FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 6, 2021
Contact: Sabina Ramsey
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission Unveiled Cataract House Historic Marker at Press Conference on August 5
(Niagara Falls, NY) — The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission (Commission) and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) proudly unveiled a Historic Marker designating the former site of the Cataract House at a press conference on Thursday morning at the park area across from Red Coach Inn, 2 Buffalo Ave, Niagara Falls, NY 14303.
The importance of the Cataract House as the center of Underground Railroad activism in Niagara Falls cannot be overestimated. The African American waiters who worked as Underground Railroad agents made this site one of the most important Underground Railroad nodes in the entire nation. Famous cases included a failed rescue attempt in 1847 and the successful escapes of Cecilia Jane Reynolds (1847), a woman named Martha (1853), and waiter Patrick Sneed (1853). John Morrison, head waiter at the Cataract House, often ferried people across the river himself.
The Cataract House burned down in 1945 and was demolished in 1946. The Historic Marker for the former location of the hotel has been funded by a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation.
“This Historic Marker will now designate a location that was important not only to our local heritage, but our national history as well,” said Saladin Allah, Visitor Experience Specialist and Community Liaison at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, operated by the Commission. “Outside of our community, people may not know much about Niagara Falls beyond the Falls themselves. This Marker will help others realize the vital role our region played in the Underground Railroad and the rich history of Niagara Falls’ Black community. We hope that our representation of this site will help us continue to learn from the past so we can work toward a more just, equitable future.”
Congressman Brian Higgins agreed that the Marker represents an important aspect of the history of our city and country.
“The Cataract House was a pivotal station along the Underground Railroad and its story is told beautifully and poignantly through the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center,” he said. “This Historic Marker further shares the story of the powerful network of ‘conductors’ here in Niagara Falls who bravely helped people escape slavery along the road to freedom.”
The event was attended by several community leaders and local political officials, including City of Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino.
“The Cataract House is an important part of the history of our City,” Mayor Restaino said. “It continues to show the significant impact of Niagara Falls in our national story. We appreciate the work of the Commission and NYSOPRHP in designating this Historic Marker for the Cataract House.”
Speakers at the event included:
Visitor Experience Specialist & Community Liaison at Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center
Descendant of freedom seeker Josiah Henson
Douglas J. Perrelli, Ph. D., RPA
Chair of NYS Board for Historic Preservation
President, New York Archaeological Council (NYAC)
Director, Archaeological Survey
Clinical Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University at Buffalo
Mark Mistretta, RLA
Western District Director, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Assemblyman Angelo Morinello (R,C,I-Niagara Falls)
Robert M. Restaino, Mayor of Niagara Falls
Following the unveiling, visitors were invited to walk in the footsteps of freedom seekers from the hotel site to the brink of the Niagara River. For media files, visit here.
About the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission
The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission Center manages the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area, a part of the NYSOPRHP Heritage Area Program. The Commission also operates the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, an award-winning experiential museum located inside the former 1863 U.S. Custom House attached to the Niagara Falls Amtrak Station. The Commission encourages and fosters the discovery, illumination, and celebration of the rich heritage of the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist movement throughout the City of Niagara Falls and its environs. The center, which opened in May 2018 after 11 years of planning, is located inside the former 1863 U.S. Custom House attached to the Niagara Falls Amtrak station. The center sits adjacent to the location of the former International Suspension Bridge, a point of crossing for many freedom seekers including Harriet Tubman.
The Heritage Center preserves the historic role of the people of Niagara Falls in facilitating freedom for the oppressed. The places and stories associated with this network of freedom seekers, free African Americans, and abolitionists evoke powerful themes in American history and celebrate the bravery of the men and women who risked their lives to achieve the most basic rights of liberty. Learn more at niagarafallsundergroundrailroa
William G. Pomeroy Foundation
The William G. Pomeroy Foundation is committed to supporting the celebration and preservation of community history; and to raising awareness, supporting research and improving the quality of care for patients and their families who are facing a blood cancer diagnosis.