The replica bridge set of the USS Enterprise.
Invisible, but always present, from left to right, Spock, Uhura, Kirk, Chekov, and Sulu.

Star Trek Original Series Set Tour

Field review by the editors.

Ticonderoga, New York

James Cawley earned a living as one of America's top Elvis impersonators, but at heart he was a fan of Star Trek. Born between the first and second seasons of the 1960s original series, he acquired a rare set of blueprints for its starship USS Enterprise sets in 1991. The first thing that he built, in his grandfather's barn, was Captain Kirk's bridge chair. "It went through a couple of versions before it was perfect," he told us.

Engineering.
Scotty's engineering, complete with glowing false-perspective matter-antimatter chamber.

With painstaking accuracy (and his Elvis earnings) Cawley went on to build astoundingly precise replicas of the entire Enterprise set -- the bridge, engineering, the transporter room, everything -- in his upstate New York hometown of Ticonderoga (pop. 5,000). For several years he shot fan-films on the set. Then in 2015 CBS, which owned the rights to the original series, pulled the plug on such elaborate projects. "I had to reassess everything," Cawley said. "I thought, maybe I could share what I built, open it up. I really wanted people to be able to come here and keep it going." CBS was fine with the idea, and Cawley officially opened the set as an attraction in April 2017.

William Shatner on the bridge.
James Cawley beams as William Shatner returns to his favorite chair.

From the outside it doesn't look like much, because the set is built inside an old downtown supermarket. But once the pneumatic doors in the lobby slide apart with a familiar woosh, visitors find themselves teleported 50 years into the sci-fi past (which, paradoxically, is the 23rd century future). Fabrics, lighting, paint colors, sound effects, everything is exactly as it was. Cawley admits that he's watched every Star Trek original series episode hundreds of times, studying freeze-frames just to reproduce the details with fidelity. "I had to make it as perfect as I could," he said. "Otherwise your eye would go to what's wrong, not what's right."

Cawley said that fans have burst into tears on the set, overwhelmed to be in a place they'd only seen on a screen, and that they knew had been destroyed in 1969. The hour-long tour is immersive: visitors can stand on the transporter pads, peer into Spock's scanner, push buttons ("Red Alert!"), and of course sit in Captain Kirk's chair. Cawley said that he doesn't make visitors wear special booties on their shoes or sit on paper seat covers because he doesn't have to. "They're very reverent of the set," he said. "They understand that it has to be maintained it or it won't be here. And they don't want it to go anywhere."

Cawley said that the crowning achievement of his years of obsessive labor occurred on May 4, 2018, when 87-year-old William Shatner toured the set and once again sat in his original series captain's chair. "He told us it was absolutely dead perfect, the colors and details were spot-on," said Cawley. "We were thrilled. It was the pinnacle; it really was."

Star Trek Original Series Set Tour

Address:
112 Montcalm St., Ticonderoga, NY
Directions:
Downtown. On the south side of Montcalm St. just west of Champlain Ave. The building is set back from the street at the back of a deep parking lot.
Hours:
Tu-Su 10-6 (last tour at 5). (Call to verify)
Phone:
518-369-9967
Admission:
Adults $22.50
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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July 19, 2018

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