I was looking for something patriotic to do last Memorial Day, so I drove to Youngstown to visit Fort Niagara, located at the point where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario. The vista is pretty, but tranquil and unremarkable, and only the presence of the Fort hints at the strategic importance the site held throughout the 18th-19th centuries. The complex is made up of buildings and earthwork walls constructed at different times and by different nations, as the French, British and American flags all took turns flying over the Fort. The oldest - and most interesting - building is the French Castle, a citadel built by the French in 1726. The French Castle was built to resemble a large country manor in order to avoid rousing the hostile Iroquois. When the Fort complex was expanded in the mid 1700s, the French Castle became officers' quarters, and United States Army families lived there through the end of World War I. The last active Army units were withdrawn from the complex in 1963. The Fort tour gives a wealth of information on the political history of the Fort and the region in general, but I had a hard time thinking of any of it in other than the most abstract terms until I stepped inside the French Castle and began to imagine what it must have been like to actually live, work, fight and die here. It's a strange mix... the (relative) luxury and comfort of the officers' quarters are a stark contrast to the spartan third floor garrison. It was a warm, breezy May day when I visited but it was easy to imagine the Fort in February's icy grip, and I found myself amazed that people could survive a winter there let alone thrive. Photos: various shots of the officers'quarters and storehouses in the French Castle. There's more detailed information on the Fort and its history at http://www.oldfortniagara.org/.