THE Strait of Niagara, or the Niagara River, as it is commonly called, ranks among the wonders of the world. The study of this stream. is of intense and special interest to many classes of people, notably historians, archaeologists, botanists, geologists, artists, mechanics, and electricians. It is doubtful if there is anywhere another thirty-six miles of riverway that can, in this respect, compare with it.
The term “strait ” as applied to the Niagara correctly suggests the river’s historic importance. The expression, recurring in so many of the relations of French and English military officers, ” on this communication ” also indicates Niagara’s position in the story of the discovery, conquest, and occupation of the continent. It is probably the Falls which, technically, make Niagara a river; and so, in turn, it is the Falls that rendered Niagara an important strategic key of the vast waterway stretching from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the head of Lake Superior. The lack so far as it does existof historic interest in the immediate Niagara region, the comparative paucity of military events of magnitude along that stream during the old French and the Revolutionary wars proves, on the one hand, what a wilderness separated the English on the South from the French on the North, and, on the other, how strong ” the communication ” was between Quebec and the French posts in the Middle West. It does not prove that Niagara was the less important.
The Falls increased the historic importance of Niagara because it limited navigation and made a portage necessary; the purposes of trade and missionary enterprise, as well as those of conquest, demanded that this point be occupied, and occupation necessarily meant defence. Here, from Lewiston and Queenston to Chippewa and Port Day (to use modern names) ran the two most famous portage paths of the continent. Here were to be seen at one time or another the footprints of as famous explorers, noble missionaries, and brave soldiers as ever went to conquest in history.
The Niagara River was important in the olden time to every mile of territory drained by the waters that flowed through it. What an empire to hold in fee! Here lies more than one-half the fresh water of the worldthe solid contents being, according to Darby 1,547,011,792,300,000; it would form a solid cubic column measuring nearly twenty-two miles on each side.
The most remote body of water tributary to Niagara River is Lake Superior, 381 miles long and 161 miles broad with a circumference of 1150 miles. The Niagara of Lake Superior is the St. Mary’s River, twenty-seven miles in length, its current very rapid, with water flowing over great masses of rock into Lake Huron. Lake Huron is 218 miles long and 20 miles wider than Lake Superior, but with a circumference of only 812 miles. Lake Michigan is 345 miles long and 84 broad and enters Lake Huron through Mackinaw Straits which are four miles in length, with a fall of four feet. In turn Lake Huron empties into the St. Clair and Detroit rivers which, with a total fall of eleven feet in fifty-one miles, forms the Niagara of Lake Erie. This sheet of water is 250 miles long and 6c) miles broad at its widest part. The area drained by these lakes is as follows, including their own area:
Lake Superior 85,000 sq. m.
” Huron 74,000 ”
Michigan 70,040 ”
” Erie 39,680 ”
Total 268,720 ”
Considering this as a portion of the St. Lawrence drainage, we have the marvellous spectacle of a navigable waterway from the St. Louis River, Lake Superior, to Cape Gaspe at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, of twenty-one hundred miles in length, the Niagara River being paralleled to-day by the Welland Canal, and lesser canals affording a passageway around the rapids of the St. Mary’s in the West and the St. Lawrence in the East. In a previous volume in the present series 1 it was seen that the improved rivers in the Ohio basin now offered a navigable pathway over four thousand miles in length; how insignificant is that prospect in view of this great transcontinental waterway two thousand miles in length but including the 268,000 square miles in the four great lakes alone! Well does George Waldo Browne in his beautiful volume on this subject, The St. Lawrence River, say:
Treated in a more extended manner, according to the ideas of the early French geographers, and taking either the river and lake of Nipigon, on the north of Superior, or the river St. Louis, flowing from the south-west, it has a grand total length of over two thousand miles. With its tributaries it drains over four hundred thousand square miles of country, made up of fertile valleys and plateaux inhabited by a prosperous people, desolate barrens, deep forests, where the foot of man has not yet left its imprint.
Seldom less than two miles in width, it is two and one-half miles wide where it issues from Ontario, and with several expansions which deserve the name of lake it becomes eighty miles in width where it ceases to be considered a river. The influence of the tide is felt as far up as Lake St. Peter, about one hundred miles from the gulf, while it is navigable for sea-going vessels to Montreal, eighty miles farther inland. Rapids impede navigation above this point, but by means of canals continuous communication is obtained to the head of Lake Superior.
