Local author to speak on former Plattsburgh hotel’s rich history

Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 5:12 PM EST
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - Before Camp David, the famous presidential retreat in Maryland, there was the former Hotel Champlain. The hotel is now a part of the Clinton Community College campus, but a local author is telling stories about the property’s rich history.

At the turn of the century, the Hotel Champlain and its grounds were visited by some of America’s top officials.

“Every room is a front room, everybody’s got the view,” said Richard Frost, who is holding a fireside chat Wednesday at Clinton Community College that explores the history of the area. Frost says the hotel stood for only about 20 years before burning to the ground in 1910 and was rebuilt shortly after.

“Most of what you see is exactly the footprint that it was in 1910. This building has been remarkably preserved, and I always talk about how we are so lucky in this community that for some reason no one ever got around to tearing this down,” Frost said.

He says both Roosevelts, Taft, and McKinely are among the presidents that called the grounds home for multiple summers. However, he says it was William McKinley who spent the most time at the hotel during the late 1800s.

“Besides the president and vice president in 1897, there was a secretary of war -- which is a predecessor of today’s secretary of defense; the secretary of interior, and the postmaster general. So, you had three members of the cabinet here, so basically the American government was run from here during the summer of 1897,” Frost said.

Presidential visits were common during that time due to Plattsburgh’s significance during the War of 1812. “The idea that the president came here did not arouse any surprises. People were used to traveling here. In fact, I talked about McKinley, but five presidents before him had come to visit Plattsburgh. They couldn’t stay here. They had to stay in older hotels,” Frost said.

The hotel remained open until the 1950s when it became a seminary school before being turned over to the college in 1966.

“The best way to teach history is to walk the footsteps of it, and we do it every day at this college,” said Tom Mandeville, a history professor at the college. He says he hopes Frost’s presentation will bring new public awareness to the college so that others may enjoy the grounds that former presidents once walked. “This is their college, so we need them to utilize it even more and come up here and have a picnic on the front grounds if they want to. This is their property.”