|Historic sites? (above) Former Schoellkopf site, soon to be Maid of the Mist boat docks. Mt. Rushmore (below)
Mention the National Register of Historic Places to most people and it brings to mind cherished and protected landscapes such as those at Valley Forge, Gettysburg and the National Mall, and famous buildings like the Presidio in San Francisco or the Alamo of Texas. The French Quarter of New Orleans qualifies for the Register as an historic district of a city. Even objects like the sunken battleship Arizona at Pearl Harbor and the Brooklyn Bridge have been granted the special distinction of being named to the National Register as irreplaceable landmarks, reflecting the unique and important role they play in commemorating our country's past, preserving our proud heritage for posterity.
Now an inspired Gov. Andrew Cuomo has creatively come up with a whole new category of nominee for the auspicious list of historic and cultural resources on the National Register of Historic Places: drydock facilities for Maid of the Mist Corporation tour boats at the former Schoellkopf Power Station site in the Niagara Gorge.
Well, not exactly the drydock infrastructure, or the actual boats that will perch on it for several months out of the year. It's hard to imagine how they could contribute to the national fabric. And probably not the tool sheds that will house the equipment necessary for off-season maintenance of the Maid "fleet." Not exactly what you'd call National Register of Historic Places material, either.
It's also hard to imagine how a new "observation deck" jutting out into the natural Niagara Gorge, clearly needed because tourists can't get enough observing done at Glynn's Observation Tower a few yards away, or at the Power Vista or the outlooks at Devil's Hole or Whirlpool State Parks or any other spot along the six-mile-long gorge rim, would qualify as a cultural and historic treasure.
And nothing fosters a sense of awe and respect for our community's past achievements worthy of national recognition like allowing tourists to try their skill as novice rock-climbers, clambering over the fragile walls of the gorge, jarring loose chunks of rock to rain down and pummel hikers on the newly historically-registered trails planned for below.
Last but not least, an elevator to tie it all together. Convey Maid employees to and from the boats, tired hikers back up to the Niagara Falls State Park, busted-up rock climbers to waiting ambulances, and Maid of the Mist owner James Glynn's private security force (aka Parks Police) up and down out of the gorge as they keep an eye on the operation for him.
No, Gov. Cuomo probably never intended these new developments in the gorge to be honored by placement on the National Register, but in a classic example of one hand of the bureaucracy not knowing what the other is doing, the former Schoellkopf plant, which once powered the industry of the city of the Niagara Falls and much of New York State as well, until it collapsed into the Niagara Gorge in 1956, and served as the forerunner of the gigantic NYPA hydropower plant downriver, has in fact been nominated by New York State Parks to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Concurrent with State Parks' application for historic preservation is Cuomo's recently announced proposal to hand over the relatively small (7.6 acres) Schoellkopf site to do double duty as Maid's staging area for storage and maintenance of its boats.
This came about because James Glynn needed a new location after Ontario handed him his walking papers for alleged shady influence on provincial government decision-making regarding his no-bid lease with them.
The 54-page Registration Form submitted by New York State Parks to the National Park Service, which serves as the application for National Register status, is easily accessible on-line.
Although the Registration Form is not itself dated, all 24 photographs of the Schoellkopf site taken exclusively for use in the Registration Form are dated May, 2010, and at the top of each and every page it says "(expires 5/31/2012)." Under "Current Functions" for the site, the property is deemed "VACANT/not in use".
That the document predates Glynn's woes, or at least State Parks' apprehension of them, is evident in the statement, "The sites of facilities atop the gorge were excluded from the nomination because of incompatible new development." Therefore, it follows that new Maid structures at the lower level would preclude nomination and designation of that area as well.
To sum up: State Parks, for reasons known only to them, began the process of designating the Schoellkopf site a national landmark some three years ago. Soon after that, a series of investigative reports by Frank Parlato in the Niagara Falls Reporter began scrutiny of the Maid operation north of the border. Then things got really bad for Maid of the Mist, losing the contract to operate from the Canadian side in February, 2012. The State Parks/National Register application was allowed to quietly expire three months later, in May, 2012, around the time negotiations began in earnest to move Glynn's operation to the Schoellkopf site.
That put Gov. Cuomo in a pickle, because after having vetoed the extension of tax credits for historic property rehabilitation projects last month, thus bruising the feelings of the large and influential Western New York historic preservation community, he couldn't be seen as deep-sixing the Schoellkopf designation to clear the way for his sweetheart deal with Glynn.
So it's shaping up that the new National Register of Historic Places member, the Schoellkopf Power Station in the Niagara Gorge, will simultaneously serve as Glynn's boatyard, akin to plopping an RV parking lot on top of Mt. Rushmore.