Upstate Tranquility

Battles for a Country, History for a Lifetime

On the hottest day of the year so far, a heat index of 102 degrees, through the sweltering shimmer, you can see the brigantine Fair Jeanne patrolling Lake Ontario. From atop the cliffs of Sackets Harbor, soldiers of the United States 1st Rifle Regiment stand guard.

Across the Sackets Battlefield, members of the British forces march to the beat of their drummer and the bark of their commander. The Americans do the same, meeting on the same barren grounds our ancestors did so many years ago. The drummer falls and a gasp filters through the crowd as one soldier, scared out of his mind, takes off back toward his tent.

Today, however, that elicits a laugh from the large audience.

There’s a little more fun to be had than before, and the reenactors know it.

An often overlooked part of American history, the War of 1812 was a defining moment in the United States identity as an emerging world power. And while Sackets’ key role is overshadowed by other battles, including New Orleans and the burning of The White House, it was nevertheless essential to the success of both Canadian and American forces.

The weekend of August 5 was the 9th Annual Living History Weekend, a time when Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Park is littered with the sights and sounds of the War of 1812. The historical importance and pride of the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Park runs deep through the veins of this community. And while the bicentennial of the War of 1812 will be celebrated and reenacted starting in 2012, for Sackets Harbor, the grand tactical in 2013 will be the crowning event reenactors, locals and tourists will flock to.

One of the main attractions next year will involve the dedication of a crown forces monument, which broke ground during this year’s celebration. The current centennial monument, originally dedicated in 1913 by then Assistant Secretary to the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, is the centerpiece of the Memorial Tree Grove on the battle grounds. The monument honors those who fell during the Battle of Sackets Harbor in 1813.

Different reenactment units from all over the state and country will attend the event, including the U.S. Marine Guard from the U.S.S. Constitution, and attendance is expected to double or triple in 2013. It is a timely event any American would be proud to attend and experience the extent of Sackets hospitality.

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A ‘Moo’ving Experience

Looking for a place where you don’t have to tell your kids or grandkids “Don’t touch that!” for the hundredth time?

Take a break from the water and head out of town. Just a few short miles away from Main Street is Old McDonald’s Farm, one of the largest petting zoos and operating farms in the area. Take a ride on the Moo-Town Trolley through the active dairy farm, interact with hundreds of different animals, get lost in the corn maze, or make a lunch date at the Lazy Cow Café.

While the Lake Ontario waters attract those looking for peace and quiet, the animals of New York seek the same solace. The acres of farmland with livestock mulling about, surround the village are in constant green production throughout the spring, summer and fall months. It’s just another part of the agricultural attraction of the North Country for many farmers and land owners who make a living at the oldest profession in history.

Old McDonald’s Farm has been delighting children and adults since its humble beginnings in 1986. Thousands of visitors come through the gates each year, many returning over and over again for a chance to feed new additions to the family, get in a quick game of mini-golf, or take a pony ride. Locally made foods, including home grown produce, North Country Farms products and cheeses made from North Harbor Dairy, are part of the business’ mission to keep New York pride front and center.

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Upstate Tranquility

by Kristina Rusho
Sackets Harbor, New York offers visitors the perfect mix of vibrant history, culinary delights and small town charm.

The Canadians are coming, and this time, 200 years after the War of 1812 began, it is an infinitely more welcome sight.

At least it appears that way through the streets of Sackets Harbor, New York. It is a scene that those who fought along the banks and in the open waters of Sackets Harbor were unaware would ever materialize. Visitors wander from shop to shop, stopping at Calla Lillies to enjoy a truffle and pick up a gift for someone back home, taking a break at Saturday’s Sundaes & More for an ice cream cone, or tapping their feet to the rhythm of the Sunday waterfront concert overlooking Market Square Park.

At a time when British flags were a signal of imminent discourse, they now fly with pride alongside the stars and stripes on the porches of homes. While things have changed, along with much friendlier international relations, what remains the same is the tranquil locale that invites the young and old to forget about life for a while.

And the people of Sackets intend on keeping it that way.

More than meets the eye

Whether you come by land or by sea, shops, dining options, entertainment and history are all within walking distance. Park your car in a public parking lot or on any side street, dock your boat at any marina, and within minutes you’ll find yourself immersed in Sackets’ downtown or admiring the views from atop the bluffs of Sackets Harbor Battlefield Park. 

