Niagara County

Village of Lewiston

Area's First Civilian Community

Lewiston Once Appeared Destined to Become Big Industrial Center

The Village of Lewiston, quite possibly the oldest non-military community on the Niagara Frontier, was settled because of its location to the lower end of the portage end Niagara Falls.

This portage was, in early days, the most important route to the upper lakes, and the French, realizing its advantages, built on the site as early as 1719, when Joincare settled a log house near the river. When the British took control of the French in 1759, they improved the portage by contructing a rude counter-balance railway to raise freight to the escarpment and employed wagons from there, rather than the backs of the Seneca Indians, as the French had done.

After the area had served largely as a home for Senecas, a few settlers moved to Lewiston, the first known being the tavern keeper, Middaugh, in 1788. Others who came from 1802 to 1810 included such well remembered pioneers as Capt. Lemuel Cook, Benj. Barton, Alexander Millar and the Hustlers, proprietors of the tavern at which James Finnimore Cooper is reputed to have writen his famous book, "The Spy."

Destroyed by the British

The village was destroyed in 1813, during the War of 1812, when the Britich razed the entire frontier and ten or so residents were killed, mostly by Indians. It was headquarters of the American army at the time of the battle of Queenston Heights. After the war rebuilding commenced and, although interrupted occasionally by fires and ice jams, progressed through the years. The importance of the portage was gone after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1826, but commerce by ship to Lake Ontario ports became active, timber and agricultural products being shipped.

Transportation by land was confined to stagecoach until 1836, when a railroad line was built connecting Lewiston with the horsedrawn Lockport and Niagara Falls R. R. In 1853 the Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario R. R. built a line from Niagara Falls and in 1896 the scenic Great Gorge R. R. came to the Village, where it connected with the steamships running to Toronto (Canada). All these modes of transportation are now abandoned.

The first bridge to Canada was opened in 1851 and was destroyed by a storm in 1864. The present bridge was erected in 1899.

Schools were built at various times, the first in 1806 and the Academy on the site of the present ball field, a high school started in 1828, drew students from both sides of the river. The profits of the ferry to Canada were appropriated for the Academy's maintainance. When the bridge to Queenston was erected, the ferry was abandoned and the picturesque old building was discontinued as a school for lack of funds.

One Mile Square

The original and present area of the Village of Lewiston was one square mile and most of the streets were laid out about 1835. The village was incorporated in 1843, second only to Lockport in Niagara County. At one time it was seriously considered as the site for the county seat.

One of the outstanding structures is the Frontier House, a large stone building in Center Street, built in 1826 as a tavern. It has housed many important visitors and is known throughout the area as a landmark.

Church services were held in Lewiston in the church constructed by the famous Mohawk, Joseph Brant, during the British occupation of the area. These were said to be the earliest civilian services held on the Niagara Frontier. The present Presbyterian church was the mother church of Western New York, having been founded in 1817. Other local churches are St. Peter's Catholic, organized in 1830; St. Paul's Episcopal in 1832, and the Evangelical Lutheran Churchof the Messiah, organized within the last year.

Colorful Era

A colorful era in Lewiston's history was inaugurated in 1897, when the Great Gorge Railroad opened. The trip through the famous gorge, with the trolley track only a few yards from the lower rapids, brought thousands of sight-seers, many of whom extended the trip by taking the steamer to Toronto (Canada). Eight and ten cars, each pulling two or three trailers, would meet the boats which were loaded with passengers from Toronto. The railroad is now abandoned and the waterfront is drab in comparison to its form lively appearance.

A project which was considered for a time in Lewiston was the construction of a canal from the upper river, the power to be developed by the fall of water over the escarpment. It was hoped thus to make Lewiston a manufacturing center. The idea was never carried out due to the high cost, and the early residents' dreams of industrial wealth were never fulfilled.

Lewiston is rich in historic lore and still boasts many interesting historic structures such as the home of Miss M. Gazelle Hoffman, the first bakery in the Village, and the Sparrow Sage home, Ridge Road, domicile of one of the earliest settlers, and many more.

Despite predictions of a great future for Lewiston as a center of transportation and of water power, the Village is now a suburban town and it seems to be the consensus of residents that the wish to keep it a pretty village, with an historic background, will help to maintain its residential nature in the future.

Source: This history was written for the NIAGARA FALLS GAZETTE on Its 100th Anniversary date of publication. Monday, May 17, 1954. (Author Unknown). I found this history document in the History / Reference Room at the Lockport Public Library under past-County Historian Clarence O. Lewis files.

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This page was last updated 04/08/2024