According to Orsamus Turner's 1850 book, "Pioneer History of the Holland Land Company": "There was not six hundred acres of land cleared in the four square miles of which Lockport is the center before the canal was located. . . . in 1820 there was no framed house or barn within five miles of Lockport. There were only a few log cabins in clearings."
However, in 1823, when the canal locks were being built to lift the canal water over the escarpment to Lake Erie, there was a tremendous growth. By 1829, Lockport had become an incorporated village, and by 1865, 42 years after the construction of the locks had begun in the wilderness, Lockport was incorporated as a city with a population of more than 16,000.
With this rapid growth in business, industry and people, it was important to record the events that transpired. The first man to realize the importance of this was Joshua Wilbur, who came to Lockport in 1839. He worked as a printer at first and wrote many notes of events that were taking place in his lifetime. However, there was no formal organization or method of recording the history of Lockport.
The first organization formed to do that was the Lockport Historical Society, organized in 1921 at a meeting in the law office of George C. Lewis. Judge Cuthbert W. Pound was the first president and the first board of directors included Edward H. Boynton, Cleland A. Ward, Austin C. Dwyer, Richard D. Ashford, George C. Lewis, George S. Gooding and Judge Pound. In 1922, the membership of the Lockport Historical Society was 122. About 1937, the society was still in existence, but had become inactive. The historical documents and mementos were stored in the basement of the old Union School.
In 1947, a group of citizens reactivated the society as the Niagara County Historical Society, Inc. Richard McCarthy was president; Ray Yates, vice president; Alexis V. Muller Jr., secretary; and Clarence Lewis, treasurer. Meetings of the society, then consisting of about 40 members, were held in the library. One of the first problems was storage. Some of the historic items were stored in the Union School building, which by then had been condemned. Many items also were in the fire hall.
In 1953, Dr. Samuel Outwater bequeathed to the Niagara County Historical Society his house and property at 215 Niagara St. as well as a building at 67 Main St. in Lockport. Outwater was born in 1857 on Lake Road, Town of Wilson, the son of Tunis and Mary Cuddabeck Outwater. By the late 1860s, the Tunis Outwater family had moved to Lockport and were operating a grocery and crockery store on Main Street and living at 270 Washburn St.
Samuel Outwater graduated from New York University in 1879 with a medical degree. On Oct. 26, 1899, Outwater married Luella Scott and moved to California. For the next several years, Outwater and his wife spent the winters in California and the summers in Lockport, with a medical practice in both places. Mrs. Outwater died in Los Angeles in 1917, and in 1921, Outwater donated about 60 acres of land in Lockport for a park as a memorial to her. It is now known as "Outwater Park." Outwater was married again in 1925, in California, to Alice Anzel. She died in 1968. Outwater died Sept. 13, 1968, and is buried in Cold Spring Cemetery.
The house at 215 Niagara St. had been long vacant, so there was much work to do. Members of the society spent many long hours cleaning, repairing and painting before it became a museum. In 1954, the stable was remodeled to become "Niagara Fire Company #1," housing the circa 1834 Upper Town pumper, the circa 1836 Lower Town pumper and the circa 1850 Miller Hose Co. pumper.
In 1955, the Lockport law office of former Lockport resident and New York governor, Washington Hunt, was to be torn down to make room for a new St. Joseph's Church. The Niagara County Historical Society was informed that it could have the building but it would have to be moved immediately. With an anemic treasury, but with vision and stubbornness, the task was undertaken. In June 1955, Daunce & Son movers hauled the building on a 24-wheel trailer to Niagara Street.
In 1958, the Red Barn was opened as an exhibit space, and in 1961, with money from the estate of Nellie Wetmore, a one-story addition for a meeting room was put on the rear. In 1967, a second floor was added. In 1968, the Col. William M Bond house on Ontario Street was purchased by the society with money from the sale of the building on Main Street donated by Outwater. Bond had come to the area from New Hampshire in 1821 and had bought about 140 acres near where the canal would be built. The digging of the Erie Canal had begun in 1817 in the eastern part of the state, and in 1823 the canal had been dug as far as the Lockport area. In 1823, construction of the locks began, and -- also in 1823 -- Bond began building his brick home. Because the Bond house represented the beginning of the City of Lockport, the society deemed it necessary to buy it.
In 1986, the Transportation Building was built onto the Pioneer Building. In 1985, Harrison Radiator Division had informed the society that, as part of its 75th Anniversary celebration, it would donate the one of a kind "Junior R" automobile to the society. This was a automobile that had been assembled at the plant in 1923 for John J. Raskob Jr., son of Lockport native and General Motors president, John J. Raskob Sr. Also to be donated was a 1954 Pontiac with the first General Motors factory-installed air conditioning unit made at Harrison Radiator. At first it seemed impossible to accept because of lack of storage, but thanks to a fund drive a 30-foot-by-50-foot addition was completed in May 1986, the same year the society turned 75.