For Immediate Release Mayor Robert Restaino Dedicates Historic Marker at Niagara Falls Customhouse
(Niagara Falls, NY, November 14, 2020) Today, Mayor Robert Restaino announced the official commemoration of the Niagara Falls Customhouse with the addition of their new historic marker. The Mayor held a small press event to commemorate and celebrate the history of the Niagara Falls Customhouse.
The Customhouse was restored by the City of Niagara Falls in 2011. The building was integrated into the Niagara Falls International Railway Station in 2016. The initiative to save and restore this building was taken when it was listed on New York State’s “Seven-to Save” list that outlines the State’s most endangered historic structures.
“The United States Customhouse at Niagara Falls played a prominent role in the exchange of goods across the international border with Canada for nearly 100 years as the primary customs location in the Niagara region,” said City of Niagara Falls Mayor, Robert Restaino. “The current integration of the Niagara Falls Customhouse with the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is a further expression of the importance of this location in history. This historic marker will make public the incredible impact of this building and location have had in the advancement of commerce and, most especially, in the fight for freedom.”
“Identifying the U.S. Customhouse with a historic marker is a further testament to the tremendous history that occurred here in Niagara Falls,” said Sara Beilein Capen, Executive Director of Niagara Falls National Heritage Area. “It was at this location that dozens of people who escaped slavery in the American south crossed into freedom, many under the steadfast and unwavering guidance of Harriet Tubman.” Interim Director of the Niagara Falls Heritage Area, Ally Spongr, went on to say that, “At the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, we recognize the significance of a place when sharing history with the public. Our visitors have the opportunity to stand inside and outside of the U.S. Customs House, where the Heritage Center is located, to see, and feel, where countless freedom seekers took their last steps before crossing the Suspension Bridge to freedom in Canada.”
“Niagara Frontier Chapter NRHS, Inc. has a proud tradition of Historic Preservation and Interpretation dating back nearly 80 years,” said Jim Ball, President of the Niagara Frontier Chapter of the National Railways Historical Society. “Our activities include public programs, historic research, publications, rail excursions, an extensive library and archives, a Museum, and our newsletter. The establishment of Historic Markers is an example of our Mission Statement in action.”
In addition to the building’s history as the last stop on a long journey to freedom, Anton Schwarzmueller, Project Coordinator for the Niagara Frontier Chapter of the National Railways Historical Society, provided another take on the historical significance of the building. “Why does this building matter? What was happening in our country in 1863 when this Customs House was constructed? Abraham Lincoln was president. The Civil War was raging. It was the year the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. Why did the government invest time and money on this building at that time? Because wars are expensive. A crucial source of revenue for the government was from the collection of duty. The tariff had been a divisive issue at the cusp of the succession; the northern states wanted a higher tariff to better protect their industries. The tariff was raised higher as the war began. This Custom House represents the resolve of the Union to enforce the tariff, collect revenue, and fund the war.”
Schwarzmueller explained how he worked closely with the City of Niagara Falls and the William G. Pomeroy Foundation to secure a grant to provide the historic marker for the Customhouse Building. The Pomeroy Foundation is a private grant-making foundation that was established in 2005. The Foundation is committed to supporting the celebration and preservation of community history.
“The United States Custom House has stood as part of the rich history of the City of Niagara Falls for more than 150 years,” says Paula Miller, executive director of the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. “The Pomeroy Foundation is delighted to have awarded a grant to help commemorate the building’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places with this new roadside marker. We congratulate the Niagara Frontier Chapter NRHS, Inc. and the Niagara Falls community for their efforts to recognize and preserve this historic property.”
The AT&T Virtual Field Trips Program Launches for the School Year
A collaboration between AT&T, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Museum of Science, Explore & More, The Buffalo History Museum and the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Centerto offer free virtual field trips for local public and charter school students
BUFFALO, N.Y., Nov. 10, 2020 – School field trips bring excitement and the spirit of adventure to children of all ages. They complement classroom learning and instruction with wonderful experiences where students can see, touch and hear about subjects presented in school. Field trips provide memories that last a lifetime for students. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, traditional field trip visits to the world-class educational, art and cultural institutions in Western New York will not be possible during the 2020-2021 school year. To help alleviate the disappointment of local students and to add some normalcy to their unusual school year, AT&T, in collaboration with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Museum of Science, Explore & More – The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum, The Buffalo History Museum and the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center have created the AT&T Virtual Field Trips program. This program will allow tens of thousands of students to experience free virtual field trips throughout Buffalo and Niagara Falls in a memorable, fun and safe way.