If inferior in breadth to the mighty Amazon, if it lacks the length of the Mississippi, if without the stupendous gorges and cataracts of the Yang-tse-Kiang of China, if missing the ancient castles of the Rhine, if wanting the lonely grandeur that still overhangs the Congo of the Dark Continent, the Great River of Canada has features as remarkable as any of these. It has its source in the largest body of fresh water upon the globe, and among all of the big rivers of the world it is the only one whose volume is not sensibly affected by the elements. In rain or in sunshine, in spring floods or in summer droughts, this phenomenon of waterways seldom varies more than a foot in its rise and fall.
The history of the Niagara is so closely interwoven with that of the great ” Queen City of the Lakes,” Buffalo and the Upper Niagara 5 Buffalo, that it would seem as though the famous waterway was in the suburb of the city and its greatest scenic attraction. However true this is today, it was very far from the case a century ago, for though the site of Buffalo was historic and important, the city, as such, is of comparative recent origin, coming to its own with giant strides in those last decades of the nineteenth century. Writes Mr. Rowland B. Mahany in his excellent chapter on ” Buffalo” in The Historic Towns of the Middle States:
Few cities of the United States have a history more picturesque than Buffalo, or more typical of the forces that have made the Republic great. At the time of the adoption of the Federal constitution, in 1787, not a single white settler dwelt on the site of what is now the Queen of the Lakes; and it was not until after the second presidency of Washington, that Joseph Ellicott, the founder of Buffalo, laid out the plan of the town, which he called New Amsterdam.
On February 10, 1810, the ” Town of Buffaloe ” was created by act of the State Legislature, a name originally given to the locality by the Seneca Indians, who, we shall see, dominated the old Niagara frontier; it is believed that the name came from the animals which visited the neighbouring salt licks; and the name therefore may be much older than any settlement or even camping site. The village of New Amsterdam was now merged into the town of Buffalo, which boasted a newspaper in the second year of its existence, 1811. The story of the following years falls naturally into that of the disastrous war with England from 1812 to 1814, in which Buffalo suffered severely. As Mr. Mahany suggests, the story of Buffalo is characteristically American, and its phases, as such offer an inviting field, but one too wide for full examination in the present history.
The important position of the city with reference to the Great Lakes was very greatly increased with the building of the Erie Canal from 1817 to 1825. It is interesting to recall the fact that it was in reality fear of the possibility of another war with England that caused the deciding vote for the Erie Canal project to be cast in its favour.2 In the proper place we shall have impressed upon us the great distance that separated the Niagara frontier from the inhabited portion of the Republic at this early period, the great length of the land route and the difficulty of it; it was said to be far more than a cannon was worth to haul it to the frontier during the War of 1812. All this shows very distinctly the early condition surrounding the rise of the metropolis of the Niagara country, and, from being strange that little Buffalo did not grow faster, it is amazing to find such rapid growth during the first twenty-five years of her life.
With the opening of the canal in 1825 a new era dawned; the work of the great land companies in northeastern New York drew vast armies of people thither, and the canal proved to be the great route for a much longer migration from the seaboard to the further north-west, to Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as to neighbouring Ohio. All this helped Buffalo. Numbers of travellers arriving at the future site of the Queen
I Frank H. Severance in his delightful Old Trails of the Niagara Frontier has several most interesting chapters relating to the Buffalo neighbourhood. Mr. Severance has done, through the Buffalo Historical Society, much good work in keeping warm the affection of the present generation for the memory of the past, its heroes and its sacrifices.
City of the Lakes at once decided that they could at least go farther and fare very much worse, and so sat down to grow up with the Niagara frontier. The proximity of the Falls had something to do, of course, with bringing increasingly larger numbers of travellers and transients to the Lake Erie village. But it was slow work, this building up a great city, and no doubt the very fact that the stones of the mighty edifice one finds beside that beautiful harbour to-clay were laid slowly accounts for the solidity of the structure; Buffalo was not built on a boom.
