It's a work of masonry that is the sole survivor of a fire which destroyed its original home. It stood along a critical trade route that predates European settlers. Now, the Old Stone Chimney stands overlooking the upper Niagara River and leaders are encouraging both tourists and local citizens to check out the unique piece of history.
The Old Stone Chimney was originally built as part of a barracks at Fort Petit Niagara, which was located at the southern terminus of the Niagara Portage, a key trade route predating not only the birth of the United States but even the region's first European settlers.
"We have so many things that have happened here that have not happened any place else on Earth," said author and longtime Niagara Falls historian Paul Gromosiak. "We stand out, not just with the water going over the falls but with our history, the people that came here and what they did."
Gromosiak explained that the reason why Native Americans moved goods along what is now the U.S. side of the Niagara River is because it was a shorter route. It took longer, he suggested, for natives to navigate around the gorge on what is now the Canadian side.
The chimney is the only object to survive a fire that destroyed Fort Petit Niagara in 1759. The fire was set by the French as they fled away from British forces during the French and Indian War. Portage Master John Stedman would later build a house around the chimney in order to reuse it. That, too, was later burned.
The chimney was moved twice in the 1900s to be preserved. The New York Power Authority most recently kept the chimney on its property on the former Porter Park space on Buffalo Avenue. NYPA undertook the effort to carefully relocate the chimney, which included the construction of a foundation and fencing, as well as landscaping.
Its new home along the newly-renamed Niagara Scenic Parkway gives tourists and local residents a chance to enjoy the chimney as well as a view of the upper Niagara River.
"We need little pockets of areas where people can pull off, view our waterfront, the beautiful Niagara River and the rapids downriver, and we need it in an area where you can talk about our history and people can pull off and see it," said State Assemblyman John Ceretto. "This represents one of those things that makes a parkway scenic."
Ceretto was one of several local elected officials who hope the Old Stone Chimney will spark a renewed interest in the unique historical tales of this region.
"There are a whole lot of interesting things that have happened here in Niagara Falls and here in Western New York. The problem is we've had so much history that the latest wave of history tends to sweep aside all traces of the previous wave of history," said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.
This chimney, however, is among the oldest relics from the colonial era. It was built in 1750 and, according to Gromosiak, is the second-oldest piece of masonry existing in New York State. The oldest is the castle at Fort Niagara.
State Senator Robert Ortt also praised the rededication of the Old Stone Chimney, saying it's nice for once to look at Western New York history for its positives instead of its negatives, including brownfields, companies that left or companies that decided not to come at all.
"There's so much of our history that can be a huge part of our future, that can be a huge part of our economic development and drive tourists here," Ortt said.
As part of the ceremony, officials unveiled a restored painting of the Old Stone Chimney first created by P.C. Flynn.