Niagara Falls is a city in Niagara County, New York, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 50,193, down from the 55,593 recorded in the 2000 census. It is across the Niagara River from Niagara Falls, Ontario (also a city), both named after the famed Niagara Falls which they share. It is part of both the Buffalo–Niagara Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Western New York region.
The European migration into the area began in the 17th century with missionaries and explorers. The first recorded European to visit the area was Frenchman Robert de la Salle, accompanied by Belgian priest Louis Hennepin, who was the first known European to see the falls. This influx of newcomers may have been a catalyst for already hostile native tribes to turn to open warfare in competition for the fur trade.
The City of Niagara Falls was incorporated on March 17, 1892 from the villages of Manchester and Suspension Bridge, which were parts of the Town of Niagara. New York State Governor Roswell P. Flower signed a bill into law forming the city. Thomas Vincent Welch who was a member of the charter committee and then a New York state assemblyman, but more importantly a second-generation Irishman, was there when the bill was signed, and responsible for asking Governor Flower to sign the bill on St. Patrick's Day. George W. Wright was elected the first mayor of Niagara Falls.
Historically, the city was built around factories that utilized the power of the falling water for energy. Now the downtown area borders a park (Niagara Falls State Park) affording a close-up view of the American, Horseshoe and Bridal Veil Falls.
By the end of the 19th century, the city was a heavy industrial area, due in no small part to the huge power potential offered by the swiftly flowing Niagara River. There were many industries in Niagara Falls that used the power of the mighty Niagara River. Tourism was considered a secondary niche, while industry was the main producer of jobs and economic backbone.
Ever since the early 20th century, the center of the tourist district was Falls Street, a vibrant street that ran into the main part of the city. Although Falls Street no longer exists in the capacity that it once did, efforts are currently being made by the government and private companies to revitalize and restore what is left of the historic thoroughfare.
The 1950s and early 1960s witnessed an economic boom, as several industries moved into the city to take advantage of the hydroelectric power offered, due to a higher demand for household and industrial products. Paper, rubber, plastics, petrochemicals and abrasives were among the major industries located in the city. This brief period of prosperity would end by the mid-1960s, as the locally owned Schoellkopf Power Project collapsed into the Niagara River, ending an industrial era.
To take advantage of the hydroelectric power offered, New York City urban planner Robert Moses built a new power plant in nearby Lewiston, New York. However, Niagara Falls did not get much of the power created; Most of it went downstate to fuel growing demands for New York City.
The neighborhood of Love Canal gained national media attention in 1978 when United States President Jimmy Carter declared a federal emergency there, and hundreds of residents were relocated. Starting in 1920, the area had been used as a landfill for chemical waste disposal (and later, industrial toxic waste) before its development as a residential area. The Superfund law, which protects people, families, communities and others from heavily contaminated toxic waste sites, was enacted in 1980 in response to the Love Canal situation.
The post-Love Canal Niagara Falls witnessed a reversal of fortunes, as what was once cheap to produce in Niagara Falls was now far cheaper to outsource to other countries. Several factories closed, and the population has since dropped by half, as blue-collar workers fled the city in search of jobs elsewhere. The city's economy plummeted downward when a failed Urban Renewal project took place resulting in the destruction of Falls Street and the tourist district.
In 1995, the city government was the defendant in NAACP v. City of Niagara Falls, which named, among others, then-Mayor Jacob Palillo; City Council Members, G. Tom Sottile, Barbara A. Geracitano, Andrew Walker, Henry Buchalski, Michael Gawel, Anthony Quaranto, John G. Accardo; and City Clerk, Elsie Paradise. NAACP charged that the city was violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the time, Niagara Falls' government consisted of a mayor, who acted as chief executive, and seven city council members elected at-large. The NAACP further argued that the city had not given enough representation to African Americans living in the city, which at that time comprised 15.58% of the city's population. The court ruled in favor of the city, which kept its system of government.
Currently, the city's main industry is tourism. In 2004, the Seneca Nation of Indians opened the Seneca Niagara Casino in the former Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center, thereby establishing sovereign Native American territory in the midst of the city. The city, however, continues to struggle economically.
In 2001, the entire corrupt leadership of Laborers Local 91 were found guilty of extortion, racketeering and other crimes following an exposé by Mike Hudson of the Niagara Falls Reporter. However, union boss Michael "Butch" Quarcini died before trial began, although the rest of the union leadership was sentenced to prison.
In early 2010, former Niagara Falls Mayor Vincent Anello was indicted on federal charges of corruption. Although not related to his political career, Anello, a master electrician by trade, was also sentenced to 13 months in jail for pension fraud regarding a pension from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, of which he is a member.
On November 30, 2010, the New York State Attorney General entered into an agreement with the city and its police department to create new policies to govern police practices in response to claims of excessive force and police misconduct. The city will create policies and procedures to prevent and respond to allegations of excessive force, and to ensure that police are properly trained and complaints are properly investigated. Prior claims filed by residents will be evaluated by an independent panel.
The city has a number of properties on the National Register of Historic Places. It also has three national historic districts including: Chilton Avenue-Orchard Parkway Historic District, Deveaux School Historic District, and the Park Place Historic District.