The AT&T Virtual Field Trips program provides both prerecorded videos and live virtual leader-led tours. Some of the programs offer downloadable materials for teachers and interactive kits for students. The program is designed to provide a wide array of offerings tailored for students of different ages, ranging from 1st through 12th grades. To help eliminate economic barriers and to foster inclusion, this unique program is provided free of charge for all students and classes that attend Buffalo or Niagara Falls public or charter schools and Western New York Title 1 schools. This program is made possible by a $75,000 contribution from AT&T and the generosity of the partnering cultural and educational institutions.
The Buffalo History Museum offers tours recommended for students in 4th through 6th grades. Each virtual field trip includes a live Zoom tour of two current exhibits with a member of the Museum’s education team. Tours must be booked in advance. The Buffalo History Museum has been Western New York’s premier historical organization since 1862. The history of Western New York is filled with stories of diverse people striving to create a place that they can call home. Stories brewing with ingenuity and hope, but fraught with struggle and conflict. The virtual tour will bring the past to life in a personal way-through intimate narratives of everyday people and key historical figures and provide participants opportunities to engage with real artifacts and primary sources, while connecting with subject matter experts to access unique resources of the museum.
Great art is transformational. The Albright-Knox invites teachers and students to join us for virtual experiences designed to support the development of the critical and creative thinkers of tomorrow. Opportunities include live virtual guided tours and pre-recorded videos that will serve as a teaching resource to focus on critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Students will discover works of art from the Albright-Knox’s collection and exhibitions through a range of learning strategies, including open-ended and guided questions, conversation, and activities.
The authentic stories shared at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center highlight the extraordinary results that are achieved when ordinary people stand against oppression. On a live virtual field trip, museum educators will connect with classrooms remotely in real time. During a facilitated, interactive program, students will learn the history of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls while engaging in dialogue that will help them recognize the modern injustices that stem from slavery and think critically about what steps they can take to create a more equitable, just, and free society.
The Buffalo Museum of Science is ready to bring the wonder and excitement of the Museum to virtual classrooms! The Museum’s experienced facilitators will bring a unique educational experience and scientific expertise to students and educators. Whether participants are looking for an eye-popping science demonstration or a Behind-the-Scenes virtual tour, students and teachers can customize programming to suit specific needs and grade level. If school district guidance allows, kits can also be assembled and delivered to schools to give students immersive, hands-on experiences.
Children of all ages learn through exploration and grow through creativity. In this spirit, Explore & More invites young learners — the innovators of tomorrow — to “Explore, and More!” Explore & More has created seven (7) interactive videos that can be used together or individually by teachers. Each video includes a tour of one of the Educational Play Zones; a related activity and/or experiment that can easily be replicated by parents at home or teachers in school; and concludes by highlighting a STEM career. These tours are ideal for 3rd – 5th graders.
“Field trips are such an important component of every student’s education, providing enriching exposure to our world-class cultural institutions. While in-person class visits are not possible during the pandemic, virtual field trips are a terrific way to open the doors to our many museums and other cultural assets,” Mayor Byron W. Brown said. “Thank you to the cultural institutions which have embraced this creative way to offer field trips, and also to AT&T for once again stepping up as a community partner to make this new initiative possible.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily changed the way our children learn, but time and again our educators and our business leaders have stepped up to ensure that our students have access to new and innovative resources throughout remote learning,” said Senator Tim Kennedy. “As AT&T and Buffalo’s cultural institutions launch these interactive field trips, we’re seeing yet another example of these strong, creative partnerships encouraging them to continue to explore their city, albeit through a different lens.”
“Western New York has an extraordinarily rich history and legacy of achievement. Communicating the importance of that history and culture is more important than ever now that we remain distant from each other due to the public health risk posed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Congressman Brian Higgins said. “This collaboration will allow some of our community’s most important cultural institutions to continue to connect with our young people to enrich our community’s knowledge and learning amid significant barriers to in-person visits.”
For more information on the AT&T Virtual Field Trips program and the various virtual educational tours and instructions on how to book a virtual leader-tour or to access the videos and virtual assets newly produced by the participating institutions, please visit https://exploreandmore.org/att-virtual-field-trips/. All other schools and districts across Western New York interested in participating in the video tours are welcome to use the program for their students.
