Niagara Gazette


February 12, 2013

BRADBERRY: Underground Railroad sites dot city, region


Niagara Gazette — First Congregational Church and Society of Niagara, 822 Cleveland Avenue

Like many Congregational churches, this one had many abolitionist members, including William H. Childs. It was located a block from the Suspension Bridge. The First Congregational Church and Society of Niagara City began to build their new church on land donated by James Vedder, with the cornerstone laid on September 10, 1855. Isaac Colt donated local limestone.

Reverend J.O. Knapp from Hatfield, Mass., became the first minister. In September 1856, they hung their new bell. On Oct. 29, 1857, the congregation dedicated the church, which has remained in continual use since that time.

The steeple clock became the community’s timekeeper, always running twenty minutes faster than clocks on the Canadian side of the river. From its very beginning, this Congregational Church found itself involved in debates over abolitionism, and several members withdrew in protest to the abolitionist sympathies of the majority.

Colt Block, northeast corner of Main and Ontario Streets

Leander Colt represents widespread local support for helping people to get out of slavery.

The only evidence of his involvement with the Underground Railroad was a diary note from Artemus Comstock on July 24, 1856. “He went to Lockport”, he wrote, “accompanied by Miss Eliza Netzel and Leander Colt and lady to listen to a concert given for the benefit of a colored man by the name of George Goines to redeem his mother and brother from slavery. The amount necessary to be raised was $1,000 and $1,100 was procured. The tickets sold for one dollar each. The concert was a good one.” After Colt constructed this block in 1855, he rented part of the building to George Hackstaff, editor of the Niagara Herald, who had antislavery sympathies. By 1860, Colt rented part of the second story to George Hackstaff, newspaper editor. Hackstaff edited The Iris, a newspaper with antislavery sympathies in Niagara Falls, from 1847-55.

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