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By Bob Kostoff

The prominent pioneer Porter family that settled in Niagara Falls in the village's infancy spawned a succession of heirs who went on to establish their own prominence in local history.

More specifically, the descendants came from Peter Buell Porter, a military hero of the War of 1812 and prominent politician and businessman. With his older brother Augustus, he helped operate the portage and together they owned most of the land around the falls.

It all began when Augustus Porter became a surveyor and traveled over much of the Western New York wilderness. His brother Peter was a lawyer who set up practice in Canandaigua. Augustus first settled in Canandaigua, then, in 1806, moved to this area at Fort Schlosser between the falls and North Tonawanda. He later built a home close to the falls.

Peter B. moved to Black Rock between North Tonawanda and Buffalo. He later joined his brother in enterprises in Niagara Falls, and was a congressman who drafted the Declaration of War against Britain for the War of 1812. He resigned his congressional seat to take an active role in the war. He became a general and hero of that war.

At that time, before the Erie and Welland canals, all goods passing through the Great Lakes to middle America moved through Lewiston and the portage, operated by the Porters and Benjamin Barton, around the falls. The partners took a nice fee from all those transported goods and became quite wealthy.

Peter B.'s son, Peter Augustus Porter, was a prominent offspring of that auspicious family and answered the bugle call to service by raising and heading a regiment to fight in the Civil War. He became a colonel and was killed leading his regiment, the Bloody Eighth, in a near suicide charge into the teeth of Rebel forces at Cold Harbor near Richmond, Va.

The colonel left a son, Peter A. Porter Jr., who became a prominent Niagara Falls entrepreneur, journalist and historian. He owned the Arcade building in Niagara Falls, purchased the Niagara Falls Gazette, was a prominent member of the Pioneer Association of Niagara County and wrote extensively about local history.

He has a prominent spot in the Pioneer Association's vast history book of Niagara County and also wrote abundantly about Fort Niagara. Local historians rely heavily on Porter's writings, found to be most accurate.

His son, also called Peter A. Porter Jr., married Geneva Thompson in 1907. Geneva was the daughter of James S. Thompson, a leading lumberman and banker in North Tonawanda. He served as president of the village for five years and was prominent in Masonic circles.

Peter A. Porter Jr. was the son of Peter A. Porter Jr., who did not use senior after his name. Thus, having two juniors of the same name can wreak havoc with historians' research into that particular family tree.

The second Peter A. Porter Jr. was born in Niagara Falls in the family residence on the banks of the Niagara River near the falls on Nov. 16, 1877. He was educated at DeVeaux School and St. Paul's school in Concord, New Hampshire and also studied in Germany.

He took up his family's penchant for public service and accepted an appointment to the state board, which regulated the New York State Reservation around the falls.

When Thompson died, Porter became secretary of the Thompson estate, with headquarters in Buffalo. He and Mrs. Thompson, however, continued to reside in North Tonawanda. In 1944, they made their home available for government housing and moved to Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.

Porter was named by the governor to the Niagara Frontier State Park Commission and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, and he served both organizations as treasurer. He was a member of many social organizations, including the Niagara Falls, Lockport and Buffalo country clubs, and the Sons of the Revolution club in Buffalo.

Bob Kostoff has been reporting on the Niagara Frontier for four decades. He is a recognized authority on local history and is the author of several books. E-mail him at RKost1@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 2 2005