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Part 6

This webpage reproduces part of
Historic Old Fort Niagara

Claud H. Hulzén, Sr.

Old Fort Niagara Association

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p47  A Guide to Restored Old Fort Niagara

[image ALT: A schematic plan of Fort Niagara, in which the buildings, however, are shown in elevation. The post is more or less square, three sides fronting on water; the buildings are around the perimeter and connected by ramparts; two crosswalks intersect perpendicularly at a group of three flagpoles. Cannon bristle pretty much everywhere.]

Historic Old Fort Niagara
begun by the French 1679
captured by the British 1719
occupied by United States 1796
restored 1927

[A larger, fully readable version opens here (1.5 MB).]

Restored Old Fort Niagara essentially is a composite picture of this famous old site during parts of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as it was occupied successively by French, British and American forces. Thus perhaps it provides an unparalleled cross-section of American Colonial history. To have restored only to the period of any one national occupation would have necessitated razing of buildings and fortifications and the destruction of many interesting features. Also, such a course would have defeated, to a great extent, the fundamental purpose of creating an International Patriotic Shrine.

The work of restoration was begun in 1927, although some preliminary work was started in 1923. Twenty patriotic, civic and fraternal societies early in 1927 organized Old Fort Niagara Association, Inc., a non‑profit, membership corporation, expressly for the purpose of centralizing interest and crystallizing effort in the restoration and rehabilitation of Old Fort Niagara, and for the purpose of maintaining it as an International Patriotic Shrine and Educational Institute.

Through a combination of Federal, State and County aid, matched by private contributions and revenues for operations, the restoration has been financed. The project has been placed upon a sound operating basis through its own revenues. Countless contributions of money, expert service and goodwill from almost every conceivable source have made the success of the work possible. Many organizations and individuals have made donations to restore or rehabilitate buildings, fortifications and other parts of the undertaking. These contributions have been gratefully acknowledged in a formal way, but for them, posterity shall be exceedingly thankful for generations to come.

It is the purpose of this section of this booklet to serve as a guide to visitors to Old Fort Niagara in such a manner that, with the use of the map which is folded in the back cover of the book, one may more intelligently study and acquire a more comprehensive knowledge of the entire work than is possible through the regular guide service. It would be impracticable to attempt here to anticipate every question which might be asked concerning the Old Fort; such a work would require volumes. Rather, shall we endeavor to describe concisely, step by step, the buildings, fortifications and other points of interest in the order that they might be inspected by the average visitor passing over the drawbridge into historic Old Fort Niagara.

 p48  1 • Entrance
Porte des Cinq Nations (Gate of the Five Nations)

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As you walk up the ramp and across the restored French drawbridge to enter Old Fort Niagara, you arrive at Porte des Cinq Nations (Gate of the Five Nations) built by Capitaine François Pouchot in 1756‑57 as a part of his project to expand and elaborate the entire fortification. Pouchot called the entrance "Gate of the Five Nations" in honor of the five nations of the famous Iroquois Federation of Indians, probably as a gesture to incursion their good will. This gate, with its moat, ramp, drawbridge and headhouse, served as the main entrance throughout French, British and early American occupation. As restored, the entire gateway is in working order, even to the counter balances and windlasses for lifting the bridge.

2 • South Blockhouse

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After passing through the headhouse you enter another building, called the South Blockhouse, a redoubt built by the British in 1770, to serve, along with an identical building in the northeast corner of the Fort, as a flanking protection for the land side of the triangular fortification. The Blockhouse was designed to be manned by twenty soldiers with complete accommodations for that number. It is equipped with musket embrasures on two floors and two cannon are mounted on the top deck. A peculiarity of these blockhouses is the construction which permits complete dismantling of the roof on short notice in case of attack, thus obviating the danger of flying splinters from direct hits of artillery fire.

 p49  3 • Historical Institute
Magasin-Baraque (Storehouse-Barracks)

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Immediately upon the left, after leaving the South Blockhouse, you will note a long, low building, erected by Pouchot in 1757 as a Magasin or Storehouse. Later this building was used by the French as a barracks and as a stable. The British forces also used it successively as a stable and barracks. As restored this French Magasin has become a utility building for the administration of the Old Fort, with the exception of the center section, which has been dedicated as an Historical Institute. In this center section you will find huge wall and relief maps depicting the history of the territory influenced by Fort Niagara throughout the Colonial period. Also you will find many portraits in oil of historic characters of early Niagara and the conquest of mid-America.

