The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is an experiential museum that reveals authentic stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in Niagara Falls. We inspire visitors to recognize modern injustices that stem from slavery and to take action toward an equitable society. It is located in the former U.S. Customhouse building.
Upon arrival visitors will be greeted with an exhibit section in the atrium of the Amtrak Station that, moving left to right (south to north and slavery to freedom), will express the long and tumultuous journey of the Underground Railroad up to the point of reaching Niagara Falls. Through powerful imagery and content, the "Network Wall" communicates that this historic phenomenon was neither a railroad nor underground, but rather a network of people, routes, and means of transport; and that it also serves as a metaphor for human movement, and that slavery removed basic human rights that compelled freedom seekers to leave at great risk.
Upon entrance to the Heritage Center, visitors will check in at the Welcome Desk and be able to visit the retail "museum" shop before proceeding into the Center's exhibition space inside of the Custom House. As if walking into the 1850s, visitors will meet representations of individuals from the period in Niagara Falls at the historic train station near Falls and Mechanic Streets. Visitors will be able to interact with the scene, activating scenarios or revealing details that reveal the purpose and role of individuals in the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls.
After being immersed in the place and time of Niagara Falls and experiencing some of the key individuals, visitors will enter into a recreation of the Cataract House. The heart of the Underground Railroad stories are told in the "dining room" and "reception" at the Cataract House. This room will feature a variety of interactive, interpretive and media elements. Here, visitors are introduced to the stories of the African American waiters who worked at the tourist hotels, like the Cataract House, actively resisted slavery and lived double lives by openly serving hotel guests and secretly helped freedom seekers cross the Niagara River into Canada.
Visitors will be able to explore the stories of the dramatic last leg of freedom seekers' escapes to Canada by ferry or bridge crossing. Visitors will be surrounded by recreated scenes of crossing points where they will learn of escapes and assistance freedom seekers received at the dramatic crossing points along the Niagara River. Visitors will meet important figures such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, John Morrison, and Patrick Sneed.
Throughout the exhibition, visitors will experience stories and hear from individuals, both past and present, who connect the historic Underground Railroad past to the present day around the world. Visitors are invited to consider parallels and other important historical and contemporary stories, with the hope that these stories and connections will allow for deeper thought, consideration of new or different perspectives, and prompt actions in our own lives.
Heritage Area Commission
825 Depot Avenue W.
Niagara Falls, NY 14305
The former U.S. Customhouse in Niagara Falls, New York was a Custom House for the United States' side of the Niagara River. It was built in 1863 and served inspectors for the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge, Niagara Cantilever Bridge, Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, and Michigan Central Railway Bridge at various points in its history. With Niagara Falls receiving the second highest amounts of American imports at one point, the customhouse was once a very busy post for its inspectors. Due to the high level of imports, Suspension Bridge Village, a community surrounding the bridge, grew and thrived as an economic center for the City of Niagara Falls.
The Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge, built in 1848, was the first bridge constructed connecting the United States to Canada. At this location, Harriet Tubman, leader of the Underground Railroad, crossed bringing people escaping slavery in the Deep South to freedom in Canada.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the building is now owned by the city of Niagara Falls 2003. State and local governments plan on building a new multi-million dollar intermodal transportation center utilizing the original Custom House along with modern additions. A few steps from the Whirlpool Bridge, visitors can access the Whirlpool Rapids Gorge Trail leading to the Niagara River.
The flow of water was stopped completely over both falls on March 29th 1848 due to an ice jam in the upper river for several hours. This is the only known time to have occurred. The Falls did not actually freeze over, but the flow was stopped to the point where people actually walked out and recovered artifacts from the riverbed!
NYS Parks / Trails