James and Luvisa Patterson, operators of the Free Soil Hotel on Main Street, lived in this house. After their daughter Mary Luvisa Patterson married Charles Kersey Jackson from Virginia, the Pattersons moved this house to a nearby back lot on Fall Street and built the Robinson House Hotel at this site on the original Mechanic Street. Charles and Mary Luvisa became proprietors of the Robinson House Hotel. By 1929, when the home was demolished, local resident Julius Krakoski remembered it as “the home of Jim Patterson, a slave who escaped from the South during the early years of the Civil War”.
James S. Patterson (also known as Samuel J. Patterson) was born in 1809 in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a stronghold of southern slavery. Patterson came to Niagara Falls in 1836, and worked for years as a porter at the Cataract House. He would go on to take full advantage of his personal and financial liberties as a free African American in Niagara Falls when he and his wife became proprietors of the Free Soil Hotel in or around 1850. The Pattersons, also known to support local Underground Railroad activities, operated the Free Soil Hotel until the early 1860’s, when they leased it to other proprietors. James Patterson was remarkable, not only because he owned a hotel but also because he did not fear to advertise his political principles by naming it the Free Soil Hotel.
Between 1847 and 1854, the Falls Hotel housed the offices of The Iris, a newspaper with antislavery sympathies owned by editor George Hackstaff and printer William Tunis. Tunis also published tourist guides, operated a bookstore across the river in Ontario, and served as an agent for the Railway Express System, delivering New York City periodicals to inland cities. In 1860, African Americans lived in homes of both William Tunis and the proprietor of the Falls Hotel. The hotel burned in 1861.
The Eagle Hotel was the first hotel in Niagara Falls, owned by Parkhurst Whitney. In 1853, B.F. Childs added on to this building to create the world renowned International Hotel, equal in size and stature to the Cataract House. Like the Cataract, this hotel employed many black waiters. Eagle/International Hotel staff (including Daniel R. Cosby, headwaiter from 1853 into the 1870s) were involved in rescue attempts, including a failed rescue of a young woman staying at the hotel in 1847.
The Cataract House was one of the two largest hotels in Niagara Falls, operated by Parkhurst Whitney from 1825-45, and by his son Solon Whitney and sons-in-law James Trott and Dexter Jerauld from 1845 until the late nineteenth century. It was a magnet both for southern slave-holding tourists and for African American waiters, many of them southern-born. In 1850, more than sixty percent of African Americans working at the Cataract listed their birthplaces as a southern state or unknown/unlisted, suggesting that many of these people had escaped from slavery. The Cataract House was also the site of many escapes from slavery, and the staff of African American waiters (under head waiter John Morrison and others) helped enslaved people escape to freedom. Famous cases included a failed rescue attempt in 1847 and the successful escapes of Cecilia Jane Reynolds (1847), a woman named Martha (1853), and waiter Patrick Sneed (1853). The importance of the Cataract House as the center of Underground Railroad activism in Niagara Falls cannot be over-estimated. The African American waiters who worked as Underground Railroad agents made this site one of the most important Underground Railroad nodes in the entire nation. at this location. John Morrison, head waiter at the Cataract House, often ferried people across the river himself.