Staff and associates of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center announce the receipt of an AASLH Leadership in History Award: Ally Spongr, interim director; Sara Capen, executive director of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area; Denise Easterling, National Heritage Area Commission board of directors; Paul Dyster, mayor of the City of Niagara Falls; Caitlin Blue, Heritage Center visitor experience specialist; Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University; Charles Walker and Thomas DeSantis, NHA Commission board of directors; Christine Bacon, interim director of education; and Saladin Allah, visitor experience specialist.

The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) announced that the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is the recipient of an Award of Excellence for One More River to Cross, the permanent exhibition at the Heritage Center. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 74th year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

“This is a great honor for the Niagara Fall Heritage Area, and recognizes the collaborative work between the Heritage Area and the university,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. “The museum offers an impressive look at the Underground Railroad, and the important role the Niagara Falls region played in this humanitarian effort to serve the most vulnerable people of that time period. The museum will continue to serve as another great asset in our community.”

Opened May 4, 2018, One More River to Cross is the permanent exhibition at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. The goal of the project was to reintroduce the forgotten history of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls and share the unique and courageous stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in this city. The Heritage Center surpassed these goals by creating an experiential museum filled with stories grounded in academic scholarship and brought to life in an immersive experience that blends historic recreations, artifacts, original fine art, music, narration, and multimedia interactive exhibits.

While the Underground Railroad must be set within the broader context of the institutionalized system of slavery that once existed in the United States, slavery, per se, is not a primary focus at the Heritage Center. Rather, we focus on the strength and agency of the individuals who used the Underground Railroad to claim their own freedom. Freedom seekers themselves are at the heart of our stories. Moreover, the Heritage Center connects their stories to the continued struggle for all people to live free from oppression.

“This small, but critically needed museum is a poignant reminder of the work that is before us as people, as neighbors, as leaders, as teachers, as communities,” said Sara Capen, executive director for the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area. “It is a reminder that our ‘One More River to Cross’ is not a gentle stream… More so, like the Niagara, it is a mighty river full of obstacles, currents, intensity like few other rivers in the world. This exhibit calls upon each of us to pick up the oars because the crossing is treacherous and there is still so much work to do for us to get to the other side.”

This year, AASLH is proud to confer fifty national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, and publications. The winners represent the best in the field and provide leadership for the future of state and local history. Presentation of the awards will be made at a special banquet during the 2019 AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA, on Friday, August 30. The banquet is supported by a generous contribution from the History Channel.

The AASLH awards program was initiated in 1945 to establish and encourage standards of excellence in the collection, preservation, and interpretation of state and local history throughout the United States. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards not only honor significant achievement in the field of state and local history, but also bring public recognition of the opportunities for small and large organizations, institutions, and programs to make contributions in this arena. For more information about the Leadership in History Awards, contact AASLH at 615-320-3203, or go to

American Association for State and Local History

The American Association for State and Local History is a not-for-profit professional organization of individuals and institutions working to preserve and promote history. From its headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, AASLH provides leadership, service, and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful to all people. AASLH publishes books, technical publications, a quarterly magazine, and maintains numerous affinity communities and committees serving a broad range of constituents across the historical community.

The association also sponsors an annual meeting, regional and national training in-person workshops, and online training.

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