Old Fort Niagara
While Niagara County is enjoying the celebration of its 200th year, Old Fort Niagara can reflect on over 300 years of history. The story of the fort includes periods of control by the French, British and Americans, with each hoping for the support of a fourth nation, the Iroquois Confederacy.
The French established the first outpost at the mouth of the Niagara River in 1679. They realized that control of this strategic location would offer their nation access to the Great Lakes and the interior of the continent. It wasn’t until 1726 that France erected a permanent fortification with the construction of the fort’s iconic “French Castle.”
The French possession of the Fort passed to the British in 1759 during the French and Indian War. A nineteen day siege was waged by British Commander, Sir William Johnson who arrived at the fort with 5,000 men and 200 bateaux or flat-bottomed boats that were poled along the shoreline from Oswego to the fort. The French had been on the lookout for a naval incursion and expected to see an armada of sailing ships and were completely caught off-guard when the British arrived. It was said that the harbor at Wilson and Four Mile Creek were perfect hiding places that “swallowed up” Johnson’s army and kept them out of sight of the French. The surprise attack of the British ended French domination in the region.
The British continued to hold Fort Niagara throughout the Revolutionary War and did not relinquish title to the United States until 1796. During the War of 1812, the British regained control of the fort once again, holding claim to the fort until 1815. That was Fort Niagara’s last military conflict and has served thereafter as a border garrison between the United States and Canada. It also served as a garrison for American soldiers during both World Wars and housed German prisoners of war in the 1940s. The last army units left Fort Niagara in 1963 and the only military attachment present is that of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094