One of the more prominent early settlers of Niagara Falls was entrepreneur and hotelier Gen. Parkhurst Whitney, a scion of the influential Whitney clan of England. Whitney, who served long and meritoriously in the state militia, was descended from John Whitney, an 11th-century Englishman who took his name from the Parish of Whitney in Herefordshire. Among the many Whitneys who came to America was another man of note, Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin.
Parkhurst Whitney's influence in Niagara Falls is recounted in the book, "Landmarks of Niagara County History," published in 1897 by William Pool, a journalist and a co-founder of the Niagara Falls Gazette.
Whitney is probably best known today as the founder and operator of the famed Cataract House Hotel, which was located near the upper rapids just above the falls.
His father, Jonathan Whitney, moved his family from Massachusetts to Ontario County in Western New York in 1789. He died in 1792, leaving nine children, the youngest being Parkhurst.
The general moved to Niagara Falls in 1810 and "lived on a farm about four miles above the falls," Pool wrote. A couple of years later, he rented the sawmill built by Augustus Porter. And, like Porter, he was also a surveyor. Pool wrote, "He made the first survey of Goat Island and made other surveys for the Holland Land Company and for the State of New York."
When the War of 1812 broke out with England, Whitney began his long military career. He sent his family to Ontario County and accepted a captaincy in the militia. He served under Gen. Winfield Scott at the battle of Queenston, and was taken prisoner, but soon paroled.
In 1814, he leased the Eagle Hotel, and in 1817, "he purchased the entire block from Augustus Porter and Peter Barton," Pool said. He acquired the Cataract House in 1831 and operated it with his sons.
In 1846, he leased the hotel to the firm of Whitney, Jerauld & Co., composed of his son Solon Whitney, D. R. Jerauld and James F. Trott, of Board of Education fame, for whom Trott Vocational School was named. James Trott was married to one of Gen. Whitney's daughters, Celinda Eliza, and another daughter, Angelina P., was married to the other hotel partner, D.R. Jerauld. These daughters, along with a third daughter, Asenath B., were said to be the first white women to make it to the Three Sisters Islands off Goat Island. Those islands, Pool wrote, "were in honor of these brave sisters named Three Sisters Islands."
Whitney brought the first piano to Niagara Falls, and was energetic in promoting the area as a tourist destination. Pool wrote, "In building up Niagara Falls as a pleasure resort, Gen.Whitney was active and prominent."
Gov. DeWitt Clinton made Whitney a brigadier-general of the 5th Brigade on June 19, 1820, and he was named a major general of the 24th division on March 4, 1826.
He lived for many years in the old homestead between the Falls and Suspension Bridge, and this home later became the Trott residence.
Whitney died on April 26, 1862, Pool said, adding, "The funeral was the largest ever held in Niagara Falls, fully 3,000 people paying their last tribute to the worth of this honored, upright citizen by their attendance."
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||September 24 2002|