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Getting to Know the History Behind Old Fort Niagara

Learn about some of the key moments in the 300-year history of this important Niagara County site.

Some 300 years ago, access to water meant access to power. A fort at the mouth of the Niagara River was a total power move, as it gave the occupants control over access to the Great Lakes. Perhaps that’s why Old Fort Niagara, originally established by the French, was a hot commodity worth fighting over for hundreds of years.

Today, three flags fly over the fort: a French flag, a British flag and an American flag. All three countries have held the fort, which got passed back in forth in a series of bloody sieges. It was also an important element in the relationship between the European colonists and the Six Nations Confederacy who were the original occupants of the land. It’s now known as the oldest continuously occupied military site in North America.

Want to know more?

Here are some interesting moments* in the fort’s long (long!) history:

  • The first building on the site was the French Castle, which housed 40 soldiers and also had a bakery and a chapel.
  • The fort was used as a trading post — Native Americans would trade deer hides and beaver pelts for cloth, guns and iron tools.
  • The building of the fort angered the British, who wanted access to the upper Great Lakes. These simmering tensions led to the French and Indian War, during which the British captured the fort from the French after a 19-day siege. They’d hold it until 1796, when the new American government would take over.
  • Many frontier settlers who remained loyal to King George III during the American Revolution fled to the fort for protection from the Redcoats stationed there.
  • During the War of 1812, Fort Niagara faced a British post in Canada, Fort George, that was only 1,300 yards away. Americans captured Fort George in 1813, and the British retaliated by burning towns like Youngstown and Lewiston. The British eventually gained control of Fort Niagara until 1815, when it was returned to the U.S. by treaty.
  • One of the oldest U.S. flags in existence — which was captured by the British during the War of 1812 — is on display at Old Fort Niagara.
  • Soliders served at the fort during the Civil War, World War One and World War Two.
  • The Old Fort Niagara Association was founded in 1927 with the goal of restoring the fort and turning it into a historic site.
  • Today, the U.S. Coast Guard maintains a presence on the site.

Ready to Visit?

Visit the fort to wander 18th-century buildings where Native American, French, British and American soldiers lived and worked. During the summer months you’ll witness musket and artillery firing demonstrations, go on a guided tour and see artisans at work. During the off-season, you’ll enjoy an orientation video, self-guided tour and hourly musket demonstrations. Learn more here.

  • Winter hours: Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (January – March)
  • Spring hours: 7 days a week from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (April, May)
  • Summer hours: 7 days a week from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Memorial Day – Labor Day)
  • Fall hours: Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (September – December)

The fort is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

*Information courtesy of Old Fort Niagara Association. Visit their website for more history lessons!