Exhibitions » Permanent Exhibition
The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center opened May 4, 2018.
Studio Tectonic, of Boulder, Colorado, is the lead exhibition design firm in the development of the Heritage Center's permanent exhibition. The exhibition, 'One More River to Cross' features the rich stories of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, the crucial role of its location and geography, and the action of its residents – particularly its African American residents. The exhibition highlights present connections to this history, and refers to situations that we may face, that similarly raise issues of brutal limitations on people's freedoms and present us with similar choices about our actions.
Upon arrival visitors are greeted with an exhibit section in the atrium of the Amtrak Station that, moving left to right (south to north and slavery to freedom), expresses the long and tumultuous journey of the Underground Railroad up to the point of reaching Niagara Falls. Through powerful imagery and content, the "Network Wall" communicates that this historic phenomenon was neither a railroad nor underground, but rather a network of people, routes, and means of transport; and that it also serves as a metaphor for human movement, and that slavery removed basic human rights that compelled freedom seekers to leave at great risk.
Upon entrance to the Heritage Center, visitors check in at the Welcome Desk and can visit the museum shop before proceeding into the Center's exhibition space inside of the Custom House. As if walking into the 1850s, visitors meet representations of individuals from the period in Niagara Falls at the historic train station near Falls and Mechanic Streets. Visitors can interact with the scene, activating scenarios or revealing details that reveal the purpose and role of individuals in the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls.
After being immersed in the place and time of Niagara Falls and experiencing some of the key individuals, visitors enter into a recreation of the Cataract House. The heart of the Underground Railroad stories are told in the "dining room" and "reception" at the Cataract House. This room will feature a variety of interactive, interpretive and media elements. Here, visitors are introduced to the stories of the African American waiters who worked at the tourist hotels, like the Cataract House, actively resisted slavery and lived double lives by openly serving hotel guests and secretly helped freedom seekers cross the Niagara River into Canada.
Visitors explore the stories of the dramatic last leg of freedom seekers' escapes to Canada by ferry or bridge crossing. Visitors are surrounded by recreated scenes of crossing points where they will learn of escapes and assistance freedom seekers received at the dramatic crossing points along the Niagara River. Visitors meet important figures such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, John Morrison, and Patrick Sneed.
Throughout the exhibition, visitors will experience stories and hear from individuals, both past and present, who connect the historic Underground Railroad past to the present day around the world. Visitors are invited to consider parallels and other important historical and contemporary stories, with the hope that these stories and connections will allow for deeper thought, consideration of new or different perspectives, and prompt actions in our own lives.