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.
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)
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.
Director of Community Engagement
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.
Public Programs Coordinator
Kiara Santiago holds a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice with a minor in Forensic Science from Niagara University. She is currently a graduate Forensic Anthropology student at the University at Buffalo. She enjoys working at the Heritage Center and making connections between visitors and history. Kiara also loves gathering the team to bring the community the best programming and events.
James Ponzo, PhD
Visitor Experience Specialist / Historical Content Specialist
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 a professor of African American Studies at the University at Buffalo (SUNY).
Visitor Experience Specialist
Charlynn is a Junior at Niagara University majoring in Criminal Justice and co-founder of Niagara University’s Social Justice Club, Latinos Unidos. Her passion for Black history, social justice, and community drew her to work at the museum and hopes to better the community we serve the best way that she can.
Visitor Experience Specialist
Josh is a graduate of SUNY Geneseo with a B.A in History. His studies focused on African American History and wrote his senior thesis about communication networks among enslaved people in the Caribbean. A Western New York native, Josh has a deep passion for local history and loves to engage people in conversations about this area. He hopes to inspire people to always think critically about the past and to get a deeper understanding of what makes up their worldview.
Visitor Experience Specialist
Jasiah Jackson is a Niagara Falls native who has recently rejoined our team. She was a Museum Ambassador while she was in high school and after gaining new experience and learning new skills, has decided to come back as a Visitor Experience Specialist. Her interests lie in bettering her community and she hopes to achieve this through advocacy, education and collaboration. She has come a long way from her start in activism as a teen in high school and with working on political campaigns, organizing protests, etc. she is ready to jump back into action and advocate by any means necessary.
Advisor and Executive Director, Niagara Falls National Heritage Area
Updated Bio Coming Soon!
Join Our Team
We are currently hiring in the following positions. Please visit our Careers page for more information.
board of directors
The Niagara Falls Underground railroad Heritage Commission Inc.
Former President and Chairman of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission and Columnist, Niagara Gazette
Charles A. Walker
President and Chairman
Minister Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church
Thomas J. DeSantis, AICP
Interim Vice Chair and Treasurer
Former Director of Planning, Environmental Services, and Economic Development for the City of Niagara Falls, New York
Mark A. Onesi
Assitant Professor of Business at ECC Chairman, Board of Directors at the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency
Percy W. Abrams, PhD
Professor of Native American and Indigenous Studies and Director of Iroquois Linguistic Certificate , Syracuse University
Kent A. H. Olden, MS
Retired Columnist- Niagara Gazette
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