Old Base Museums Campus: Five Museums Within 500 Feet

Origin of the Plattsburgh Barracks: If you could take a time machine back to October 11th, 1776, you could witness the Battle of Valcour Island. Benedict Arnold lost that battle but delayed the British invasion. This gave the Americans time to regroup, flee south, and prepare for another fight at the Battle of Saratoga. Arguably, the events at the Battle of Valcour influenced the victory in Saratoga, which led France to become an ally and a U.S. victory.

On September 11th, 1814 the Battle of Plattsburgh occurred, which established the region as a strategic stronghold for the nation. Shortly thereafter, the federal government purchased 200 acres of land to establish the Plattsburgh Barracks. That was the beginning of a legacy.

September 29th, 1995 was another significant day for Plattsburgh. On this day, the longest military-operated facility in the United States completed its mission when Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed. What began as 200 acres of military-operated land in 1814 evolved to nearly 5,000 acres of undeveloped property full of rich history.

Five Museums Within 500 Feet: Today’s Old Base Museum Campus on Ohio Avenue in Plattsburgh, a destination for both residents and visitors to the region, includes five unique, yet interconnected, museums, including: The Clinton County Historical Museum Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum War of 1812 Museum Champlain Valley Transportation Museum Kids’ Station Children’s Museum The mission of the Clinton County Historical Museum, operated by the Clinton County Historical Association (CCHA) is “to collect and preserve historical material pertaining to the history of the County and to interpret and celebrate, through exhibits and programs, the County’s rich history.”

CCHA has worked tirelessly through the efforts of volunteers and its director to add value to everything it does. “We are very, very busy,” said Board President, Geri Favreau. “We are always hosting researchers, preparing for tours and presentations and collecting artifacts.”

CCHA has established itself as a host for a diverse collection of history. “We are the only museum in Clinton County that is open year-round,” said Favreau. “What we are trying to do with the Old Base Campus is make it a destination. We’re one of the only areas where there are a number of museums in one location. The history is rich.”

Being located on the Old Base campus has added more options for programming for CCHA. “There are a number of walking tours that have been done over the years. Right now, we have a historic tour of the Oval that some of our volunteers have put together,” Favreau explained. Tour participants experience unique stories about several landmarks, such as the one about 91 soldiers from Crab Island who were brought to the Old Post Cemetery, the pieces of Fort Monroe that were found on the Oval, the story of the unknown soldier buried in Plattsburgh, and others. The Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum: Frank Baehre leads a team of dedicated volunteers at the Plattsburgh Air Force Base (PAFB) Museum. “Several of us PAFB veterans and retirees had the idea to put a museum together and locate it in the former Alert Facility. We tried to start it about ten years ago, but never really got past the ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if…’ stage,” said Baehre.

 The Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum:

Frank Baehre leads a team of dedicated volunteers at the Plattsburgh Air Force Base (PAFB) Museum. “Several of us PAFB veterans and retirees had the idea to put a museum together and locate it in the former Alert Facility. We tried to start it about ten years ago, but never really got past the ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if…’ stage,” said Baehre.

But during the summer of 2013 a small group of dedicated volunteers committed to making the museum really happens,” he continued. “The War of 1812 Museum, run by the Battle of Plattsburgh Association, used to be located in the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum building which was vacated when the Base closed. It became a natural spot for the new museum.”

Baehre and his team pulled together storylines they wanted to tell. Donations started to come in from the community as well as grant funding from the Association of Air Force Missileers, which helped make the museum a reality. “The grant was used to tell the story of the Atlas missile silos and their history. That grant was also used to create the displays and storyboards our group put together,” said Baehre.

A visitor can expect a mix of story lines within the programming and exhibits, including (1) Atlas missiles at Plattsburgh, (2) Life in the community and on the base during its 40-year history, (3) Life in the Strategic Air Command (especially on Alert), and (4) Aircraft assigned to PAFB. The museum officially opened its doors for the first time in June of 2014.

“We offer guided tours daily whenever we have visitors,” said Baehre. “All but one of our guides were stationed at Base at some point during their time in the Air Force, so they know what they’re talking about, and each of them has a different story to tell and way of telling it.”

Vital partnerships have made an impact as well. “Diversified Upstate Enterprises, LLC must be recognized for its generous donation of the Atlas-F Missile launch-control console, which they removed from a former Atlas silo in Lewis, NY and donated to the museum last year,” said Baehre. “Finally, the donations of artifacts, items, books, uniforms from countless Plattsburgh Air Force Base veterans and their families must also be recognized.”

