Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

March 1, 2014

Niagara's storied Old Stone Chimney needs befriending

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — As you drive into downtown Niagara Falls on the Robert Moses Parkway, just inside the exit to John B. Daly Boulevard, look to your right and you may catch a glimpse of a stone structure towering above the parkway nestled in the sumac trees. Hidden but not obliterated by the parkway, the Old Stone Chimney stands as testament to a time when this area was a raw frontier being contested by Native Americans, the French, the British and later, the Americans. 

There is no known firsthand account as to who built the Old Stone Chimney. It is believed that it was first attached to a two-story French barracks constructed near “Fort du Portage” or “Little Fort Niagara” above the Falls at the end of the Portage around the cataract. The Fort du Portage location is now covered with industrial plants but was not far from where Portage Road ends at Buffalo Avenue. The French vacated and burned the fort in July 1759, as the British were advancing, leaving the Old Stone Chimney alone at the end of the Portage. A year later the British returned to the area to build Fort Schlosser near the vicinity of the former French fort.

In addition to the fort, the British disassembled a two-story chapel at Fort Niagara, reconstructed it at Fort Schlosser and it became the home of John Stedman, the man Sir William Johnson appointed “Portage Master.” Stedman remained at the house until the end of the “hold over period” in 1796. From here, the story of the “old stone chimney” remains fairly consistent to the present.

Augustus Porter, along with his brother Peter Buell Porter and two business partners, purchased all the land along the Niagara River from Lewiston to Black Rock in 1805. Moving his family to what was then the Village of Manchester, Augustus and his wife Jane Howell Porter and his three children moved into the Stedman house and lived there for two years while they constructed their new family home overlooking the Upper Rapids. In 1809 Porter leased out the home as a tavern.

As tensions mounted in 1812, the building was again used to house military officers, this time Americans, until it was burned by the British in December 1813. A few years later another man built an inn around the chimney; it only lasted a few years. The Porter family again built a structure attached to the Old Stone Chimney around 1840, this time a one-story structure. They sealed the second-story fireplace opening. Peter B. Porter’s grandson, Peter A. Porter, inherited the house and tore it down in the late 1880s. He then sold the property to the Niagara Falls Power Company around 1890.

In 1902, with business and industry advancing toward the abandoned chimney, it was moved 150 feet west, away from the new industrial plants. In 1942 it was moved again to make way for more industrial expansion during World War II. This time it went to Porter Park on Buffalo Avenue near the (now demolished) Shredded Wheat plant. This time, the plan to move the Old Stone Chimney employed greater vision and gave the public access to the historic relic. In both moves, the stones were carefully removed and numbered and the chimney was reconstructed to its original appearance.

Porter Park was mostly chopped up for the Robert Moses Parkway ramps, a factory and parking lot. The Old Stone Chimney now sits on property at the foot of 10th Street and Buffalo Avenue. A plaque, placed in 1915, tells its long and unique history. It is now overshadowed by the Robert Moses Parkway and the industrial complexes nearby.

This coming fall, the berm behind the chimney will be removed, necessitating the chimney’s moving once again. All is not lost, however. It has not been forgotten by people who care about its history and want to see it rise again in a more appropriate location.

Anyone who would like to get involved in saving the Old Stone Chimney, and building heritage tourism assets at a new “Upper Landing” site, is encouraged to “like” “Revere the Old Stone Chimney” on Facebook or contact Chris Puchalski at chrisjp22@mac.com.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.