Travel off the beaten path in New York State to Lewiston, Niagara’s hidden gem.
Yes, nearby Niagara Falls, with its world-famous waterfalls, and big-city Buffalo, with its beloved Bills, understandably garner all the glory. And basically all the tourists.
But come take a worthwhile trip to a quiet corner on the westernmost edge of New York State, roughly 415 miles (667.8 km) from New York City.
Come to Lewiston, a 200-year-old village and surrounding small town on the Lower Niagara River.
President Jimmy Carter called Lewiston village “the most historic square mile in America,” Its significant role in United States history may be less known to non-New Yorkers. Thus, it’s the perfect place to learn.
One of the best ways to understand history is, of course, through first-hand experience. Lewiston’s intimate environs and vibrant ambiance make the experience fun and indeed memorable.
However, Lewiston doesn’t rest on its historic laurels. USA Today and Rand McNally named Lewiston in the “Top 10 Best Small Towns in America” and the “Best for Food Small Towns in America.”
So, let’s wander off the beaten path together. Let’s discover some of the favorite places, main attractions, and best things for first-time visitors, frequent travelers, and long-time locals alike.
All uniquely and exclusively within the boundaries of Lewiston, New York.
Because there’s something special to discover everywhere.
Ready? Let’s go!
Table of contents
- New York State Off the Beaten Path: Historic Sites
- New York State Off the Beaten Path: Center Street
- New York State Off the Beaten Path: Arts and Culture
- New York State Off the Beaten Path: Notable Places of Worship
- New York State Off the Beaten Path: Outdoors
- New York State Off the Beaten Path: Best Time to Visit
- New York State Off the Beaten Path: In Conclusion
- New York State Off the Beaten Path: Lewiston Map
- Check Out More Recommendations
New York State Off the Beaten Path: Historic Sites
Due to its superbly strategic location on a safely navigable section of the Niagara River, Lewiston encompasses both the depth and breadth of Native American, European, Canadian, and American histories.
469 Plain Street
The Lewiston Museum is a great place to learn more of Lewiston’s markedly rich and robust history.
Built in 1835, this little white church, formerly St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, overflows with fascinating facts and artifacts.
Since volunteers run the museum, it’s not always open. But when it’s open, certainly do go in. Because it’s one of the serious yet seemingly quirky museums that make small towns so wonderful.
Tuscarora Heroes Monument
100 Portage Road
For millenia, indigenous peoples lived here long before European explorers arrived in the 1600s. Today, the Tuscarora Nation, part of the federally recognized Six Nations, continues to call Lewiston home.
The Tuscarora Heroes Monument by sculptor Susan Geissler pays tribute to their heroism in saving villagers’ lives during the tumultuous War of 1812. Despite time’s passage, gratitude endures.
Directly across from the Tuscarora Heroes Monument rises another heroic monument: The Circle of Honor Veterans Memorial. Re-dedicated in 2019 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the granite walls memorialize Lewiston’s veterans from the Revolutionary War to the present day.
Western New York’s 1st European Settlement
Lewiston inaugurated commerce on the Great Lakes for the first time with Le Magazin Royal, a French trading post established in 1719.
Some 260 years later, the land on which Le Magazin Royal was built became the world’s largest painting. Keep reading because this cool and colorful story is coming up soon!
The Cocktail’s Invention
In the 1800s, proprietors Thomas and Catherine Hustler of Hustler’s Tavern entertained writer James Fenimore Cooper during his stay in Lewiston.
In fact, Cooper wrote the Hustlers into his 1821 novel The Spy as Sergeant Hollister and Betty Flanagan of Hotel Flanagan.
Catherine Hustler was famed for stirring gin mixtures with the tail feather of a cockerel. The author described Mrs. Hustler and her legendary libation in this way:
“Betty had the merit of being the inventor of that beverage which is so well known… and which is distinguished by the name of ‘cocktail.’”
