We spent Saturday evening at Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York experiencing The French Castle by candlelight. Two nights each December a soft glow illuminates the stone fortress decked in festive evergreen boughs.
Old Fort Niagara sits at the mouth of the Niagara River and it’s history stretches more than 300 years. Living in Western New York, I’ve visited the fort numerous times, but never by candlelight.
Pin the image below to remind yourself to spend the holiday season in Western New York at Old Fort Niagara’s Castle by Candlelight.
ABOUT OLD FORT NIAGARA
Old Fort Niagara allows visitors a glimpse into the history of North America; when the Native Americans, English, French, and colonists, fought for control of the Great Lakes and its waterways. The fort contains original 18th century buildings, including a stone fortress on the edge of Lake Ontario.
Originally, the fort was built by the French in the 1720s and served as a garrison for about 40 soldiers. It was also a trading post, capitalizing on relationships French agents established with Native Americans. Old Fort Niagara played a role in the key conflicts on the continent, including the French and Indian War (or Seven Years War), the American Revolution, and the War of 1812.
Old Fort Niagara housed soldiers throughout the American Civil War, World War I, and Word War II. By the 1920s it fell into disrepair until a group of citizens organized. It’s thank to the efforts of this group that visitors are able to enjoy this piece of Great Lakes history. Growing up in the region, Old Fort Niagara played a role in building my love of history.
CASTLE BY CANDLELIGHT
Castle by Candlelight is an annual fundraising event at Old Fort Niagara. The 18th century French “Castle” and other buildings on the grounds are decorated in holiday greenery by the Youngstown Garden Club. Savory smells of roasting ham, potatoes, and bread permeate The French Castle and the Bake House kitchens.
Historical actors entertain with stories of the fort’s past and reenact 18th century military celebrations. I heard about the event on local news media years ago and always wanted to go. This was the year I remembered before the date passed! I was excited to partake and hoped that it would help put me in the holiday spirit.
Overall, I enjoyed the simple festivities. However, that’s exactly what this is – simple. There is nothing fancy or flashy about this experience, so don’t expect that. I dare say it draws a parallel to the past experiences of the fort’s cold, dark, quiet, and smoky rooms crowded with people trying to stay warm.
WHAT TO EXPECT
- Dress warm: Historical actors entertain guests outdoors, regaling stories about the fort around fire pits. The celebratory feu de joie or firing of joy booms every half hour, attracting guests from all corners of the grounds. The stone French Castle remains unheated, just like it would have been 1726. When we visited it was 37 degrees Fahrenheit, but the stones of the castle drew out heat, so be sure to wear multiple layers. The fort tends to be windy at night since it sits on Lake Ontario. It’s a good idea to bring a hat and gloves.
- Kid-friendly activities: Inside The French Castle and Storehouse re-enactors guide children through holiday crafts, including letter writing using a quill. The Log Cabin entertains guests with festive songs and the opportunity to warm up with a cup of hot cocoa, soup, or bread pudding.
- Patience: Or rather, you’ll need patience. This annual fundraiser for Old Fort Niagara’s educational programs is very popular. Lines start outside the ticket booth long before doors open at 6:30pm. Honestly, I could not believe how many people took part. At times it was frustrating: Inside The French Castle it was difficult to see; crowds made it exasperating to negotiate corridors; and frankly, people were rude.
- Darkness: It’s really dark. The grounds, cloaked in black, provide a glimpse into a world without modern electricity. A soft glow is emitted from the windows of The French Castle. A candlelit walkway and the campfires make it possible to see where you are going once your eyes adjust. But that’s about it, unless you visit the Log Cabin or the Storehouse.
Do you have a holiday tradition of supporting places that are unique to your city or region? If so, share it in the comments below! Heading the Buffalo-Niagara region soon? You’re in luck! I’ll be sharing more about the unique features of the region on the blog over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!