“As thousands of local students are either following a distance learning or hybrid model as a result of Covid-19, we are proud to help provide this opportunity and support educators who are keeping our students connected and to help ensure students aren’t deprived of the educational experience field trips to museums provide,” said Amy Kramer, New York President AT&T. “We are thrilled to collaborate with these remarkable educational cultural institutions that are not just pillars of this community, but have also been enriching our children’s educations for generations, and AT&T is happy keep the spirt of these field trips alive for this year and provide students of all ages some sort of normalcy.”
AT&T’s support for this program is part of the Company’s legacy of supporting educational programs focused on STEM disciplines in New York and nationally through AT&T Aspire, the Company’s signature $600 million philanthropic initiative that drives innovation in education by bringing diverse resources to bear on the issue of education, including funding, technology, programing, employee volunteerism and mentoring. Aspire is one of the nation’s largest corporate commitments focused on school success and workforce readiness by creating new learning environments and educational delivery systems to help students succeed and prepare them to take on 21st century careers. The program also aligns with the Company’s AT&T Distance Learning and Family Connections Fund, a $10 million COVID-19 relief program launched to give parents, caregivers and teachers tools they need to educate students remotely.
“The Albright-Knox is delighted to be a part of this important program that brings new and thought-provoking learning experiences to students throughout Western New York,” said Albright-Knox Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director Janne Sirén. “We believe that interactions with art can be transformational for young minds and we are thrilled to be able to share our wonderful collection in this innovative way.”
“The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is thrilled to participate in the AT&T Virtual Field Trips program,” said Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center Interim Director of Education, Christine Bacon. “This is an amazing opportunity for students to be inspired by ordinary people who took extraordinary steps to overcome great obstacles. Now more than ever, we need stories like this to uplift us.”
“We are so honored to participate in this virtual field trip program,” said Melissa Brown, Executive Director, The Buffalo History Museum. “In providing these students the opportunity to learn about our region’s past, we hope that not only will they receive educational value, but find personal and meaningful connections to the people that came before them.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for elevated science literacy as well as continued access to STEM resources in schools,” says Marisa Wigglesworth, President and CEO, Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. “The Buffalo Museum of Science is excited to continue engaging students in Buffalo and Niagara Falls through virtual tours and experiments that will inspire and encourage the STEM leaders of tomorrow. We are grateful to AT&T for making this wonderful program possible.”
“Through the AT&T Virtual Field Trip program we are able to keep the play alive. Our virtual field trips focus on STEM, an ever growing and critical field for children to embrace,” states Michelle Urbanczyk, Chief Executive Officer of Explore & More – The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum. “In doing STEM based activities and exposing children to experts like astronomists and veterinarians, we are hoping to show how exciting and fun a career in STEM can be.”
“Thank you to AT&T and our local historical, educational, and arts institutions for giving our students access to this extraordinaryVirtual Field Tripsprogram,” said Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash. “The excitement and enrichment this program will bring to our students will spark their interests for a lifetime, and the virtual experience will help to fill the gap while essential in-person field trips are paused.”
“At this time, more than ever, our students need to experience the rich heritage and culture Western New York offers,” said Mark Laurrie, Superintendent, Niagara Falls CSD. “The ability to build a child’s background knowledge through a creative and interactive way is meeting the needs of young people in a cutting edge manner. The support of AT&T is a gift that will last long in the schema of the children of Niagara Falls.”
Niagara Falls, NY – The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is launching a new virtual “Freedom Conversation” tour program this week. Freedom Conversations are the signature program at the Heritage Center. Pre-covid, they were offered twice daily on site.
Interim Director of Education at the Heritage Center, Chris Bacon, is thrilled to offer the thought-provoking tour virtually to the public.
“Freedom Conversation tours have always been at the forefront of our mission as a pivotal program that ties our past to our present,” Bacon said. “Rooted in the stories of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, these tours spark conversation and offer a space to consider the relationship between race, human rights, and freedom.”
The public can book their spot for the virtual “Freedom Conversation” tour at https://www.niagarafallsundergroundrailroad.org/events/. The tours will last approximately 60 minutes and are led by trained facilitators, offering a way to foster empathy, increase knowledge, and encourage action. All tours will be hosted via Zoom and participants will be sent a password upon registration.