The Underground Railroad’s Last Station
Lewiston’s stationmaster Josiah Tryon, Jr., and volunteers hid runaway slaves at three historic buildings. The best part is all three are still in use today:
- First Presbyterian Church, an active church (more on that below)
- St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, now the Lewiston Museum
- Tryon’s Folly, presently a private residence not open to the public
This historic home, Tryon’s Folly, was the final stop on the Underground Railway.
A secret stairway connected a series of cellars descending down the steep hillside to the riverfront. Finally, under cover of night, passengers were rowed across the river to freedom in Canada.
Freedom Crossing Monument
110 North Water Street
Lewiston’s historic river landing and its signature monument is part of Niagara Falls National Heritage Area.
Artist Susan Geissler sculpted Freedom Crossing Monument to honor Underground Railroad passengers and volunteers. Five figures represent a family of three passengers, stationmaster Josiah Tryon, and fictional heroine Laura Eastman of Margaret Goff Clark’s historical novel, Freedom Crossing.
New York State Off the Beaten Path: Center Street
Center Street is one of the major attractions why USA Today and Rand McNally named Lewiston in the “Top 10 Best Small Towns in America” and the “Best for Food Small Towns in America.”
It’s the lovely heart and the lively hub of Lewiston village, Main Street America at its best.
Chic boutiques, independent businesses and services, bakeries, coffee shops, cafés, and restaurants line its brick sidewalks.
The quaint business district blends new architecture with historical buildings such as The Long and The Short House, Opera Hall, and Little Yellow House. Flowers, benches, and decorative arts accent little corners.
Given that alluring bounty ahead, let’s stroll down Center Street with easy access to many highlights in walking distance.
Center Street is the scene for festivals and events throughout the year. Some of the most popular include:
- June to October: Artisan Farmers Market on Saturday mornings
- June: Lewiston GardenFest
- August: juried Lewiston Art Festival, Lewiston Jazz Festival
- September: Niagara County Peach Festival, Harvest and Hops Festival
- December: Lewiston Christmas Walk
The packed agenda includes the Peach Festival Parade, a 5K Run / Walk, the cute Peach Blossom and Peach Fuzz Contest, the glamorous Peach Queen Fashion Show, and of course, the prestigious Peach Queen Finals.
Like magic, the serene space of Academy Park becomes an exciting amusement park for the long weekend. Artisanal vendors supply tasty foods and sell handicrafts.
Word is, they serve over 7 tons (6.35 t) of peach shortcake throughout the festival. All with fresh peaches locally grown, of course, in Niagara County.
On stage at the Academy Park Bandshell, musicians entertain with live performances. Dance companies showcase their star skills. Cheerleaders compete with choreographed thrills.
Your New York off-the-beaten-path adventure in Lewiston isn’t complete without attending the Niagara County Peach Festival at least once in a lifetime.
So, plan your travel schedule accordingly to attend this peachy keen extravaganza.
Lewiston Welcome Center
895 Center Street
Now that you know about Lewiston’s fab festivals, get dates and the latest details at the Upward Niagara Chamber of Commerce in the Welcome Center.
When you arrive in town, firstly stop by Chamber’s little white bungalow. It’s across the street from Lewiston’s hometown grocery store, DiMino’s Top’s, and on the edge of Academy Park.
The Chamber’s friendly folks welcome you with free WiFi, walking tour maps, brochures, and information galore.
They also have the latest Discover Niagara Shuttle schedules for public transportation in season.
This daily Hop On / Hop Off service is an awesome initiative of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area.
Ride in comfortable, air-conditioned, ADA-accessible, family-friendly, and bike-friendly trolleys and mini-coaches through Lewiston, Youngstown, Lockport, and Niagara Falls.
The professional drivers are helpful overall and happy to answer questions. Another benefit is complimentary WiFi available onboard.
Bonus: During the 2023 season, the Discover Niagara Shuttle public transport is free!
