The Aerospace Museum owes its existence to the efforts of present and former aircraft industry employees, licensed pilots and aviation enthusiasts who recognized the singular role played by Western New York entrepreneurs and businesses throughout the history of aviation. This knowledgeable group saw a need to protect and preserve surviving physical artifacts and related graphic and written materials while still available.
The idea of an aerospace museum began when the Amherst Museum became the custodian of a number of aviation artifacts relating to Western New York and general aviation history which had been acquired over time. In 1986 the Town of Amherst undertook a campaign to secure funding for a new building to house the collection. The fundraising campaign was not successful and the collection remained with the Amherst Museum until the museum determined that aviation artifacts were not consistent with its primary mission.
A group of aviation enthusiasts, including individuals active in the Aero Club of Buffalo, formed the Lawrence D. Bell Aerospace Museum and acquired the collection from the Amherst Museum. The organizing group then reformed itself as a tax-exempt corporation under the State Education Department and changed its name to the Niagara Aerospace Museum (Museum). With the help of many volunteers, the museum opened in May of 1998 in a vacant store in the Summit Park Mall in Niagara Falls. During its time at the Mall, the Museum became the home of the Niagara Frontier Aviation and Space Hall of Fame, which is sponsored jointly by the Aero Club and the Museum.
In 2001, when the Museum’s lease term was due to expire, attention was directed to secure a more permanent location. While negotiating to purchase another vacant Mall store, the Museum was offered space in the former Niagara Office Building on Third Street in downtown Niagara Falls. The building, originally headquarters for the Carborundum Corporation, included approximately 40,000 square feet on the first and second floors for display purposes and another 30,000 square feet on the third floor for expansion and storage of artifacts. The space was leased for a 30-year term expiring in 2032.
Funding for refurbishment of the space and construction of exhibits and interpretive displays was secured through a number of grants from government, local foundations and corporations. The new museum opened to the public in November 2002.
In early 2003, the State of New York entered into a Compact with the Seneca Nation of Indians permitting the Nation to establish gambling casinos in Niagara Falls, the Allegany Indian Reservation and the City of Buffalo. The Senecas were permitted to acquire a 50-acre tract that included the Niagara Falls Convention Center (now, site of the Casino) and the Niagara Office Building. A dispute over the terms of the lease was resolved in 2007.
By the end of March 2008, the Museum had vacated the Niagara Falls facility and relocated its office and collections to space in the former Bell Aerospace plant in the Town of Wheatfield.
Following the move to Wheatfield, the Museum turned its attention to a search for a new permanent home. Various possibilities were explored but the happenstance of a substantial bequest from the estate of the late K. Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted-Ross, long-time museum Trustee and benefactor, determined the new direction. The bequest was conditioned on renaming the museum in honor of Olmsted-Ross’ late husband, Ira G. Ross, who headed Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories (now, Calspan Corporation) and, also, that the museum move to the City of Buffalo.
The Board elected to accept the bequest and took action to rename the Museum as the Ira G. Ross Aerospace Museum while committing to seek a permanent home in the City of Buffalo. The Buffalo Sabres offered to lease approximately 10,000 square feet of ground floor space on the west side of the HSBC Arena as an exhibition site to the Museum. A portion of the collection and exhibits were installed in renovated space, where the museum opened in August 2008. When the Sabres came under new ownership, the museum once again had to pack up and look for a new home.
That new home came in the form of the former terminal at the Niagara Falls International Airport. Through the gracious help of the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority who maintains the building, the museum was able to re-open to the public in early summer, 2013, in a fitting location just a short distance from the old Bell Aerospace factory, where many pieces from our collection were built.
The Museum continues to occupy the space it has in Wheatfield.
In addition to displaying artifacts, the Museum will continue to carry out extensive educational programming, focusing on the area’s role in the nation’s aerospace history, providing expert speakers, and the continuation of the extensive artifact restoration program –including its most recent acquisition of the P-39 Aerocobra.