4 • Magasin au Poudre
(Powder Magazine)
l'Institut d'Honneur (Institute of Honor)

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The next building, immediately adjoining the Historical Institute, is Pouchot's Powder Magazine, built by him in 1757 (you may note his date stone over the inside entrance) as a storehouse for ammunition. It is very heavily constructed of solid masonry with a thick stone arch apparent from the inside. Until the time of restoration, this arch, to the height of the eaves  p50 of the building, was covered with a layer of earth, designed to retard cannon balls which might penetrate the shingled roof. This building is now known as l'Institut d'Honneur, or Hall of Fame, and was so dedicated in October 1935. The interior is devoted to an exhibit of miscellaneous articles recovered from the grounds and buildings during the restoration period. Under the arch of the building is a series of sixteen murals, beginning at the right upon entering, and progressing counter-clockwise; they portray the chronological cross-section of the history of Niagara from pre‑historic days to the conclusion of conflict along the Canadian-American boundary.

5 • Magasin — La Forge — Atelier
(Storehouse — Blacksmith Shop — Work Shop)

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Close to the Powder Magazine, you will find a log cabin structure typical of the French period of Pouchot and his predecessors. This building is on the same foundations and site as one built by Pouchot in 1757 and is used for much the same purpose today as by the French nearly 200 years ago. The east end is the cabinet shop, the center the blacksmith forge and in the west end is the trading post. The workshops are in daily use in connection with the restoration and maintenance of the Old Fort and therefore closed to the public, but the trading post at the west end, with its rustic fireplace, beamed ceiling and rough long interior, is extremely interesting. A complete stock of booklets, postcards and souvenirs of Old Fort Niagara, as well as refreshments, photographic films and smokers' supplies are available at moderate prices.

 p51  6 • Postern Gate

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Near the entrance to the Trading Post is the Postern Gate, which in one form or another has existed since the first extensive fortifications by Pouchot (1756‑1757). The present gate was built in 1839 by U. S. Army engineers as a part of the cut‑stone wall which extends from the earthworks to the seawall. The stone wall is approximately on the same lines as several former stockades of vertical logs. The gateway in the early days, according to French and British maps, was protected by an extension, flanking the passageway and terminating in another gate, comparable in principle to the double gates of the Headhouse and the Blockhouse through which you entered the Fort. It was through this gate that supplies, equipment and other materials were carried into the Fort from the Landing Place.

7 • Hot Shot Oven

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This small, stone furnace was used to heat cannon balls red‑hot before they were fired, the object being to ignite the target, such as a ship in the river, a fortification or other inflammable equipment of an enemy. Heated shot also had other advantages, i.e., a tendency to explode when striking the water, the while they commanded certain respect from an enemy contemplating reusing them for further artillery fire. The oven was built in 1839, at the same time as the nearby wall, although the heating of shot dates back to the 16th or 17th centuries, and was common practice during the Civil War in the United States. It is apparent that the solid shot were placed in the oven at the high end, rolled by gravity towards the fire pot at the far end, and removed from the oven, by means of special tongs, at the lower opening.

 p52  8 • Hot Shot Battery

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A few feet beyond the Hot Shot Oven are the stairs leading to the Hot Shot Battery, commanding the mouth of the river and extending from the apex of the angle of the wall to control the flanks of the south and west exposures of the Fort. This battery also was a part of the 1839 construction and its gun mountings are typical of the period. In the center of the battery is a gun especially designed to throw hot shot at shipping and across the river. This gun had a range sufficient to carry well to the far side of the small village on the Canadian shore. It is mounted on a small-scale barbette carriage. The other two guns of the battery are 24‑pounder, flanking casemate howitzers, so mounted as to provide a raking fire along the expanse of wall in either direction. These howitzers were for use only in case of an attempt to scale the walls.

