The "French Castle" (1726)
The oldest building of the Fort and, indeed, in th eastern interior of North America, the \"Castle\" was originally the sole structure of Fort Niagara. To calm the suspicions of the hostile Iroquois, the French designed it to resemble a large trading house. The building was, in actuality, a strong citadel capable of resisting Indian attack. The castle has been restored to its 1727 appearance, at which time most garrison facilities were located within its walls. Following expansion of the Fort in 1755-57, the Castle was used as officer\'s quarters. Army facilities resided here as late as World War I.
The building was designed by Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Lery, chief engineer of New France. His layout of the ground floor included storerooms, a powder magazine, bakery, guardhouse, and well. Living quarters and chapel were on the second floor. Overhanging or \"machicolated\" dormers on the attic level provided defensive positions for muskets and light cannon and gave the structure its original French name - the \"machicolated house.\" The term \"Castle\" is not believed to have been in general use until U.S. officers lived here in the 1830s.
One of the most important parts of the ground floor was the Trade Room (A&B). During the French regime, Fort Niagara was a trading post as well as a military fortification. Indians came here in great numbers to exchange furs for manufactured goods.
The vestibule (C) contains a 25 foot-deep well. It provided water for the Castle\'s occupants from 1726 until about 1815 and was then sealed, only to be discovered and reopened in 1926. A popular local legend, first recorded in 1839, tells of the headless ghost of a murdered French officer said to haunt the well. When the moon is full, so the story goes, he arises to search for his missing head.
The chapel (J) on the second floor was the earliest permanent church in western New York. Across the vestibule is a barracks room (D), originally home to about 30 French soldiers. More comfortable officers\' apartments (K-O) line the lake side of this floor. The narrow room (K) at the west end of the corridor was used briefly in 1768 as a cell for Robert Rogers, the famous ranger of the French & Indian War and hero of the historical novel Northwest Passage. Accused of treason by the British authorities, Rogers was kept chained and guarded here while being taken to Montreal for trial.
The wooden roof of the Castle was removed during the War of 1812. Earthen compartments were constructed atop the the building with cannon placed on the attic floor to bombard Fort George. Here, in the midst of a furious cannonade on November 21, 1812, a soldier\'s wife. Betsy Doyle (usually remembered today as \"Fanny\" Doyle) helped load a cannon and gained fame as a heroine of the War of 1812.
The Castle was repaired and restored between 1926 and 1933. The layout and details of the building today generally conform to its 1727 arrangement. Mid-18th century furnishings were reproduced in an effort to make the Castle appear substantially as it did during the French occupation.Next Up: The Bakehouse (1762)