Fort Niagara is a fortification originally built to protect the interests of New France in North America. It is located near Youngstown, New York, on the eastern bank of the Niagara River at its mouth, on Lake Ontario.


René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle built the first structure, called Fort Conti, in 1678. In 1687, the Governor of New France, the Marquis de Denonville, constructed a new fort at the former site of Fort Conti. He named it Fort Denonville and posted a hundred men under the command of Capt. Pierre de Troyes, Chevalier de Troyes. The winter weather and disease was severe, and all but twelve perished by the time a relief force returned from Montreal. It was decided in September of 1688 to abandon the post and the stockade was pulled down. In 1726, a two story "Maison a Machicoulis" or "Machicolated House" was constructed on the same site by French engineer Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Lery. It was called the "House of Peace" or trading post to appease the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois. The name used today, "The French Castle" was not used until the 19th Century. The fort was expanded to its present size in 1755 due to increased tensions between French and British colonial interests.

British control

The fort played a significant part in the French and Indian War, and fell to the British in a nineteen day siege in July 1759, called the Battle of Fort Niagara. The French relief force sent for the besieged garrison was ambushed at the Battle of La Belle-Famille, and the commander of the post, Pierre Pouchot, surrendered the fort to the British commander, Sir William Johnson, who initially led the New York Militia. The Irish-born Johnson was not the original commander of the expedition, but became its leader when General Prideaux literally lost his head, stepping in front of a mortar being test-fired during the siege. The fort remained in British hands for the next thirty-seven years.

Fort Niagara served as the Loyalist base in New York during the American Revolutionary War for Colonel John Butler and his Butler's Rangers, a Tory militia in the command of the British Army. Lt. Col. William Stacy, a high-ranking officer of the Continental Army, was captured at the attack on Cherry Valley, New York by Butler's Rangers. He was held captive at Fort Niagara during the summer of 1779. Niagara become notorious for drinking, brawling, whoring, and cheating. Crude taverns, stores, and bordellos sprouted on "the Bottom", the riverside flat below the fort.

Though Fort Niagara was ceded to the United States after the Treaty of Paris ended the American War of Independence in 1783, the region remained effectively under British control for thirteen years. Only after signing of the Jay Treaty did American forces occupy the fort in 1796. In the interim, United Empire Loyalists fleeing persecution in the new USA were given land grants, typically 200 acres (81 ha) per, in Upper Canada and some were sustained in the early years partly by aid from the military stores of the fort. The British captured Fort Niagara during the War of 1812, on the night of December 19, 1813. British forces relinquished it to the United States with the Treaty of Ghent. It has remained in US custody ever since.

Later use

The name "Old Fort Niagara" which is associated with the fort today does not refer to its age but to distinguish the colonial-era fortress from its more modern namesake. The post-Civil War era saw the building of "New Fort Niagara" outside the original walls of the fort. Following the Civil War, masonry forts were abandoned for the style of military camp we now know (masonry fared poorly under bombardment). The newer Fort Niagara contained a thousand-yard rifle range, access to rail lines, and access to large industrial areas (Niagara Falls and Buffalo). Fort Niagara was used to train troops for the Spanish-American War and World War I, and during World War II as an induction center and later a POW camp for 1,200 German soldiers captured in North Africa. After WWII, the fort served as emergency housing for returning veterans. During the Korean War, the fort was used as for the headquarters for anti-aircraft artillery and later Nike missiles. The US Army officially deactivated Fort Niagara in 1963. Military presence on the site continues with the United States Coast Guard still operating at "The Bottoms" making Fort Niagara one of the longest continuously run military bases in the United States, 1726–presentday.

In 1931, after nine years of lobbying for repairs and preservation by local citizens, a formal operating license between Old Fort Niagara Association and the U.S. War Department established rights to preserve and operate the fort. In 1949, Congress transferred Father Millet Cross National Monument (a small memorial at Fort Niagara) to the State of New York. In 1960 the fort was among the first sites designated as National Historic Landmarks.


Fort Niagara has been renovated and now serves as Fort Niagara State park and museum. The restored fort is the scene of frequent historical reenactments of 18th century battles that took place on the site, as well as period dances, fundraisers and other special events. Fort Niagara is a State Historic Site known as Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site. The site is also believed to be haunted, and was investigated by the Discovery Channel show Ghost Lab which aired on October 21, 2010.