be-missed special events include the Spring Wildflower walk and the Early Bird Nature hike on the site’s trails, the historical Retreat to Hubbardton Battlefield Reenactment over the 4th of July holiday, and the early September Soldiers Atop the Mount living history weekend, with lectures, guided walks, and music by the Fife and Drum corps. There are history and nature programs throughout the season and programs for school children including a popular hands-on artifact activity.

The Trails on Mount Independence

Visitors may enjoy over six miles of hiking trails throughout over 300 acres of meadows and woods.  The trails thread through the archaeological remains of batteries, blockhouses, the general hospital, barracks, and soldier’s huts, and offer stunning vistas of Lake Champlain and the surrounding countryside. 

An admission pass is required for access to the trails and grounds and may be purchased in the museum. A complimentary trail guide and map details the trail system and its highlights.

Mount Independence trailhead signAll trails start at the trailhead kiosk near the museum.  Site locations are marked on the trail map.  Trails are of varying distance and difficulty.  Review the trail map carefully before starting and check it often as you walk.  Stay on the trails.  Watch for directional signs or colored trail markers for the Blue and Orange trails. Along the Blue and Orange trails look for numbers, which correspond to numbers and site descriptions on the trail map.  Wear proper shoes and clothing.  For longer walks, consider bringing water.  

The Baldwin Trail (1.6 miles), with its two spur trails, covers the southern half of the Mount.  It winds past many Revolutionary War archaeological sites, including the general hospital, blockhouses, brigade encampments, and storage buildings, and offers overlooks of Lake Champlain, Mount Defiance, and Fort Ticonderoga. Trail sign on Baldwin Trail at Fort Ticonderoga overlook

The Southern Defenses Trail (0.2 mile) begins near the parking lot and provides a look at rugged rock formations and southern Lake Champlain.  A short spur trail leads to the dock for the M/V Carillon tour boat.  

The Orange Trail (2.5 miles) is a loop off the Baldwin Trail circling the northern half of Mount Independence.  Highlights are the star fort location, crane site, horseshoe battery, shore battery, and site of the Vermont end of the bridge to Fort Ticonderoga.

The Blue Trail (2.2 miles), off Baldwin Trail, roughly follows a Revolutionary War supply road between the Hospital (Baldwin Trail) and the bridge (Orange Trail). 

History of Mount Independence

In the fall of 1776, the military complex at Mount Independence and across the lake at Fort Ticonderoga was one of the largest communities in North America.  Why here and why at this time?

An American Council of War met on July 7, 1776 at the ruined 1759 British fort at Crown Point, New York, on Lake Champlain to plan for the future.  American troops had just retreated from Canada after their failed attempt to make Canada another American colony.  The enemy British troops were well entrenched in Canada and Lake Champlain was an easy travel route to make inroads and squelch the American’s fight for independence.

The generals gathered here resolved to concentrate American efforts on building a new defense on “the strong ground on the east side of the Lake, opposite to Ticonderoga.”  Officers assessing the area made note of the rugged promontory jutting north with its many topographical features that made it extremely defensible against the British.  The old fort at Ticonderoga, built by the French in the French and Indian War was south facing as their English enemies had fought from the south and was in poor condition.

Construction of Mount Independence

The very next day, Jeduthan Baldwin, the American engineer, “Viewed the grounds on the East Side ye Lake with Col. Trumbull on one Hill…”  In a few days they dug a well, began building a road and more.  It was miserably rainy that July and very hard work.   Construction continued as much as possible into early July 1777.  Lt. Col. Baldwin and other engineers, including the Polish Thaddeus Kosciusko who arrived in late spring 1777, designed a sophisticated three-level defensive system making the most use of the rugged topography. 

Rattlesnake Hill Gets a New Name

On July 18, 1776, a copy of an exciting new document was delivered to the officers. The troops were assembled on July 28th and for the first time heard the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence.  Immediately after that, Rattlesnake Hill became known as Mount Independence. 

Settling In

By the fall three brigades of soldiers were stationed on Mount Independence, each brigade with its own encampment of huts, houses, and “necessaries.”  The soldiers kept building a large shore battery with a horseshoe-shaped battery or citadel above it, laboratories, storehouses, and the start of a picket fort in the shape of a star. 

The very sight of the combined fortresses at Mount Independence and Ticonderoga, fully manned with over 12,000 soldiers and cannons bristling, caused the British General Guy Carleton to abandon his attempted invasion in late October and return to Canada later that fall.  This retreat gave the Americans crucial time to better prepare for invasion. 

Many American troops and staff went home that winter, reducing the force to just 2,500. Those remaining were sickly and conditions were wretched.  As most of the trees had been cleared from the Mount, soldiers burned the wood in the defenses they had just built to keep warm.

1777--An Eventful Year

By spring of 1777 new troops were arriving and although the effort was immense, there were not enough soldiers to complete construction of the necessary defenses or to properly garrison the forts.  Still they kept trying. Polish engineer Thaddeus Kosciusko arrived and with a contingent of men built three new defenses with cannon batteries along the south side of Mount Independence, to ward off potential attack from the enemy if they tried to encircle the Mount from the east.  By late June British General John Burgoyne and his fleet were drawing close.  German allies were marching down the east side of the lake.  

