Niagara Gazette

May 1, 2014

Group ready to unveil Underground Railroad website

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area Commission is set to unveil its virtual walking and driving tour just as the tourist season is set to begin.

The commission will hold an informational meeting to explain the website, developed by OnCell-Toursphere, at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center on Pine Avenue at 6 p.m. tonight. The virtual tour will use global positioning system technology to guide tourists and citizens to historically significant sites linked to the Underground Railroad throughout the city and county.

Tom DeSantis, a commissioner on the group’s board of directors, said the website will help the commission build awareness of the region’s significance in the secret system used to transport slaves to freedom in Canada while a planned interpretive center in the 1863 U.S. Customs House on Whirlpool Street is constructed.

“This is a way to expand on what the center can do,” DeSantis said.

Visitors will be able to see where historical sites are in relation to their location and can read a history of the sites on their phones.

The commission had to halt its work on the interpretive center capital project because funding was withheld during the four-year gaming compact dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state.

The group’s consultant on the capital project, Riggs Ward, has resumed design work, but the North End project, which sits next to the Niagara Falls Intermodal Transportation Center project set to start next month, experienced significant delays because of the gaming compact dispute.

DeSantis said the virtual tour website allowed the commission to continue working on a project that will promote the rich history of the Underground Railroad in the area while waiting for the withheld casino revenues.

“Having a project that delivered a virtual Underground Railroad tour seemed like a great way to keep the mission going,” DeSantis said.

The application is the first milestone in a series of goals for the commission that will culminate in the opening of the interpretive center, he added.

“It will be a series of little steps that get bigger all the time,” DeSantis said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257