Old Fort Niagara is around 300 years old place that was occupied, one after the other, by three nations; France then Great Britain and now the United States. The beautiful historical building is situated near Youngstown, New York, at the mouth of Niagra River on its east side bank on Lake Ontario. Fort visitors find it as the oldest buildings in the Great Lakes region having some unique living history programs arranging exhibits together with some special events. The French had established their first post back in 1679 and built an impressive “French Castle” around the year 1726. Later Britain gained control of the place in 1759 during the Indian and French War and they maintained their control throughout the period of American Revolution and then yielding the fort to the United States in 1796.
British had captured the fort during the War of 1812 until being surrendered again to the United States in 1815 and later it served as a quiet border post. The place also served as a training station and used as active barracks from the Civil War till 1963 when the withdrawal of last army unit occurred.
In 1678, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle built the initial structure naming it as Fort Conti. Later Marquis de Denonville, the Governor of New France, ordered the construction of a new fort at the Fort Conti site naming it Fort Denonville together with posting 100 men commanded by Capt. Chevalier de Troyes. The winter weather at the place proved severe and fatal as all but twelve perished when a relief force arrived from Montreal. It was September 1688 when decision to abandon the post taken and all of stockade was ordered to be pulled down. During 1726, “Maison a Machicoulis” was built on the same site by a French engineer and it was called the “House of Peace” to appease the Iroquois. The Iroquois prefer to be known as the Haudenosaunee used to be historically powerful people an important Native Americans in northeast. They were also known during the French colonial years as the “Iroquois League”. The name “The French Castle” used today was not popular until the 19th Century. In 1755, this fort was expanded to current size in because of increased tensions between British and French colonial interests.
This fort played an important role during the French and Indian War, and it fell to the British in the famous nineteen-day Battle of Fort Niagara in July 1759. Relief force sent by French for the besieged garrison was successfully ambushed at the Battle of La Belle-Famille. Francois Pouchot, the commander of the post surrendered the fort to Sir William Johnson, the British commander who had once led the New York Militia. Sir William Johnson was not the original expedition commander, but became so when General Prideaux had literally lost his head while stepping before a mortar test-fire during the siege. Later for 37 years, the fort remained in control of the British.
The fort served as the Loyalist base for Colonel John Butler and his Butler’s Rangers serving New York during the American Revolutionary War. This was a Tory militia served under the command of the British Army. Butler’s Rangers were able to catch Lt. Col. William Stacy, a prominent officer of Continental Army. During their attack on Cherry Valley, New York, the officer was held captive at this fort during the 1779 summer.
Year 1783 was important in American history when Treaty of Paris was signed and Fort Niagara ceded to the America and ended the American War of Independence. Still the British kept effective control of the region for thirteen years. After signed Jay Treaty in 1796, they occupied the fort. The fort again played role during the 1812 War when its guns sank the Provincial Marine boat Seneca on 21 November 1812. Just a year later in December 1813, British forces could have captured the fort retaliating for burning of Niagara just nine days back. The American garrison was surprisingly taken in awe and shock and British regular infantry captured the fort by means of a night assault. Later the British held this for the rest of the time during war until their withdrawal under the Treaty of Ghent. America got custody of the fort since the treaty.
The name “Old Fort Niagara” refers to distinguish the fortress belonging to colonial-era from the more modern namesake. The period after Civil War also saw the building of “New Fort Niagara” that was outside the fort original walls. After the Civil War, military had abandoned the masonry forts use for technical reasons and safety. The new Fort Niagara was different. It contained a vast rifle range covering a thousand-yards with having quick access to rail lines and convenient approach to industrial areas belonging to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Fort Niagara also served as training center for the Spanish–American War as well as World War I. During World War II the facility remained as an induction center and then a camp for prisoners of war for those 1,200 soldiers from Germany who were detained in North Africa. As WW II ended, the fort kept providing temporary housing facility for the returning veterans.
Local citizens did continuous lobbying for nine years and then in 1931, for repairs and preservation of the fort, after an understand with US War Department, a formal operating license was signed between the U.S. War Department and the Old Fort Niagara Association establishing rights to do preservation and operating the fort. Then in 1949, Congress agreed to transfer the fort to the State of New York. Later in 1960 the fort was declared among the first listed sites designated as part of National Historic Landmarks.
At present Fort Niagara has been fully renovated and serves as Fort Niagara State park and museum. The restored fort is a reminder of frequent historical and famous reenactments concerning 18th century battles which took place on the fort site. It is also part of those historical dances, special events and fundraisers. Formal standing of the place, therefore, is Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site.
There are several people in Niagra who believe the site is haunted by a headless soldier from France who was part of a duel and beheaded. People say that the soldier still wanders the same grounds and looks for his head. These paranormal claims however, were investigated and examined by Everday Paranormal appearing on their Discovery Channel show titled “Ghost Lab.” aired on October 21, 2010.