ROUSES POINT, N.Y. -- Buyers looking for unique lakefront property may have trouble topping this one: On May 6, Victor Podd of Boca Raton, Florida, put the ruins of Fort Montgomery on the market. Only don't look for a "For Sale" sign in front of the locked metal gate that blocks access to the property -- a tiny island in Lake Champlain, at Rouses Point, that houses a 19th-century stone structure. This beauty's available only on eBay.
Podd's father bought the fort and some adjacent land in 1983 to establish the headquarters of his bulk shipping company, Powertex. The company offices now sit about a quarter of a mile from the fort's access road. Podd says his family is selling the fort and 279 additional acres on the mainland to concentrate its efforts on the business.
Bidding for the fort began at $250,000. By 5 p.m. Monday, it was up to $5 million. The auction ends June 5, though Podd says he's willing to make a deal before then if the price is right. He won't name the amount of the eBay reserve, the minimum bid that would guarantee a sale, but says it's under $10 million.
Whoever forks over the cash better have more on hand. Regardless of what the buyer decides to do with the site -- its auction page says it's approved for use as a bank, marina or funeral home, among other things -- he or she will undoubtedly need to do some work on the Fort itself. It's not a complete structure; during the Great Depression roughly 80 percent was torn down as part of a public works project and used to build the bridge to Vermont. The walls that remain have reportedly been severely vandalized. And if they're not reinforced soon, they're in danger of sliding into the lake.
The fort's auction page shows pictures of the structure, which can be viewed from the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge connecting Vermont and New York. Access to the fort itself is prohibited. Still, the structure's stark stone walls, rising abruptly from the lake, attract the attention of passers-by.
Jennifer Theoret, the "travel ambassador" who staffs the visitor's center across the lake in Alburgh, Vermont, says she gets questions about the fort six or seven times a week from visitors wondering what the heck it is.
Theoret, who grew up in Alburgh, would like to see the fort turned into an historical site. "This was a very, very impressive fort," she insists, pointing out its location adjacent to the Canadian border. "At one time, Lake Champlain was called the key to the continent. And this," she says, pointing on a map to the channel between Rouses Point and Vermont, "is the door."
But if Fort Montgomery is such an important site, why has it been abandoned, vandalized, and put up for sale on eBay? Historian James Millard suggests it's because the location has long been confused with another nearby fort, nicknamed "Fort Blunder."
Millard, a South Hero resident who works in the Information Technology Department at St. Michael's College, is writing a book about Fort Montgomery. On the website America's Historic Lakes -- http://www.historiclakes.org -- he explains that the U.S. began work on the site in 1844. But it wasn't far from an earlier fort, which was in fact built on Canadian soil and was never completed. That project was viewed as a mistake. Millard claims people have always wrongly associated it with Fort Montgomery.
Consequently, Millard says, Fort Monty "has had nothing but a string of bad luck as long as it's been in existence." When the Podds tried to donate the property to the State of New York in the 1980s, the state turned them down.
On his Fort Montgomery information page, he describes the structure as a well-built example of a Third System fortification, complete with a moat. "No expense was spared in its construction," he writes. Though the fort was never fully staffed, it was armed; at one point it held 74 large guns protecting the country's northern border.
"My big worry," he says, "is that someone is going to go out there, take a good look at it, and say, "The only way I could afford to do this is to take it down.'"
That would be a shame, he says. "There's enough there, in my view, to clean it up, make it safe, put a little museum there. It could tell a wonderful story."