Situated with commanding view of the mouth of the Niagara River, Fort Niagara has stood guard over the area for over three hundred years. It remains some of the oldest buildings in the upstate New York area. It has survived two wars, one siege, and has changed hands five times over its service. Today the old fort sits on state lands with sports fields and picnic areas that once served as prison camps and training grounds.
The French established their first fort on the site in 1678, known then as Fort Conti served as an armed trading post and terminus of the Niagara Portage road. However a winter decimated the fort’s population and was eventually abandoned. The French returned and reestablished themselves in the area in 1687, and by 1688 the fort became the centre of the fur trade for the region. Extensive construction expanded the fort as tensions between the French and British Empires threatened to spill into North America. The Seven-Years war, or French-Indian war as it was known as in North America came to the fort in 1759 when British forces laid siege, eventually forcing the surrender of the fort in July 26, 1759. Under British control, the renamed Fort Niagara was expanded yet again.
The Fort continued to be held by the British through the American Revolution and remained a loyalist stronghold, throughout the conflict. It served as a base of operations for Butler’s Rangers. The British continued to hold onto the fort even after the Treaty of Paris was signed. It was not until 1796 that the Jay Treaty forced the British to turn over the forts on the American side of the boarder. The United States Army took control of the fort. A relation between the troops and officers between Fort Niagara, and its opposite, Fort George was amicable, and often commanding officers would have dinner with their counterparts. That of course all stopped when war was declared in 1812, Fort Niagara and Fort George and their various batteries along the river exchanging artillery fire. The most intense exchange between the two occurred prior to the Battle of Fort George in 1813 which saw the British forces driven from the Niagara Region. But in December of 1813, following the Burning of Newark (Niagara-On-The-Lake) and York; Fort Niagara found itself under British attack and through a clever surprise attack saw the Union Jack once again flying over the Fort. After the treaty of Ghent was ratified in February of 1815 the British once again turned Fort Niagara over to the United States.
However the age of masonry forts was at an end, modern weapons, and advanced in Technology discovered through the bloody American civil war saw a much larger camp based military base expand around the old fort through the latter half of the 19th century and into the 20th century. The old French fort slowly deteriorated under the Military. Camp Niagara served the United States Army through the First World War and even the Second World War. During the Second World War a Prisoner of War camp was situated on the property also. However the locals were interested in the fate of the French fort, by 1931 the colonial fort was starting to be restored, and the grounds open to the public, and the fort was fully restored by 1934. The army continued to operate Camp Niagara through the Korean conflict and in 1963 dismantled the camp and turned the grounds over the civilian government as public land, Fort Niagara State Park was opened to the public in 1965. The US Coast Guard however maintains a detachment at the fort, giving Fort Niagara the title of longest continuously occupied Military bases in North America. Today the fort is a National Historic Site and musuem and is open to the public, they also host a reenactment of the capture of the fort on the Labour Day long weekend.
Written with files from:
Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition by Gilbert Collins – 2006 The Dundurn Group Publishers
Photos: Pentax 645 – SMC Pentax A 645 35mm 1:3.5 – Kodak Tri-X 400 (400TX)
Dev: Kodak HC-110 Dilution B 7:30 @ 20C