The Key to Mid‑America

From the vantage point of the Hot Shot Battery you enjoy an excellent view of the Niagara River as it empties into the blue waters of Lake Ontario; of the old Landing Place by means of which water traffic once supplied Fort Niagara; and of the Canadian shore with its complement of Colonial fortifications. Standing by the shoulder-high curtains of this battery, it is not difficult for you to realize how Fort Niagara controlled the narrow waterway before you and therefore the only logical and economical route to the west. This was the realization of La Salle, de Denonville, de Lery, Johnson and many others who led armies into mortal conflict in order to command this vital position. Immediately below you is the site of the ancient wharfs  p53 where docked the rugged men-of‑war and square-rigged merchant ships. The site at present is occupied by the Niagara Station of the United States Coast Guard service. If you care to visit the dock after your tour of the Old Fort, you will find an old French anchor, recovered from the river in 1937 and suitably mounted and marked as a memorial to the Landing Place and to the men and ships that plied their trade there in the centuries just past.

Across the river you may catch a glimpse of the little village, first called Newark but now known as Niagara‑on‑the‑Lake. It was there in 1792 that John Graves Simcoe​a formed the first parliament of Upper Canada and the village became the Capital. It is a unique settlement to this day, fairly breathing the atmosphere of the English seaside village. It is replete with historic lore, from ancient St. Mark's Church, with its fascinating grave yard, to its 1812 fortification known as Fort George and now restored by the Province of Ontario. In the hinter-lands are many other interesting places, such as the grave yard of Butler's famous Rangers and the historic Servos homestead. At the far point of the Canadian shore is old Fort Missasauga, built immediately following the war of 1812.

From Old Fort Niagara's Hot Shot Battery may be visualized much of the important history of the Niagara Frontier and the conquest of mid‑America. Fort Niagara of early days truly was the "Key to the West."

9 • La Salle Memorial

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Passing along the stone wall from the Hot Shot Battery, you arrive at a memorial to René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, beloved French explorer and founder of Fort Niagara. This simple memorial, a large native boulder, inset with a suitably inscribed bronze tablet and flanked by two French field guns, was placed in 1934 and dedicated by nearly 300  p54 citizens of France, headed by M. Flandin, then French Minister of Public Works and later Premier. It is located as nearly as possible to the site of Fort Conti, which La Salle built upon this point of land in the winter of 1679.

It will be noted that the Fort wall at this point is low, allowing full vision to the River and Lake. This section of the wall was torn down in the late 19th century and, in restoring the Fort, it was thought advisable to replace only a portion, rather than to block off the remarkable view afforded by the low wall.

10 • Boulangerie Bakery

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Bearing to the right, not far beyond the La Salle memorial, you are at the entrance to the French bakery. This small building, housing two large ovens, originally was built by Pouchot in 1756 or 57 and was one of several buildings in the immediate area. Others, however, were of wooden construction and long since have disappeared. The bakery later was extensively repaired by the British and on the north side bears the British date stone. Comparatively slight alterations were necessary to return it to its earliest condition. It is interesting to note that baking was done in these units by building a fire entirely within the ovens; when they were heated sufficiently, the embers were withdrawn and the dough placed to bake in the "stored" heat.

 p55  11 • The "Castle"

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The oldest, largest and most important building in Old Fort Niagara is known affectionately as the "Castle." Where this name originated, no one seems to know. Perhaps it is purely a localism. In any event, the name has become generally accepted in the nomenclature of Old Fort Niagara and its use so deeply rooted as to challenge any attempt at substitution. To Gaspard Chaussegros de Lery, Engineer to Louis XV, who built the "Castle" in 1725 and 26, it probably was known as simply la Forteresse à Niagara, for, indeed, it was an entire fortification within itself. Or, it may have been called le Chateau. Singularly, its architecture conforms unmistakably with that of the typical French provincial home of a man of means. There is a well substantiated story that de Lery built the "Castle" along these lines to satisfy the Indians' objections to the building of a fort — Indians who, through their visits to Montreal and Quebec, well knew the difference between the conventional French fort and the traditional colonial home. The British and early American occupants of Niagara called the "Castle" the "Mess House" as it often is designated in reports and relations of those periods.

