NIAGARA FALLS – A stone chimney built more than 2½ centuries ago sits in relative obscurity behind a shuttered Buffalo Avenue warehouse.
There’s no sign anywhere nearby identifying the site for those passing by.
A plaque placed on it about 100 years ago is the only way to decipher what it is.
But for those people who know about the Old Stone Chimney, it represents an important historical link that holds potential for the future.
The chimney stands two stories high and weighs about 60 tons. It was built by Daniel de Joncaire, who worked as an interpreter and representative of the French government with the Seneca people, according to area historian Paul Gromosiak.
Among its uses, the chimney was part of Fort du Portage, the French fort also known as Fort Little Niagara. It was also part of the British-built Fort Schlosser, later used by Americans during the War of 1812.
It marks the southern end of the Niagara Portage, a trading route used by Native Americans, the French and the British before the American Revolution, a route only made obsolete by the opening of the Erie Canal.
Supporters hope the chimney, which survived two wartime burnings, could be the center of what some want to make a new heritage tourism effort.
“It’s time for the public to fall back in love with the story, with all the stories it has to tell,” said Christopher J. Puchalski, a Buffalo resident who grew up in the Wheatfield area and is heading one effort to elevate the stature of the Old Stone Chimney.
Puchalski heads a committee called the Niagara Portage Old Guard, about seven people interested in preserving the chimney and enhancing its status. He said the area was just as important to trade as the Erie Canal was.
Puchalski first heard of the Old Stone Chimney about 20 years ago when he worked downtown. Back then, he tried to find it, but was looking on a site a couple of hundred yards away.
He described what he wants to do to help preserve the chimney, which he said could turn into a year-round cultural tourism attraction, as “a development project with a historic preservation component.”
Moving the chimney and doing some type of historic interpretation could include creating something like a banquet center on the water, Puchalski said.
Compare that, or something like it, to where the chimney sits now – behind a parking lot and wedged up against an embankment of the Robert Moses Parkway near the John B. Daly Boulevard exit.
The original location is on what is now the Washington Mills facility on Buffalo Avenue, Gromosiak said.
It was moved twice – in 1902, when it was moved about 150 feet, and in 1942, when it was moved to what was then a new city park called Porter Park, where it is now.
It’s important because it is central to stories about all different people’s tug of war for this land, Gromosiak said.
City Historian Christopher M. Stoianoff agrees, noting that some people might wonder why a “stupid old chimney” should be saved.
Stoianoff calls it a “symbol for the city” – a “beacon of history” that should be glorified.
The Old Stone Chimney is something for people in Niagara Falls to be proud of, Stoianoff said. “This can be a great story if it’s well told,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Puchalski got a voice mail from a woman from Texas who found the Facebook page he created, called Revere the Old Stone Chimney. She was looking for information so she could see it on her visit.
So the potential to create something more accessible and have visitors seek it out is there, Puchalski said
“This thing is a gateway to tell all sorts of stories,” he said.
Puchalski said he is planning to file an application by Wednesday to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to make the chimney a local landmark. Such a designation would require approval of the City Council.
The chimney must be moved as part of the reconfiguration of the portion of the Robert Moses Parkway near John B. Daly Boulevard, said Mayor Paul A. Dyster.
The city has had talks with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the New York Power Authority about moving the chimney closer to the waterfront, Dyster said.
The city’s preference, the mayor said, would be to locate it upstream of what’s left of the Adams Slip, which located along the Niagara River near where the Power Authority stores an icebreaker in the winter months. City officials have toured the site with Power Authority representatives.
Turning the Old Stone Chimney into an attraction, part of the city’s “real history,” is timely as the city is looking to add things for visitors to do, the mayor said.
Early last year, a consultant told the city that moving the chimney would cost about $200,000.
Now, the city has a stonemason on staff along with a new piece of equipment – a trailer to haul heavy machinery – that could be used. Those two components could help the city lower costs by having at least some parts of the project done in-house, Dyster said.
“At this point,” he said, “we need to try to figure out how we would advance a project.”