105 Portage Road
Ever since frozen custard was invented on New York City’s Coney Island, fans across the nation have been loyal to this thick and creamy dessert.
Western New Yorkers are especially loyal fans of Hibbard’s Original Frozen Custard.
Since 1939, Hibbard’s Original Frozen Custard has operated season after season at the very stand founded by Harold Hibbard and still run by his family.
When the calendar turns to April, then mouths begin to water for frozen custard. Nor are other dessert fans left out, because Hibbard’s also serves ice cream.
460 Center Street
Opened to acclaim in 1824, the Frontier House was a leading luxury hotel of the 19th century.
In its heyday, the hotel hosted eminent guests and celebrities. Such as 25th President of the United States William McKinley; literary legendary Charles Dickens; humorist Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain; and opera star Jenny Lind, the “Swedish nightingale” immortalized in the 2017 hit film The Greatest Showman.
Afterward, following generational changes, the property became a McDonald’s restaurant before being closed and empty for many years. Status on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974 afforded protection.
Today, the Frontier House is under landmark restoration and renovation for new purposes.
535 Center Street
In 1920, Italian immigrants Tomaso and Addolorata Di Camillo opened a bakery in Niagara Falls, New York. Four generations of family still bake bread, traditional cookies, and Italian treats emerge from the hearth to
DiCamillo’s attractive Center Street store dates circa 1820, and its wooden front door is original. Built as the Hotchkiss grocery store, it subsequently served as the Lewiston Public Library from the early 1900s to 1962.
From the sidewalk, look up to the second floor. See the full-size door with a black pole above it? That’s the original “coffin door” which allowed easy access to hoist up products to the storage area.
Hennepin Park Gazebo
4th and Center Street
This sweet small park with a gazebo and fountain anchors the western end of Center Street’s business district.
In the summer months, it’s among the best places to relax and refresh in the shade. At Christmas time, the village holiday tree twinkles and shines in the gazebo.
Note: The Lewiston Council on the Arts traditionally hosts free Blues Mondays: live blues music concerts on Monday evenings in July and August.
Note: At the time of publication, the award-winning Blue Monday concert series has not yet been announced for Summer 2024.
New York State Off the Beaten Path: Arts and Culture
Artpark State Park
South 4th Street
Founded in 1974, Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park flourishes with art, nature, and culture on a spectacular site overlooking the Niagara Gorge. Just think: All this green space was once reclaimed wasteland.
The Artpark rocks with live music, musical theater, opera, and special events. In season, the gated Amphitheater hosts large-scale outdoor concerts. The professional Mainstage, a fly house, is one of New York State’s largest stages and an accredited qualified film production facility.
The Artscape engages and enchants with paintings, sculptures, and interactive installations. Placed in unexpected places, like street art but rather in nature: On lawns, in meadows, and along hiking trails. And, surprisingly, parking lots:
In 1979, color-abstractionist Gene Davis transformed the Mainstage parking lot into the world’s largest painting. Stripes over 60,000 feet (18,288 m) long cover more than 43,000 square feet (4 m2).
In 2017, NIAGARA 1979’s re-installation required:
- 450 gallons (1,703 l) of paint in 9 different colors
- 7 miles (11.2 km) of masking tape
- Permission of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which holds Davis’ estate
- Lots of fundraising effort and volunteer passion
The Artpark also honors indigenous heritage. The Lewiston Mound, a pre-historic Hopewell-style burial mound, is on the grounds. At a discreet distance, artist Carin Jean White installed the sound work EARTHSONG with Native American stories and songs wafting through the air.
Castellani Art Museum
5795 Lewiston Road
The Castellani Art Museum (CAM) is Niagara’s small museum with a big mission.
Italian immigrant and US Army WWII veteran Armand J. Castellani grew one small corner grocery store into a supermarket empire.