From James L. Barton’s reminiscences, for instance, we have clear pictures of the early struggle for business in this frontier town, which prove it to have been typically American. Mr. Barton owned a line of boats on the Lakes and canal but found it very difficult to find freight for the boats to carry down the State;
A few tons of freight [he writes], was all that we could furnish each boat to carry to Albany. This they would take in, and fill up at Rochester, which place, situated in the heart of the wheat-growing district of Western New York, furnished nearly all the down freight that passed on the canal. Thus we lived and struggled on until 183o. Our population had increased largely, and that year numbered six thousand and thirty-one. In the fall of 183i, I received from Cleveland one thousand bushels of wheat. . . . The next winter I made arrangement with the late Colonel Ira A. Blossom, the resident agent of the Holland Land Company, to furnish storage for all the wheat the settlers should bring in, towards the payment on their land contracts with the company. The whole amount did not exceed three thousand bushels. . . . In 1833 the Ohio canal was completed, which gave us a little more business. Northern Ohio was then the only portion of the great West that had any surplus agricultural products to send to an eastern market. In 1833 a little stir commenced in land operations, which increased the next year, and in 1835 became a perfect fever and swallowed up almost everything else. Nearly every person who had any enterprise got rich from buying and selling land; using little money in these transactions, but paying and receiving in pay, bonds and mortgages to an illimitable amount.
In 1837 the panic affected the young lake city as it did all parts of the land, but by 1840 the population of Buffalo had swelled to over eighteen thousand. The record of growth of the past century is a matter of figures strung on the faith of a great company of active, enterprising, far-sighted business men, until Buffalo ranks among the cities of half a million population, with a future unquestionably secure and brilliant.
The Niagara River is some nineteen hundred feet in width at its mouth here at Buffalo and forty-eight feet deep; the average rate of current here is under six miles per hour, but when south-west gales drive the lake billows in gigantic gulps down the river’s mouth the current sometimes races as fast as twelve miles per hour. Old Fort Erie, built here at the mouth of the Niagara immediately after England won the continent from France, in 1764, was formerly the only settlement hereabouts, Black Rock, now part of Buffalo, at the mouth of the Erie Canal, was not settled until near the close of that century. It is believed that five forts have guarded the mouth of this strategic river, all known as Fort Erie. When the people of the opposite sides of the river were in conflict in 1812, Black Rock was the rival of Fort Erie. The large black rock which formed the landing-place of the ferry across the river here, and which gave the hamlet its name, was destroyed when the Erie Canal was built. Black Rock was formally laid out in 1804 and in 1853 was incorporated with the city of Buffalo.
The upper Niagara with its even current and low-lying banks is not specially attractive. Grand Island, two miles below the mouth, divides the river into two narrow arms. This beautiful island, the Indian name of which was Owanunga, so popular to-day as a summering place, is remembered in history especially as the site selected in 1825 for Major M. M. Noah’s “New Jerusalem,” the proposed industrial centre of the Jews of the New World, but nothing was accomplished on the island itself toward the object in view.
At Buffalo, however, Noah took the title ” Judge of Israel,” and held a meeting in the old St. Paul’s Church, where remarkable initiatory rites took place. In resplendent robes covered by a mantle of crimson silk, trimmed’ with ermine, the Judge held what he termed ” impressive and unique ceremony,” in which he read a proclamation to ” all the Jews throughout the world,” bringing them the glad tidings that on the ancient isle Owanunga ” an asylum was prepared and offered to them,” and that he did ” revive, renew, and establish (in the Lord’s name), the government of the Jewish nation, . . . confirming and perpetuating all our rights and privileges, our rank and power, among the nations of the earth as they existed and were recognised under the government of the Judges.” Mr. Noah ordered a census of all the Hebrews in the world to be taken and did not forget, incidentally, to levy a tax of about one dollar and a half on every Jew in order to carry on the project. A “foundation stone” was prepared to be erected on the site of the future New Jerusalem; the following inscription was engraved upon it:
Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord is our Godthe Lord is one.
At the lower extremity of Grand Island is historic Burnt Ship Bay, made famous, as hereafter related, in the old French War.
The little town of Tonawanda, with its immense lumber interests, and La Salle, famous in history as the building site of the Griffon, elsewhere described, lie opposite Grand Island on the American shore, the former at the mouth of Cayuga Creek. On the opposite shore, a little below the beautiful Navy Island, is the historic town of Chippewa.