The Heritage Center is offering two tours per week: Wednesdays at 7:00pm EST and Saturdays at 2:00pm EST.
Freedom Conversations are sponsored by a Humanities New York Action Grant.
About the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center
The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center opened in May 2018 after 11 years of planning. The center is located inside the former 1863 U.S. Custom House attached to the Niagara Falls Amtrak station. The center sits adjacent to the location of the former International Suspension Bridge, a point of crossing for many freedom seekers including Harriet Tubman.
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 lives to achieve the most basic rights of liberty. Learn more at niagarafallsundergroundrailroad.org.
The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is proud to proclaim August 28, 2020 as JohnLewis Day at the Center, in honor of the late Representative
Fifty-seven years ago, on August 28, 1963, over 200,000 people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. JohnLewis, chairman and co-founder of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), delivered a speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Lewis spoke to the lived reality of African Americans at the time: lack of employment, voter suppression, police violence, and homelessness. Known for his activism, Lewis went on to be elected to the House of Representatives in 1986 where he served Georgia’s 5th District until his death this year.
Fifty-seven years later, Lewis’s speech remains chillingly relevant, just as the resistance to oppression that became the Underground Railroad remains relevant today. Lewis continued the work of the Freedom Seekers who came before him. We must all continue the work of JohnLewis.
In honor of Lewis‘ legacy of fighting for racial equality and voting rights, we welcome all to visit the Heritage Center to learn the history behind his activism and to be inspired by the stories of perseverance told within our walls.
JohnLewis Day features:
Free admission to the Heritage Center from Friday, August 28th thru Sunday, August 30, courtesy of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area. Due to capacity guidelines, we will be enacting timed ticketing. Reserve your space now.
A free copy of the Black History Coloring Book: Entrepreneurs with all purchases of at least $57.
On-site voter registration provided in coordination with Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope.
February 20, 2020— Buffalo, NY. The National Federation for Just Communities of WNY presented an award to the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, honoring the museum for their work on the behalf of others. The Heritage Center was given the “Organization” award alongside 19 other awards that honored everything from Youth, Sports, and Public Relations.
The National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York is a human relations organization dedicated to overcoming racism, bias, and bigotry through advocacy and engagement.
About the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center
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, and aims to inspire visitors to recognize modern injustices that stem from slavery and take action toward an equitable society. Open since May 2018, the permanent exhibition, One More River to Cross, features the rich stories of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, the crucial role played by its location and geography, and the actions of its residents – particularly its African American residents. The Heritage Center’s immersive exhibits and cutting-edge interpretation affirmatively align with the principles of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, whose mission is to connect the past to modern social justice issues – “to turn memory to action.” Learn more at Niagarafallsundergroundrailroad.org
Niagara Falls, NY — In honor of Black History Month, the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is offering free field trips and transportation to all K-12 schools in Niagara County. Free Field Trips are generously sponsored by M&T Bank.
Following a tremendous success offering free field trips in February 2019, this year the Heritage Center will expand the program into March to accommodate more children, teachers, and chaperones.
Christine Bacon, Interim Director of Education at the Heritage Center said of the free field trips, “Since we opened in 2018, we’ve been looking for ways to bring every student in Niagara County to the Heritage Center to learn about the amazing history right in their backyards. By removing the barriers of cost for admission and the costs of transportation we can offer our field trips to more youth in our county.” She continued, “At the Heritage Center we connect local history to the broader context of the Underground Railroad, highlighting real freedom seekers and abolitionists for whom Niagara Falls was the gateway to freedom.”
Throughout the month the Heritage Center hopes to be packed with students in the mornings but invites everyone in the region to experience the museum and the stories as well. Evan Wright, the Heritage Center Visitor Services Manager says, “At the Heritage Center, we focus on Black History every month of the year, but we welcome visitors to spend extra time with this history during February. The stories we share at this museum have something in them for everyone.”
Transportation to the Heritage Center from all K-12 schools in Niagara County will be reimbursed by the Heritage Center. The Heritage Center can accommodate field trips from 10-60 students, teachers, and chaperones. Groups of that size should plan to spend 60-90 minutes on-site. Field trips can be booked Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. Schools should book directly with the Heritage Center by emailing Tours@NiagaraFallsUndergroundRailroad.org or calling 716.300.8477.