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Retiring Niagara Falls historian sees something to ‘like’ in city’s growth

NIAGARA FALLS – Chris R. Stoianoff says he used to be the kind of person on Facebook he now despises.

He was talking about the people whose Facebook posts contain nothing but complaints about where they live – in this case Niagara Falls, where Stoianoff just ended more than four years as the city’s historian.

Years ago, when Stoianoff would post historical Niagara Falls photos online that depicted the city’s better days, he used to complain about things like boarded-up storefronts and stretches of economically depressed streets.

“It’s easy to complain about the things, and look at the old photos and get angered by it or say, ‘Oh, how come we can’t have that any more?’ ” he said. “It’s harder to actually go to try to change it.”

He continues to hold that belief after stepping down as historian at the end of April, a volunteer post he held since being appointed by Mayor Paul A. Dyster in December 2010.

The 41-year-old said he gave up the position in order to devote more time to his web design work and his work at NiagaraHub, or “The Hub,” aimed at helping to promote small businesses in the Falls. Stoianoff launched The Hub, as a partnership with Craig E. Avery of ERDCO Development, in 2011. The business includes a website and assists small businesses with advertising, including through social media.

Part of Stoianoff’s work as city historian included being involved in the effort to help save the Old Stone Chimney, a more-than-260-year-old relic located in an embankment of the Robert Moses Parkway. The structure, which was part of French and British forts here in the days before the American Revolution, is going to be made more accessible and given a higher profile by being moved to an area closer to the upper Niagara River.

Stoianoff said he thought the historian role, which he took over from Thomas J. Yots, would involve a lot more “quiet research,” but the major component involves more public outreach.

He said he regularly received requests from ex-pats seeking help to find information about the places their families lived or worked.

Through his role with the Hub, Stoianoff took on a photo digitization project for the Niagara Falls Public Library, funded through the Dunlap Trust. Orrin E. Dunlap, whose photograph collection was a major part of the library’s archive, was the managing editor of the Niagara Falls Gazette from 1890 to 1895.

In total, Stoianoff said he will have scanned into a digital archive about 5,000 historical photos and negatives of the 8,000 to 10,000 in the library’s Local History Department. As the library’s collection continued to age, the photographs were deteriorating and some were “disappearing” with ongoing public access.

Stoianoff also created the Niagara Falls Historian Facebook page, where he regularly shared historical images and other items.

He compared his time as historian as like taking an ongoing college course in local history, being immersed in the people and stories from the city’s past.

The Falls native said he wanted to thank local historian and author Paul Gromosiak – who he called “the human ‘Google’ for everything local history” – and other local experts and history buffs who make up a team of volunteers who celebrate, research and promote local history.

Stoianoff said he also wanted to thank Dyster for appointing him, saying he appreciated that the mayor was willing to take on a “younger” guy for the job.

Since his earlier days focused on all things Internet and now stepping toward his future, Stoianoff said he’s optimistic.

He points to the early 1920s, when many of the cornerstones of buildings around the city were laid. It was at that time when it seemed everything in the Falls was growing, progressing, building and developing he said.

“I think we are going to see that same growth and prosperity exponentially exactly 100 years later,” he said. “Look around at all the clues – things are getting better and there is brick-and-mortar proof of that theory. Plywood and vacancies will be the exception, not the norm.”

He continued, “The ‘do-nothings’ and the complaining naysayers will be forgotten. The ‘do-ers’ will be remembered because it’ll be their hard work that changed things.”