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Local History By Bob Kostoff

Perhaps the least famed member of the illustrious Porter Pioneer family was the son of Judge Augustus Porter, Albert H. Porter. Nevertheless he left a portrait of his times in a written journal.

Judge Augustus Porter, of course, was the patriarch of the family and astute businessman. His brother, Peter B. Porter, was a War of 1812 hero. Descendants also distinguished themselves in the Civil War and in both local and national politics and business.

Even Albert's sister, Lavinia Porter, made a mark for herself running the household and helping her church. There is a move afoot today to preserve her house.

But Albert's recollections have been largely glossed over, perhaps because there are no startling historic revelations in it. But it does paint a portrait of the pioneer times in Niagara Falls.

Albert came with his family here in 1806 and occupied the old Stedman farm located near Fort Schlosser at the upper end of the portage above the falls. Albert wrote, "Prior to 1806, there were no other erections or improvements at or near the falls except the Stedman farm, as it was still called."

The only road passing through what was to become Niagara County, he wrote, was the Queenston or Niagara Road from Batavia to Lewiston. At that time, he said (as others have frequently noted,) there was still a wild aspect to the area.

"Bears were common in the forests," he wrote, "and wolves so numerous as to prevent keeping sheep. Their hideous nightly howlings were familiar sounds in all the region about Niagara Falls."

He added that ducks and geese abounded in the river and deer and other wild animals were plentiful. "The Indians," he wrote, "were quite numerous and frequently seen in their canoes passing up and down the river fishing and hunting, resting in small encampments along the shore."

Regarding the Indian population, he wrote, his father was quite familiar with many prominent chiefs. He said, "The leading chiefs retained some importance in the estimation of the settlers and were treated with kindness and hospitality, always with good fare and a bed of blankets and buffalo skins.

"I well remember Farmer's Brother, a noted Seneca chieftain and his wife being entertained at my father's house. Also I remember a visit of three or four days from Red Jacket and his interpreter and two young chiefs. When the visit was ended they left with their canoes well stocked with provisions and the indispensable bottle of whiskey."

He also made note of the many rattlesnakes in the area, especially in the river gorge. He wrote, "Not many years before the War of 1812, Joshua Fairbanks who resided near the whirlpool killed in a single day in the spring more than 100 rattlesnakes as they ascended the bank of the river at that place."

For a long time, the area was heavily forested. He wrote, "For several years, the land immediately about the falls remained in a wild state, cedars and thick underbrush extended along the margin of the river, stately oaks grew along Buffalo and Main streets, some of them four or five feet in diameter."

During the War of 1812, the family moved to the east out of combat zones, but returned as soon as the war ended. Albert wrote, "At the conclusion of the war, most of the inhabitants returned and the mills and dwellings were rebuilt and other improvements were made. Goat Island was acquired from the state in 1816."

His father and uncle, of course, acquired the land around the falls and built a bridge to Goat Island in 1817. Albert added, "The following winter the ice floes battered the bridge to pieces. He then built another bridge further down the river about where the present bridge is located."

Bath Island, just before Goat Island, became a prime spot, because of the water power, for budding industrialists. He wrote, "By 1823, a woolen factory, a forge rolling mill, a nail factory and a paper mill on Bath Island were added to the list of rebuilt mills."

He continued making journal entries until 1876.

ANOTHER PRETTY VISITOR -- English writer Fanny Trollope visited the United states in 1827 and, of course, made a mandatory visit to Niagara Falls. Accompanied by three of her six children, she took a boat to New Orleans and worked her way north. Her son returned to London but, in June of 1831, with two of her daughters, Fanny traveled to Niagara Falls. She wrote: "It was the brightest day June could give, and almost any day would have seemed bright that brought me to the object which for years I had languished to look upon." After viewing the falls, she wrote, "I trembled like a fool and my girls clung to me trembling too, but with faces beaming with delight." She said the sight was "all that I had wished for, hoped for, dreamed of. Wonder, terror and delight completely overwhelmed me." She returned to England and continued to write, turning out 40 books, both novels and travelogues.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 24, 2011