From Rags to Riches
Most residents today will agree with the axiom that managing a restaurant, with its long hours and demanding nature, is one of the toughest career choices a person could make. Certainly this opinion would have been shared by Charles Rector, the son of a pioneer Niagara County hotelkeeper, who amassed over a million dollars in restaurant operations in big cities and then lost it all with one failed operation.
George Rector came to Niagara in 1824, settled in Lewiston and operated the Frontier House before moving to Lockport. By 1859, George was operating the National Hotel near the locks and later, the Judson House in Lowertown. His son, Charles, received his restaurant training working in his father’s establishments. After service in the Civil War, Charles took a position with the Pennsylvania Railroad and was in charge of the very first Pullman dining car that crossed the continent.
In 1884, Charles Rector opened his first restaurant on his own, in a basement in Chicago. Five years later, his early success led him to expand to open an additional restaurant, this time in New York City at 44th Street and Broadway. He operated under the Sign of the Griffon, the same emblem his father used in Lewiston and Lockport. Like his Chicago venture, this restaurant also prospered. At the turn of the century, Rector’s was regarded as the leading restaurant in New York City. Going to New York without dining at Rector’s was like going to Niagara Falls and not viewing the Falls. Rector’s Waterloo was met when he gambled all of his fortune, over a million dollars in cash and property, on a hotel venture that failed. A family member later reminisced that Rector “started with an oyster stew and ran it into a million dollars – then ran it back again to oyster stew.”
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094