On July 5th, the Americans under Lt. Gen. Arthur St. Clair made the difficult decision to withdraw from Fort Ticonderoga and then Mount Independence, determining it was preferable to save the Northern American Army for another day.  Most of the army moved southeastward toward Hubbardton, along the rough, narrow Mount Independence-Hubbardton Military Road.  An American rear guard checked the British in their pursuit in the bloody Battle of Hubbardton on July 7th.

British and German Occupation

After the Battle of Hubbardton, the British and Germans tended to their wounded and brought them and their American prisoners back to Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga.  Burgoyne realized holding this location protected a possible avenue of escape, if needed, for the British and preserved their line of communication to Canada. Burgoyne continued southward with his main army, and assigned a garrison force to remain at Mount Independence.  This force consisted of British regulars, German auxiliaries hired by King George III to supplement the British army, Loyalists, and Canadian workers.  Many were encamped on the southern height of land on Mount Independence, protecting the extensive southern fortifications against possible American attack from the south. 

Beginning of the End for the British

On August 16th the German allies of the British suffered a stunning defeat at the Battle of Bennington.  Back at Mount Independence on the morning of September 18th,  a German officer with the Prinz Friedrich Regiment serving at Mount Independence woke up to the sound of an American raid.  “…about one hour before daybreak…the rebels intended a sudden raid on us; our picquets, however, were awake, sounded the alarm and in less than thirty seconds the entire regiment stood under arms and occupied the line.” An American military party led by Lt. Col. John Brown had struck, trying for five hours to take back Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga.  Although they failed, they did capture needed supplies and rescued a number of American prisoners. 

When the shocking news arrived at Mount Independence that Burgoyne had surrendered on October 17th after the Battles of Saratoga in New York, the British garrison at Mount Independence realized they were at grave risk.  Assessing the situation, their commander Brig. Gen. Henry Watson Powell gave the order to abandon Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga and evacuate to Canada.  They retreated on November 8th, first packing up everything of use, setting fire to all the buildings, and making useless the rest of the defensive works.  The British and German occupation of Mount Independence was over. 

After the Revolution

The region saw scouting parties and other activities throughout the rest of the war, but the English retreat was the end of major occupation of Mount Independence in the Revolution.  After the war, the Vermont legislature approved selling the cast iron articles, such as cannon, mortars, and shells scattered on the Mount for use in making bar iron. The land was farmed in the 1800s and early 1900s, but the soil was rocky and poor. Trees began growing back on this nearly bare site. In 1911 Stephen Pell of Fort Ticonderoga bought the northern 113 acres of Mount Independence to protect the site and the view to be seen of it from Fort Ticonderoga.  

Mount Independence is jointly owned and managed by the State of Vermont, Division for Historic Preservation within the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Fort Ticonderoga Association, a not-for-profit educational institution.

Site Rules

Please respect our history.  Take only photographs and leave no trace.

Help keep Mount Independence one of America’s least disturbed Revolutionary War sites.  Digging, collecting any materials, and/or use of metal detectors is strictly forbidden. Violators will be prosecuted.  Do not pick up any artifacts.  If you see something of historical significance, please inform the staff in the museum and provide location information.  

Stay on the trails and follow the directional signs or colored trail markers along the way.

Bring back picnic and other materials you take with you and pick up any trash. 

All pets must be on leashes. 

Do not pick or dig up any plant materials. 

The following are not allowed on this site:  overnight parking, camping, horse-back riding, snowmobiling, and bicycles or other wheeled vehicles with the exception of wheelchairs. 

Cruise Lake Champlain Aboard the M/V Carillon  

The M/V Carillon, a privately operated cruise boat, operates from Larrabee’s Point in Shoreham, Vermont, the next town north.  Board the boat at their dock near the Ticonderoga Ferry, which links Vermont and New York.  When conditions permit, the M/V Carillon docks at Mount Independence with advance arrangements.  Call 802-897-5331 for information.  This narrated 1 ½ hour tour of scenic beauty and American history focuses  on the geographic and military significance of Mount Independence and southern Lake Champlain.  Private boaters may disembark at Mount Independence using moorings at Buoy 39 Marina at the end of Mount Independence Road.

About Your Visit 

Your first stop is the museum where you may purchase your ticket and pick up your trail map and guide. The site interpreter is happy to talk with you and answer any questions.  Orient yourself by viewing the large mural that shows the extent of Mount Independence at its busiest time—1776-1777.  Head to the auditorium for the 12 minute orientation film and then explore the exhibit.   Highlights of the exhibit include the animated sculpture with ‘talking’ soldiers, Talking soldier inside museumand the many artifacts recovered by archaeologists that vividly illustrate the life and work of the soldiers who built and garrisoned this Revolutionary War site. 
The building also has museum shop, restrooms, and water fountains.   

Outside, walk any or all the trails and enjoy a picnic in the picnic area near the start of the Baldwin Trail or elsewhere on the grounds.  Fishing access is available at the Mount Independence Access Area, to be improved in 2013, further west on Mount Independence Road past the upper parking lot entrance.