Travels in Italy ignited a passion for art, so Armand and wife Eleanor became collectors. In later years, they donated important works to galleries and museums.
Then in 1990, Mr. and Mrs. Castellani built a sophisticated showcase on the historic Niagara University campus. Clean contemporary lines and a bold marble-clad exterior interpret traditional classical shapes.
CAM’s permanent collection comprises over 5,700 works spanning the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, both world-famous names and folk artists alike.
Besides the galleries and a soaring interior court, the museum also contains classrooms, prep space, and studios. First and foremost, the mission is education to inspire a love and understanding of arts and culture in an easy and approachable way.
Castellani Art Museum is always free: Free for students, for community, for everyone.
Because, to quote CAM quoting Mr. Castellani: “In our little family store, I learned that people are everything.”
Niagara Power Vista Center
5777 Lewiston Road
While you’re exploring New York off the beaten path, have fun on the grid at the Niagara Power Vista Center.
New York Power Authority (NYPA) designed a multi-level, multi-media, multi-sensory unique experience in Robert Moses Hydroelectric Power Station. USA Today proclaimed this free science museum “A 10 Best in Niagara.”
Your Niagara Power Player badge “flips the switch” to 50+ hands-on exhibits, photo ops, films, 4D simulator rides, and interactive displays.
Either explore on your own or arrange a group-guided tour in advance. Hear who won the AC versus DC debate between towering power titans Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.
Also, enjoy panoramic views from the wrap-around observation deck 350 feet (107 m) above the Niagara Gorge.
If you’re a fishing fan, then take a long walk or a short drive down the Gorge to NYPA’s fishing pier. The pier is open from dawn to dusk daily in season.
The Niagara Power Project Vista Center and fishing pier are free to all.
New York State Off the Beaten Path: Notable Places of Worship
First Presbyterian Church
505 Cayuga Street
Founded in 1817, the First Presbyterian Church of Lewiston ministers to the faithful and the needy at large. Once sheltering fugitive slaves on their journey to freedom, in like manner, the congregation serves the community today.
In 1830, the cornerstone of the Old Stone Church was laid. The landmark church is still used in Spring and Fall, as well as special services such as Christmas. Although in summer heat and winter cold, the second 1960s-era sanctuary hosts worship services.
Of further note, the adjacent Lewiston Village Cemetery is the final resting place of real-life residents Thomas and Betty Hustler, she of cocktail fame. As well as Josiah Tryon, Underground Railroad stationmaster, and church elder.
In 2021, the National Register of Historic Places placed the Old Stone Church and municipal cemetery on the registry.
Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima
1023 Swann Road
Imagine yourself in Old World Europe only a few minutes’ drive of 3.7 miles (5.9 km) from Center Street.
In 1954, the Barnabite Fathers arrived from Italy. Local farmers donated land for the purpose of a church and ministry. In 1975, Pope Paul VI designated the church as a minor basilica.
In due time, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima became a pilgrimage site, with thousands visiting in high season.
The Mid-Century Modern basilica features a dome 100 feet (30 m) in diameter. A 10-ton granite statue of Our Lady stands atop the dome.
Reflect at the giant rosary, one of the world’s largest outdoor rosaries, and at the heart-shaped rosary pool.
Walk the rustic grounds filled with life-size marble statues representing different centuries and diverse cultures. Such as Native America, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, and Lebanon.
New York State Off the Beaten Path: Outdoors
Downstream from Niagara Falls, the Lower Niagara River forms Lewiston’s western boundary and divides two countries.
Surely, this must be the prettiest section and most favorite spot along the 5,525-mile (8,891 km) international border between the USA and Canada.
Additionally, Lewiston’s scenic riverfront includes National Historic Register Districts.
The Lower Landing marks the northern terminus of the Niagara Portage, an ancient route from Lake Ontario to bypass Niagara Falls and the Niagara Gorge.
Additionally, the Lower Landing Archeological District, on Artpark grounds, falls within the Colonial Niagara Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark.
