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OUR MISSION & VISION

Mission: To reveal authentic stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in Niagara Falls that inspire visitors to recognize modern injustices that stem from slavery and take action toward an equitable society.

Vision: To be at the forefront of Underground Railroad interpretation by encouraging visitors to take action for civil and human rights and creating global change that begins in the Niagara Falls community.

OUR STORY

We opened for visitors in May, 2018, after more than 11 years of visioning and planning by a dedicated group of staff, community leaders, and political supporters, in the 1863 U.S. Customs House that is currently attached to the Niagara Falls Amtrak Station. While not a site on the Underground Railroad, the Customs House sits adjacent to the location of the former International Suspension Bridge, a point of crossing for many freedom seekers including Harriet Tubman. The bridge abutments are visible from the Heritage Center.

The Heritage Center preserves the historic role of the people of Niagara Falls in facilitating freedom for the oppressed. The places and stories associated with this network of freedom seekers, free African Americans, and abolitionists evoke powerful themes in American history and celebrate the bravery of the men and women who risked their own lives to achieve the most basic rights of liberty.

The Heritage Center is a project of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission, in cooperation with the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, a program of the National Park Service.

the niagara falls underground railroad heritage area

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area includes the entirety of the municipal limits of the City of Niagara Falls. The City includes outstanding natural and scenic resources associated with the Niagara River, the Niagara Gorge, and the falls; is internationally recognized for tourism and recreational opportunities; and possesses an unparalleled density of historic resources, narratives, sites, experiences, and research opportunities related to the Underground Railroad. The boundary of the Heritage Area unites this rich assemblage of cultural, natural, and economic resources for the purpose of protecting and promoting the important historic sites and scenic integrity that distinguish the City of Niagara Falls.

It is the mission of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area Commission to educate and inform the community about the rich local heritage associated with the Underground Railroad and Abolitionist movement, and to conserve and enhance the historic, cultural, economic and architectural resources of Niagara Falls.

The work of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area was pivotal to creating the Heritage Center and the Heritage Area Commission continues to oversee the work of the staff at the Heritage Area. The Commission will accomplish its work and mission by working with national, regional, state and local agencies, institutions, and organizations and with local Niagara Falls residents, as described in the Heritage Area Management Plan below.

heritage area management plan

In July of 2012, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation approved the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area Management Plan, and thereby officially established the Underground Railroad Heritage Area in the City of Niagara Falls. The Management plan includes detailed recommendations for preserving and interpreting historic resources within the Heritage Area, as well as developing economic opportunities and promoting heritage tourism in Niagara Falls and the surrounding region. The Management Plan was prepared by the consultant team of edr Companies, New York Historical Research Associates, Crawford & Stearns Architects and Preservation Planners, and the Herzig Group.

Click Here to read NYSOPRHP’s approval of the Management Plan

Download Full Report (Chapters I-VI) (50MB – PDF format)

join our team

It is our mission to share the historic roles of the people of Niagara Falls in facilitating freedom for the oppressed, and we invite you to connect with our stories.

our team

Ally Spongr
Ally Spongr

Interim Director

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As the Interim Director of the Heritage Center, Ally provides dynamic leadership to the Center’s operations, fundraising, exhibitions and initiatives. Through her work, Ally takes a creative approach to ensuring the successful implementation of the Center’s mission and vision. With a background in fine arts, history, museums and arts administration, Ally brings enthusiasm for the advancement of Niagara’s cultural assets and dedication to local community.

Chris Bacon
Chris Bacon

Interim Director of Education

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As the Interim Director of Education, Chris ensures that the Center’s themes of freedom, resistance, and social justice resonate with visitors through engaging tours and programs. With a background in law, public history, and historical interpretation, Chris brings a passion for making the past relevant today.

Emily Ebba Reynolds
Emily Ebba Reynolds

Director of Marketing

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As the Director of Marketing, Emily ensures that the Heritage Center’s mission and values are expressed clearly and thoughtfully in everything we do. She brings over ten years of museum experience across the country to her position at the Heritage Center.

