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Highlights of Old Fort Niagara: A New York Family Day Trip!

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A Great American History Trip Just a Short Distance from Niagara Falls!

Old Fort Niagara stands on the mouth of Lake Ontario and was once one of the most strategically important forts in North America, fought over by three countries because the power that controlled the fort ruled the river.

Now the fort is a National Historic Landmark and New York State Historic Site opened to visitors year-round. It is only about 15 miles from Niagara Falls, so a car ride of less than an hour enables you to go back in time and learn about a fascinating part of American, French and British history. That includes the fort's connection to ''The Star-Spangled Banner,'' the national anthem of the United States.

All photos in this review are by us unless otherwise noted.

Old Fort Niagara

Old Fort Niagara

The Three Nations That Controlled Old Fort Niagara

France, Great Britain and the United States

The three flags that are flown at Fort Niagara highlight the fact that this site was once extremely important to three countries: France, Great Britain and the United States. The all-white flag at the left of the photo is the flag the French used at the time -- it is not a surrender flag!

The French established the first post on the site in 1679, then built the large two-story stone structure seen here in 1726. To avoid insulting the local Native Americans, the fortification was built to look like a trading post and was called Maison a Machicoulis, or House of Peace. But it was a fort nonetheless.

The French lost the fort in 1759 to the British during the French & Indian War after a 19-day siege that the fort's museum says was one of the longest in North American history. The French surrendered after reinforcements were turned back at the Battle of Le Belle-Famille on July 24 west of the fort. For more on the battle see here.

The site of the battle is located next to a Sunoco station in Youngstown that we stopped at to get gas. Look for the historical marker in a very small park along the road.

Old Fort Niagara at a Distance

Old Fort Niagara at a Distance

The War of 1812 Forces A Change of Control!

Treaties Rule the Day in the End!

The British then held the fort through the American Revolution but ceded the location by treaty in 1796.

During the war of 1812, however, the British were able to storm Fort Niagara during the night of Dec. 18, 1813 and captured the site within a day!

The United States regained the fort after the war, again by treaty, and it has remained in U.S. hands ever since. The last army troops were withdrawn in 1963, and the U.S. Coast Guard is the only military presence left.

This history is recounted in a museum and a 15-minute film in the visitor's center before you walk around the fort itself. That was very helpful because we didn't actually know much about the fort beforehand!

The photo is from the path on the walk to the fort from the visitor's center.

For a History of Fort Niagara

Old Fort Niagara Flag

Old Fort Niagara Flag

The Old Fort Niagara Flag

The Star-Spangled Banner's Ancestor?

The highlight of the museum is the garrison flag that had flown over the fort at the time of the War of 1812, with its design of 15 stars and 15 stripes.

This flag was captured by the British after their Dec. 18, 1813 overnight attack, and was sent back to England to be presented to future King George IV. It was later given to the general who commanded the troops during the battle, Sir Gordon Drummond. The flag remained with the Drummond family in Scotland until 1994, when it was bought for $250,000 and returned to the fort for display, the museum guide told us.

Unfortunately, during that long period the flag had been damaged by fire, so only part of the repaired flag still exists. It currently is 24 feet by 28 feet, but no one knows how large the original flag was, the guide said. The photo here is a closeup of a damaged section of the flag. To see a fuller picture of the flag please watch the video below.

A Video History of the Old Fort Niagara Flag - From NiagaraUSA, the Local Tourism Agency

George Armistead, the Hero of Old Fort Niagara

...Later Commander of Fort McHenry!

The Old Fort Niagara flag was made under First Lieutenant George Armistead after his arrival in 1801. He wanted a flag big enough that the British on the other side of the river could see it, the museum guide told us.

Armistead distinguished himself during the battle of Fort George, located across the river in Canada, on May 27, 1813, and as a reward was given the command of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. After arriving at that fort, Armistead again wanted a flag made that the British could see from a long distance. That flag, of course, was the one flying over Fort McHenry on Sept. 13-14, 1814, when the British bombardment failed and Francis Scott Key was moved to write ''The Star-Spangled Banner''!

For more on Fort McHenry, please see our review here:

highlights-old-fort-niagara-new-york

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Old Fort Niagara

Old Fort Niagara

A Tour of the Fort...

Looking Across at Fort George

After the museum the guided tour of the fort actually didn't take very long. There are newer outer walls around the old fort that were ordered constructed during the American Civil War but were never put to use.

While walking the outer rim of the fort the guide points out the Fort George National Historic Site of Canada across the river in Niagara-on the-Lake in Ontario. During the May 1813 battle Fort George had a better angle for its shots, but the main building of Fort Niagara was stone and withstood the attack. Hot shot burned down Fort George, leading to its surrender.

That's why most of the Fort George historical site is a reconstruction, the guide said with a touch of glee in his voice. We're original over here, he added. For more on the Fort George historical site see here.

Inside you can see what the quarters of the soldiers were like, and walk around the upstairs of the main building (where cannon had been brought up to fire at Fort George). There are some archeological pieces displayed at the fort, including an old key, pipe and horseshoe.

Be careful if you poke your head into the powder magazine as the ceiling if very low. There are guides in period costume who will demonstrate what life was like back during the fort's heyday. When we were there we saw a musket demonstration.

Fort Niagara Musket Demonstration

Fort Niagara Musket Demonstration

Fort Niagara Musket Demonstration

Fort Niagara Lighthouse

Fort Niagara Lighthouse

The Fort Niagara Light

Across the Parking Lot From the Fort

Across the parking lot from the fort is a 61-foot high lighthouse. The lighthouse opened in 1872 and was in service until 1993. You can climb the steep stairs to the top. It's opening hours are shorter than the fort's hours, so plan ahead if you want to go inside!

