Yellow cedar roof aids in preservation of 1726 building
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, along with Old Fort Niagara Association, on Friday revealed a new roof on the iconic French Castle, one of the oldest buildings on the Great Lakes. The French Castle, the oldest building on the Great Lakes, was built in 1726 and is also the oldest building in North America situated between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The $1.3 million project included the replacement of the yellow cedar roof at the French Castle, and the adjacent attached restroom building.
“A core part of our mission at New York State Parks is to protect and preserve the history of our state, and there may be no other site as important as Old Fort Niagara,” Niagara Region Director Mark V. Mistretta said. “It is always an honor and privilege to partner with the Old Fort Niagara Association to work on important projects like this one.”
Old Fort Niagara Executive Director Robert Emerson said, “We are grateful to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for prioritizing this project. Almost a century ago, local leaders formed the Old Fort Niagara Association to save the French Castle from almost certain ruin. That tradition of stewardship continues today as our good friends at State Parks work to ensure that the fort’s historic buildings are preserved for future generations.”
Associated work includes masonry repair and repointing of all chimneys, and installation of new chimney caps. The last roof on the French Castle was installed in the 1990s.
This project was performed by ICC Commonwealth of Buffalo and completes the first phase of a project to restore three buildings at Old Fort Niagara. The next phase of work will involve masonry restoration on the French Castle and the North (1771) and South (1770) Redoubts.
Funding for the projects comes from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the National Park Service (Department of the Interior), Parks & Trails New York, and the Niagara River Greenway.
“Throughout the history of our nation, Fort Niagara has gone from a critical military installation that has been on the frontlines of our nation’s wars, to an important historical landmark that continues to serve as an educational resource for Western New Yorkers and tourists from around the world,” New York State Sen. Rob Ortt said. “By restoring the iconic French Castle, New York state and the Old Fort Niagara Association are pledging to preserving the story of our past for future generations, and we are proud to continue sharing our region’s key contributions to the development of the United States of America.”
New York State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello said, “I thank Gov. Hochul and NYS Parks for their steadfast support of this incredibly important place. Old Fort Niagara is a national treasure that must be preserved, and this project does just that.”
The new castle roof of Alaskan Yellow Cedar was dedicated Friday, June 9, at Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown. New York State Parks Niagara Region Director Mark Mistretta was on hand to talk about this badly needed project, which also included repairs to eight chimneys. Instead of a ribbon-cutting, after OFN Executive Director Robert Emerson thanked all the local dignitaries in attendance, a cannon was fired. Pictured: The French Castle with local dignitaries and the construction crew who did the work in front of it. • Emerson at the microphone. • A cannon is fired. (Photos by Wayne Peters)
The French Castle was constructed by the French between June of 1726 and October of 1727 and was designed to accommodate about 40 soldiers and three to four officers.
It withstood artillery bombardment in July 1759, when British forces besieged the fort. During the War of 1812, American soldiers removed the roof from the building to use the upper floor as an elevated gun deck for action against nearby Fort George. The roof was replaced in 1816.
Following the Civil War, the United States Army moved out of the old fort and established a more modern military base in what is now Fort Niagara State Park. Still, the French Castle was used to house civilian employees through World War I. By the 1920s, however, the building was abandoned and began to deteriorate.
Fearing the loss of this historic treasure, local citizens formed the Old Fort Niagara Association in 1927. Two years later, efforts began to restore the building to its 18th century appearance. Restoration of the fort was completed by 1934, and the site was opened as a public museum.
Old Fort Niagara welcomes about 100,000 visitors each year from all over the world. The site consists of 22 acres of original 18th century buildings and fortifications. Visitors take part in daily living history programs, and the fort offers many special events throughout the year.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses and boat launches, which, in 2022, were visited by record 79.5 million people. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit www.parks.ny.gov, download the free New York State Parks Explorer mobile app, or call 518-474-0456. Connect on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Photos courtesy of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's Niagara Region.