The War of 1812 Museum:

Many local residents will be familiar with the annual Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration, which occurs in early September each year. This event is a great opportunity for residents and visitors alike to recognize the historic battle that occurred in our backyard. The Battle of Plattsburgh Association is the non-profit organization responsible for the War of 1812 Museum. The group is led by President Keith Herkalo who observed, “The invasion of Plattsburgh was the largest invasion in U.S. history. Most people don’t realize that.”

Herkalo and his team have been busy expanding the museum’s programming and exhibits. Just last year, the museum opened the Pike’ Cantonment exhibit. “Right here in Plattsburgh we have the only pre- served 1812 campsite archeological site in the U.S.,” said Herkalo. As a result of the findings, the War of 1812 Museum was able to rebuild one of the officer cabins inside the museum just as it would have been back then. In addition, guests can enjoy a variety of exhibits and programming including the “Press Republican Theatre”, “KeyBank Art Gallery”, regular presentations by expert speakers, and a variety of exhibits with records and artifacts from the period.

The Champlain Valley Transportation Museum & Kids’ Station:

The Champlain Valley Transportation Museum (CVTM) and the Kids’ Station Children’s’ Museum have become popular destinations on the Old Base Campus as well. CVTM was officially chartered by the New York State Department of Education in 2002 through the combined efforts of Dr. Anthony Vaccaro and former Plattsburgh Mayor John Ianelli.

The museum is located on approximately 3.5 acres of the Old Base Campus, with two large buildings accounting for 16,000 square feet of gallery and exhibit space. Today, the museum is led by a passion- ate board of volunteers and Dick Soper, Director of the Museum.

The central theme of the museum is Plattsburgh’s long history as a hub for the transportation industry. “The Lozier car is an example of that history,” Soper explained. The Lozier company originally came to Plattsburgh around 1900,” he continued. “We have one gallery that is dedicated to the history of the Lozier Car Company, which once occupied a building on the northeast corner of Margaret Street and Boynton Avenue.”

The museum’s oldest car is a Lozier from 1909. The building also hosts the oldest vehicle, which is a horse-drawn bus from 1899. Among the mix of pre-WWII vehicles, guests will see three bicycles (one dating from 1850), two Lozier machine engines (one 3 HP, single cylinder engine and one 30 HP, 4-cylinder engine), a 22-foot Lozier launch boat, and a 1914 Lozier car.

Visitors can also experience vehicles from the 1940s through the ‘70s. One of the most popular exhibits includes a WWII Jeep with matching trailer, as well as a full-sized trolley car converted to a diner. There is even a full-sized train car that children can explore, as well as a crowd-favorite, the Race Car Room.

The site is also home to one of the most extensive collections of miniature model cars and vehicles. In addition, the museum has approximately 1,000 square feet of model trains in operation. “They are all patterned around the Plattsburgh region,” said Soper. “from Willsboro up to Rouses Point.”

For those guests that wish to take in the full CVTM experience, there is a 1.5-hour tour that explains all the vehicles and items on display.

The Kid’s Station Children’s Museum, a valuable division of the Transportation Museum, offers a fun and engaging opportunity for children and their adults to learn about local history. “Kids learn about the history of the area through science, math, and active learning,” explained Soper. The goal of the museum is to foster a lifetime love of learning through hands- on and interactive exhibits.

A Destination for Everyone:

Just as Plattsburgh became a strategic location in the early 1800’s, the Old Base Museum Campus has emerged as a strategic location for families and area visitors looking for a unique experience that combines diverse museums, comfort food, local breweries, recre- ation, and beautiful views.

“I’m not sure people know the extent of what there is to see,” said CCHA Director Helen Nerska. “There are three parks, two sites of Battle of Plattsburgh forts, a chapel, a bike trail, and the city rec center and a chance to walk on the Oval, which was visited by Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Gerald Ford.”

With passionate community leaders — such as Nerska, Favreau, Baehre, Herkalo, and Soper, and the many volunteers who have supported the museums — the Old Base Museum Campus has become a destination that is positioned to serve visitors in a meaningful way. “Come out. Bring the whole family. Plan a picnic lunch or take advantage of the local restaurants and breweries,” said Nerska.

For additional information and to get involved, be sure to follow the Facebook page titled Old Base Museum Campus – Plattsburgh, NY.