Lewiston Landing Park
Water Street at Center Street
Swing your feet on Water Street, at the western end of Center Street.
The upper level is a great spot to savor sweeping vistas across the Niagara River to the Canadian side. This central park comes complete with wooden swing sets, lush landscaping, and the Freedom Crossing Monument.
From the 1880s to the 1930s, Lewiston was a principal port for the Niagara Navigation Company, later the Canada Steamship Lines.
See that circular red building on the park’s northern end? It was once a coal silo for steamships sailing between Lewiston and Toronto, Ontario. Today, it’s the Silo Restaurant, one of several popular waterfront eateries. The restored caboose dishes up ice cream and other sweet treats in season.
On the lower shoreline level, Lewiston’s public boat ramp launches world-class sportfishing all year round. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Bureau of Fisheries calls this “truly one of New York’s finest,” with “tremendous fishing diversity.”
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours
115 South Water Street
High-speed water adventure and exhilaration await at Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, steps away from Lewiston’s municipal dock.
These custom-built jet boats are one of the unique ways to tackle the turbulent and powerful Class 5 rapids upstream. Choose either the enclosed dry seats, or the open-air water-soaked wet seats.
Stella Niagara Preserve
4214 Lower River Road
Pristine and peaceful, the Stella Niagara Preserve covers 29 acres (11.7 ha) of protected riverfront.
For over a century, the Sisters of Saint Francis cared for this serene setting, besides running the beautiful Stella Niagara school campus, church, convent, retreat, and conference center. Now the Western New York Land Conservancy protects “the largest privately owned, undeveloped tract along the entire length of the Niagara River.”
Meander along walking trails as delight deepens to encounter:
- Meadow, wetlands, and ancient trees
- Wildlife habitats and bird havens
- Canoe and kayak launch
- Historical marker and informational signage
- St. Michael and other statuary
- Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto
- Little Chapel, built from ruins pre-dating the War of 1812
- 1964 Peace Memorial to President John F. Kennedy, created by Polish sgraffito artist Józef Sławiński
The preserve is part of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area and the Niagara County Historic Trail.
Joseph Davis State Park
4143 Lower River Road
Furthermore, this New York State Park was the final destination for The Amazing Race Season 8. Family teams rode high-speed jet boats from Queenston, Canada, across the river to the park’s fishing dock. Teams then sprinted to the finish line and victory in the season finale.
The Joseph Davis Bird Conservation Area is a haven to harriers, hawks, bald eagles, and other at-risk birds. A habitat for migratory songbirds in spring and fall. And the winter home of Eastern bluebirds.
New York State Off the Beaten Path: Best Time to Visit
Wonder what’s the best time of year to visit Lewiston?
Well, thanks to natural protection afforded by the Niagara Escarpment, one of Lewiston’s highest points, the weather generally seems a little more comfortable all around.
Colder months tend to be less harsh, and warmer months are less hot than elsewhere in the Buffalo Niagara metropolitan region.
Perhaps plan your trip either in the spring, when nature begins to bloom; or in summer, with festivals in full swing.
Consider a visit either in the fall, when the Niagara County Peach Festival heralds the seasons’ change; or in winter, when snow and ice deliver chilly delights.
New York State Off the Beaten Path: In Conclusion
Ready and raring to wander off the beaten path? Then travel to the westernmost edge of New York State to Lewiston, Niagara’s premier hidden gem.
Here along the Lower Niagara River beats the strong and stalwart heart of Small Town America.
Here awaits not only history’s vast arc but also vibrant arts and culture, as well as a thriving community.
So come discover Lewiston, the “most historic square mile in America.” Discover this centuries-old village and surrounding small town close to, but equally different from, world-famous Niagara Falls and big-city Buffalo.
Come explore, experience, be inspired by New York off the beaten path.
New York State Off the Beaten Path: Lewiston Map
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