Archeological digs at Old Fort Niagara part of shoreline stabilization project

Oct. 28—Archeological digs have found some artifacts at Old Fort Niagara recently but the work isn't to locate relics of the past, it's meant to protect the historic site's future.

The Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District conducted an archeological dig at the fort this month as it moves ahead with a shoreline stabilization project.

Executive Director Bob Emerson said that in 2017, when Lake Ontario experienced high water levels, the shoreline just east of the fort collapsed into the lake resulting in a huge divot.

"Even back in the 18th century, they were figuring out how to stop erosion," Emerson said. State Parks then did temporary work on the seawall protecting the fort from the lake.

The Army Corps received a letter from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to investigate further. What it found was the northern shoreline was greatly impacted, most notably immediately east of the existing masonry seawall and concrete capped sheet pile footer. Several large trees and a portion of a chain-link fence had already succumb to erosion.

The conclusion was that unless remediation takes place, the fort's wall and 1771 north redoubt will be threatened by erosion.

"Now we're at the point where we have an idea of how much this will cost and how much it takes to protect this piece of shoreline," said Army Corps spokesperson Andrew Kornacki.

Chronicle Heritage was contracted to do archeological survey work, completed on Oct. 5. They investigated 6 acres of fort property including the shoreline to see if there were any archeological materials there.

While a full report confirming their findings will not come out until November, Project Manager Marcy Werth said old bullets and nails were found. That report will also determine if more digging is needed.

All artifacts found during digs are given to the Old Fort Niagara Association, which holds them in trust on behalf of New York State Parks.

The U.S. National Historic Site had hosted archeology digs since 1979, previously hosting Buffalo State University students for biennial digs until the COVID-19 pandemic. Emerson they have not hosted those since but they will eventually return.

Eventually, the Army Corps plans to prevent further erosion by installing 450 feet of a combination of stone revetment, mechanically stabilized earth and vegetative stabilization.

The planned project's cost is $5.8 million with $2.04 million from New York State Parks and the remainder in various federal funding. Construction is anticipated to start in 2027, with the Army Corps waiting for all funding to come in before starting design work.

Kornacki said that all the Army Corps projects are designed with 50-year lifespans, but its projects across the Great Lakes have still been useful beyond that number thanks to good operations and maintenance.