Small town, BIG hero

TWILIGHT put Forks on the map. The small town in Washington state had never seen so much attention before being inundated with fictitious vampires and werewolves. Now, a small town in upstate New York is getting its due.

FORTE was featured in in the Arts section of our local paper recently. The focus of the article A Writer’s ‘Forte’ was its small town, local setting of Whitehall, New York (renamed its original Skenesboro in the book).

Why did I choose to set my book in Whitehall?

Whitehall is home of Skene Manor—a beautiful Victorian mansion that sits on the crest of Skene Mountain overlooking the village. As the article says, I admired Skene Manor every time I passed through Whitehall en route from North of Boston to Lake George. In my book, Skene Manor is a character in its own right — and I pull from local folklore to make it shrouded in mystery, with a rumor to be haunted.

Skene Manor, Whitehall, NY

Skene Manor overlooking Whitehall village and Lake Champlain canal

Skene Manor at night

FORTE original cover (& former title) showing Skene Manor at night

As described in FORTE:

As if the mansion magically rose up from the dark trees which surround it. Its turrets give it a medieval feel—like it’s from another world, another time. Its center turret daunting, like Catholic guilt. The floor-to-ceiling windows seem like eyes looking down on the insignificant town. Pointy dormers peek from under the angled roof as if kinking its eyebrows with suspicion. Only the wraparound porch saves it from a sinister feel. Tonight there’s a single light in an upstairs window. It winked out just after a shadow passed over it. Does no one live there? Why only the one light?

Of course, Skene Manor holds just as much intrigue on the inside as it does on the outside. Built by Judge Joseph H. Potter in the late 1800s, much of its gray sandstone was quarried from Skene Mountain. Once privately owned, it then became a bed & breakfast / restaurant, and is now managed by a historic preservation society — and is open to the public for lunches and tours.

Skene Manor foyer and falconry

Skene Manor foyer and falconry

As described in FORTE:

Beyond the grand archway, the main hall is framed with dark wood wainscoting. A wide wallpaper border encircles the room that repeats a scene of horsemen holding a hawk and a pack of dogs.

“Falconry,” Mrs. Potter says. “An old hunting technique. They’d release the falcon and the dogs follow to catch whatever prey the falcon finds. Quite sneaky, don’t you think?”

(Yes, I borrowed the name “Potter” from Skene Manor history, not from a young wizard named Harry.)

Lake Champlain canal (via Lock 12) runs through the center of the village of Whitehall, and also plays a big role in the book. Under this bridge, I placed “canal graffiti” that communicates an ancient feud in the town as well as a prophecy for Sami.

DSCN3738

As described in FORTE:

The canal water is active today, and echoes against the steel of Saunders Bridge. Without this water, the town of Skenesboro wouldn’t be here, Mr. Lachapelle had eagerly told us the first day of history class. These waterways transported supplies during the Revolutionary War, he’d said, but its claim to fame is “birthplace of the US Navy.” Apparently, everything started to crumble when highways and railroads were constructed. And the place kind of became a ghost town. No one uses the canal for trade anymore, really. Just boats coming through the lock for fishing, and then going right back north to Lake Champlain. I’d probably have no luck finding a boat to take me all the way to New York after all.

and

The hush beneath the bridge is calming without my music playing. The cars passing overhead sound like ocean waves. The canal water clucks softly. A dreamy willow tree hangs to the water on the opposite side. There’s an old waterfront building with faded white paint against the brick: Liberty Eatery & Marina.

Founded as “Skenesborough” by British Army Captain Philip Skene at the southern tip of Lake Champlain in 1759, it was renamed Whitehall after the Revolutionary War. Bordering Vermont, Whitehall showed us small-town hospitality when the Town Hall clerk met me and my husband off hours as we traveled in from Massachusetts to give us our marriage license for our New York wedding.

Whitehall, New York holds a special place in my heart.

Whitehall Harbor

Whitehall aka Skenesboro

 

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