Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fort Niagara

The picture shown above is actually a photo taken from my iphone as will be all of the photos in this posting. I need to say that because I am sure that many of you will think that these are paintings or illustrations from times past - but the truth is that it really is just that amazing in person today!

This fall I finally got a chance to go up and visit Fort Niagara in Youngstown, NY. For those of you that are not familiar with it, I am adding the information straight from the Fort Niagara website for you to get the connection with our region's early history:
"So devastating were the raids from Fort Niagara, particularly those in 1778 against
the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania and Cherry Valley, New York, that the United States government took military action. The farms of New York and Pennsylvania were threatened, and, since they produced food essential for American armies, drastic steps were deemed necessary. In 1779 George Washington dispatched an army under General John Sullivan to chastise the Iroquios. Sullivan's troops brushed aside feeble resistance and marched through the Iroquios country that summer, burning crops and villages. The Americans halted at the Genesee River, only eighty miles from Fort Niagara. Sullivan might have attacked the British post, but fall was approaching, and he lacked the provisions and artillery needed to conduct a siege. The Americans retired to Pennsylvania.

The Iroquios incurred few battle casualties during Sullivan's destructive march. Many villages and crops were destroyed, however, and the Six Nations faced starvation during the winter of 1779-80. They flocked to Fort Niagara for supplies, aggravating an already serious shortage of provisions. The British tried to feed the Indians who camped before the walls or to disperse as many as possible to undamaged villages where food could be obtained, but many starved during the winter. The Iroquios were not forced out of the war, however, and their attacks continued with greater ferocity. The population displacement caused by Sullivan's campaign dramatically increased the number of Iroquois living near the Niagara River, and several new villages, including one near the modern Tuscarora Reserve in Lewiston, were established during the later years of the American Revolution.

Sullivan's expedition marked the closest approach of United States troops to Fort Niagara during the War for Independence. This threat stimulated much labor on the fortifications. The earthworks were repaired and strengthened to resist assault. The final years of the American Revolution saw continued raiding from Fort Niagara, and the garrison also supported campaigns being waged in the West. Troops from Fort Niagara were called upon to respond to American threats from both New York and the Ohio Valley. Their efforts helped keep the Great Lakes under British control throughout the conflict." ( )
For more information about the Sullivan/Clinton Campaign - you should visit SRAC's gift shop/book shelf area, as our own Ellsworth Cowles and Richard Cowles have books they have written, along with many others on the topic - some are even available to purchase online. Furthermore, SRAC's exhibit hall houses artifacts from the Sullivan Campaign as well. (SRAC is open Tuesdays - Fridays from 1-5pm and Saturdays from 11am - 4pm.)

Truth is, I was not sure what I would find when I reached the fort which is now a huge tourism draw, but when we got there, I was amazed at what we found as you can see from the photos posted here.

The buildings on the site actually represent many different time periods with most being erected between 1726 and 1872. The oldest building on the site is the one shown in the picture directly below, referred to as the "French Castle." In fact, it is the oldest building in the eastern interior of the United States. Although the fort would change hands from the French to the English and then finally the Americans, the initial approval by the Iroquois to build this "trading post" was given to the French in 1726. This huge structure "of peace" was enclosed with fortifications and was actually built with a layout that included a powder magazine, guardhouse, and 25 foot deep well within huge walls and could withstand any attack. Even the dormers on the top floor facilitated rifles and cannons.

The French would lose the fort in 1859 to the British during the French and Indian War, and they again added buildings and even more fortifications. The British held the fort until 1796 when they were forced by treaty to yield it to the Americans, but then recaptured it again in the War of 1812 only to give it back to the Americans at the end of that War.

Below are other pictures that I took at the site during my visit and I think show how this incredible site has been restored and preserved for generations to enjoy.

The South Redoubt (left) and the Provisions Storehouse. Both of these buildings were built by the British. The South Redoubt was built in 1770 to protect and provide a cannon at the main gate. The Storehouse was originally built to hold 7,000 barrels of food and later was used as a stable and barracks.

Earthen fortifications abound around this fort as do trenches. This picture shows the Bake House outside the fortifications. it was built in 1762 by the British. Bread for the troops were baked here until 1870.

North Redoubt was built in 1771 - this is literally a fort within a fort, and it even had a powder magazine on it's ground floor. The view of Lake Ontario can be seen in the background.

Scarp Walls and Casemate Gallery. Earthen walls were reinforced with concrete and brick between 1863 and 1872 for fear of British Canadian interference during the Civil War. Steps lead to a casemate gallery designed to contain four 24 -pounder cannons.

Although the land defenses were built in 1755 and were rebuilt in brick and concrete in the 1860's to follow the original layout of the fort was designed by the French in 1755. They protected the main walls from cannon fire and assault.

If you get the chance to visit Fort Niagara, no matter if you are a historian or a sightseer - I would tell you that this is definitely worth the trip. And let's face it - if I get these pictures with my iphone - the site can make anyone look like a decent photographer!

It is a walk back in time in a beautiful location on Lake Ontario and is so large that visitors are not walking on top of each other...

The museum is also very informative - and includes a recently restored huge 15 stripe, 15 star flag that was captured from the Americans by the British at one point during the War of 1812 and returned to their museum in 1994.

To take a tour of Fort Niagara online - visit:

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