Plattsburgh is a city in and county seat of Clinton County, New York, United States. The population was 19,989 at the 2010 census. The population of the unincorporated areas within the Town of Plattsburgh was 11,870 as of the 2010 census; making the population for the immediate Plattsburgh, New York Region 31,859.
Under French Rule
As early as Samuel de Champlain's 1609 expedition into the Lake Champlain valley, this region began to fall under the influence of the French - and later under American and English colonial power. Early French contact and the proximity of Plattsburgh to Quebec, make this a historically French region. Situated within and intimately intertwined with the extended fur trade network positioned in the Montreal hinterland (and beyond), this area fell within the lands of the coureur des bois affiliated with the larger trading hub in Montreal. While Plattsburgh is cited by American historians as being a relatively new city, the area became occupied somewhere after the arrival of Samuel de Champlain in 1609 and the beginning of the Fur Trade in Montreal in the mid-to-late 17th century. While permanent French settlement was hampered by the looming threat of armed conflict with Iroquois natives of the region, French missionaries did begin to settle alongside local indigenous populations where Native villages were found, as early as 1609. Moreover, the area near Plattsburgh is notable for being the site of an indigenous village.
Transition to British and then American Rule
Plattsburgh and much of the lands comprising present day Clinton County were originally part of the French settlement of New France. They stayed a part of New France until the outcome of the French and Indian War, where the French lost their hold on this region to the British. This conflict (1754–1763) predated the American Revolution (1775–1783). As a condition of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, a vast region including present-day Plattsburgh was ceded from France to Britain. It was incorporated into British rule as part of the Indian Reserve. The Reserve was established by Britain as an attempt to protect British colonial positions in New England and the Middle Colonies using the newly acquired lands to buffer against armed conflict with either France or Spain. The founding of present day Plattsburgh, however, was not an act of the British, rather it coincided with the American territorial acquisition after the American Revolutionary War; ended as per the agreement between the newly established United States of America and Great Britain via the 1783 Treaty of Paris.
Plattsburgh's Founding Under American Rule
Plattsburgh was founded by Zephaniah Platt in 1785 after he was granted the land by George Clinton. In granting land to Zephaniah Platt of Poughkeepsie, New York - who went on to establish the new city of Plattsburgh to buffer emerging American interests in the Saint Lawrence River valley and Lake Champlain valley after the American victory in the American Revolutionary War - the centralized American authority proclaimed the area including and surrounding the old French trading areas and Iroquois settlement to be refounded as the settlement of Plattsburgh in 1785. Regardless, local residents exercised their unique French culture and history over the years in ways that are still visible today. In Plattsburgh, for example, there is no "Main Street" - a common vestige of English colonies, whereas in a unique tradition major streets and thoroughfares were named after the daughters of prominent businessman and politicians (e.g., Cathérine, Marguerite - present day Margaret Street and Plattsburgh's "Main Street", Cornélie - present day Cornelia Street). In a similar fashion, local residents named local streets after renowned Frenchmen including Samuel de Champlain, the original founder of the region, and General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm - the French general who gained fame defeating incredible numerical odds in multiple battles throughout both the Oswego and Hudson River Valley areas before going on to organize the last French defense of Québec at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The oldest monument within the city limits, in fact, is dedicated to Samuel de Champlain.
Notable Historical Events
The community set itself off from the Town of Plattsburgh by incorporating as a village in 1815. The city government was established in the former village in 1902.
With its significant location on a major water thoroughfare and close to the U.S.-Canadian border, Plattsburgh has been the site of a number of historic events including the Revolutionary War's Battle of Valcour Island and the War of 1812's Battle of Plattsburgh; the city has a War of 1812 museum.
Temple Beth Israel was established in 1861, and completed the construction of its current building in 1971. Plattsburgh Normal School was founded in 1889. It burned in 1929, and was rebuilt in 1932. In 1948 it became State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
During the Cold War, military functions took a prominent role in Plattsburgh, which was home to Plattsburgh Air Force Base (PAFB) and was the location of the Strategic Air Command's primary wing on the U.S. East Coast due to its geographic desirability. The base's location in the Champlain Valley (protected by the rain shadow of the Adirondack Mountains) ensured consistent, year-round weather that was safe for take-offs and landings. The 380th Bombardment, Aerospace, and Refueling Wings, all stationed at PAFB, included B-52 Bombers, air-refueling "tankers" and FB-111s. The base had a great deal of land surface and was one of only four military bases in the United States with a landing strip large enough for a Space Shuttle landing.
On September 1, 1961, the 556 Strategic Missile Squadron was activated at Plattsburgh AFB. The Squadron consisted of 12 Atlas "F" Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles stored in underground silos at 12 sites surrounding the city of Plattsburgh. Ten of the silos were in New York, two across Lake Champlain in Vermont. The squadron played an active role in the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, giving President Kennedy a powerful negotiating tool in dealing with Nikita Kruschev. The 556 SMS's life was relatively short lived since the Atlas was a liquid fuel system that was expensive and difficult to maintain. As the solid fuel Minuteman ICBM began to come on line, the liquid fueled missiles such as the Atlas and Titan were retired. The 556 SMS began deactivating in the spring of 1965, completing that task later that year.
Despite its numerous awards for performance excellence, PAFB was closed on September 29, 1995 in a round of national base closures in the early 1990s as the Air Force began to pare down its post-Cold War missions. The base property is now managed by the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corporation (PARC) and is used by a number of industrial manufacturers and commercial airlines.
Because of the strategic weather advantage of the former PAFB site, as well as its relatively convenient access by air to the most remote parts of Upstate New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton used the former airbase landing strip on her trips to campaign in the North Country region during her first term as a US Senator from New York in early 2002.
Throughout much of the 1980s, when the Canadian dollar was strong relative to the U.S. dollar, Plattsburgh was a favorite tourist location for vacationers from Montreal and southern Quebec. Bilingual signs, in English and French, are found in parts of the city. The city beaches and camp grounds were regularly crowded and Plattsburgh attracted enough retail stores and outlets to build a second large indoor shopping mall, Champlain Centre North, in addition to several outdoor shopping centers. The additional retail space of the Champlain Centre North along with the new Consumer Square (Walmart, Staples, TJ Maxx...) made the Pyramid Mall irrelevant; it was largely demolished (with exception of Kmart and the restored old Price Chopper building) and converted into a power center with a Lowes Home Center and a new Price Chopper as the anchor stores. However, with the closing of PAFB and the strengthening U.S. dollar in the 1990s, Canadian tourism declined, although it has rebounded with the falling dollar of 2007. Today, the city relies largely in part on new industries expanding on the former airbase as well as established manufacturing plants, such as Bombardier, Nova Bus, and Georgia-Pacific paper plant. The GP plant is housed in the former LOZIER Auto factory built in the early 20th century on the former (lakefront) Anderson Farm.