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Cataract House Park dedicated to honor Underground Railroad history


Wed, Sep 14th 2022 05:20 pm

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced the pocket park outside Prospect Point in Niagara Falls State Park named Heritage Park has been rededicated as Cataract House Park in recognition of the historic hotel and Underground Railroad stop that once sat on that site.

The Cataract House Hotel was established on the site in 1825 and was soon a world-renowned luxury hotel that became one of the most important stops on the Underground Railroad. Under the leadership of head waiter John Morrison, the African American wait staff led countless Freedom Seekers to safety in Canada. Their stories, along with Harriet Tubman and many others, are shared at the nearby Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center

“I am delighted that we are dedicating this park in honor of the heroism that took place here. The staff that worked at Cataract House Hotel risked their lives to help others find freedom, and we must acknowledge how important that story is in the history of our country,” State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said.

A press release explained, “An archeological dig led by the University at Buffalo on the site in 2017-18 and 2022, funded in part by the Niagara Falls Underground Heritage Commission, revealed artifacts and structural remains from the days when the site housed the hotel. After the Cataract House burned in 1945, debris from the burned building – plaster, wood, stone, brick – was used to fill up the basements.

“Written in the layers of debris and soil lies the story of how the Cataract House Hotel was constructed, and of the daily lives of the people who worked and lived here over this hotel’s 120-year history. The project was recently awarded grant funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities for the production of a book detailing the lives of the waiters employed at the Cataract House Hotel and their role in making it the busiest Underground Railroad station on the Niagara Frontier.”

Congressman Brian Higgins said, “The Cataract House tells the story of Western New York’s connection to the Underground Railroad, which led thousands of people to freedom across the border in Canada. Rededicating Heritage Park in honor of the Cataract House will preserve this critical part our local and national history for generations to come. It ensures that the legacy, lessons and stories of the trailblazers who worked at and passed through this historic establishment will remain of part of our community’s future.”

Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said, “Today’s dedication of Cataract House Park is a well-deserved recognition of our historic community ties with the Underground Railroad. At this Niagara Falls site, the stories of John Morrison and countless ‘Freedom Seekers’ will forever be enshrined. Thanks to our nearby Underground Railroad Heritage Center, our community’s role as one of the busiest stations along the Underground Railroad will be forever remembered. Thank you to the State Office of Parks, the National Endowment of the Humanities, and everyone who has helped keep this important piece of history alive.” 

Assemblyman Angelo Morinello said, “Let this park serve as a constant reminder of the atrocity of slavery and the brave heroes of the Underground Railroad. We must never forget the past so we never repeat heinous acts in the future.“

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said,” The Cataract House is such an important location in the story of our city. Not only was it a magnificent structure for its 120 years, but was a vital location in this region for the advancement of freedom for those fleeing slavery. Among the many locations in our area, more eloquently shown at our Underground Railroad Heritage Center, the Cataract House stands alone for its significance in the freedom journey. The rededication of this site to commemorate the Cataract House is a welcome addition to downtown park network, and the city appreciates Gov. Hochul and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for their thoughtful recognition of this important and historically significant structure."

Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Executive Director Sara Capen said ,"The recognition of this area and courageous acts by John Morrison and the waiters at the Cataract House is a vital part of Niagara Falls' past, but also the future. We must strive to make visitors and residents continuously aware of the courageous actions of Black residents on the last leg of the Underground Railroad. Renaming this park area will encourage visitors to learn more at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, and serve as an inspiration to people across the globe."

Bill Bradberry, chairman emeritus for the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, said, "The rededication of the Heritage Park to Cataract House Park has tremendous meaning to our heritage, not only locally but from a national perspective, as well. People outside Niagara Falls visiting the park are often unaware of Niagara Falls' unique history. Tying this park area to our heritage told at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is an important development for the city."

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses and boat launches that, in 2021, were visited by record 78.4 million people. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit www.parks.ny.gov.

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