Today, the "Castle" is exactly as it was when completed by de Lery, with the exception of one room. In 1927, Old Fort Niagara Association, through the late Frank A. Severance, Director of the Buffalo Historical Society, and the late Myron T. Herrick, then Ambassador to France, obtained photostatic copies of de Lery's report plans of the building. The restoration, therefore is known to be authentic. Through years of French, British and American occupation, the interior repeatedly was remodeled as well as repaired, although the sturdy construction fortunately did not permit drastic changes. The exterior, with the exception of porch additions and changes in dormer openings, was not materially altered since the erection of the building.

 p56  Following is a brief, room by room description of the "Castle":

Magasin pour la Traite — Trade Room

Entering the "Castle" at the right-hand door, as you face the building, is the French Trade Room and Chambre du Commis, or office of the Agent. It was here that the French traders carried on their traffic with the Indians, bartering cloth, muskets, powder and lead, trinkets and a wide assortment of goods for the Indians' valuable furs.

Vestibule — Entrance Hall

From the Trade Room, you pass into the main Vestibule, which, through the use of narrow hallways, leads to all rooms on the first floor. In the rear center of the Vestibule is an old well, incorporated in the work of de Lery and uncovered during restoration in 1927. Leading to the second floor are double stairways, formed from a single newel post for each with unit lifts and treads of solid hewn oak. Over Vestibule, gracefully curves an exceedingly flat stone arch, designed, along with an identical one on the second floor, to brace against lateral sway of the building caused by cannon fire on the top floor.

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"Castle" Vestibule with Haunted Well

Boulangerie — Bakery-Kitchen

Down the hallway to the right as you face the well, is the military kitchen where the first garrison of the "Castle" was fed. Here you will find the crude dough mixer or vat, the massive cooking fireplace and its beehive oven, the oak mess table and other interesting equipment as used by the armies of Louis at Niagara.

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"Boulangerie," French Military Kitchen

Council Chamber

Leaving the kitchen, you pass to the right into Sir William Johnson's famous Council Chamber. It was here that the great Commissioner of Indian Affairs established a provisional capitol in which he might negotiate with the Indians in proper dignity. The room is a splendid example of British treatment of the building, which included paneling, plastering and even placing of English chimney pots on top of the French stacks. It was in this room that Guy Johnson, Col. John Butler and his son Walter, and Capt. Joseph Brant, planned the demoralizing warfare which constantly shattered the hinter-land settlements during the American Revolution. This room has been restored to the British period because of the remarkable history made here by Sir William and his followers, and also to provide the visitor with an idea of the British treatment of the building.

 p57  La Prison — Guard House or Garrison Prison

Leaving the Council Chamber by the south door and turning right in the hallway, you will come next to the Garrison Prison, with its simple pine bunks, torture alcove and snake-lock door. You will be interested in the names and dates carved in the window by early French prisoners. This was the only room the French plastered, evidently in order to detect any attempt on the part of the prisoners to dig out.

Magasin auº Poudre — Powder Magazine

Note as you pass farther down the hall, how de Lery protected his Powder Magazine from fire by building a stone arch overhead. The magazine was used during the earlier days for storing explosives, but with the advent of Pouchot's larger magazine outside, the small one was used as a solitary confinement cell. This later use also was employed by the British.

Corps de Gardes — Guard Room

Passing back, then, through the hall and bearing right, at the foot of the stairway you will enter the Corps de Gardes, or Guard Room, used by the French for accommodating the soldier personnel. Note the crude common bed and the musket racks. In the far musket rack, a bulged and broken plank is mute testimony to the accuracy of a British gunner during the War of 1812. In this room and in some of the others, you will find stands of colors as carried by some of the French regiments stationed at Niagara.

