With its significant location on a major water thoroughfare and close to the US-Canadian border, Plattsburgh has been the site of a number of historic events including the Revolutionary War's Battle of Valcour and the War of 1812's Battle of Plattsburgh. In more recent times, the city has been distinguished primarily by its United States Air Force base and State University of New York college, although it is also a node for tourists headed to the Adirondack Mountains.
On the south and east side of Plattsburgh is a plot of land that used to be home to Plattsburgh Air Force Base (PAFB). Until its closing on September 29, 1995, this Air Force Base was the oldest continuously active military base in the United States. Plattsburgh was the site of the United States Army's first tank base in the mid-20th century.
During the Cold War, PAFB was the location of the Strategic Air Command's primary wing on the US east coast due to its geographic desirability. The base's location in the Champlain Valley (protected by the Adirondack Mountains) ensured consistent, year-round weather that was safe for take-offs and landings. The 380th Bombardment, Aerospace and Refueling Wings, located at PAFB included B-52 Bombers, air-refueling "tankers" and FB-111s. With a sparse civilian population in Plattsburgh, 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.
Despite its geographic desirability and numerous awards for performance excellence, PAFB was closed 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.
Plattsburgh's State University College, known alternately as PSUC, PSU, or SUNY-Plattsburgh, is located between the city center and the suburban neighborhoods in the southwest of the town. Before becoming a four-year college for the State University system, Plattsburgh was a teachers' college and a nursing school. Today, it maintains both of these in the form of a well-regarded education department and a nursing program offered separately from the four-year degree.
In addition to nursing and education, Plattsburgh State University is notable for its pioneering environmental studies program, its national championship hockey team, and its large art museum. PSU was the first college in the SUNY system to offer an environmental studies program, popular with the many students who choose to attend Plattsburgh for its proximity to the mountains and lake. The Men's Hockey team is a perennial powerhouse in the NCAA's division III, and has won the national championship title several times. The Plattsburgh State Art Museum includes the Rockwell Kent Gallery (repository of the bulk of the work of American painter Rockwell Kent), a large open-air sculpture park, and a number of works by well-known artists such as a Picasso and Rodin.
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. The city beaches and camp grounds were packed all summer long and Plattsburgh attracted enough retail stores and outlets to build a second large indoor shopping mall, in addition to several outdoor shopping centers. Unfortunately, with the closing of PAFB and the strengthening US dollar in the 1990s, much of this Canadian tourism has ceased. Today, city residents rely mostly on the aging industrial paper plants (owned by Georgia-Pacific and Tenneco) that were built when the Adirondacks were a center of logging in the United States.
Plattsburgh has been tied to a number of famous and infamous people. John Henry Hopkins, a former rector of Plattsburgh's Trinity Episcopal church was the author of the well-known Christmas hymn "We Three Kings of Orient Are." John Russell Pope, the architect who designed Plattsburgh's City Hall, was a famous architect whose work includes the Jefferson Memorial. Recent former residents of Plattsburgh include Doug Raaberg, holder of a world circumnavigation record in the B-1B; Michael P. Anderson, one of the seven astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster; and Eric Harris, one of the two shooters at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.