Visiting Lewiston, New York: history at Frontier House, Center Street and the Little Yellow House

State flag of New York
State flag of New York | Source
Frontier House, Lewiston, New York
Frontier House, Lewiston, New York | Source
Little Yellow House, Lewiston, New York
Little Yellow House, Lewiston, New York | Source
Map location of Lewiston, Niagara County, NY
Map location of Lewiston, Niagara County, NY | Source

Some memories from Lewiston's Historic District

Center Street in the Historic District of Lewiston, New York, in Niagara County, has 19th century properties of particular interest to the historically aware visitor.

Frontier House, 1824

At No. 450, Frontier House is probably the most well known of historic properties in this remarkable place. Built in 1824, it served as an hotel for many years; indeed, its reputation was such that it was claimed as the best inn west of Albany, NY. Many famous visitors are known to have been guests at Frontier House. These included: Mark Twain, President William McKinley, Daniel Webster, Charles Dickens and Jenny Lind.

Built in what was known as the Federal style of architecture, the house, with nearly 200 years of history, almost inevitably has attracted stories of being haunted by ghosts. The house was known to be used for meetings of Freemasons and one story claims that the ghost of a man called William Morgan, who was said to have opposed them and to have been imprisoned by some Freemasons at Frontier House, still inhabits this property's old walls. Another story claims that one of the workmen employed in building the structure was killed in a fall and was buried hastily in the basement, while his ghost supposedly reappears periodically.

Some people avidly believe in ghosts; others are sceptical.

In any case, more than reports of ghosts, what strike me forcibly are the historical associations of famous people who were guests at Frontier House, and some of the questions which may be asked. Take Henry Clay, the distinguished legislator and diplomat, for example. When he visited the comfort of Frontier House, prior to the Civil War, would his employment of 60 slaves south of the Mason-Dixon Line have caused him even a moment's twinge of conscience? Or William McKinley: it is thought that Leon Czoglosz, whose attempt to assassinate him was successful shortly afterwards in September, 1901, in Buffalo, stalked the President while he visited Lewiston. Would there have been anything about the demeanour of Czoglosz at Lewiston that could have alerted people's suspicions? We shall never know the answer to such questions.

The Little Yellow House, 1816

Immediately west of Frontier House, on Center Street, is the property which has come to be known as the Little Yellow House. This structure is reckoned to be among the oldest houses in Lewiston, dating from 1816. From 1818 the dwelling was owned by Judge Robert Fleming, in whose family the house subsequently remained for almost a century.

In the later part of the 20th century, the building served for a number of decades as a law office. In 1999 the property came into the possession of the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees.

Historical importance of Lewiston

The first railway in what became the United States was built here in 1764, when carts were drawn along wooden rails, pulled by ropes. Lewiston was particularly significant in the War of 1812. From here in 1812, US troops, regarded as liberators on the US side of the Niagara River, attacked the Canadian side of the river, where they were seen as invaders. Despite fluctuations in diplomacy between the US and Canada during the mid-19th century, the US-Canadian border has become established as what is widely perceived as the world's most peaceful international border.

Also worth seeing

Within a short walking distance of Lewiston's Center Street are many structures or monuments of interest. These include: the pillared First Presbyterian Church on Cayuga Street; the Lewiston Museum of the Historical Association of Lewiston (housed in the former Episcopalian church) and Cornell House, both at the corner of Niagara and Plain Streets; the Freedom Crossing Monument at the Niagara riverfront, with memories of the Underground Railroad.

The US Post Office, Niagara Falls , New York (distance: 12.5 kilometres) at the intersection of Main Street and Walnut Avenue, is a fine building dating from 1904-1907, designed by James Knox Taylor in French Neoclassical style, with Beaux Arts details. The American Falls themselves are naturally an outstanding visitor attraction.

Niagara Falls, Ontario , Canada (distance by road: 14.9 kilometres), at Table Rock Point, is a particularly suitable spot to view closely the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

Bergholz , New York (distance: 18.3 kilometres) became a German settlement in 1843, and harbours the Das Haus historical museum.

Broderick Park , Buffalo, New York (distance: 36.8 kilometres) has poignant memories of the Underground Railroad.

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How to get there:

A number of airlines fly to Niagara Falls International Airport (distance from Lewiston, NY: 15.4 kilometres) from various destinations in the Southern United States. Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Buffalo Niagara International Airport (distance to Lewiston, NY: approx. 48.7 kilometres). I-190 is the nearest Interstate to Niagara Falls, New York, linking near Buffalo, NY with I-290 and I-90 to Albany, NY. From Canada, accessible via the Rainbow Bridge, the QEW links Niagara Falls, ON with Hamilton and Toronto. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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