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DSC07649 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. DSC07454-6 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. DSC07488

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. DSC07470-2

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.

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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.

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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.

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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? DSC07631-2

I love it. Venturing these streets you can find the strangest of things.

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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. DSC07657-5

45 thoughts on “The Fall of The Falls

    • Most of these structures wont be missed. Old stuff should be saved or tossed. St Mary’s should be saved. the structure seems in good form; the design is attractive, and the potential for future use is significant. We all know: lack of jobs is killing Niagara Falls. Tourism is not nearly enough; removing the parkway is a novelty; racism and poverty is pushing folks with the means to make a difference into Lewiston and Amherst – i don’t blame them. The revolutionaries that will make a difference have not yet appeared. Will they?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. emotive. Made me want to get back out there. Reminds me of my trip to detroit, but they are regenerating as people exploit the economic disparity between it and other cities. The mystery of abandoned space, once full of life, nature slowly reclaims.

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  2. Well written and photographed journalism. Congratulations. A story of how man can destroy and create blight next to our God’s most beautiful creation. What is the answer?

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  3. the whole city is a total disgrace. I think all thr politicians and all residents of Niagara falls should take a ride thru as many streets as possible and you wont believe your eyes.Just think….This the city you live in. Wake up and face reality!!!!! .

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    • Thank you, this actually deeply hurt me as a Falls resident… You said it best… These people don’t realize what us as citizens go through though… We actually do care, and of course we see these buildings! We live here! I am just as appalled as you are by it! But there are many other beautiful places here that they didn’t show you also, besides the Falls itself… We have a rich history, I, myself, live in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the Falls… But our area is not falling apart, we have beautiful houses… Just please, before you judge the people of our city, at least meet a few of us before you cast judgment, because we have some of the nicest, most friendliest people that live here, make you feel welcome.

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      • That is God’s country, I was born and raised in Niagara Falls, I have lived in FL for over 30 years but I’m always very proud to say were I’m from.

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  4. This was a chilling but a well written and photographed subject. I just could not take myself from this story. It had me feeling like i was right there, and then wishing i was. I just love your work. Just wonderful.

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  5. I have been a resident of this city for 51 years. The Falls itself a beautiful natural wonder, powerful and inspiring, the thunder of the water takes your breath away. The rest of the city however is quite different. Blight, poverty and despair also takes your breath away. What can we as community do to bring our once great city back? Every politician is self serving , only taking instead of helping. We are the highest taxed per capita in the nation, industry wants nothing to do with us. The cost of electricity and water is unbelievable. The only hope that is left is that our children will leave to find greener pastures and to never look back.

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    • Vote those who do nothing for your community out of office. You have the power! Put the money back into your community one street at a time, one factory at a time.

      I remember coming to this area as a child. All I can recall is the beauty. It’s never too late.

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  6. Take a ride down Buffalo Ave, and look at at the empty factories. It was cheaper for them to relocate than to stay in N.Y.Way back in the early 80s I wa working at Union Carbide making $9.62 an hour plus full benefits.

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  7. This was the neighborhood I grew up in, went to school and called home until “Urban Renewal” took it all away. So very sad…

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  8. Sad. The images are beautifully sickening though. Only a few of the many good spots to photograph. I have photos of the building my grandparents owned, when it was new, and now to drive down there and see it, makes me cry.

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  9. I was born and raised in Niagara Falls … these pictures hit me hard. It is the sad truth. I would love nothing more than to see these abandoned gems brought back to life…. just not sure it will happen in my lifetime. The folks who dedicate their lives to the resurgence of niagara falls are far and few in between… and find themselves haggard at the amount of hurdles that get thrown their way….. Narrow minded politicians, lack of funding, lack of resources and creativity…. I wish I knew answers but I think your piece helped a greater cause. Thank you.

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  10. I live in Niagara Falls, NY and frequently cross the border into Canada. This article portrays the lights across the river as an assurance of economic abundance when that is not the case at all. The two cities have experienced similar decline and if you took the time to venture outside of the touristy area in Niagara Falls, Ontario you would find a similar state of affairs.

    Also, to the author of this article and anyone else that loves this city please join us at a Pints for Progress event, or attend the upcoming volunteer fair hosted by ReNU Niagara, and experience the grassroots energy driving this city forward!!

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  11. I’m from this city born and raised and I still live here. My grandfather died in the nursing home which was featured in the first part. I can say it was open as late as 1997 but can’t testlfy to after that. I’ve seen some comments posted that the residents and politicians should ride through the streets of our “disgraceful” city and look around. Like apparently we don’t know what we are surrounded by. We live here and no its not beautiful its not nice it is crime ridden and run down it is still home. Trust and believe the politicians know this city well. It was them who ruined it. It was corporate greed and a complete lack of regard for human life. So to the man who commented thank you sir for pointing out what apparently we can not see. However to the artist who created this piece thank you. Thank you for seeing the beauty the rich history and the fact that we are still human those who live here. I commend your work.

