Niagara Gazette

August 14, 2013

BRADBERRY: August, calm before the storm?

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — When we took family vacations, they were almost always during the month of August.

With the first signs of summer’s waning, we almost always fled to hot, muggy Florida to spend time with our Southern family, soaking up the joy of the warmest weather before we faced the season-shifting cooler winds, the inevitability of fall’s storms, school and winter’s ire.

For my family, and much of America, August has become the official month of rest, relaxation and reflection; time to take a full bodied deep breath and get ready for what we all know lies directly ahead.

Evolving in part as a result of family’s busy work and school schedules, mid-to-late August signals the proverbial calm before the storm, a definite reprieve prior to the return to the madness.

Of course, the stores always seem to be ready before the rest of us, stocking their shelves with school supplies and the next season’s wares like some sort of a commercial barometer, projecting the next season well before it arrives, way before we are really ready.

It won’t be long before the majestic old maple trees begin to drop their leaves, forming a soft new carpet of orange, red and bright yellows, slowly replacing the soft green plush of summer.

But there is still time to enjoy the shores of Lake Erie’s Beaver Island, Crystal Beach, Olcott Beach, Lake Ontario and dozens of sites like Fort Niagara in Youngstown. Slow country cruises to Wilson, Lewiston and Lockport were among our favorites though the annual trips down south made the biggest impressions on me at a very early age.

They still do.

Things are different down south, not better, just different. Once you cross that imaginary Mason-Dixon Line, not only does the weather seem to change, the whole climate changes, and that goes well beyond the weather, everything changes, but North and South share a common thread when it comes to the month of August.

In fact, hordes of Deep Southerners migrate out of the hottest part of the year; many travel in the opposite direction, to the relative cool of the Niagara Frontier, a tradition that began here hundreds of years ago and in large part, led to the growth of Niagara’s summer tourist season and the development of our tourist industry creating a virtual explosion of first class (and others) hotels, fine dining and retail trade.

The Cataract House Hotel originally built in 1825 was the largest, attracting guests from all over the world, but especially Southerners who would arrive by train to appreciate the natural air conditioning supplied by the cool water and mist that rushed past the long lazy rocking chair furnished porches that abutted the river.

The history of Niagara Falls hotels makes for some pretty interesting, relaxing summer reading. One internet site (niagarafallsinfo.com) I visited recently provides a good starting point for anyone interested in the city’s development as a tourist mecca.

Under the heading, The History of Niagara Falls, NY Hotels, the site lists the Cataract House as the first major hotel followed by the International built in 1853 by B.F. Childs at the corner of Falls and Main Street.

By 1892 the Niagara Falls City Directory listed 28 hotels in the south part of the city and another 14 in the north section including these “notables”, the Hotel Imperial, International Hotel, United States Hotel, Columbia Hotel, The Watson House, Harvey House and the Temperance Hotel.

My old friend, writer Bob Kostoff fondly recalled the Temperance House about ten years ago when he wrote, “Niagara Falls has had many famed hotels over the years, but one venerable structure was well known because you couldn’t buy a drink there to save your soul.”

The Henry Hubbs Hotel stood near Falls Street, on Second Street directly across from the train station. Says Kostoff, “Its non-drinking history began with Henry Hubbs” who opened a rooming house across from the depot in 1870.

Kostoff’s history continued, “The business continued to expand, so that Hubbs went full-time into the hotel business.

Hubbs, a dedicated teetotaler, would not even allow alcoholic beverages served with meals in his dining room. The late City Historian Marjorie Williams told a story of how the hotel came to be named.

Seems a couple of gentlemen, told by Hubbs they could not drink in his dining room, went elsewhere for food and refreshments. When they returned that night, they tacked a sign on a pillar of the long verandah proclaiming “Temperance House.”

Hubbs thought that was a good idea and made it the official name of his hotel.”

By 1930 the City Directory listed “47 main hotels,” including, of course, the grand Hotel Niagara and the world famous Red Coach Inn which opened for business on Aug. 30, 1923.

Today, the exact number of hotels located within the city is difficult to pin down in part because so many that serve the visitors, guests and tourists that flock to the city nearly year-round now have choices on the outskirts of the city, making the falls easily accessible within minutes by car, but clearly, the city as well as the traveling public will benefit by ending the nearly decades-long city hotel construction drought and encouraging a much needed smart new hotel building boom that will witness the rise of world class accommodations that people will enjoy almost as much as they enjoy the natural wonders.

And hopefully this August’s recess is just what is necessary to permit all of the players to calmly clear the path toward a beneficial construction storm signaling the start of a new season formed in a whole new climate.

Now that would be a storm we could all appreciate!

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com