YOUNGSTOWN — Built in 1872, the Fort Niagara Lighthouse was constructed with $16,000 allocated by Congress. Today, the lighthouse stands a little more than 90 feet above the water and rather than warning ships trying to navigate from Lake Ontario into the Niagara River, a web-camera streams a peaceful and hi-definition view.
The lighthouse attracted 6,450 visitors last year between July and October from all over the world.
“We didn’t have grant money for it (the camera). Aaron Dey (a director on the Old Fort Niagara Association Board) and our IT guy just put it up there,” Volunteer Coordinator Erika Schrader said. “They (streamers) definitely realize when its down. There are people who have it on all day long at their work desks. They just like to have it.”
Toby Jewett, a vice president on the board of directors and tour guide for the lighthouse, filled in some of the history to put the lighthouse in context. The entrance into the Niagara River from Lake Ontario is very difficult, he said, because from a ship’s point of view the trees that line it renders the river’s opening invisible.
“This site has been very important for a long time,” Jewett said. “If (the French) were expecting a ship, they built a big bonfire out on the parade ground.” The practice was continued by the British for a time before placing a light on top of the castle within the fort. Later, they constructed a lighthouse on Niagara-on-the-Lake about 40 feet high that was then torn down after the War of 1812. In 1822 Congress allocated $1,000 to put a light on top of the castle again.
By 1870, the United States was undergoing a major lighthouse building project across the country and the current lighthouse was built 50 feet high, then later an additional 11 feet was added.
Today, about 50 trees block the lighthouse’s warning and its job has been reassigned to a radio tower. Tours of the structure are completely free and will be given the weekend after the French and Indian War Reenactment, this year in July, till Columbus Day. It has 72 steps and a waiver has to be signed to climb it.
“The height requirement is 4 feet,” Schrader said. “Because when you get higher, the stairs get a lot more separate and its harder for little kids to get up there.”
“Longtime resident Gordon Stephens … deserves the credit,” wrote Aaron Dey after being contacted, referring to the owner of the camera and subscriber of the monthly streaming service. “Bob Emerson (executive director) approved the idea immediately… You can’t get a better view of Niagara-on-the-Lake than from the fort.”