La Chapelle — The Chapel

Moving up the right-hand stairway and turning left at the second floor, you will enter the Jesuit Chapel, restored to the condition of de Lery's time. This Chapel is consecrated and services are held here occasionally. Note the original Holy Water Font in the doorway.

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Jesuit Chapel, the "Castle"

Corps de Gardes — Guard Room (Second Floor)

Directly across the hall from the Chapel is a Guard Room identical with the one on the first floor and used for the same purposes. It is sometimes referred to as the "off duty" guard room.

 p58  Chambres des Officiers — Officers' Chambers

Along the lake side of the second floor are the quarters of the officers. Beginning at the north end (extreme right as you face the Lake) they are as follows: Kitchen, Chamber, small hallway used by guard to assure command of all sides of the building, Adjutant's quarters, Commanding Officer's quarters and Le Cabinet or water closet. These rooms have been rehabilitated as others in the building, according to the best information available. They are substantially the same as when occupied by military forces two hundred years and more ago and one is left to imagine little to formulate a striking picture of early Niagara Frontier life.

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Officers' Deck, the "Castle"

Place d'Armes — Gun Room

The third or top floor of the "Castle" was used as a gun deck throughout the French, British and early American periods. Behind each dormer shutter was intended to be a gun emplacement, nine on the front of the building, seven at the rear and one on either flank. The French originally mounted small bateaux or swivel guns, such as found there now. An ingenious device is the rope pull for the shutters, allowing the gunners to open and close the ports without exposing themselves to gunfire from without. For the first two years, the building was without a roof, a stone deck, drained by scuppers and pent houses over the stair wells serving to keep out the weather. However, the stone deck was then removed, the building roofed and a hardwood floor laid, while the gundeck was raised around the edges of the room. The third floor was then used as a recreation room.

Many tall tales and true ones might be told about the "Castle." An endless story lives within these gray walls — a story which is felt rather than told — echoing through the years only in the ears of those who really listen while they're here.

12 • RushBagot Memorial

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North of the "Castle," along the Lake Shore, is the Rush-Bagot Memorial, erected and dedicated in 1934 to the International Agreement of 1817, between Great Britain and the United States, which has resulted in a complete disarmament of the Canadian-American border, the second longest international boundary in the world. The dedication was officially effected by  p59 representatives of England, Canada, France and the United States. In the center of the Memorial is a common grave in which are remains of Indians, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Canadians and Americans who died occupying Fort Niagara. The center piece of the Memorial is a complete text of the famous agreement, while flanking the approach are bronze reliefs of Sir cause Bagot and The Hon. Richard Rush, co‑authors of the pact.

13 • The Ancient Lombardies

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Near the Memorial still stands at this writing, one of the four old Lombardy poplar trees planted by the French in the early 18th century. Three of the four were existent when restoration began. One was blown down in 1933 and one in 1935. Alongside of the remaining lone sentry, however, are growing rapidly sprouts from the roots of those that fell. Much has been written and more has been said of these old trees. Some care to think of them as the silent sentinels of the centuries — the only living things that have been witnesses through the romantic years of Old Niagara.

14 • Millet Cross

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Just beyond the Poplars is a National Monument known as the Millet Cross. It is an eighteen‑foot cross in reproduction of one planted nearby by Father Pierre Millet, Jesuit Priest and member of the party which rescued the twelve, half-starved, scurvy-ridden survivors of Fort Denonville's ill‑fated garrison, on Good Friday, 1688. Fort Denonville was the second fort on the site of Niagara and was garrisoned by 100 men in the fall of 1687. Scurvy  p60 and starvation, along with unfriendly Indians, reduced the numbers to twelve before the arrival of a rescue party. The present memorial was declared a National Monument by President Coolidge in 1925.

15 • East Blockhouse

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Practically identical with the South Blockhouse, described under No. 2, and intended to serve the same purpose, except that it was not a part of the gateway system. The East Blockhouse was built in 1771.

16 • Battery of Carronades

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Leaving the East Blockhouse and climbing the walk to the top of the ramparts, you will note a battery of three British Carronades, the type of gun used in the early 19th century for close-range work. These guns were declared obsolete during the War of 1812 because of repeated functional failures. They are mounted on typical naval carriages, which often were used in garrison fortification.

