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Exploring ‘spirit’: Dunkirk marker marks Lafayette visit

OBSERVER Photos by M.J. Stafford From left to right, Dunkirk Mayor Kate Wdowiasz, City Historian Diane Andrasik and Dunkirk Historical Museum Director Kristen White unveil a marker commemorating the Marquis de Lafayette’s 1825 visit.

A historic marker commemorating the Marquis de Lafayette’s 1825 visit to Dunkirk was dedicated Tuesday morning at the city pier.

City Historian Diane Andrasik, in remarks before the unveiling, spoke of a land that was still mostly wilderness when the Revolutionary War hero visited from his native France.

Dunkirk, then a village, held only 300 people when he visited to board a ship to Buffalo. Lafayette was invited to the United States by President James Monroe to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence. He visited all 24 states then in the Union.

“A mere 20 years would have passed since the first settler arrived in this area in 1805. … This dock of cement was not, of course, present. Instead, a wooden one was here. The first version was made up of planks of wood, set up on sawhorses,” Andrasik said.

“If we stood here looking south, we would see a dense woods filling the space south beyond Third Street, a woods that would continue to be cleared for the next 100-plus years,” she said. “There was no broad Center Street, the early name for Central Avenue. Instead, south of Third, a mere pathway ran through the woods toward Fredonia. South of Third, the pathway was at times impassable at certain times of the year — and it had to be improved in 1825 to allow Lafayette to travel from one village to the other.”

It was a fine day on the waterfront Tuesday as Dunkirk Historian Diane Andrasik spoke at an unveiling of a marker to commemorate the Marquis de Lafayette’s 1825 visit.

The marquis traveled from Westfield to Fredonia on June 9, arriving there past midnight. A celebration was held in his honor, and he was referred to as the “Guest of the Nation” and “Champion of Freedom.”

Before daybreak, Lafayette and his entourage went up the newly improved Center Street to Dunkirk in a procession reportedly a mile long. He used a small craft to whisk him to his Buffalo-bound ship a mile offshore. The ship fired a 21-gun salute to him, and a battery of cannon on shore did the same. Unsurprisingly, that left quite an impression on the locals, as Andrasik recounted from a newspaper article of the time.

Andrasik said the marker, funded by the Lafayette Trail Inc., and the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, was a reminder of a visit that encouraged American unity.

“We are gathered here today not merely to unveil a plaque, but to etch into our collective consciousness the enduring spirit of liberty that the Marquis de Lafayette embodied,” Dunkirk Mayor Kate Wdowiasz said during her speech. “This plaque is more than mere metal and words. It is a testament to the indomitable spirit of freedom that Lafayette embodied, a spirit that continues to animate our nation.”

Kristen White, Dunkirk Historical Museum Director, said the facility plans four days of events in conjunction with various local organizations next June, to honor the 200th anniversary of Lafayette’s visit.

Dunkirk’s marker, located in a grassy area on the south end of the pier, reads: “Lafayette’s Tour — On June 4, 1825, General Lafayette boarded the ‘Superior’ for Buffalo with military salute given from the ship and shoreline.”

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