Old Fort Niagara has stood at the end of the Niagara River since 1726 and has played an important role in both the history of the United States and Canada. A trip to Niagara Falls should include a trip north to explore Old Fort Niagara and its rich history.
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle built the first fortification at the location which is now Fort Niagara called Fort Conti in 1678. Several times the structure was altered and used in different capacities.
In 1726, a two story “Maison a Machicoulis” or “Machicolated House” was constructed on the same site by French engineer Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry. 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. Old Fort Niagara played an important role in the struggles of France, Great Britain, and the United States to control the Great Lakes region of North America, and also helped shape the destinies of the Iroquois (Six Nations) peoples and the nation of Canada.
Today Old Fort Niagara is a National Historic Landmark and New York State Historic Site that welcomes more than 100,000 visitors every year. It offers a unique collection of original military architecture and fortifications from the 18th Century and the 19th Century, as well as living history events and programs, historical exhibits and collections, archaeology, and education.
Each summer volunteers dress as both French and British soldiers as well as native Americans and reenact various battles that took place at the fort over the centuries. These volunteers spend days camped out both inside and outside the fort offering a very realistic glimpse at what life was like on the Niagara frontier.
Old Fort Niagara also has a famous story that features the French Castle and a headless ghost. The tale claims that two french soldiers had a sword fight and the victor not only slew his opponent, but cut off his head and tossed it into the lake. The body was said to have been thrown down a 25 foot well in the French Castle.
Eyewitness testimony over the years claim that the ghost of the French soldier still haunts the Castle at night searching for his missing head. The tale has grown over the years and several national cable “ghost” programs have visited the French Castle at Old Fort Niagara looking for evidence of this haunting.