“The Center” was the initial portion of the Village of Clifton which was laid out in streets and building lots as early as 1832 by land owner, Captain Ogden Crieghton.
Crieghton gave his future settlement the name “Clifton”. The name Clifton was derived from the town of the same name in England.
Captain Ogden Crieghton, a British Army officer purchased the property from the Phillip Bender family who had acquired this property in 1782 as part of a United Empire Loyalist (UEL) land grant. This land is today is commonly referred to as “the Center”. It encompasses a major portion of the primary tourist core in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Captain Crieghton did little more with his subdivisions than conducting some preliminary surveying before he left Niagara Falls four years later.
In 1837, Captain Crieghton went to York (now Toronto) to fight in the rebellion. It was here that he died.
The wife of Captain Creighton’s widow inherited ownership of his land holdings. She sold the property to contractor/financier Samuel Zimmerman.
In 1842, Samuel Zimmerman came to Niagara Falls. Within 15 years, Zimmerman a shrewd financier/businessman had become the owner of most of the lands in the town. He was the primary contractor of the building of the Great Western Railroad from Hamilton to Niagara Falls. He was also a primary supporter of the first railway suspension bridge to be built across the Niagara River Gorge. In a short period of time, Zimmerman became one of the richest men in Upper Canada.
Zimmerman retained the name of “Clifton” for the fledgling village he had purchased and promoted. He retained and maintained Captain Creighton’s street design but had the Erie & Niagara Railway routed through his subdivision, since he was the chief owner of the railway.
Zimmerman created an estate property along the south side of Ferry Hill (Clifton Hill) that he called “Clifton Place”. On his estate, Zimmerman undertook to create many gardens and several large fountains. He planned to build a mansion that he hoped to live in once it was completed. The estate of Samuel Zimmerman occupied the entire south side of Ferry Hill (Clifton Hill) and was bounded by the river, Murray Hill and Ferry Road (Victoria Avenue). Today this property is owned by HOCO (Harry Oakes Company).
In 1856, the Village of Clifton became large enough to warrant a post office.
In 1856, the Village of Clifton and the north end Village of Elgin were amalgamated to become the Town of Clifton. The Village of Elgin had existed since 1848.
The only building in the area of the center was the Clifton House Hotel and the railway station of the Erie & Niagara Railroad located at the top of Clifton Hill.
Center Street was called Mary Street.
This Street was
renamed in 1918.
The unusual direction of the streets in the area of the center so that they formed 45 degree angles with Ferry Street and Victoria Avenue was intentionally created by Captain Crieghton. He thought it was an alternative to having several streets angling down the moraine towards the river at break-neck speeds.
After the untimely death of Samuel Zimmerman in 1857 at the Desjardins Canal Railway accident, his overall plans for the Town of Clifton continued to evolve.
The estate of Samuel Zimmerman was purchased by American Senator J.T. Bush of Buffalo, New York. Bush built a mansion on Zimmerman’s former estate. Bush and his family occupied the mansion until the 1920’s.
By the 1890’s, the center was emerging from its pasture lands appearance and began looking like a thriving town.
In 1896, the Oneida Communities Animal Trap and Chain Factory opened on Ellen Avenue.
In 1904, the Shredded Wheat factory opened on Center Street.
In 1907 the Sanitary Can Company factory (American Can Company) opened for business.
These factories created an industrial and financial boom to the center area. Many people were employed at the factories. Soon commercial businesses sprouted up around the factories as did residential buildings.
Commercial stores (dry goods, grocery stores, clothing stores) and hotels began appearing on Center Street. By 1920, both sides of Center Street were commercially developed.
In 1908, the Royal Bank was built.
In 1909, Kitchener Street Public School was opened.
The new Niagara House (Niagara Hotel) was built to replace an old hotel of a similar name.
The Michigan Central Railway built a spur line to the Shredded Wheat Company and the American Can Company.
Fire protection was provided by the Bender Hose Company located on Ellen Avenue beginning in the early 1890’s. In 1917, a new Fire hall was built on Walnut Street.
In 1949, the Niagara Falls Memorial Arena was built.
An influx of tourists saw a number of restaurants and tourist attractions being built.
For several years, the Houdini Hall of Fame was located on Center Street before moving in 1973 to the former Michigan Central Railway Station at the top of Clifton Hill.
Today, the center area is the primary tourist area in Niagara Falls. It is home to Casino Niagara and many wax museums, restaurants and motels. Clifton Hill remains the anchor of the tourist attractions and is “the street of fun by the falls”. Other main streets within the center area include: Victoria Avenue, Bender Street, Falls Avenue, Center Street, Ellen Avenue, and Magdelan Street.
On December 19th 2001, following three years of negotiations, the Canadian Pacific Railroad right of way located at the top of Clifton Hill has been purchased by the City of Niagara Falls, the Province of Ontario and the Falls Management Company (Casino Niagara). This will remove the unsightly and dangerous railroad from this area and allow for future developments which are more appropriate for a tourist area such as can be found at the center.
Date last updated:
February 20, 2012
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