Did you know that dozens of churches and homes in Niagara Falls served as hiding places on the Underground Railroad? Get to know the key role that the area played in the 1800s freedom movement.
The history of the Underground Railroad runs through Niagara County. With its proximity to Canada, the area became a prime location for hundreds of abolitionists to help fugitive enslaved people escape to freedom across the border. Churches, homes, farmhouses and other dwellings were used as hiding places along the Underground Railroad in New York, as leaders like Harriet Tubman would help escaped slaves make their way into Canada via the Niagara River. Visitors can now learn about this period in Black American history through interactive exhibits, monuments and experiential museums. Read on to learn about Underground Railroad locations and exhibits around Niagara County and take a self-guided journey through time.
Located inside the former 1863 U.S. Customs House (attached to the Niagara Falls Amtrak Station), this permanent exhibition tells the stories of how the actions of the community — particularly the free Black American residents — coupled with the region’s natural geographic benefits and location on the border to Canada were critical in bringing countless individuals to freedom. In this rich learning experience for kids and adults alike, visitors can enjoy a variety of interactive exhibits, hear the stories of prominent historical figures such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and sign up for a tour to learn more facts about the Underground Railroad.
Centrally located in Niagara Falls, NY, the NACC offers visual and performing arts events to the public as well as artist residencies and workshops across its 180,000-square-foot building. The exhibit “Freedom Crossing: The Underground Railroad in Greater Niagara” tells the story of how thousands of freedom seekers passed through the area to Canada, as the Niagara River was often the last crossing to freedom. The exhibit tells this story through historic photographs, artifacts, books, interactive stations and contemporary artwork.
Local artist Susan Geissler created this emotional sculpture installation along the banks of the Niagara River in Lewiston, which was considered a final stop on the path to freedom. The sculpture depicts a family being led to safety by Rev. Josiah Tryon, an abolitionist leader whose shipping business served as a front to assist freedom seekers on their journey to Canada, alongside the fictional heroine Laura Eastman of the historical novel “Freedom Crossing,” which is set in Lewiston.
Lewiston First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Tryon is honored here again with a monument for his work with the Underground Railroad. He built a home referred to as “Tryon’s Folly,” which had nine descending cellars to get enslaved people as close as possible to the river and the freedom awaiting on the Canadian shore.
Take a guided tour of the towns and sites that played a role in this historic movement. Visit the Michigan Street Baptist Church – a well-known Underground Railroad site – as well as the spot where Harriet Tubman crossed over into Canada. Daily tours are offered through Motherland Connextions and customized tour services such as meals, itineraries and more are available.