NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Echota, a utopian community

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOThis is a view of Echota, an area of Niagara Falls that was planned as a Utopian community in 1894.

Today, if you drive down Hyde Park Boulevard to Buffalo Avenue and look to the right, you may catch a glimpse of what was once a thriving community of fine houses, broad streets, stores, a school, a fire house and railroad station. Echota, Cherokee for “Town of Refuge,” was the brainchild of the Niagara Development Company, part of the Niagara Falls Power Company. Having recently erected the Edward Dean Adams power station nearby, the company was looking for a place to build residences for workers that would be convenient to the plant. An 84-acre vacant lot across Buffalo Avenue was chosen for the new Utopian community. It bordered Buffalo Avenue on the south, Niagara Street on the north, Sugar Street (now Hyde Park Blvd.) on the east and Gill Creek on the west.

Construction on Echota began in 1894. World-renowned architect Stanford White, who had designed the Adams Power Station, took on the task of planning and developing the new community. The paved streets were assigned letters, A to F, instead of names or numbers. Sixty-seven homes were built as singles, duplexes or three- and four-unit row houses for a total of 112 units. Depending on the size of the unit, rent ranged from $9 to $30 a month. All the structures in Echota were in the Queen Anne and Georgian styles, many with gambrel roofs. Originally, the houses were natural wood shingles with white trim, but in 1901, with the popularity of the color schemes used at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, the homes were painted in vibrant, eye-catching colors and soon became an attraction for travelers visiting the Falls. 

Another attractive feature of the Echota community was that each home was built with indoor plumbing and electricity (even in the power capital of the world, electricity to private homes was still years away). Maple and elm trees were planted along the streets and several of those are still standing today. After four years of renting units, the Niagara Development Company began to offer the dwellings for sale to the tenants on “easy terms.” The community flourished for many years and was the envy of many of the surrounding neighborhoods.

The future of the unique community may have already been foretold in 1894. That year, Mrs. Timothy Toomey gave birth to the first baby born in Echota, Ralph Echota Toomey. His birth was celebrated along with the birth of the new community. Unfortunately, Ralph died in 1901. In 1910, the Niagara Development Company sold Echota and the area gradually began to decline. 

In 1958, the New York State Power Authority, successor to the Niagara Falls Power Company, moved some of the smaller houses on the east side of Hyde Park Boulevard out to a new development off Military Road (these houses had not been part of the original Stanford White Echota, but had been built at a later time and in a different style). In 1960, the city of Niagara Falls did some infrastructure repairs in the neighborhood and rehabbed some of the houses to bring them up to modern code. However, once again, the development fell into neglect, this time for almost 50 years. In December 2007, a historic preservation couple, William and Mary Ann Roland, purchased one of the largest of the Echota houses for $4,000 to save it from demolition. After putting more than $50,000 into completely renovating the house, it was put up for sale in 2010. It finally sold in March of 2015 for $68,000.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

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