Oral history project of Niagara Falls National Heritage Area
The Niagara Falls National Heritage Area (NFNHA) is launching “100 Years of Life on Main Street: Remembering Our Past to Shape our Future,” a multimedia oral history project to document life in the north end of the City of Niagara Falls. The project is being sponsored by Blue Cardinal Capital, which is investing in the future of Main Street.
A collaborative effort, NFNHA has partnered with students at The Connection teen center, which is participating in Worksource One's summer youth employment program to capture contemporary images of the city’s north end and to conduct oral history interviews. About a dozen students have been equipped with digital cameras to photograph around the city and compare them to photos from the past.
Romello Kemp, an incoming senior at Niagara Falls High School, said he is excited to learn about the neighborhood he grew up in through the project.
“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for years and have never known its history,” Romello said. “This will be a good opportunity to learn more about where we spend so much time while also building our skills and resumes.”
NFNHA has also teamed up with the Niagara Falls Public Library and individuals across the country to curate a multimedia exhibition that shares the past, the present and the future revival of Main Street.
There is a deep history of shops and restaurants on the city’s north end, such as Newberry’s and Woolworth’s 5 and 10, Dillard’s Hat Store, and Mills Jewelry to name a few. As some of these businesses closed, others persisted with grit and determination: DiCamillo Bakery, Shauntae’s Hat and Fashions, and the Book Corner.
Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Executive Director Sara Capen said the north end will thrive once again, and she is excited to launch a project she has long wanted to undertake.
“Main Streets are the core of communities,” Capen said. “They have borne witness to a place’s highs and lows. Main Street, Niagara Falls, is no different. Each block tells a story and contains layers of memories that provide a sense of place. It is our hope that we will be able to collect those memories and create a story that spans generations and carry it forward into the future.”
Bob Richardson, founder and managing partner of Blue Cardinal Capital, is in support of this exhibit.
"Our company is investing in the neighborhood, and we want to help this community grow and prosper once again,” Richardson said. “We hope everyone in Western New York will come to experience the diversity and inspiring stories that make this street a center of life and culture in the region. Celebrating the past enables the community to welcome and fully appreciate the renaissance of the north end of Niagara Falls."
The oral histories collected as part of this project will be showcased alongside Blue Cardinal’s plans for the historic preservation of several north end Main Street properties. The “Life on Main Street” exhibit will be open to the public in the Niagara Falls Amtrak Station later this year.
NFNHA is seeking additional sponsors for this project, which would allow it to expand beyond the north end to include all of Main Street, continue youth engagement for several months, and fully share the story of Main Street, Niagara Falls, across multiple platforms. Sponsorship information can be found here.
For information on how to share memories of the north end or to become a sponsor to this
The Niagara Falls National Heritage Area is one of 49 National Heritage Areas in the U.S. Designated by Congress in 2008, its mission is to preserve, protect and promote the historic, natural and cultural resources of the area stretching from Niagara Falls to Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown. In August 2012, Congress approved the management plan for the National Heritage Area. The site has been following the early-action recommendations in the management plan, which include establishing a small grant program, building partnerships, developing educational programs and an interpretive plan for the National Heritage Area. Learn more at discoverniagara.org.