Destination: Old Fort Niagara, New York
The flags of three different nations have flown over Old Fort Niagara—France, England, and the U.S. over more than 300 years. Located at the mouth of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, Fort Conti was a preliminary fortification established here by the French in 1679.
A permanent French fortification followed in 1726, including the “French Castle” structure which dominates the site to this day. This was a strategic location for controlling access to the Great Lakes, which was important during an era when great empires competed for hegemony over North America.
After a 19-day siege during the French and Indian War, the British gained control of Fort Niagara and held it throughout the American Revolution. They were forced to relinquish it to the U.S. in 1796 under the terms of one of the treaties that ended the Revolutionary War.
Although the British recaptured the fort during the War of 1812, they were forced to give it back to America a second time at the end of that conflict. Over the following years, the fort operated as an American military installation until 1963.
Also located on the site is the Fort Niagara Lighthouse, which has marked one of the few natural harbors on Lake Ontario. It also signaled an early portage route around Niagara Falls.
After several previous lights were located atop different buildings in Fort Niagara, a proper, freestanding lighthouse was completed in 1872. The Coast Guard replaced the job of the lighthouse with an automated light on a radio tower in 1998. Tours of the lighthouse tower are given periodically during the year.
A nonprofit organization, in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, operates the fort today as a public museum. In addition to the fort’s well-preserved structural features, the facility also has the Old Fort Niagara’s Collections Center, a visitor center, docents and military re-enactors in period dress, musket firing demonstrations, self-guided audio tours, and guided group tours.
Old Fort Niagara welcomes more than 200,000 visitors a year to experience this richly preserved timeline of North American military history.