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By Bob Kostoff

United States senator Henry Clay had a close connection to Niagara County and visited here in 1839 to view the natural wonder of the falls and the man-made feat of the Lockport locks. The falls was a world-renowned tourist attraction even in those days and Clay undoubtedly had a firsthand description from his friend Peter Buell Porter.

Porter and Clay served in the U.S. House of Representatives and were leading proponents of the "Hawk" position prior to the start of the War of 1812. On Washington's Birthday, Feb. 22, 1810, 32-year-old Clay called for war with Britain. To increase his effectiveness, Clay quit the Senate. He was elected without opposition by his Kentucky district to the U.S. House of Representatives, and was at once elected (Nov. 4, 1811) Speaker of the House. Clay immediately appointed Hawks as leaders of all the important House committees, including Peter B. Porter to head Foreign Relations.

An eloquent speaker, Clay railed against the injustices of England boarding American ships and abducting sailors on the high seas. Porter actually wrote the Declaration of War legislation passed by Congress to initiate the War of 1812.

Clay continued his political support of the war in Washington while Porter resigned from Congress to take a commission in the New York State Militia to fight the war on the Niagara Frontier. He rose to the rank of brigadier general.

Clay, an unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Democratic-Republican Party in 1824, of the National Republican Party in 1832, and of the Whig Party in 1844, decided to do some sightseeing here in July 1839, when he was in one of his many terms in the Senate. He traveled via stagecoach along Ridge Road to Lewiston, stopping, naturally enough, at the most famed hostelry of the day, the Frontier House.

The next morning, he traveled to Niagara Falls, where he was the guest of Peter Porter and his brother Augustus Porter. They owned Goat Island and most of the land around the falls at that time and showed Clay the sights.

The next day, on July 19, 1839, Clay and Peter Porter boarded a two-car train of the old Strap Railroad for the trip to Lockport. The depot was at Falls and Prospect streets then. In Lockport, they went from the Lowertown Depot to the Eagle Hotel on West Main Street, where City Hall is now located. Again, Clay was given a royal tour of the sights, went through the locks on a packet boat and traveled a short distance along the canal to view the progress on canal enlargement underway at that time. The next day, they took a stagecoach to Rochester.

Several years later, about 100 citizens of Lockport gathered on July 1, 1852, to plan an appropriate tribute to Clay, who died June 29, 1852, in Washington, D.C. A parade was held on July 3 from the American Hotel to the West Avenue Park. Guns were fired. Church bells tolled. At the park, Rev. Charles Platt of Grace Lutheran Church gave a speech eulogizing Clay.

Bob Kostoff has been reporting on the Niagara Frontier for four decades. He is a recognized authority on local history and is the author of several books. E-mail him at RKost1@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 17 2004