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Slayton: Chimney Point

History lies in thousand-year-old layers at Chimney Point in West Addison, a place where the eastern and western shores of Lake Champlain come close together. It’s one of the two most strategically important points on the lake.

The point’s history goes back some 12,000 years if you’re considering the Abenakis, and several millennia beyond that if you count the fossils that still turn up in the layers of rock along the lake shore.

However, the climax of this place’s story came three centuries ago, when Lake Champlain was a major north-south waterway, an efficient route into the heart of the American continent fought over by two superpowers of the time, France and England.
At the Chimney Point narrows, a single fort could stop ships and threaten any invading force. And so Britain and France battled for it for years.

Perhaps the best way to see it all is to walk across the new bridge that connects Vermont and New York— it’s got nifty sidewalks and views that stretch for miles up and down the lake. And that’s what I did recently, with Elsa Gilbertson of the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Michael Roets, a New York archaeologist, and about 15 other people.

“Even though there’s a state line that runs down the middle of the lake, in history, there’s no such line,” Gilbertson said. “It’s all one history.”

Today it’s peaceful. The wars of 18th century exploration are confirmed by the artifacts that continue to turn up almost every time someone puts a shovel into the ground. There are museums on both the New York and Vermont sides of the lake.

And history continues at Chimney Point today. This long, graceful bridge spanning the lake has its own story to tell.
The new bridge was opened six years ago - replacing the earlier Champlain Bridge that opened in Nineteen Twenty-nine, and served for 80 years.

It pleases me that this beautiful new bridge, which connects two states and millions of people, now stands peacefully in a spot once riven by war. The high point of its arch corresponds with the boundary line that divides New York and Vermont.
As I walk away, I see our little group standing right above that imaginary line, discussing the past, thinking about the future, and looking up the ancient lake at broad waters and peaceful shores.

Tom Slayton is a longtime journalist, editor and author who lives in Montpelier.
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