The key events of Niagara Frontier history tend to cluster toward relatively recent times. The earliest years of the millennium are obscured by the proverbial mists of time; the later years are times of denser population and greater human activity.
The shape of the land was set well before the millennium dawned, but for centuries our area remained a wilderness. Though villages of other native cultures emerged and vanished here, permanent settlement by the Seneca Nation of Indians came only when Seneca villages to the east were torched by American forces during the Revolutionary War.
National and international events also had major effects on this area. World War II and the Great Depression affected more lives more directly than many purely local milestones, but they were not regional events.
From our vantage point at the millennium's end, a list of the Top 10 events of the past thousand years would include local milestones that helped shape the future of both the region and the nation:
The Iroquois Confederacy took shape between 500 and 1,000 years ago (an uncertain tradition places it around 1539), when Hiawatha and the Peacemaker paddled east from the Upper Lakes to unite five warring nations into a mutually supportive, expandable federation.
Evidenced now by a surviving 21 1/2 -inch fragment of the Hiawatha Belt, kept by the Onondagas, the Iroquois system was praised by Benjamin Franklin and may have formed the basis of the 1754 Albany Plan of Union, a predecessor of the U.S. Constitution. It also established Iroquois dominion over much of the region.
First contact between Native Americans and European explorers in the early 1600s changed the region forever. Exploration quickly was followed by the opening of the fur trade, changing native economies and marking the first exploitation of the land here for world markets.
French explorer Jacques Cartier was in the Montreal area as early as 1535 and English navigator Henry Hudson, working for the Dutch, sailed up the Hudson River in 1609. The first recorded European visit here was by Father Joseph de la Roche Dallion, in 1626.
The "discovery" of Niagara Falls by Europeans popularized this region throughout Europe. Father Louis Hennepin, chaplain to the French explorer LaSalle in 1678, generally is credited with "discovering" the falls; his sketches of the natural wonder and his descriptions, published during the waning years of that century, brought Niagara to world notice.
The Battle of La Belle Famille in 1757 determined Niagara's future as an English-speaking, rather than French-speaking, region. This area had been a frontier of France, centered on the French-built fort and trading post where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario; French outlying posts and farms extended as far south as Buffalo Creek, and explorers had investigated both the lakes and the Ohio Valley via the Chautauqua Lake area.
British troops besieged Fort Niagara during the French and Indian War, and a French relief force from the Upper Lakes was defeated near Youngstown. The battle's outcome forced the fort to surrender, and the British took control of this area. The fort became a staging area for commando-type raids during the Revolutionary War, but was surrendered peacefully to the Americans in 1796.
The War of 1812 and the Burning of Buffalo brought this region its major brush with full-scale warfare. The early Battle of Queenston Heights opened combat here.
After a later and more successful invasion of Canada led to the torching of Niagara-on-the-Lake, British forces retaliated by capturing Fort Niagara in a surprise attack and marching southward to burn Niagara Falls, Black Rock and the Village of Buffalo. Inhabitants scattered through the countryside as all but four buildings in Buffalo went up in flames.
Some of the bloodiest fighting of the war took place in the Niagara Campaign of 1814, which included the Siege of Fort Erie and its American Sortie as well as the Battles of Chippawa and Lundy's Lane.
The war failed to change the border, but it bolstered American independence and sparked Canadian nationalism.
The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 turned a frontier village into a city that would become, by 1900, the eighth-largest in America. It also opened the American heartland to commerce and to waves of immigration. The canal not only built Buffalo, it vaulted New York City to pre-eminence as the major American port and city.
Many of those immigrants stayed and built Buffalo into the multicultural city it remains today. The canal and then the railroads that followed the canal route brought multitudes from Ireland, Germany, Poland, Italy and scores of other homelands.
The harnessing of electricity in 1896, after a competition of technologies that pitted Thomas Alva Edison against Nikola Tesla, opened vast new possibilities for industrialization.
Niagara hydropower did much more than make Buffalo the first city in the world with electric streetlights; by successfully transmitting electrical power over distances, the power plants at the falls stamped this area as a major manufacturing region. With the vast mineral deposits of the Mesabi Range near Lake Superior opening about the same time, Buffalo's lake port offered access to raw materials. Buffalo and Niagara Falls became major centers of shipping and heavy industry.
The Pan-American Exposition of 1901 brought Buffalo into the international limelight with both good news and bad.
The world's fair, with a strong Western Hemisphere slant that alarmed competitive markets in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, showcased the city's prosperity and prospects on the world stage. The assassination of President William McKinley, as he visited the Temple of Music on the exposition grounds, shocked and dismayed the nation.
President Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated here after McKinley's death, giving this area a strong connection to a fourth U.S. president. Buffalonians Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland had held the nation's highest office in the 19th century.
The Niagara Movement was founded here in 1905, opening a major African-American campaign for civil rights. The effort was a major predecessor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Led by sociologist W.E.B. DuBois, the first African-American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University, the movement was started in the home of Mary Burnett Talbert at 521 Michigan St., near the Michigan Street Baptist Church to which she belonged. Its first conference was held in 1906 in Fort Erie, Ont., after attendees were denied accommodation in Buffalo.
Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls where highly toxic residues began to leach from a capped dump site in the 1970s, became the national symbol of a despoiled environment and a national motivator to grass-roots environmental activism.
Its effect on the environmental movement was enormous, spurring governments to clean up waste sites and triggering Superfund and other environmental legislation. As the millennium draws to a close, it remains a symbol of humanity's faulty environmental stewardship -- and, increasingly, a sightseeing stop for tourists drawn mainly by the age-old wonder of the falls of Niagara.