17 • Ramparts

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The Ramparts, extending from the entrance gate to the seawall on the land side of the triangular fort, were built by U. S. Engineers during the Civil War period. They are, however, on identical lines and practically of the same profiles as those built by Pouchot in 1757 and later remodeled and repaired by both British and American forces. A small section of these works was  p61 removed in order to replace the old French entrance and its complement of batteries. At the southerly end of the ramparts, adjacent to the Headhouse, will be found a battery of three 18‑pounders of 1841 type, mounted enbarbette, while a salute battery of four American field pieces of the same period are located over the obtuse angle of the ramparts on the right as you face the Outerworks. A second battery of four 18‑pounders enbarbette is located in the corner of the Wall and Ramparts behind Building No. 3. Passing through the center of the Ramparts is a third gate to the Old Fort, known as the Sallyport. Under the French arrangement, a small passageway was located at this point and called a Caponniere, which was blocked on the inside at will by a keyed pile of logs, so arranged as to jam the entrance.

18 • Outer Works

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From the top of the ramparts, you have an excellent view of Pouchot's Outerworks. In the center is the large Ravelin with its complement of Lunettes, moats, covered ways, etc. The northerly Lunette is non-existent because of Lake shore erosion, but the southerly one is complete and an exact duplicate of the missing part to the north. In the apex of the Ravelin angle is a disappearing gun, Comte de Saxe model of 1730, a very interesting fore-runner of our modern coast defense guns, while the flanking guns of the Ravelin are mounted on ordinary naval carriages. Under the French, British and early American periods, both outer and inner works were completely surrounded by moats, the Caponniere being raised sufficiently to provide dry passage, with palisades flanking it.

 p62  19 • Casemates

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At either end of the center section of the Ramparts are entrances to the Casemates, constructed during the Civil War period. The casemates are identical but are not connected with each other by underground passage. In each Casemate will be found four 24‑pounder flanking casemate howitzers with modified 1841 carriages. Although it often appears to the layman that these two casemate batteries seem to be intended to fire directly at each other, in fact, each gun is mounted so as to fire directly along and parallel to the face of the fortifications, thus effecting a practically perfect cross fire of eight guns in case of a mass attack or an attempt to scale the walls. Near the entrance to each Casemate is a rack of muskets of the period. Near the far end of each are rifle embrasures and at the extreme end of each is a Powder Magazine. The Casemates were intended to have a personnel of eighty men each for defense purposes.

20 • Dauphine Battery

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Walking down the rampart ramp from the Salute Battery and passing across in front of the South Blockhouse (behind Building No. 3) you will find the Dauphine Battery of five French Field Pieces, each behind an earthwork embrasure. This battery was for the purpose of effecting a raking fire across the drawbridge and along the ramp at the main entrance.

 p63  21 • British Well

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Not far from the Sallyport entrance, just inside the ramparts is an old British well, curbed and equipped with sweep and bucket. It is fairly well established that this Well was dug by the British after they captured Niagara from the French in 1759, probably because the British feared that the French might have poisoned the well in the "Castle" vestibule before evacuating the post.

22 • Three Flags

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Approximately in the center of the ancient parade of Old Fort Niagara daily fly the colors of three great nations: France, Great Britain and the United States. They are not the modern standards, but those which were first carried here by their respective soldiers. The three golden Fleurs-de‑lis first planted here by La Salle in 1679; the flag of King George II, brought to Niagara by Sir William Johnson in 1759; and Stars and Stripes of 1796, first unfurled at Niagara by a small detachment of American Artillerymen. Over Old Niagara, these three flags fly as a symbol of the fact that this is a striking example of the cosmopolitan interest in the development of America; that this is truly an International Patriotic Shrine; that through struggle and strife has come lasting peace.

Thayer's Note:

a A brief biography of John Simcoe is given by Mark Wade in Mackenzie of Canadap235.

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Page updated: 16 Jul 16