This article appeared in NiagaraHub.com
NIAGARA FALLS, NY (Oakwood Cemetery) - What do Whitney Avenue, Cudaback Avenue, Gaskill Middle School, Trott Vocational High School, Oppenheim Park, and Three Sister Islands all have in common? How about Pierce Avenue, Porter, Packard, Jerauld, Mckenna, Haeberle and Hyde Park? Give up?
Their namesakes are all resting in Oakwood Cemetery on Portage Road. Hundreds of cars drive by daily, and yet most people don’t give the site a single thought. They see Tops across the street, or the Trott building housing the DMV. They might even stop at Arby’s for a sandwich. Meanwhile Oakwood sits silently across the street, holding its secrets. But to unlock the secrets all you have to do is visit. If you ever get the chance, drive through the gates and into Niagara Falls history. Oakwood is about to celebrate it's 161st birthday. On February 9, 1852 a group of subscribers to the new cemetery got together to incorporate Oakwood.
Originally on the outskirts of the village, (Niagara Falls or “the Village of Manchester” ended at Pine and 10th) Oakwood was in the middle of farm land, and not that easy to get to. The Town of Niagara made up the rest of the area. As the village grew around the cemetery, and eventually became the city of Niagara Falls, the Town of Niagara retained two of the eighteen and a half acres inside the fences. To give you an idea of the size of the cemetery, if you drew a line south to Pine Avenue from our furthest northwest fence, then south from our furthest eastern fence, the property would be run from just east of 10th Street, to George’s Appliance or Levy Brothers.
So what’s with all the names? Well, Parkhurst Whitney is buried here. He was the owner of the Cataract House, a prominent hotel right down by the Falls. His daughters, Celinda, Angelina, and Asenath Whitney are all buried here as well. They are the sisters in Three Sisters Islands. Charles B. Gaskill is here, so is J.F. Trott, both prominent businessmen, both have schools named after them. Max Oppenheim is in the E.B. Green designed Mausoleum. Charles Hyde is in there as well. Both donated lands to become parks. Hyde Park is still one of the largest municipal parks in New York State outside of Central Park in New York City. The Porter family are here, (we can write an entire book on their history). Gad Pierce is here as well. He had one of the first Taverns in town.
Come visit them when you’re downtown. Get out and walk around, you will almost forget you are in the middle of the city. Oakwood may hold Niagara’s historical secrets, but its willing to tell you all you want to know if you just come for a visit.