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Visiting Niagara Falls, New York: civic architecture at its finest; memories of architect James Knox Taylor

Updated on October 26, 2011
State Flag of New York
State Flag of New York | Source
U.S. Post Office, Niagara Falls, New York
U.S. Post Office, Niagara Falls, New York | Source
Welcome sign at Niagara Falls, New York
Welcome sign at Niagara Falls, New York | Source
Map location of Niagara Falls, New York
Map location of Niagara Falls, New York | Source

Separately or together, James Knox Taylor and Cass Gilbert designed many outstanding buildings; the U.S. Post Office, Niagara Falls, NY, is one of Taylor's

The U.S. Post Office Building in Niagara Falls, New York, has — embassy-like — graced the intersection of Main and Walnut Streets in that city for more than a century.

Responsibility for the building resided with James Knox Taylor, who in his capacity of Presiding Architect of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, was responsible for a very large number of Federal Buildings in the United States, in the closing years of the 19th century and early 20th century. Beaux Arts Classicism, a style favoured by the City Beautiful movement, whose proponents sought to enhance the appearance of the United States' civic buildings, was a hallmark of public/private partnerships in architectural projects borne of the Tarsney Act (1890-1912). The US Post Office Building in Niagara Falls, NY, which dates from 1904-1907, is reckoned generally to be in French Neoclassical style, with Beaux Arts details.

Examples of buildings for which the Gilbert and Taylor partnership were responsible include the Endicott Building in Saint-Paul, Minnesota. Later, Cass Gilbert and James Knox Taylor pursued their architectural work independently, but when eventually Taylor, in his capacity of US Treasury Presiding Architect, picked Gilbert for the design of the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House in New York City, he was strongly criticized and the Tarnsey Act was eventually repealed. Some would argue that repeal of the Tarnsey Act provided for a greater degree of accountability and transparency with regard to public money, and this probably has considerable merit. But it is probably aslo true to say that public buildings in the United States dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries testify to a degree of grace and architectural merit not always present in some subsequent, publicly funded, civic buildings.

James Knox Taylor's business partner Cass Gilbert, who amongst numerous other distinguished buildings, designed the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC and New York City's Woolworth Building — in its day (1913) the tallest in the world. I cannot resist mentioning this amusing piece of trivia about Cass Gilbert, who had his own strong preferences as to the buildings for which he wished to be remembered and he famously once said that he was regretting having ever designed the Woolworth Building; he added, 'it is after all only skyscraper'.

If so, to pursue this mock irony, Niagara Falls is 'only' a world class destination, too...

City Hall

Other civic buildings of note in Niagara Falls, New York, include the City Hall.

This sedate structure was built 1923-1924. The building is recorded as being in Beaux-Arts style, with Neoclassical Revival details.

Also worth seeing

The United Office Building , built in 1929 in Art Deco style, incorporates Mayan artwork into its facade. Until 2005 this skyscraper was the tallest building in Niagara Falls, New York, and has often featured in photographs taken of the American Falls from the Canadian side of the Niagara River .

The American Falls may be viewed to excellent effect from the Niagara Falls State Park, adjacent to the American Falls.

Niagara Falls, Ontario , Canada (distance by road: c. 2 kilometres), at Table Rock Point, is the best spot to view closely the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

Lewiston (distance: 12.4 kilometres) downstream from Niagara Falls, New York, on the Niagara River, The historic Frontier House, in its day classed as an outstanding hotel, is one of a number of noted features. The first railway in the United States was built here in 1764, when carts, pulled by ropes, were drawn along wooden rails. It was from Lewiston in 1812, that US troops. seen as liberators on the US side of the Niagara River, attacked the Canadian side, where they were regarded as invaders. Since the War of 1812 and, despite fluctuations in relations between the US and Canada during the mid-19th century, the US-Canadian border has become established as what is regarded as the most peaceful international border in the world.


How to get there:

A number of airlines fly to Niagara Falls International Airport (distance from Downtown Niagara Falls, NY: 10.4 kilometres) from various destinations in the Southern United States. Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Buffalo Niagara International Airport (distance to Niagara Falls, NY: 42 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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