Up and Down in the Falls in 1836
As Niagara citizen’s today ponder how to spend their economic stimulus checks to help the economy get back on track, they can take solace in knowing that Niagara has had its shares of ups and downs throughout its 200 year history. One such roller coaster ride took place in 1836.
The year 1836 began with wild speculation in Niagara Falls, full of visionary dreams of growth and prosperity. Much of this speculation was fed by builder, banker, hotel-keeper, Benjamin Rathbun, who chose Niagara Falls as his center of operation. Rathbun entered into numerous contracts to buy vast tracts of valuable real estate, on credit, in the Falls and vicinity. He erected a large addition to the Eagle tavern and made preparations to put up another very large hotel at the corner of Falls and Main streets. Having caught hold of the excitement of the moment, many other citizens were eager to join in Rathbun’s speculation. With the help of these financial backers, Rathbun succeeded in pushing out the village limits through the purchase and sale of lots.
The vision of future growth seemed to buoy the operation for many months, but as time went on, the hopes for easily gained profits were dashed when Rathbun suffered the financial reversal of only ho-hum sales and being over extended on credit. His empire seemed to topple like a deck of cards and his problems were also transferred onto his friends who supported him financially.
After 1836, as hard as it must have been to accept the situation, most learned that permanent prosperity is the reward of steady, persistent labor and not wild-cat speculation and bonanza get-rich-quick schemes. For the next two decades, slow but steady growth laid a more permanent foundation and by 1860, Niagara Falls began to witness the kind of prosperity that Rathbun and his supporters had dreamed about earlier.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094