Niagara Gazette

Local News

June 8, 2010

Local historian trying to revive Old Stone Chimney as tourism attraction

NIAGARA FALLS — Chances are good tourists driving along the northern section of the Robert Moses Parkway pass it without even noticing.

Locals who appreciate such things know exactly where to find it and why it is such a shame to see it standing against the parkway embankment, overgrown by brush on a site that is not exactly welcoming to visitors.

Such is the current state of the Old Stone Chimney, a remnant of the French and Indian War that has been standing — in one place or another — along the upper river for more than 250 years.

Officials have often talked about moving the chimney to a proper location and giving it the historical treatment it deserves.

But, even as the bicentennial of the War of 1812 fast approaches, the project remains a tough sell.

“It looks like a disgrace,” said local historian Paul Gromosiak, a long-time advocate of the restoration effort. “It’s terrible. It’s very sad to see such an historic structure being so neglected.”

Historians believe the chimney dates back to 1750 and the construction of Fort du Portage, or Fort Little Niagara, at the upper landing of the Niagara Portage. The two-story chimney, weighing in at roughly 60 tons, is believed to have been attached to log barracks outside the fort. Years later, the French burned their own fort in anticipation of the arrival of British forces. Only the chimney remained.  

In 1760, when the British built Fort Schlosser, just east of the former site of Fort Little Niagara, they constructed a two-story house attached to the French stone chimney. A year later, the structure became home to portage master John Stedman. Fire destroyed Stedman’s home in 1813, but, once again, the chimney still stood.

In the years that followed, the chimney was taken down, moved and re-built on two occasions — once in 1902 following the purchase of the property where it was originally located by the Niagara Falls Power Co. and a second time in 1942 when it was moved to its current location, a city park behind the parkway off Buffalo Avenue near John B. Daly Boulevard.

Gromosiak believes the structure should be moved to a spot more befitting its historic ties to the Upper Niagara and in an area where it would be more accessible to visitors. Ideally, he’d like the chimney relocation effort to involve attachment of the original stone structure to a replica of one of the buildings that once stood around it, preferably the home where Stedman once lived.

“The ideal situation would be to put the chimney in a better location where it is more accessible to people,” Gromosiak said. “I would like to see something done with it that celebrates our history.”

Mayor Paul Dyster agrees and believes the upcoming War of 1812 bicentennial offers a good opportunity to stop talking about the plight of the Old Stone Chimney and begin putting resources behind plans to restore it to its rightful place of prominence. He supports Gromosiak’s vision for not only putting the chimney back in an area closer to where it originally stood, but also rebuilding it as part of a replica structure that would be attractive to history buffs, tourists and county residents.

Clearly, Dyster said, it is not right for the community to continue to allow a centuries-old structure to wallow in obscurity.

“I think we need to do better,” Dyster said. “Everyone is always saying we don’t have enough tourism attractions here, well, here’s an opportunity. We need to, I think, make it come alive again.”

Dyster said he has had some preliminary talks with officials from the state office of parks about getting involved in some type of restoration effort. He also said he is planning to approach city lawmakers at some point with a proposal to hire a consultant to oversee the project and help determine what it might cost and where funds could be found.

He admitted that previous attempts to secure financial support for the upcoming bicentennial celebration were rebuffed by council members. In January, lawmakers voted unanimously against an administrative request to set aside $25,000 for planning and promotion of local events tied to the celebration. To date, few dollars have been allocated for bicentennial activities on the American side, the largest contribution being $5,000 from the Niagara County Legislature.

By comparison, the provincial and federal governments in Canada are planning to spend several million dollars on bicentennial projects, including $3.2 million for the expansion of a Niagara Falls, Ont. history museum that stands on the site of the July 1814 Battle of Lundy’s Lane and as much as $9 million for improvements at Old Fort Erie, the McFarland House and the Laura Secord Homestead, all run by the Niagara Parks Commission.

Dyster said he’s hopeful lining up financial support for an actual restoration project will draw more interest than his push to supply funds for a council to oversee War of 1812 bicentennial events and promotions.  

“This is going to require some serious work to get this done,” Dyster said. “But, because it is involved in the creation of a tourism attraction, maybe it will be something people will find easier to get behind.”

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