There’s more to Sackets than its 2012 State Champion High School Boys Basketball Team; more to it than its tale of a group of high school friends and their champion gelding named Funnycide; more than the hugely popular 1812 Lacrosse Shoot Out weekend.

There’s much more, which is why people keep returning to Sackets.

Many of our Northern neighbors have ventured from their homes above the international boundary in search of a slower pace, but that doesn’t mean entertainment and fun isn’t readily available.

An evening stop at the Hops Spot has an outdoor show you wouldn’t expect anywhere. A young man ignites two ends of his staff and launches into his performance, twirling and whipping flames through the night skies. Children stare in awe, their mouths gapping. Adults whisper over the thrumming music, wondering aloud how he’s able to stand the heat coming so close to his head.

It’s a sight that Hops Spot hopes will keep people coming back for more. Offering a unique experience is what they want to be known for.

Forget your traditional “What wine goes well with…?” questions. The Hops Spot in Sackets Harbor is looking to get your mind out of the vine and into the barley. It’s the only gastro pub in the tri-county area and, according to bar manager and brew connoisseur Brent Kramer, is owned and run by beer geeks.

“We’re crazy about beer, we love beer,” says Kramer. “We want people who haven’t been beer drinkers before to try our pairings and say ‘I didn’t know beer could taste this good.’”

The Can-Am Festival, a celebration of amiable Canadian-American kinship, is a July must for many in the North Country and those from across the border. People line the streets early to watch the parade as it makes its way down Broad Street towards the end of the appropriately-named Main Street, where the judging booth sits across the way from the craft fair. The sounds of island drums, The Emerald City Bagpipers and high school bands float through the air. Children reach out for strewn candy and couples hold each other, reminiscing on the past. Several crafters mention Sackets was their favorite place to showcase their wares since, as one woodcarver mused, “No one is ever in a rush.”

Kick back and relax

With a population of less than 1,500 full-time residents, Sackets Harbor remains a jewel of a find for any vacationer or history buff. Once considered a strategic military port, Sackets was a hub of activity, boasting a huge shipyard that employed thousands of workers. With its military function no longer necessary after World War II, Sackets evolved into a summer vacation destination.

Ruth and Mark Baker, along with their 15-year-old son, 12-year-old daughter and cherished Yorkie named Rocky, made the easy 33-mile sail from Kingston, Ontario to Sackets aboard their 49-foot sailboat Tremolo. The trip, organized with 30 other vessels from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club based in Toronto, was scheduled around Sackets’ 1812 living history weekend.  

When asked why they put up with ever-tightening border crossing regulations and Coast Guard patrols just for a trip across the lake to Sackets, Mark laughs, saying it was well worth the effort as the couple sipped drinks at the Tin Pan Galley Restaurant’s outdoor bar and patio.

“The word is out,” he explains. “Those who sail know what’s required, and it is completely worth it. Some towns are so busy, so you’re getting groceries at these large stores, or you’re running around trying to get some errands done. There isn’t any of that here. It’s a quaint downtown and everyone is friendly.”

His wife agrees.

“The kids can jump off the back of the boat and swim,” Ruth says. “It’s so beautiful here. We’re here because we enjoy every moment.”  

Shaded from the August sun, blades of summer light bounce off the stone walkways that wind through tables and chairs of Tin Pan Galley Restaurant. Those hoping to score a last-minute reservation are turned away regrettably, since there isn’t a spot available until 9 p.m. at least. Mark and Ruth aren’t worried, though. They’ll pass the time waiting for friends to arrive because, as they put it, “It’s nice to do nothing.”

It is a sentiment that resounds with anyone and everyone you may encounter along the streets of Sackets Harbor. Beautiful. Scenic. But above all, relaxing. It’s a thread that ties local and tourist together; bound by the simple desire to breathe easy.

Teeming with history

There was little time for such reflection when Augustus Sacket settled here in 1801, convinced that the area could be a protected harbor and staging ground for the United States’ military interests in the Great Lakes region. It is somewhat jarring to know that British naval ships still patrolled the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario in particular, during the 1800s, sending troops ashore to battle with American forces. After the war, Sackets continued to grow substantially, including construction of Madison Barracks in 1815. On its completion, the Barracks was considered to be one of the nation’s best military posts and played a part in every war since the War of 1812 to World War II.

