YOUNGSTOWN – Old Fort Niagara’s mix of history from the nation’s beginnings, its scenic lakeside place and eclectic 18th-century-style programs have been attracting more visitors than usual lately: Admission ticket sales spiked up by a third last year.
Next month, one of the historic re-enactment traditions that has made the park so popular continues with “Tavern Night,” an evening devoted to Revolutionary War-era food, drink and song. Re-enactors will stage “crooked” games of chance and political banter of the time, such as “Are you for the King or against?”
“There’s usually an auction or two of indentured servants. Crooked gamblers. I think we even have a mad hatter,” said Robert Emerson, executive director.
Last year, the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, sales of general admission tickets rose to 94,000, up from 71,000 sold in 2011.
“We’re seeing an incredible growth in Asian tourism. People are coming from all the other side of the world to see Fort Niagara,” said Emerson of the fort’s place as a stop for group tours bound for Niagara Falls. “They have an itinerary and they go from one place to another. I think they try to balance what people are seeing.”
Fundraising events like Tavern Nights – 7 p.m. March 2 and 9, $30 – raise about $70,000 of the $1.3 million annual budget and are among the 21 programs on the calendar throughout the year with an average of about two events a month.
Since 1979, the stone fort, built by the French in 1726, has developed its re-enactment-style living history program: That year in July, the first 18th-century-style French and Indian War encampment was held.
“It really grew from there,” said Emerson. “By the mid ’80s, it was the largest of its type and time period in the world.”
Now during for a weekend in July, about 1,000 people pitch tents around the grounds. The fort’s core of 1,000 volunteers includes a crew of 40 or 50 locals who help with Tavern Night by dressing up, playing stringed instruments and acting in the skits that unfold from 7 to 10 p.m.
Call 745-7611 for tickets.