NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Porter Park, a 'thing of beauty'

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOThis image from the Rachel Flagler Collection shows Porter Park in the 1950s. Note the cannon at the left and the comfort station on the right.

The recent removal and relocation of the Old Stone Chimney to a park across the Robert Moses Parkway has put a long-forgotten park back in the news again. 

Several newspaper articles have mentioned that the chimney was located in the “former Porter Park” on Buffalo Avenue, at the foot of 10th Street. Looking at that piece of property today, it’s hard to image that it was once a large, tree-lined park with several amenities that were enjoyed by the people of Niagara Falls for several decades. 

The development of Porter Park began in the spring of 1915, on what was known as the “Ten Rod Strip” (not to be confused with the Porter Park Improvement Company, which owned vacant land in the vicinity of Pine Avenue and Hyde Park Boulevard). It was named to honor the Porter family who had once owned the land and had contributed so much to the history and prosperity of the city.

The June 5, 1915, issue of the Niagara Falls Gazette described the area of the new park as “one of the city’s most attractive beauty spots … a verdant tract of greensward with abundant and luxuriant shade trees, gravel paths and the handsome naval cannon monument at the Buffalo Avenue entrance.”

With the exception of a few trees, the cannon is the only part of the park that is still there.

The land where Porter Park is situated has an interesting history. The property was originally part of the Mile Reserve that was ceded to the British by the Senecas after the Devil’s Hole Massacre in 1763. It was transferred to the State of New York after the American Revolution. In 1805, Augustus Porter and Benjamin Barton acquired the land around Niagara Falls from the state and began building water-powered mills. The “Ten Rod Strip” remained in the Porter family until 1891, when it was sold to the Niagara Falls Power Company for a “substantial cash consideration.” 

During much of its history this land had been occupied by people who had leased it from the Porters and others who simply squatted there. The new owners promptly began to fill in part of the river just south of the Hydraulic Canal, which upset the people occupying the land. After 12 years of haggling with the occupants over who actually had the legal right to the property, Niagara Falls Power Company offered to deed the “Ten Rod Strip” to the City of Niagara Falls with the stipulation that the land be used as a public park. It took the city another 10 years to get the squatters off the property and remove the “unsightly structures” that had been built there.

During the next few years the city worked to prepare the land for use as a park. One of first ceremonies to take place at the new park was a Memorial Day event in 1915 dedicating a tablet to the memory of the men killed in the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor in February 1898. The following February, a procession comprised of members of the Army and Navy Union, American Veterans of Foreign Wars and the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) marched from the New York State Armory on Main Street to the Maine Memorial in Porter Park.

In the spring of 1916, the Hydraulic Power Company, which operated the hydraulic canal that ran through Niagara Falls, allowed the city to expand the park to include their property along the canal and fronting the river. The triangle shaped park was now bounded by Buffalo Avenue, the hydraulic canal, the International Paper Company and a narrow outlet on the river side that would soon become a municipal bathing beach.

A comfort station was opened to much acclaim on June 10, 1916. Described as a “thing of beauty” by the Buffalo and Niagara Falls newspapers, the octagon-shaped building resembled a small castle complete with stone battlements. The lower level housed “comfort apartments for men and women” while the upper level was a combination observation deck/bandstand. This was just the beginning. By the end of summer, other amenities would be added to the park.

NEXT WEEK: Porter Park, 1916 to the present.

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

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