by Mark Dryfhout
Old Fort Niagara was once a strategic encampment that controlled access to the Great Lakes and was the setting for some of some of America's notable revolutionary era battles. It has been 200 years since the fort weathered any armed conflict and 50 years since any service members have been stationed there. Though the fort's military utility has been exhausted, the proud sentinel of the Niagara River refuses to wave the white flag under the siege of time. The rich 300-year history of the fort lives on as a historical landmark open to the public.
This year, Old Fort Niagara will host several special events that will promote the fort's history and educate the public on several key aspects that defined the time period during the years when the fort was an active military installation. In coming weeks the fort will present a traditional 1812 music show, live battle reenactment and a cash raffle, all within the fort's historic landscape.
On Aug. 28, at 7 p.m., nationally acclaimed historians and musicians David and Ginger Hildebrand will perform music of the War of 1812. The music they will perform is authentic in nature and will feature several replica instruments that were common of the time period. The performance will be accompanied by a screening of the documentary "Anthem." Admission is free. Seating is limited. Reservation tickets can be acquired by calling 745-7611.
Executive Director Robert Emerson, who plays a major role in bringing these events to the fort, says, "They were here about a dozen years ago. They did a program on Colonial music. This time they're coming back with new material. ... They loved the fort the last time they were here and they were anxious to get back."
On Labor Day Weekend, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 1, the fort will celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the capture of the fort by British forces during the War of 1812. On Saturday, the fort has scheduled various demonstrations, living history programs, military exercise recreations and reenactments will take place all day on Saturday, Aug. 31. Nearly 100 professional re-enactors will provide an authentic and unique glimpse into the past with a variety of programs and demonstrations throughout the day.
Noting the fort's 20 years of production of this event, Emerson says, "We have a couple of distinguished speakers that are new this year. ... They're both accomplished authors and distinguished historians."
At 7 p.m. on Saturday, the fort doors will close and all spectators will be asked to remain within the fort walls as the minutes wind down until the bicentennial battle erupts inside the fort. At 8 p.m., the reenactment begins as British troops follow in the footsteps of the infantrymen who first made the daring charge in 1813. Spectators will have a unique view of the entire battle from atop the fort's walls. All of the events, demonstrations and programs are regular admission and open to the public. Space is not limited.
As summer fades into fall, Old Fort Niagara will host its second annual cash raffle on Saturday, Sept. 7, at 6 p.m. First-place winner takes home a $10,000 cash reward, second takes $1,500 and third wins $1,000. In order to enter, participants must purchase a $100 ticket, which includes admission for two to the Niagara Officers Club, where the raffle winners will be drawn. Complimentary food and beverages will be provided, and tickets can be purchased at the fort, local businesses or by calling 745-7611. Only 275 tickets are being sold. As Emerson notes, "If we sell 275, not only will we do well financially, but people will have a greater chance of winning if the amount is capped."
For a complete list of events and a detailed hourly schedule of each event, visit the Old Fort Niagara home page, www.oldfortniagara.org/events/.