By Jasmine Willis
YOUNGSTOWN — Along the banks of the Niagara River rests an important part of our American history that has withstood more than three centuries.
After two previous posts had failed to make it through the harsh brutality of war the French established Fort Niagara in 1726. It has forever been known as “The French Castle” for its impressive architecture.
The British gained control over the famous fort after a 19-day siege during the French and Indian War in 1759.
Afterwards, during the American Revolutionary War, the British were forced to give the fort to the United States in a treaty signed in 1796.
However, the British managed to capture the fort once again in 1813 during the War of 1812. Once again, the United States were able to get control of the fort in 1815 at the end of the war.
After this last conflict it became a place to train soldiers from the Civil War to Korean War. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard represents the only military still present on the site.
Old Fort Niagara was restored between 1926 and 1934. It is operated today by the Old Fort Niagara Association, Inc., a not-for-profit organization, in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Admission fees, Museum Shop sales, grants, and donations provide support for the operation of the site. Membership in the Old Fort Niagara Association is open to all.
When you think of all the battles and conflicts that took place on the grounds of this fort it makes you appreciate military history even more.
The last time I was at Old Fort Niagara it was back in the late 1980s, and there was not much to be seen. It was not nearly as advanced as it is nowadays. It was a breathtaking sight to be there more than 30 years later to see what the association has done with this historic gem now.
My mother, Lisa Yvette and I went back and saw a museum and gift shop had been established in a magnificent building across the parking lot from the Old Fort Niagara Lighthouse.
Within the museum we were able to see the story of the fort unfold with photos, uniforms, documents, and items dug up from the ground by archeologists. Also, there was the original Old Fort Niagara Flag that had been taken by the British long ago. It had been hidden away in Scotland since the early 1990s. Now it is finally back where it belongs at Old Fort Niagara.
They also show you a 15-minute video talking about the rich history of the fort, and the importance of what you are about to witness as you walk around the grounds.
Once we were out and about to take in the sights of the gorgeous fort and all the history that she had to offer our guide (Toby) gave us a quick story about her.
It was at that moment we realized that a lot had changed in 30 years. This was not going to be the same experience we had three decades ago. We saw that the towers, powder room, and the castle itself had been furnished with items that took us back in time.
As I walked through the castle, I saw a chapel, officers’ headquarters, military kitchen, trading post, and so much more. We were able to see the castle come to life. We could hear the echoes of times long ago. We could feel the souls of those who had come and gone from within those walls.
On a decent day you can clearly see Fort George across the river and the shores of Canada in the distance. This beautiful view can best be seen on the third floor of the towers and where the cannons rest.
We noticed a couple reenactors were giving demonstrations outside on the grounds. One had the British uniform and the other was wearing the French uniform.
The French reenactor said he had been doing this his whole life, and for the last eight years he had taken it on as a profession. His sister mended the uniforms and his parents got the family tradition started long ago.
He was very passionate about what it means to bring history alive, and about what it means to wear the uniforms and be the part of a soldier. He talked about the epic battles they would get to reenact with hundreds of them out on the grounds right after Fourth of July.
The last thing we did before we ended our adventure at Old Fort Niagara was pay our respects at the cemetery. This is the final resting place for those who fought and died for our freedom from the American Revolutionary War to WWII. The thing that touched my heart the most was the decorated tomb of the unknown soldiers who rest there.
There is passion and heart that still rests on the shores of the Niagara River. If you wish to take part in the rich history take time to visit Old Fort Niagara. For more information including hours, ticket prices, and events go to https://www.oldfortniagara.org