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  12. Having recently moved back to Niaraga Falls after 15 years, this article only scratches the surface of the decay happening here. I spend my free time driving around and gawking at the beauty and history crumbling before my eyes. You photographed my elementary school, as well as my neighborhood. Well done.

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  13. I didn’t get it I saying Niagara Falls beautiful buildings are just figuring I’m going to list of some good memories at Saint Mary’s nursing home on 6th street my parentsboth work thereand if it was not for them working there togetherI would not exist and neither would my my brother my dad was from Long Island my grow up here I would love to be here for that is a friendly atmosphere of the building they actually have married and it’s a beautiful building anything I still see the beauty and It wasn’t there I would not exist I believe that those that building have good structures and also a couple of the other buildings that were shown and could be guted and put into building for people to live

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  14. Well written and fascinating photos. My dad worked at Spirella as sales manager, which is the first featured building, long before it became St Marys Nursing Home. I also remember as a kid going to get xrays at St Marys Hospital before they moved to Lewiston.

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    • I WAS ONE OF THE PEOPLE THAT LEFT NIAGARA FALLS..BUT I KEEP UP ON THE NEWS .THE MAYER OF THIS CITY IS TRYING TO BRING IT BACK WITH 7 NEW HOTELS AND A FEW FACTORY,A NEW TRAIN STATION AND TRYING TO HELP REBUILD THE AIRPORT .SOME OF THE PEOPLE IN THE CITY ARE REDOING SOME OF THE HOUSES .VOLINTIERS BY THE WAY. THEY ARE TERING DOWN THE HOUSES THEY CANT SAVE..I KNOW IT HAS BEEN BAD BUT.KEEP THE FAITH THEY

      ARE TRYING.

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  15. I take offense to this “Most of Niagara on the US side now sits a dreary mess”. I grew up in Niagara Falls, born of parents that grew up in Niagara Falls. I still live in the area along with my family and to say that “Most” of Niagara Falls sits in a dreary mess is a lie. I am not saying that it is great all over but some areas are beautiful, just like almost any city. Some areas are a “dreary mess” just like almost any city. The time of year these pictures are taken make it look worse. Niagara Falls does have a long way to go to turn it around but “Most” of it is not a dreary mess.

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    • I beg to differ with you. I too grew up in the city where my father and his family were born. By comparison to how the city looked in it’s heyday, it is a dreary mess.

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    • Aside from DeVeaux and some residential streets in the Town of Niagara, what parts are not dreary messes? I’m asking in all sincerity, because I really don’t know the answer.

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      • Old Falls Street, Third Street, the entire park system around the falls and the gorge, much of LaSalle, Cayuga Island, the newly constructed/reconfigured Robert Moses Parkway, Buffalo Ave downtown, Schoellkopf Park, The Niagara Art and Cultural Center (NACC), the new high school, Hyde Park and the golf course, the Niagara Culinary Institute, all the new businesses on Military Road and Niagara Falls Blvd, the Fashion Outlets… I could go on.

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  16. They can thank the shortsightedness of the city forefathers of the 1960’s for what this city has become. Mayor Lackey and his cronies created the monstrosities that you see today with their wonderful “urban renewal” visions. They have all scattered to the wind now and this is what is left as a reminder of what once was….

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    • I agree with you. I remember the Strand, Cataract and many of the buildings on Falls street. It was a much better place then before the renewal. As like you say, that is when the decline started. I visited home (Falls) a couple years ago and was literally heart broken.

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  17. Your article stirs many fond memories of the town I still call home. I left in 1978 and visit home often and could never understand how a town could not take full advantage of a Natural Wonder? I had friends contact me they were heading to Niagara Falls on an RV trip of the country and it was #1 on their list of places to go. I was so embarrassed to advise them to stay on Grand Island and no closer and what roads to take in and out to see the Falls and advise them only during daylight hours . That and your photos and words are a sad reminder of a reality I prefer to not acknowledge. A romance that has ended and all that keeps me smiling are memories of happy days Family Friends great food and the still Beautiful Falls Goat Island . When I go home I stay in Lewiston it’s never changed in 50+ years I can remember. A love you can count on the 1 place that feels right looks right and reminds me of happier days. Forever Young .

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  18. This decline is a direct result of federal government action (requiring passport for boarder crossing). It might have been the right thing, given national security interests, but is a direct cause and effect regardless.

