Fort Blunder: America’s Most Embarrassing Mistake

In 1818, work began on a modern fort at the northern end of Lake Champlain, which borders Vermont, New York and Canada. The British had launched massive invasions of the United States through the lake during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. As a result, some of the heaviest fighting took place in the region during both wars. To prevent that from happening again, President James Madison ordered the fort built. The State of New York helped out by relinquishing a tiny portion of land called Island Point, as well as 400 acres for a military reservation. The U.S. Army supervised the construction of the octagonal, 30-foot-tall structure. With 125 cannons, any British ship sailing past would come under heavy fire. Then, two years and $275,000 later, surveyors discovered a problem: the fort was being built on the wrong side of the border. Under the Treaty of Paris, the 45th parallel marked the border between New York and Quebec, so the fort was actually in Canada. All work stopped and the unnamed fort was nicknamed Fort Blunder. The U.S. fixed the problem — not by moving the fort, but by moving the boundary line. The United States then began to build another fort, named Fort Montgomery (pictured) after American revolutionary hero Gen. Richard Montgomery.