Madison Barracks stands guard just above the banks of Lake Ontario on the port side as you enter the protected harbor. After falling into disrepair and abandonment, the barracks were resurrected. Acclaimed as a living museum of military architecture today, Madison Barracks has merged the old with the new creating a year-round residential community in a dramatic park-like setting on the lake. The shoreline of the Barracks is anchored by a protected 100-slip marina for both seasonal and transient boaters with power, water and wireless Internet, a dockside restaurant and an inviting 18-room hotel.

The Marina Inn and Suites offers 18 rooms made up of spacious suites with full size kitchens for the extended traveler and rooms designed for overnight guests. Lakefront and lake view terrace patios are available, and you are within a short walk to downtown Sackets Harbor. 

Savor the history

Nearby, Navy Point Marina is where Mark and Doug Caldwell, also of Toronto, are keeping their boats. Doug was quick to point out the many facilities Navy Point had available, which makes travel to Sackets a pleasure for any captain.

“They take care of just about everything,” says Caldwell, who has been coming to Sackets since 2009. “Docking, helping you get around… it helps ease your mind knowing they know what they’re doing.”

Caldwell, like many here, is enjoying the Living History Weekend, which is celebrating Sackets’ role in the War of 1812. Two battles were waged on Sackets soil, and according to Ford Best, a reenactor from Mumford, New York, the event has only grown bigger and better since its humble beginnings.

“When we started, you could fit all of us on a patch of grass,” Best explains. “Now, we’re all over the battlefield. Celebrating a time when the U.S. went toe-to-toe against the greatest navy in the world, the British.”  

If you’re not coming to Sackets Harbor by boat, or if you’ve decided to stay ashore, what better way to enhance your trip than by staying in a classic colonial bed and breakfast in town. The Jacob Brewster House Bed and Breakfast, circa 1815, has been restored to inspire the gracious and elegant standard of a time in history that most of us have only read about. This historic home offers charm, comfort and warm hospitality along with all the modern amenities of a fine hotel.

A walk through the Seaway Trail Discovery Center downtown reveals Dr. Samuel Guthrie’s discovery of chloroform here amidst those in pain and suffering. As a young United States Army Officer, Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, were stationed at the Madison Barracks in 1848. Julia would later recall Sackets as “the happiest place where Ulysses and I lived.” Pioneer and Army Captain Zebulon Pike’s remains reside in the military cemetery, a fitting resting area for an American icon of U.S. exploration.  

Ford enjoys the educational aspects of reenacting battles and retelling events, but there is a special connection to the Sackets tactical for him.
“This year I came earlier than usual,” says Ford. “I wanted to take some time off from work, just take in the peacefulness.”

Local attractions

Despite the uncommon heat and humidity this year, people wander with easy smiles, some pointing out the Sackets Harbor Arts Center, featuring local artist works ranging from the fanciful to peaceful scenes of lake life. Others stop by the Lake Ontario Playhouse to see which comedian will be featured. The choices of what to do are endless and engaging. 

While in the area, a place you don’t want to miss is the Antique Boat Museum on the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, New York. It’s only 40 minutes away by car or a nice cruise by boat from Sackets Harbor. It is the premier fresh water nautical museum in North America, with an extensive collection of beautifully preserved antique boats and thousands of recreational boating artifacts. From May through October the museum’s 4.5 acre campus offers speedboat rides, boat shows, special events, educational programs and much more. 

A 30-minute guided tour of the 1903, 106-foot houseboat La Duchesse is included with admission. Learn the history of this unique home and view her luxurious interior and furnishings. Don’t pass up the thrill of going out on one of the museum’s antique boats for a 45-minute run through the islands, or row a traditional St. Lawrence Skiff.

At this point in your trip, if you’re regretting the end of your vacation is near and you’re not ready to leave, contact Thousand Islands Realty to find your dream cottage or property.
From taking a moment to enjoy lunch on the deck of The Boathouse Restaurant, to dropping off your favorite pet for some pampering at Harbor Paws Pet Grooming, or even sampling a delicious blackberry-white chocolate muffin from Chrissy Beanz, there’s no limit to enjoying local pleasures.

Oh there’s more, alright. And the people of Sackets intend to keep it that way.

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