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Guest Contributors...                            James G. Bailey

Cleared of its tangled underbrush, with its new monument and paths, the memorial park island was highly touted by the D & H Railroad Company in its guides of the era.  The monument is pictured in the 1909 Champlain Tercentenary Report (before the plaques were mounted or the iron fence erected) and on postcards.
   Unfortunately, it was all downhill from that time.
   We can only guess that the frequent changes in command at the Barracks, with no written records of purpose or maintenance authority from the government, led to the neglect of "Macdonough National Military Park." Budgets must have been tight and priorities elsewhere during war years.  The C. C. C. Camp at the Barracks did do some clearing of the overgrown paths on the island in the 1930s, one Plattsburgh resident recalls.
   After World War II the entire 723-acre U. S. Military Reservation at Plattsburgh, including Crab Island, was deeded to New York.  The state planned to operate Champlain College on the former reservation, a two-year institution especially for returned war veterans.  But the deed contained a reversion clause, and in Sept. 1954, after local and congressional support was mustered for the locating here of an Air Force Base, the reversion clause was invoked and all property returned to federal ownership.

   The newly created P.A.F.B. was not in the memorial park business, they decided, and sometime in 1965 the U. S. General Services Administration was so informed.  But by this time in government bureaucratic history, there existed a National Park Service and a New York State Park system.  Strangely, G. S. A. contacted neither.
   The inventory report, which the writer obtained a year after his request, and only then after intervention by Congressman Martin and Senator Moynihan, omits any mention of the burials.  G. S. A. files claim an inspection was made of the property by Mr. James Feenan, Realty Specialist, and Mr. James Kafes, Appraiser, on Jan. 5, 1966.  Weather records of that date in Plattsburgh indicate complete overcast, a high temperature of 19, and winds of 20 mph--hardly ideal conditions for methodical investigation of the surface of a 40-acre island in Lake Champlain.
 

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It is hard to believe that any appraiser would dare fail to note such common knowledge as the sailors' burial on the property.  But of course it would have been awkward to advertise a U. S. veterans' burial ground as surplus, unwanted property.  It is not illegal to sell burial grounds, but there are lengthy procedures to follow, which G. S. A. definitely did not.  Feenan and Kafes' bare-bones inventory was quickly transformed into an official Notice of Surplus Determination.  This document, dated Jan. 28, 1966, which went out to potential buyers, even omitted mention of the granite obelisk.

   Local governments and agencies were offered first choice, but they had to provide a plan and budget for maintenance of the property.  This haughty mandate from a government which had totally neglected the place for more than fifty years is ironic.  The City of Plattsburgh, to its credit, at this time did accept title to the remains of Fort Brown on the bank of the Saranac River in the city.  But Crab Island is not within city limits, another fact misrepresented in G. S. A. files.
   Compared to the recent campaign, the press was practically silent in 1966.  There were the required small-print legal ads, but the uninformed public made no outcry.  Public bodies having declined to take title, daunted by the maintenance budget mandate of G. S. A., bidding was opened to the general public.
   Bids were opened in the New York City office of G. S. A. on July 17, 1967.  From the occasional Press Republican stories commencing July 19, one deduces the Administration's bid-processing was on a par with its inventory-taking.  First there were 45 bids reported, then it was 55.  The high bid was reported to be $17,265 from a plumbing firm in Burlington, Vermont.  The fact is that on Dec. 5, 1967 Edward Kline, Administrator of G.S.A., issued a quitclaim deed to Edward Troise of Glenside, Pa. for Crab Island for his high bid of $40,200.  This amount did not even cover the half-century costs of acquisition and park creation.
   Not much happened for the next 18 years.  One of the four plaques of the monument was spotted under water near the island's shore, was rescued by scuba divers and delivered to the P.A.F.B. museum, where it is now on exhibit.  A July 1975 Press-Republican feature story lamented the sad condition of the so-called memorial.

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Other Crab Island related links on America's Historic Lakes:

The Secrets of Crab Island by James P. Millard

The Battle of Plattsburgh- The War of 1812 on Lake Champlain

Dr. James Mann's account of the Battle of Plattsburgh

Return of killed and wounded on board the United States squadron on Lake Champlain, in the engagement with the British fleet, on the 11th of September, 1814 - official listing of American losses from the naval engagement.

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