The History of Hotel Champlain and the CCC Campus

Credit: (aired on January 22, 2024)

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. —Everything you need to know about the history of the former Hotel Champlain, now the administration building on the Clinton Community College campus, can be found about a mile and a half down the road inside the Clinton County Historical Museum.

"This is what the view would have looked like in 3D more or less," volunteer Dick Soper said.

Soper was showing NBC5 a 3D model of what Hotel Champlain would have looked like from Route 9 in Plattsburgh in the early 1900s.

"Today, we call a place like that a destination because it's not only a place to visit, but it's a place to come and probably spend the whole summer," Soper said.

In fact, many wealthy guests spent their summers at the hotel.

It was referred to as the "Summer White House" for the two years that President William McKinley spent the season there.

"One of my favorite stories is that every day [President McKinley] would like to go down Green Drive and end up at a big pine tree at Bluff Point. He loved to watch the golfers," Steve Frederick, with Clinton Community College, said.

McKinley wasn't the only U.S. president to visit.

Records show Presidents Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt were among the well-known guests at the 500-room hotel and guest houses, three of which are still standing on campus today.

But back then, the lake-front property offered access to the shore, had a golf course, tennis courts and a trolley service that would take guests to and from downtown Plattsburgh.

Fast forward 130 years, the beauty inside the building has been tastefully transformed and modernized with stunning views of Lake Champlain from classrooms, common areas and the library.

Outside, there's a nod to the past with a historic marker telling visitors a thing or two about the world-class hotel that once looked over the lake.

The history is a source of pride for college employees like Frederick.

"I'm a pack rat, so over the years, anything I've found (of historic relevance) I've put away," he said.

Frederick has his own historic archive.

"Over the years, people in the community would give us [things]. I've had wine glasses and just a whole bunch of silverware and stuff that maybe their mom or dad or grandparent was a waiter at the hotel, and they found it in their attic. So I've gathered a ton of artifacts and documents," Frederick said.

He's fascinated by the history of the building and realizes the importance of preserving it and sharing its history.

So is Geri Favreau, a Clinton Community College alumnae and president of the Clinton County Historical Association board.

"It's such an important piece of the American history, and it's right there. You can see it," she said.

Favreau, Frederick and Soper have a vested interest in what happens to the property when Clinton Community College moves off it to SUNY Plattsburgh by the fall 2025 semester.

While the campus' future is uncertain, they don't want to see the main historic building torn down.

"I think the possibilities are endless. I have great confidence in the people who are going to be making the decisions for it that they will do the right thing," Favreau said.

"I do hope it's open to the public and people can go see it. You can't replicate that view anywhere on Lake Champlain," Frederick said.

"I would like to see it personally come back to the recreational use. Maybe a big hotel chain (will come in) and run the place," Soper said.

Only time will tell what's in store for the property with a treasured past and a promising future.

The building is not on the National Register of Historic Places, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be added.

Frederick said it's something the college is considering.

If it were to receive the designation, it would mean the building couldn't be demolished or have the exterior altered. It could also be eligible for more grant funding to help preserve or renovate it for its future use.

Watch the news story.