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  19. I WROTE MY FIRST NOTE IN A HURRY AND MISS SPELLED A FEW WORDS .JUST GETTING OLD I GUESS. I WAS BORN AND RAISED HERE . I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY CITY .BUT I THINK THEY ARE ON THE RIGHT TRACK. GIVE IT TIME

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  20. Remember that old story about how a frog can be boiled alive if the water is heated slowly enough — it is said that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will never jump out? I guess that’s why it took the author Ginger Strand who grew up in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan to truly understand the Niagara story. Those of us who grew up there are just to numb to its grand beauty and sweeping disappointments to be able to react anymore. I commend Ms Strand for writing our sorry history with such attention to detail without leaving out that infinite glimmer for potential greatness even if it will always be just imaginary. Everyone interested in what was once a great city should read Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power and Lies by Ginger Strand.

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    • I read that book when it was first published and Ms. Strand did an excellent job of detailing the many events that led to the city’s demise. I remember my father speaking against the proposed “urban renewal” at city hall meetings along with many other citizens during the late 1960’s. He and others told Lackey and the council members they would ruin the city with their plans and they were so right. Niagara Falls has always been plagued with elected officials who are self serving and the apathy of many of the citizens has enabled them to take advantage of the tax paying public.

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  21. Just discovered this blog and immediately recognized the lobby of that hotel! I actually stayed there in 2005 and remembered how grand it seemed at first. We stayed in January. The hotel and the town seemed abandoned. They gave us our room key and we arrived on a floor (the ENTIRE floor) that had no electricity. As it turns out, we got stuck on the American side because one of my friends needed a Visa for her Chinese passport. We had a hard time even finding a place to eat or a shop that was open.

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  22. I was born in St Mary’s Hospital in 1946. I always wondered what the inside looked like, I would love to see the room were births take place. I really enjoyed seeing what photos that you took of the inside. I’ve lived in Pensacola FL for over 30 years and I’m always proud to say I’m from NFNY.

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  23. My God, I can barely finish reading this, it is just tragic. Truly breaks my heart. My great Aunt Colette lived for many years then died in That nursing home. My Aunt Carol trained proudly to be an OR nurse in St. Mary’s Manor, one of the first classes of RN’s in Western NY.
    That is the City that my Great- Grandparents and Grandparents helped to build, immigrated from Ireland to work in, and raise their families here because it was such a wonderful place to live! My Uncles and my Father, Patrick, proudly labored hard everyday to help build those buildings, work in Those businesses. To proudly buy Those as their First homes. Those are their old neighborhoods– and therefore the roots of My family, my dozens of cousins and all of our children–a total of more than a hundred Niagara County people who came from the blood of just two humble immigrants to Niagara Falls! Nabisco was Their workplace and they were really proud of that. God, we ate fricken’ Shredded Wheat and Triscuits every single day growing up because IT was the food that practically every man in my family had helped to create, either by building the factory or working on production there, and we were all so Proud of that. Proud of them, and the work they did, proud of the prosperity it brought to our whole huge family.
    THAT Niagara Falls Was a beautiful, prosperous and Happy place to live, with good jobs and hard-working families. Now YOU HAVE JUST reduced all that to pictures of rubble , and fodder for a blogger’s self-promotion– which only serves to further give the World an impression of what a pile of crap it has become, been reduced to…not exactly inspiration to make more folks want to come live here and help bring prosperity back. Sorry friend, but honestly, you are Not helping matters!
    You break my heart for the place I love. Your portrayal dishonors the legacy of my family and the thousands of other families who built this City, lived and loved there, and are still proud to call it home. Please, if you are an honorable person, come back here and do another article portraying the good we still have here, the proud families, the beautiful places, and the positive future we are all trying so hard to cling to in the hard times we have had. If you cannot see that Positive around you here in Niagara, just contact me and I will gladly take you on THAT tour….

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    • Kathleen,
      I grew up in NF too and frankly I don’t understand your complaint with what the author portrayed. His portrayal of the city is accurate. I moved away many years ago and at that time the city was in decay, it’s only grown worse in the decades since I’ve left and I’ve been back numerous times. Take off the rose colored glasses and look around you. The population is less than half of what it was when I was a child, so if that doesn’t indicate a dying city, not to mention, the decay, crime and ongoing political corruption, then what does? The author owns no explanation, nor apology for the article. It is accurate as stated.

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      • Respectfully sir, I am not interested in starting a debate, or in being chastised for my opinion of this person’s work or my impressions of my home. Your opinions are your own. I don’t agree with you, but I respect that your opinions are your own.

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