For more on the lighthouse see here.

What About You?

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Here is a reconstruction of what the men's quarters were like at Fort Niagara, a familiar scene if you have toured the fort.

For More Information

A View of the Fort's Cannons

A View of the Fort's Cannons

A View of the Fort's Cannons

A View of the Niagara River Where it Meets Lake Ontario

A View of the Niagara River Where it Meets Lake Ontario

A View of the Niagara River Where it Meets Lake Ontario

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Of Family Vacations and Comic Books

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Old Fort Niagara Postcards for Sale!

We have found that we end up with things around the house that are perfectly good but that we have no reason to keep. So we have turned to eBay to offer these items up for bid in the hope that someone else will find them useful.

Please check them out, and bid if you'd like.

Thanks!

I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as we enjoyed our travels and writing it. Now it's your turn!

Thanks for visiting!

Now It's Your Turn!

CoolFool83 on May 17, 2014:

Looks absolutely beautiful!

Eugene Samuel Monaco from Lakewood New York on March 27, 2014:

What a fantastic lens, Ive been there and loved it, looking forward to going back. Thanks :)

Niagara Ghosts on February 28, 2014:

As a tour guide on the Canadian side of Niagara, I get to see this majestic fort from the shore of the other side all the time. I took a day to 'cross the ditch' and explore Fort Niagara. What an enjoyable day and what a beautiful structure!

WriterJanis2 on February 23, 2014:

This is a place I would be interested in seeing, especially climbing up the lighthouse.

georgepmoola2 on February 11, 2014:

Fascinating stuff! What a great lens, full of interesting facts.

goldenrulecomics (author) from New Jersey on January 31, 2014:

@Brite-Ideas: Thanks for visiting our review of Old Fort Niagara! It's great that you live in that area, as it really is quite nice. I went to school at Alfred U., which is a few hours southeast on Niagara Falls...

Barbara Tremblay Cipak from Toronto, Canada on November 29, 2013:

I love this area - we live fairly close (about an hour away and often make mini-trips to Niagara Falls) - it's so pretty - lovely presentation here as well

Raymond Eagar on August 06, 2013:

very interesting ,

ArtbyMAR on July 11, 2013:

Great lens. I have been here (long time ago), it was great to virtually revisit. It is a wonderful historic place to see.

anonymous on June 19, 2013:

Good to stop by again to take a look at the old fort, it amazing. Wow!

yarfodg on June 01, 2013:

Great & valuable info lens!! Thanks for sharing...

Amanda_Revel on June 01, 2013:

This is a really great lens, Ive never really thought about Fort Niagra before, but it does really look like somewhere cool to visit. Must say the pictures really do look great.

dakadare on May 27, 2013:

Very interesting!

Takkhis on May 22, 2013:

I have never been to Fort Niagra before! I would surly like to visit it. Thanks for the pictures :)

Wednesday-Elf from Savannah, Georgia on May 22, 2013:

From a former New Yorker (born and raised near Rochester), I enjoyed your history lesson of Fort Niagara.

anonymous on April 24, 2013:

You sure took good advantage on your trip to the Niagara Falls area! I sure didn't know anything at all about Fort Niagara though I had heard about it, what an important part of our history....so thanks for the history lesson! :)

anonymous on April 04, 2013:

This was a good history lesson for me. I didn't know anything about Fort Niagara before visiting here today.

patinkc from Midwest on March 20, 2013:

I really enjoyed my visit to Fort Niagra. I would love to go back again. Nice lens!

AlleyCatLane on March 18, 2013:

I don't know how we missed this site. My fella is from upstate New York, and we visit a different battleground or military historical site almost every vacation. Can't believe he hasn't been to this one.

anonymous on March 15, 2013:

For quite some time I think about traveling to America - visiting Niagara Falls is among top 5 on my trip list. Well after reading your lens, I'll definitely visit Old Fort Niagara as well. Fantastic lens.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 11, 2013:

Enjoyed your lens on this old fort.

InfoCoop on March 08, 2013:

My husband saw me reading this lens and got excited. He grew up in Buffalo and has fond memories of school trips to the Fort when he was in elementary school.

anonymous on March 08, 2013:

Thank you for sharing great information to us. I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.

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poldepc lm on March 06, 2013:

great information; thanks for sharing...

Kimberley Vico on March 05, 2013:

Enjoyed this lens - lovely photos - thank you!

lewisgirl on March 05, 2013:

I live fairly close and after reading this lens, I will visit this summer. Wonderfully written!

top-notch-shop on March 05, 2013:

Lovely place

ismeedee on March 05, 2013:

My Dad had a thing for taking us to forts on summer vacations but this is one we didn't visit, even though we did go to Niagara Falls one year. I bet he just didn't know about it, else we'd have gone! Haha, but I did like going to forts and this one looks really cool!!

aNomadsDream on March 05, 2013:

I am embarrassed to admit this, but I have been in the neighborhood at least 2 times and I have never once visited this place (or Niagara falls for that matter). Thinking I will have to do this with my wife next year. Pretty cool!

Fcuk Hub on March 05, 2013:

Great place to my vacation :)

TheDeeperWell on March 05, 2013:

When I was in kindergarten and first grade, I lived at Fort Niagara, when the post was an active one for the US Army. We used to play in the ruins of old Fort Niagara back in those days. This was in the middle 1950s.

pinoyrecipe on March 01, 2013:

traveling is one of my hobbies

steve834 on February 28, 2013:

You can't beat travel for broadening your mind

Iftikhar-Hussain on February 26, 2013:

Yes I like your lens ..good work :)

anonymous on February 24, 2013:

great places of history. like visiting them in the past