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Monday, May 2, 2011

EXPLORATION: The Stone Jug

Despite recent attempts at revitalization (summer festivals and art galleries), downtown Niagara Falls remains a decrepit ruin, a mere shadow of its former glory. Empty storefronts, interspersed with bars and nightclubs, dominate the scene. Walk the streets and you can literally feel the sense of neglect in the air. Stray too far from City Hall and you'll be craving a hot shower by the time you get home. Perhaps that's why a building like the Stone Jug projects such an awesome presence. Located at the corner of Park & Zimmerman, the Stone Jug is three stories of limestone grandeur, testament to an all-but forgotten age when the area was the heart of government and commerce. The building itself was designed by Thomas Fuller, architect of the original Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Apparently, the round-headed archways, stringcourses, quoins, and gables are considered something to marvel at. Really, it's the stone that makes the building. Dark, grey, and clearly carved by hand, each stone has its own unique beauty. Some, particularly those on side of the building, sport fossils of an even older age. Originally a Post Office/Customs House, the building was nearly destroyed by a furnace explosion in 1927. Repairs were made, the Post Office moved out, the Custom House hung on until 1952, and the Police move in until 1976. Yet, as your eye wanders along the building today, it's all too easy to forget all that. As you take in the boarded up windows, gaping holes, and barbed wire, it's all too easy to really, truly believe you are looking at the untouched remains of the explosion. Step around back, and the true history reasserts itself once more, even as the desolation confuses the imagination. Look up to the twisted metal bars, and you can almost hear the men and women screaming for release from the fiery inferno. The cells didn't come along until 30 years after the explosion, but the image still haunts you. There is said to be a tree growing inside the building, one that has taken root in the filth that's blown through over the years. One look up, into the third story windows, and out through the roof, and you no longer need to wonder how the tree gets its sunshine and water. A quick jog across the road, up the hillside, and along the overgrown track of the abandoned rail bridge, reveals the full extent of the devastation. Pitted and pockmarked, burned and broken, the roof does little more than give the pigeons a place to roost, and the bats a place to escape the sunlight. Despite it all -- or, perhaps, in spite of it all -- nowhere is the beauty in ruins better exemplified than here.

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