Nov 20, 2011

Lewiston, NY: America's Most Historic Square Mile

President Jimmy Carter deemed Lewiston as “the most historic square mile in America.” Interestingly, in 1901 President McKinley stayed overnight in Lewiston the evening before he was assassinated in Buffalo at the Pan-American Exposition. On October 13, 1812, the United States invaded Canada. Lewiston was the staging area for the Battle of Queenston Heights, the first major battle of the War of 1812. The British retaliated on December 19 capturing nearby Fort Niagara without firing a shot but proceeded onto Lewiston where the attack was described as a “merciless massacre.” In the early to mid-1800s, Lewiston was the last stop for slaves from the South who were seeking freedom in Canada. Lewiston citizens were staunch supporters of the anti-slavery movement and many volunteered to help smuggle slaves across the border.

John and I stayed at the beautiful Barton Inn Hotel & Spa overlooking the Niagara River. The hotel is fairly new but built to look like it has been there for generations. In front of the hotel, by the river, is a statue commemorating the voyage made by many on their way to freedom. It shows Josiah Tryon, the “station master” in Lewiston handing a baby to Harriett Tubman, calleed the “Moses of her People” because of all the people she helped to freedom. Nearby another person is pointing the way to freedom to a slave.

Lewiston also claims to be where the “cocktail” was invented. The only building left unscathed after the Lewiston Massacre was Hustler’s Tavern possibly because the soldiers remembered the good times they had there before the war. Supposedly the owner, Catherine Hustler, is credited with inventing the cocktail when she stirred a "gin mixture" with the tail feather of a stuffed cock. She said it "warms both soul and body and is fit to be put in a vessel of diamonds." It was met favorably and people would ask for “that drink with cock tail.”

Today, Lewiston is one of New York State’s lovely little villages that often gets bypassed because of its proximity to bigger cities and popular attractions. Buffalo and Niagara Falls often overshadow Lewiston. Six to seven thousand years ago Niagara Falls was in the Lewiston area. Today the pretty village rests along the banks of the Niagara River. We were hoping to take the Jet Boat ride but when we were there it was only operating from the Canadian side of the river.

Old Fort Niagara is only a few minutes away. It had been years since we visited. They now have a Visitor Center with a great video of the history of the fort which played an important role in the struggle of France, Great Britain, and the United States to control the Great Lakes region of North America, and also helped shape the destinies of the Iroquois. On display is a huge flag captured by the British in 1813 and recently returned to the fort. I remembered the story of the Ghost of the Haunted Well. It seems that when the French controlled the fort two of the soldiers got into a sword fight over a woman. The victor, to avoid detection, tossed the dead man into the well. But we did not know about Betsy “Fanny” Doyle, a soldier’s wife, who helped load a cannon and gained fame as a heroine of the War of 1812.