Spitzer Seeks Dissolution Of Niagara Falls Historical Society

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that he is seeking to dissolve the Niagara Falls Historical Society, Inc. and have its assets and artifacts transferred to the Niagara Falls Public Library. In his petition, filed in Niagara County Supreme Court, the Attorney General alleged that the Historical Society has engaged in unlawful practices, has transferred some of its assets to private individuals and has transacted its business in a "persistently illegal manner."

"The rich history of Niagara Falls and the entire Niagara Frontier must be preserved for future generations," Spitzer said. "I am confident that by transferring the assets of the Historical Society to the Niagara Falls Public Library, New Yorkers will be able to have access to these historically significant artifacts. Our action will ensure they will be properly maintained and displayed."

The Attorney General alleges that over the years the officers, directors or members of the Historical Society have wasted corporate assets and that the organization is no longer able to carry out its mission. The petition also contained the following allegations: The Historical Society failed to prepare financial reports; conduct meetings of its Board of Directors and/or members; did not keep records or corporate books and did not comply with State law by registering with the Attorney General's office.

Under State law, the Attorney General monitors and safeguards all charitable organizations in the state.

The Niagara Falls Historical Society, Inc. was established in 1926 to preserve the history of Western New York, the Niagara Frontier and the City of Niagara Falls. It amassed a collection of thousands of books, paintings, prints, photographs, papers and other physical artifacts. Despite the collection, the Historical Society never had a permanent home and no complete inventory of the collection was ever maintained.

Due to the lack of records, many items once owned by the Historical Society are currently unaccounted for. They include:

  • A three-story staircase from the home of the Porter family, one of the leading families in Niagara Falls;
  • Currier and Ives pictures depicting the Niagara Falls area in the 1600s; and
  • Part of the cable and brass lamps that lighted the first suspension bridge over the Niagara River.

In August of 1999 the Niagara County Legislature declared an amnesty program which exempted individuals from prosecution for returning missing items from the Historical Society. Although the Niagara County District Attorney's office extended the amnesty program to January of this year, no items have been returned or recovered.

The petition will be heard in Niagara County Court on September 11, 2000.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Judith Kaufman and Karin K. Goldman of the A.G.'s Charities Bureau, under Bureau Chief William Josephson.