Evan A. Wright
Evan A. Wright

Visitor Services Manager

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Evan A. Wright’s academic background in museum studies and cultural heritage preservation inspire him to amplify the intangible stories of our past. He is driven to provide thought-provoking experiences that echo the museum’s mission of freedom, resistance, and social justice that resonate with visitors through engaging tours. As the Visitor Services Manager, Evan ensures that tours and visits go as smoothly and ensures visitors have a positive experience.

Saladin Allah
Saladin Allah

Visitor Experience Specialist

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Saladin Allah is the third-great grandson of underground railroad Freedom Seeker Josiah Henson whom Harriet Beecher Stowe used as the primary narrative for her famous 19th Century novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He brings this personal history and a passion for youth education to his work as a Visitor Experience Specialist. He is the founder of the Atlantis School For Gifted Youngsters, A.S.I.A., A.S.I.A. TV, Atlantis Build Talk Radio and Quanaah Publishing.

Mike Broccolo
Mike Broccolo

Visitor Experience Specialist

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Mike Broccolo holds a bachelors in history from Niagara University and is currently enrolled as a graduate student at Buffalo State to get his teaching certificate. He is dedicated to making history engaging for museum visitors. He emphasizes historical empathy in the hopes that visitors will gain a deeper understanding of the people the museum feature and their struggles.   

Caitlin Blue
Caitlin Blue

Visitor Experience Specialist

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As a Visitor Experience Specialist, Caitlin is focused on making history accessible to the public with community-based events and education. With a hands-on approach, Caitlin Blue utilizes her skills to unite the community in an effort to create and sustain long-lasting relationships between the museum and the surrounding area. Caitlin’s love for history and experience in social justice work has inspired her to connect, collaborate, and communicate effectively with the public.

Joseph Malek
Joseph Malek

Visitor Experience Specialist

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Joseph Malek graduated from Niagara University with a BA in history. His passion for history and civil rights, especially the Vietnam War, drew him to work at the Heritage Center. He loves sharing his passions with others. 

James Ponzo
James Ponzo

Visitor Experience Specialist

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As a Visitor Experience Specialist, James Ponzo brings his passion as a historian and love of learning, to communicate the unique history of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, as well as motivating visitors to think critically about the world around them, as they create positive and lasting change. James is a Buffalo native and currently an instructor and doctoral candidate at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), where African and African American Studies is his major research area. 

Kiara Santiago
Kiara Santiago

Visitor Experience Specialist

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Kiara Santiago is in her third year at Niagara University and a Visitor Experience Specialist. She enjoys working at the Heritage Center and making connections between visitors and history. She looks forward to engaging in great conversations with our visitors.

Jasiah Jackson
Jasiah Jackson

Museum Ambassador

Jasiah Jackson is currently a senior at Niagara Falls High School. She hopes to attend Howard University or another historically black college to study Social Work and History. Social justice is her passion and she shows this passion through activism within the community. Jasiah has always had a love for history for as long as she can remember; with that, she hopes to learn more and pass that knowledge onto others.

Mahogani Lewis

Museum Ambassador

Sara Capen
Sara Capen

Advisor and Executive Director, Niagara Falls National Heritage Area

board of directors

The National Heritage Area Commission

Bill Bradberry
Bill Bradberry

Chairman & President

President and Chairman of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission and Columnist, Niagara Gazette

Charles A. Walker
Charles A. Walker

Vice Chair

Community Health Advocate, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center

Denise Easterling, MsEd
Denise Easterling, MsEd

Treasurer

Owner/Operator of Underground Railroad Tours by Denise

Thomas J. DeSantis, AICP
Thomas J. DeSantis, AICP

Secretary

Acting Director of Planning, Environmental Services, and Economic Development for the City of Niagara Falls, New York

Mark A. Onesi
Mark A. Onesi

Adjunct Professor of Business at Medaille College & SUNY Erie & Niagara County Industrial Development Agency – Vice Chairperson & Finance Committee Chair

Tricia Mezhir
Tricia Mezhir

General Manager Comfort Inn The Pointe, Niagara Falls

Percy W. Abrams, PhD
Percy W. Abrams, PhD

Professor of Native American and Indigenous Studies and Director at Certificate in Iroquois Linguistics, Syracuse University

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