The lake varies from 100 to 95 feet above mean sea level. In the early 19th century, Lake Champlain was connected to the Hudson River system by a canal. The ports of Burlington, Vermont, Port Henry, New York, and Plattsburgh, New York are little used nowadays except by small crafts, ferries and lake cruise ships, but they had substantial commercial importance at one time.
Lake Champlain is one of a large number of large lakes spread in an arc from Labrador through the Northern United States and into the Northwest Territories of Canada. Although it cannot be compared with Ontario, Erie, Huron, Superior or Michigan, Lake Champlain is a large body of freshwater. Approximately 1130 km2 (435 square miles) in area, the lake is roughly 180 km (110 miles) long, and 19 km (12 miles) across at its widest point. It contains roughly 80 islands including an entire county in Vermont.
Lake Champlain briefly became the nation's sixth Great Lake on March 6, 1998, when President Clinton signed Senate Bill 927. This bill, which reauthorized the Sea Grant Program, contained a line penned by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) declaring Lake Champlain to be a Great Lake. Not coincidentally, this status allows neighboring states to apply for additional federal research and education funds allocated to these nation resources. Following a small uproar (and several New York Times articles), the Great Lake status was rescinded (although Vermont universities continue to receive funds to monitor and study the lake.)
One of the more enduring myths surrounding Lake Champlain is that of Champie (or Champ). Reminiscent of the Loch Ness monster, Ogopogo and other phenomena of cryptozoology, Champie is purportedly a giant aquatic animal that makes the lake its home. Sightings have been few and far between (and come from sources of questionable veracity). Regardless, locals and tourists have developed something of a fondness for the creature and its legend.
In colonial times, Lake Champlain provided an easily traversed water (or, in winter, ice) passage between the Saint Lawrence and the Hudson Valleys. Boats and sledges were usually preferable to the unpaved and frequently mud bound roads of the time. The northern tip of the lake at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec (St. John in colonial times) is a short distance from Montreal. The Southern tip at Whitehall (Skeenesboro in colonial times) is a short distance from Saratoga, New York, Glens Falls, New York and Albany, New York. Forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point (Fort St. Frederic) controlled passage of the lake in colonial times. Important battles were fought at Ticonderoga in 1758 and 1777. Significant naval battles were fought in 1776 at Valcour Island and in 1814 at Plattsburg.
Fort Blunder (aka Fort Montgomery) was built by the Americans on an arm of Lake Champlain after the war of 1812, to protect against attacks from British Canada. Its name comes from a surveying error that caused it to inadvertantly be built on the Canadian side of the border.