A federal grant for a research project on the old Cataract House will further preserve its history.
The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the University at Buffalo $249,369 earlier this year under the Collaborative Research Grants program. The money will go towards the creation of a printed manuscript and a website about Cataract House, a hotel built along the Niagara River with a history of Underground Railroad activity. The manuscript is titled “From the Cataract House to Canada: African American Activism and the Underground Railroad in the Niagara River Borderland”.
“This collaborative research award brings together scholars from New York and Canada to create a book and website that will showcase and preserve the incredible story of activism that brought freedom seekers to freedom on the international frontier of the Niagara Falls,” said Doug Perrelli, UB’s director of archaeological investigation. “The project will dive deep into the historical context of the Underground Railroad and the specific people who helped so many escape slavery. The perspectives of descendants of freedom seekers and the local community will help to recognize and celebrate the tremendous gains made for humanity that have occurred here in Western New York and Southern Ontario.
Established in 1825, Cataract House was a world-famous luxury hotel that became one of the most important stops on the Underground Railroad. Staff of African-American waiters, led by butler John Morrison, have brought countless freedom-seekers to safety across the border into Canada. The top of the hotel has hosted guests such as Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.
Some famous cases of escaped slaves reaching Canada include Cecilia Jane Reynolds (1847), a woman named Martha (1853), and Patrick Snead (1853).
The hotel property was purchased by a developer in 1945 who sought to restore it, but a fire later that year destroyed the structure; its remains were demolished a year later.
The University at Buffalo Archaeological Surgery began an excavation at the site in 2017 and uncovered several structural remains and artifacts. The excavations were funded by a grant from the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission and conducted in conjunction with the City of Niagara Falls and Niagara Falls State Park.
The Cataract House Manuscript Project is one of 226 humanities projects across the country receiving a $31.5 million share in the National Endowment for the Humanities’ latest round of funding, which goes to research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities.
“For more than a decade, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area has worked alongside the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Commission to fund and expand research surrounding the Cataract House’s role in the Underground Railroad,” said Sara Capen, executive director of Niagara Falls. National heritage area. “This history, particularly the role of African American servers, is the foundation of the visitor experience at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. Our organizations are thrilled that research continues under this grant and that the long, untold stories of the Cataract House continue to inspire visitors to the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Centre.
Last month, Heritage Park between Old Main Street and Niagara Falls State Park was renamed Cataract House Park in honor of the hotel that stood on the site. A new New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation marker was unveiled explaining the hotel’s history.