Few villages in New York State can lay claim to as rich a heritage as Rouses Point, and like the oft-used real-estate axiom says, there are three primary reasons—location, location, location.
As New York’s northeasternmost village, Rouses Point can be found at the north end of Lake Champlain. Bordering on Canada to the north and Vermont to the east, for decades it was a shipping and transportation crossroads, serving both water and rail traffic.
Until Interstate 87 was completed in the late 1960s, adding a major customs facility at Champlain, Rouses Point was one of the busiest border crossings in the state. That made for an incredible mix of good, bad, famous, and dangerous folks passing through the village every day.
A book could be written on that subject alone, but in deference to space limitations, here’s a smattering of the interesting visitors to pass through a village whose population has stood at around 2,000 for more than a century.
In 1893, thirteen rail cars filled with British soldiers and their horses passed north into Canada, returning after appearing at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was the largest British presence in the village since thousands of defeated foot soldiers from the Battle of Plattsburgh (September 11, 1814) fled north in retreat.
In 1904, two circuses crossed at Rouses Point into Canada. For locals, circus visits were a frequent and enjoyable event. Dealing with customs regulations was time-consuming, which meant the animals had to be walked, fed, and tended to, allowing curious visitors to view lions, tigers, elephants, and other critters … a free show for all.
Besides Rouses Point’s proud legacy as a stop on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves to freedom in Canada, there were also instances of white slavery in the opposite direction, bringing young girls into the states to work as prostitutes.
Billions of dollars have crossed the border at Rouses Point, legally and illegally. Following the end of World War I, noted financier J. P. Morgan, Jr., son of one of the wealthiest individuals in American history, reportedly traveled through the village in his plush, private rail car. His destination: Ottawa, to pay Canada for armaments used by the US during the war. He was said to have been accompanied by $50 million in gold (worth $650 million in 2013). It was nothing unusual for Morgan, who handled hundreds of millions of dollars in such payments each year for the governments of France and England as well.
New York City’s legendary vanishing judge, Joseph Force Crater, was reportedly seen in Rouses Point in 1930. Though his acquaintances believed he had been murdered, authorities were dispatched to the border village to conduct a search (unsuccessful, of course).
At about the same time, recently retired World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Gene Tunney passed through Rouses Point after touring through southern Quebec.
Following a state visit to Washington, the King of Siam traveled north through the village in 1931. Five years later, Anna Hauptmann spent time in Rouses Point after being denied entry into Canada, even though she was accompanied by her lawyer. Anna was well known as the widow of Bruno Hauptmann, who was executed five months earlier after being found guilty of kidnapping and murdering the Lindbergh baby, a deed that became known as the “Crime of the Century.”
In 1940, prior to America’s entry into World War II, millions of dollars worth of armed and battle-ready planes, built on Long Island, streamed north through Rouses Point to assist Canada’s war effort.
Considering the level of traffic that once passed through the village on road and rail, the village is much quieter today. In the 1920s, for example, more than a million people crossed the Rouses Point border in a single year. On one busy weekend, 9,000 cars went through customs, and in 1925, officers reported that six and a half miles of boxcars passed south from Canada daily.
Of course, those statistics occurred during Prohibition, which saw increased traffic due to smuggling. The high number of border crossings reduced the chances of being caught. Since thousands were arrested, it’s certain that a much larger number of booze smugglers escaped detection. (Flo Ziegfeld was among those caught by local customs officials.)
Rouses Point has also been visited by several US Presidents, among them James Monroe, William McKinley, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.
Next week: The world’s most famous royalty comes to town.