On March 14, 2015 plans were set in place to venture into and around the crumbling, forgotten pieces and places of Niagara Falls, New York. When many think of Niagara Falls, what would you believe normally comes to mind? One might imagine a wonderful tourist destination full of life, sights and sounds of rushing water, a vibrant, happy community with so much to offer. If you had visited Niagara Falls, New York in its booming years, you would be correct. Sadly, this once wonderful piece of America’s great collection of family friendly tourism has turned away from happier days, while much falls into a state of disrepair, becoming further and further forgotten beneath crumbling rooftops, flooded hallways and the passing of time. During this adventure, thanks to a wonderful friend of mine, Emily, I was able to learn about the fall of the Falls, and photograph many new subjects. Emily is a wonderful supporter of the arts and without her and her family this trip would not have been as possible or even as amazing as it was, and I thank her so much for giving us the opportunity to do this. She did not take any part in where we went during the project, nor did she tell us anything that we should do, she simply lent us an amazing helping hand through her support of art. I can’t say thank you enough. During the first day, just as we arrived, navigating our way up and down the grey, foggy streets, I notice that much of the town surrounding me has become blighted, strewn throughout the hectic maze of everyday life around it. Building after building, street after street, we pass many broken buildings, window panes cracked beneath distorted awnings, collapsing roofs hovering over empty homes now held up only by decay encrusted walls. Warmer weather was finally beginning to sweep through, even if in small bursts. A chilled wind blew softly as the town sat quiet; it was difficult to imagine that this was once a thriving community. I crossed the road walking toward our first location, slipping my way down stairs that had become iced over. Gripping the railing to my right, I held my weight from sliding down the frozen stairs, only to be surprised after making it half way when my feet became submerged under snow where ice had already melted away. My feet were immediately soaked, but that was not going to push me, nor any of us, away from the goal at hand. Mysteries of this location flutter throughout halls and corridors, unknown to those passing by. This building holds a collection of closely guarded secrets hovering eerily over the streets of Niagara Falls.
Standing in any one of these rooms, it would not be strange to think that you have become lost in a dark and desolate future of life minus people. I felt far too distracted by the beauty of blight, which surrounded me, to a point where I barely gave thought to the fact that the world continued to move normally outside these walls. With the strangely beautiful and wonderfully surreal scenery enclosing me inside of this damp and darkly destroyed space encompassed by decay, it would be hard to imagine otherwise. Each room was lit softly with the outside light as it passed from a bright white overcast sky through fogged glass windows, coated with the hazed effects of water damaged interiors.
A dark and dreary, rather damp observation room sits empty inside of the former nursing home, while stagnant water covers most of the floor at my feet. An adjacent hallway on one side of the building was used mostly for main traffic of doctors, while the opposite was used for observation, as well as caring for patients that may have been carrying deadly diseases or any other type of sickness that would require doctors to suit up when dealing with treatment. Alternatively, the glass door side may have been used as a simple visitor’s walkway. Many of this building’s hallway railings continue to hold on for dear life while the rest of the structure crumbles and collapses around it. Paint rips itself from walls and the only remaining sounds are that of dripping water falling into beds or to the rotting floors.
The entire place was littered with rusted remains of bed frames and old equipment, room after room, covered in inches of water in most areas, many floors frozen as icicles hung from the ceilings and bed railings. It appeared as though the nursing home had been shut down for good sometime in the 90s, but nothing is certain as no date information remains that any of us have been able to locate.
Most of Niagara on the US side now sits a dreary mess, while preservation societies push for revitalization of specific buildings with little to no positive reaction from the city. A collection of structures all sit gathering dust as people continue to pass by paying little mind to what has been left behind.
Niagara Falls, New York was incorporated as a city on March 17th in the year 1892, when the bill was signed by Roswell P. Flower; then New York State governor. The bill was signed officially on St. Patrick’s Day. During the 1950s through the early 1960s, the town witnessed a large economic boom, while several industries moved into the city looking to harness the fall’s hydroelectric power, which there was plenty of at the time thanks to Nikola Tesla. Not only did Tesla contribute largely to the people’s ability to harness this power, but operated his own workshop right up in town. Now, even Tesla’s former workshop collects dust, tucked away in the shadows, while what remains of the city continues to grow further forgotten, with little to no notice by most.
