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At a press conference on Thursday, The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation proudly unveiled a historic marker designating the site of the Cataract House at Heritage Park, across from Red Coach Inn.
A press release stated, “The Cataract House was a premier luxury hotel that catered to Niagara Falls’ booming tourist market from 1825 to 1945. 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. John Morrison, head waiter at the Cataract House, often ferried people across the river himself. Morrison was publicly acknowledged at an Emancipation Day celebration on Aug. 1, 1856, the Niagara Falls community’s annual celebration of British West Indian emancipation (Aug. 1, 1834). Continuing this tradition, family reunions in Niagara Falls have occurred the first week in August for generations.
The Cataract House burned down in 1945 and was demolished in 1946. Its historic marker is in honor and remembrance of its history.
On hand to mark the event were speakers Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, City of Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino and New York State Parks Western District Director Mark Mistretta.
The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission manages the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area, a part of the State Parks 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. Learn more at niagarafallsundergroundrailroad.org.
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center Visitor Experience Specialist and Community Liaison Saladin Allah said, “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.”
Restaino said, “The Cataract House is an important part of the history of our city. It continues to show the significant impact of Niagara Falls in our national story. We appreciate the work of the commission and (State Parks) in designating this historic marker for the Cataract House.”
Funded came courtesy of a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. It 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.
(Photos by Mark Williams Jr.)