Niagara University’s Role in Underground Railroad Heritage Center

The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, speaks during the grand opening of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center.

The much-anticipated Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center celebrated its grand opening on Friday.

Wikipedia reminds us “The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century, and used by African-American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause.[1]”

[I must note the irony of writing this as the country experiences a different kind of underground railroad heading toward our borders.]

The Heritage Center, developed in part by Niagara University, is an experiential museum that reveals authentic stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in Niagara Falls.

“It’s rare when you can walk into history and touch eternity in the same steps, and that’s really what we celebrate today,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University.

Father Maher, “All of us at Niagara University are proud to be part of such a historic day for Niagara Falls, Western New York and the United States. My predecessor, Father Joseph Levesque, C.M., initiated this collaborative project with the City of Niagara Falls in 2008 and our students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and partners – especially Dr. Thomas Chambers, Sara Capen, Ally Spongr and Christine Bacon – have been actively involved ever since. Consistent with our Catholic and Vincentian mission, we are steadfastly committed to advancing community engagement and economic development in Niagara Falls and beyond. This project, the first one dedicated to heritage tourism in Niagara Falls in over 35 years, is the latest example of this pledge.”

“The Underground Railroad Heritage Center tells the stories of the freedom seekers from the moving perspective of those who lived it and from the unique Niagara Falls experience,” Congressman Brian Higgins said. “This project is designed to help visitors learn and grow as individuals, while at the same time growing opportunities for the region’s tourism industry.”

Bill Bradberry, president and chair, Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage commission, said, “As the first new cultural attraction in the City of Niagara Falls in over 35 years, opening the Underground Railroad Heritage Center is an incredibly significant event, both to the people of Niagara Falls and throughout the world.”

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