Niagara Falls was once a main hub for the production of paper, rubber, plastics, petrochemicals and abrasives, which were the major industries running within the city. It was during the mid-1960s, when the Schoellkopf Power Project collapsed into the Niagara River that the end would begin for this flourishing industrial period. The community would from there on begin to rapidly collapse, bringing the decline of collective communities making up Niagara Falls, New York as a whole. After the 1978 Love Canal incident, the cities fortunes began to fade as several factories closed and the population dropped by half, while many of the blue-collar workers fled to find jobs elsewhere. Love Canal was a contaminated town, where toxins leaked from a chemical waste landfill within the site, forcing United States President Jimmy Carter to declare the area a national disaster, with hundreds of residents relocating.
This brings us into to the year 2000, Y2K, when a few more pieces would begin falling away from the city’s shaking grip, as it would attempt to hold onto the little industry that was left. The old National Biscuit Company (or Nabisco) factory now sits abandoned in 2015 as it has for years. The company was originally created in 1901, brought to life as the Natural Food Company factory, started by Henry Drushel Perky, who was 58 years old when he came to Niagara Falls to begin his business. In 1908, the factory was renamed to the Shredded Wheat Company, producing mainly shredded wheat biscuits and Triscuits. The company began putting images of Niagara Falls on their boxes this same year. In 1914, the Rainbow Boulevard location would be built, only to eventually become a large industrial shell that many now simply pass by.
In 1992, the production of shredded wheat was put to an end at the Rainbow Boulevard location. Though this production was halted for good, the company would continue to produce Triscuts until the year 2000, when Kraft purchased the building. Soon after, Kraft would shut this facility down in its entirety in 2001. Once Nabisco moved from their factory, shuttering its doors, this meant that a large chunk of jobs would be dropped from Niagara’s list of employment opportunities, leaving entire families out of work. Shortly followed by this closure, entire streets once home to former Nabisco employees would start to become abandoned as families began fleeing the city in search of different work. After more than 200 workers lost their jobs, this only meant the furthering of a falling economy.
Population numbers documented in the 2000 census were at 55,510 residents, and only 10 years, a short decade later, the city found its population fallen, sitting at only 50,193. The most recent census was taken in 2013, where the population had fallen even further to 49,468. Current population in 2015 is now slowly dwindling away.
With some families relocating beginning as early as the 1950s through mid-1960s, this meant relocation of children as well. Many baby boomers were brought into the world during these years, meaning most families would be taking children with them, leaving a large hole in the numbers attending facilities of the Niagara educational system, bringing a slow movement into closure of some of the city’s educational buildings years later. With not enough students to fill the space, there was simply no need to keep them all active.
The area becomes illuminated with the glow of city lights as night falls over us, and I stand at the street’s edge, admiring the broken beauty of St. Mary’s Manor. An orange glow beams from streetlights lining sidewalks, giving the building an eerie and ominous appearance. Opening first as a hospital, the former manor now remains no more than a massive, empty shell of memories for those who may have experience life inside its halls. After moving from their old location, many patients were moved into this larger facility. Closed fully in 2004, St. Mary’s has since sat, left to decay under the power of Earth’s elements.
I walked the ambient lit corridors, meandering up and down each eerie hallway. Wandering in and out of each room, I attempted to find anything that could provide me with further information, or a better glimpse into the building’s history. Making my way towards the lower floors, I was eventually met with the foreboding darkness of a cold main lower floor. Traipsing through the pitch black darkness with only cellphones for light, my friends and I found our way to a former dental office of the facility. Tucked away in artificial night, I examined the ominous room where the dentist chair remained, tools and all, As the building seemingly melted away around us, paint peeling from the dripping walls, the room was turned to a quite surreal and macabre view of an otherwise normal scene. What’s worse than a rusted, rotting and squeaking dentist chair? I’m sure quite a lot of things, but can you imagine having your teeth drilled here? I would not want to find myself in a situation like that.
With only a few hours before two members of our group had to depart, it was decided that we would at least make a few more quick stops.
A heart posted on this factory wall reads “I don’t want to become a parking lot.” While people want to see the preservation of a history lost to time and the falling economy, most signs point to a very unlikely restoration as many pass by seeing these spaces as nothing more than a dead factory. Amongst everything that now sit as empty shells, even the Hotel Niagara towers above the streets like a looming reminder of what the town once was. Marilyn Monroe stared in the movie “Niagara,” which was actually filmed partly inside this very hotel. So what else can I say about this city?
I love it. Venturing these streets you can find the strangest of things.
I feel that there is so much history, which needs to be seen, heard, examined and saved. Sadly, I feel that those of us who believe the same are left in silence, as we continue to witness the fall of the Falls.