View of French Castle at Fort Niagara
|Location||Fort Niagara State Park, Porter, Niagara County, New York, USA|
|Nearest city||Youngstown, New York|
|Area||250 acres (100 ha)|
|NRHP reference #||66000556|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||October 9, 1960|
|Youngstown, New York|
Fort Niagara 1728
New France 1678-1759|
Great Britain 1759-1796
U.S. Army 1815-1963
U.S. Coast Guard 1963-present
|Battles/wars||The War of 1812|
|John W. Heavey (1916-1917)|
Fort Niagara is a fortification originally built to protect the interests of New France in North America. It is located near Youngstown, New York, on the eastern bank of the Niagara River at its mouth, on Lake Ontario.
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle built the first structure, called Fort Conti, in 1678. In 1687, the Governor of New France, the Marquis de Denonville, constructed a new fort at the former site of Fort Conti. He named it Fort Denonville and posted a hundred men under the command of Capt. Pierre de Troyes, Chevalier de Troyes. The winter weather and disease was severe, and all but twelve perished by the time a relief force returned from Montreal. It was decided in September 1688 to abandon the post and the stockade was pulled down.
Louis-Thomas Chabert de Joncaire was despatched to the Senecas to obtain permission to build a French post on the banks of the river. It was in 1720 that he spoke to several chiefs, explaining that his pleasure was always great when he visited them but that he would do it more spontaneously still if he had a dwelling place. Considering that he was of the tribe since his turbulent captivity and his "adoption", the chiefs agreed that he had the right to build a dwelling where it pleased. Joncaire and eight men dispatched from Fort Frontenac built on the right bank of the river a trading post, called Magasin Royal or Maison de la Paix (Royal Store or House of Peace). The trading post was carefully called the "House of Peace", emphasizing the French peaceful intents; it was represented chiefly as a place to exchange goods for furs.
In 1726, a two-story "Maison a Machicoulis" or "Machicolated House" was constructed on the same site by French engineer Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry. The fort was expanded to its present size in 1755 due to increased tensions between French and British colonial interests.
The name used today, "The French Castle" was not used until the 19th Century.
The fort played a significant part in the French and Indian War, and fell to the British in a nineteen-day siege in July 1759, called the Battle of Fort Niagara. The French relief force sent for the besieged garrison was ambushed at the Battle of La Belle-Famille, and the commander of the post, Francois Pouchot, surrendered the fort to the British commander, Sir William Johnson, who initially led the New York Militia. The Irish-born Johnson was not the original commander of the expedition, but became its leader when General John Prideaux literally lost his head, stepping in front of a mortar being test-fired during the siege. The fort remained in British hands for the next thirty-seven years.
Fort Niagara served as the Loyalist base in New York during the American Revolutionary War for Colonel John Butler and his Butler's Rangers, a Tory militia in the command of the British Army. Lt. Col. William Stacy, a high-ranking officer of the Continental Army, was captured at the attack on Cherry Valley, New York by Butler's Rangers. He was held captive at Fort Niagara during the summer of 1779. Niagara became notorious for drinking, brawling, whoring, and cheating. Crude taverns, stores, and bordellos sprouted on "the Bottom", the riverside flat below the fort.
Though Fort Niagara was ceded to the United States after the Treaty of Paris ended the American War of Independence in 1783, the region remained effectively under British control for thirteen years. Only after signing of the Jay Treaty did American forces occupy the fort in 1796. In the interim, United Empire Loyalists fleeing persecution in the new USA were given land grants, typically 200 acres (81 ha) per inhabitant in Upper Canada, and some were sustained in the early years partly by aid from the military stores of the fort. During the War of 1812 the fort's guns sank the Provincial Marine schooner Seneca on 21 November 1812. British forces captured the fort on the night of 19 December 1813 in retaliation for the burning of Newark nine days earlier. The British held the fort for the remainder of the war until they relinquished it under the terms of the Treaty of Ghent. It has remained in US custody ever since.
Nine currently active battalions of the Regular Army (4-1 FA, 1-2 Inf, 2-2 Inf, 1-3 Inf, 2-3 Inf, 4-3 Inf, 1-4 Inf, 2-4 Inf and 3-4 Inf) are derived from American units (Leonard's Company, 1st Regiment of Artillery, and the old 14th, 19th and 22nd Infantry Regiments) that were at Fort Niagara during the War of 1812. 52 (Niagara) Battery Royal Artillery (Holcroft's Company, 4th Battalion Royal Artillery),Royal Scots and a number of other British units that fought at the Capture of Fort Niagara still exist today. A number of other units that served in the Fort in the War of 1812 (such as 20 Battery Royal Artillery ( Caddy's Company, 4th Battalion Royal Artillery)) also endure.
The name "Old Fort Niagara" which is associated with the fort today does not refer to its age but to distinguish the colonial-era fortress from its more modern namesake. The post-Civil War era saw the building of "New Fort Niagara" outside the original walls of the fort. Following the Civil War, the military abandoned the use of masonry forts (masonry fared poorly under bombardment), for the style of military camp we now know. The newer Fort Niagara contained a thousand-yard rifle range, access to rail lines, and access to the industrial areas of Niagara Falls and Buffalo. Fort Niagara trained troops for the Spanish-American War and World War I, and during World War II served as an induction center and later a POW camp for 1,200 German soldiers captured in North Africa. After WW II, the fort provided temporary housing for returning veterans.
During the Korean War, the fort was a headquarters for anti-aircraft artillery and later Nike missiles. The Niagara Falls Defense Area originally formed the northern half of the U.S. Army Anti-Aircraft Command defenses in western New York State. After the amalgamation of the Niagara Falls and Buffalo Defense Areas, the Army Air Defense Command Post moved to Lockport Air Force Station. Formations directing the defense included the 2nd Artillery Group (Air Defense), which had its headquarters at Fort Niagara from March 1958 to December 1961, superseded by the 31st Artillery Brigade (Air Defense), 101st Artillery Group, and 18th Artillery Group. The only battalion in the region appears to have been the 44th Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion, superseded by the 1st Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, on 1 September 1958. The U.S. Army officially deactivated Fort Niagara in 1963, and the 1/4 ADA moved to the Seattle Defense Area where it was active from September 1972 to April 1974. Military presence on the site continues with the United States Coast Guard still operating at "The Bottoms", making Fort Niagara one of the longest continuously run military bases in the United States, 1726-present day.
In 1931, after nine years of lobbying by local citizens for repairs and preservation, a formal operating license between Old Fort Niagara Association and the U.S. War Department established rights to preserve and operate the fort. In 1949, Congress transferred Father Millet Cross National Monument (a small memorial at Fort Niagara) to the State of New York. In 1960 the fort was among the first sites designated as National Historic Landmarks.
Fort Niagara has been renovated and now serves as Fort Niagara State park and museum. The restored fort is the scene of frequent historical reenactments of 18th century battles that took place on the site, as well as period dances, fundraisers and other special events (such as public displays, reenactments and other shows relating to the history of the fort and the surrounding area) . Fort Niagara is a State Historic Site known as Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site.
Fort Niagara was designated a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960 as "Old Fort Niagara" and the Colonial Niagara Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. It is a major contributing element to the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area.
There are people who believe the site to be haunted by a headless French soldier who was beheaded during a duel. It is said he wanders the grounds still looking for his head. These paranormal claims were investigated by Everday Paranormal on their Discovery Channel show Ghost Lab, which aired on October 21, 2010. Also TAPS investigated the site on their Syfy series Ghost Hunters during their sixth season on October 5, 2011.