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Niagara Falls historian Edward T. Williams in 1942 said, "The Niagara 'Old Stone Chimney' is absolutely the most unique and magnificent relic possibly on the American continent, probably in the United States, and certainly in the State of New York. It is highly probable that no structure anywhere in America has a status such as that."
For about 250 years, the twice removed chimney has stood by the upper Niagara River attached to a building or alone. Oh, the many tales told before its fires! Oh, the many people partaking of food prepared there! Powerful nations made use of it. Powerful men fought to possess it.
Its construction took place in a wilderness occupied by dangerous wild creatures and the great and proud Seneca nation.
It was built by the Sieur de Chabert et de Clausonne, better known as Daniel de Joncaire, or "Chabert." He served as an interpreter and representative to the Senecas for the French government. In 1750, he supervised the construction of Fort du Portage, or Fort Little Niagara, at the upper landing of the Niagara portage. Just below the fort he built a two-story log barracks with a large stone chimney that had a fireplace for each floor.
The chimney was made from stones collected from somewhere in the vicinity of the Niagara River or Escarpment. Their total weight was about 60 tons. The mortar to hold them together was made using lime from Lewiston.
The first floor of the barracks contained a messroom and kitchen. Sleeping quarters for the garrison of the fort was on the upper floor.
Chabert made the portage profitable for his government, the Native Americans and himself. He introduced horses and vehicles to the area, making it much easier to carry canoes and goods.
In the first week of July 1759, with British forces approaching from the west along the south shore of Lake Ontario, the men in the barracks must have discussed their possible fate while preparing their last meals by the stone chimney. If only those stones could talk.
On July 8, Chabert and his men couldn't wait any longer. Setting fire to the fort, the barracks, and the sawmill by the American Rapids, they fled to Fort Niagara. All that remained of their occupation above the falls was the stone chimney.
In 1760, the British built Fort Schlosser a little east of the site of Fort Little Niagara. Using the partially completed French chapel from Fort Niagara, they erected a two-story house with a one and one half-story addition attached to the French stone chimney. All of the walls of the house were made of clapboard and had coops holes through which muskets could be fired.
From 1760 to 1761, a trader named Duncan lived in the house. In charge of running the portage, he was thrown out of the house and lost his job because he lost favor with General Thomas Gage.
John Stedman got Duncan's job and moved into the house in 1761. Despite protests from the Senecas, he cleared a lot of land by the house to plant a large apple orchard. He also made a clearing on the upper end of Goat Island for his livestock to protect them from marauding packs of wolves.
He gave Goat Island its name after one of his goats that survived a terrible winter there. John actually called it "The Goat's Island."
In the summer of 1763, he improved the portage road around the falls and gorge so that larger wagons could use it. On Sept. 14, his wagon train was ambushed by a large party of young Seneca warriors at the Devil's Hole. He was able to escape, even though his attackers tried very hard to kill him.
In 1764, the British took the land on both sides of the Niagara River from the Senecas. Stedman could then run the portage without fear. He entertained many people in his house. Many fine meals were prepared by the stone chimney.
Stedman moved to the Canadian side of the Niagara River after the end of the American Revolution and helped to create a portage there in 1790. His American friend, Jesse Ware, lived in the house from 1797 to 1804. Stedman and some of his descendants tried to get the house and property around it back for a number of years, but failed.
In 1805, New York State leased the house and land to Porter, Barton and Co. Augustus Porter and Benjamin Barton also were able to get the rights to the American portage.
Augustus and his family moved into Stedman's house in 1806. They stayed there until the completion in 1808 of a new brick house just above the American Rapids.
From 1809 to 1812, Enos Broughton leased Stedman's house and converted it into a popular tavern. It became the center of many important local activities.
During the War of 1812, American troops occupied the house. They also made use of Fort Schlosser.
On July 4, 1813, British troops crossed the Niagara River and were able to capture the house, but only stayed there about 6 hours, fearing the arrival of American reinforcements.
Fort Schlosser and Stedman's house were burned by the British in December 1813 in retaliation for the burning of Newark(now Niagara-on-the-Lake) earlier in the month by American forces.
Once again, the old stone chimney survived an attempt to destroy it. Like a lone sentinel, it stood by the charred ruins of a house and fort.
In 1818 or 1819, a local justice and town clerk, Epaphroditus Emmons, built a slight temporary two-story wooden building around the chimney. He used it as an inn for three or four years, when he took it down and reassembled it at another place.
In 1840, General Peter B. Porter built a frame house with a one-story addition attached to the stone chimney. He also sealed the second-story fireplace with similar dolostone stones.
In 1876, Peter A. Porter gained possession of the house and tore it down in 1889.
In 1890, the Niagara Falls Power Co. bought the property around the chimney. This caused many people to express concern for the historic chimney.
In 1891, local resident, Thomas V. Welch, one of the people responsible for the creation of Niagara Reservation State Park by the falls, wrote the words to a song about the chimney in order to draw attention to the need to save it. According to the song,
"Long may the old stone chimney stand,
Upon Niagara's shore;
The sons of France and Britain's band,
They battle there no more;
The pioneers, and sweethearts dear,
Are sleepin on the hill,
Where the stone chimney stands,
In the evening gray and still."
As a result of the great respect for it, the chimney was very carefully dismantled and moved about 150 feet in 1902. This placed it away from the nearby industrial developments, at least for awhile.
The need to expand industries for the war effort made it necessary to move the chimney again in 1942. This time it was taken much farther west to Porter Park. There it stands today, embedded in an embankment by the Robert Moses Parkway and unnoticed by nearly all tourists and residents.
A veritable who's who of famous people visited the buildings attached to the old stone chimney. Among them, Pierre Pouchot, commandant of Fort Niagara during the French and Indian War; Sir William Johnson, superintendent of Indian Affairs for New York for England during the 18th century; Israel Putnam ("Old Put"), American Revolutionary War hero; George Clinton, New York's first governor; Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader who led attacks against American settlements during the American Revolution; General John Graves Simcoe, the first governor general of Upper Canada; General Sir Isaac Brock, the great Canadian hero of the War of 1812; De Witt Clinton, the governor of New York who built the Erie Canal; Red Jacket, the Seneca orator and leader who played an important role in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812; the Marquis de LaFayette, the French general who led American and Native American forces during the American Revolution; General Winfield Scott, a great American hero of the War of 1812; Thomas Moore, the Irish poet and composer who wrote much about the Falls of Niagara in the early part of the l9th century.
The Old Stone Chimney must be preserved and placed in a more suitable location, a site befitting the second oldest masonry structure in New York State west of the Hudson River. Better yet, it should also be attached to a replica of one of the buildings once around it. That should be John Stedman's house, because more important events took place in it than in all the other buildings combined.
The reconstructed historic site could then be surrounded by related constructions. Throughout the year, reenactments would provide audiences with a taste of life by the Upper Landing of the Niagara portage. In the 1920s and '30s, many people rallied to save Old Fort Niagara from a terrible fate. That was a very good cause. The same thing must be done to save the Old Stone Chimney and its precious heritage. The results of such action will be greatly rewarded culturally and economically.