Below Navy Island the river spreads out to a width of over two miles; it has fallen twenty feet since leaving Lake Erie, and now gathers into a narrower channel for its magnificent rush to the falls one mile below. In this mile the river drops fifty-two feet, through what are known as the American and Canadian Rapids, on their respective sides of the river.
From a scenic standpoint it is questionable whether any of the delights of Niagara surpass those afforded by this beautiful series of cascades; sightseers are prepared from their earliest days for the magnificent beauty of the Falls themselves, but of the Rapids above little is known until their insidious charm gradually works its way into the heart to remain forever an image of beauty and rapture that cannot be effaced. Guide books will give adequate advice as to the best points of vantage from which to view the various rifts and cascades.
Some years ago [writes Mr. Porter], Colin Hunter, then an Associate, now a Royal Academician, came over from London to paint Niagara. Of all the points of view he selected the one as seen up stream from the head of the Little Brother Island. A temporary bridge was built to it, and here, with a guard at the bridge, so as to be secure from intrusion, he painted his grand view, looking up stream. The upper ledge of rocks, with its long, rapid cascade, was his sky-line; in the foreground were the tumbling Rapids; far to the right of the picture the tops of a few trees appearing on the Canada shore above the waters alone showed the presence of any land. We advise . . the visitor to clamber over the rocks on the Canadian shore of the Island . . . go out as near the water’s edge as possible, and you will appreciate the difference that a few feet in a point of observation may make in what is apparently the same scenery. Just before you reach the foot of the island a gnarled cedar tree and a rock, accessible by leaping from stone to stone, gives you access to a point of observation than which there is nothing more beautiful at Niagara. Do not fail to get this view, for it is the Colin Hunter view, as nearly as you can get it, and you will appreciate the artistic sense of the great painter who chose this incomparable view in preference to the Falls themselves for a reproduction of the very best at Niagara.
Another beautiful point from which to view the Rapids is on Terrapin Rocks, the so-called scenic and geographical centre of Niagara. Here the power of Congressman Peter A. Porter’s Guide Book may be recommended highly; its use to the present writer, taken in addition to its author’s personal assistance and advice, must be acknowledged in the most unreserved way. Numerous references to Mr. Porter’s various monographs, especially his Old Fort Niagara and Goat Island, in addition to his Guide, will be met with frequently in this volume. To one really interested in Niagara history Old Fort Niagara will be found most attractive and comprehensive; its numerous references to authorities put it quite in a class by itself among local histories the magnificent river, the “shoreless sea” above you, the clouds for its horizon, grows more impressive with every visit. By day the sight is marvellously impressive; by night, under some circumstances, it is yet more wonderful. Of this night view Margaret Fuller wrote, most feelingly:
After nightfall as there was a splendid moon, I went down to the bridge and leaned over the parapet, where the boiling rapids came down in their might. It was grand, and it was also gorgeous; the yellow rays of the moon made the broken waves appear like auburn tresses twining around the black rocks. But they did not inspire me as before. I felt a foreboding of a mightier emotion to rise up and swallow all others, and I passed on to the Terrapin Bridge. Everything was changed, the misty apparition had taken off its many coloured crown which it had worn by day, and a bow of silvery white spanned its summit. The moonlight gave a poetical indefiniteness to the distant parts of the waters, and while the rapids were glancing in her beams, the river below the Falls was as black as night, save where the reflection of the sky gave it the appearance of a shield of blue steel.
As the Falls of Niagara slowly creep backward in tune to their stupendous recessional toward Lake Erie they encroach more and more on the magnificent domain of the Rapids, nor will their gradual increase in height atone for this savage invasion nor palliate the offence committed. A thousand years more, we are told, and the visitor will view the “Horseshoe ” Fall from the upper end of the Third Sister Island, and the marvellous canvas of Colin Hunter will be as meaningless as Hennepin’s picture of two centuries and more ago. The American Fall, receding much more slowly than the Horseshoe Fall, will invade the beautiful rapids above Goat Island bridge at a very much later date, for, as we shall see, the greater fall recedes almost as many feet per year as the lesser recedes inches. And in this connection it is interesting to note that if the recession continued to Lake Erie and onward into that lake until the line of fall was a mile long at its crest, with the water falling 336 feet, Victoria Falls in the Zambesi River would still exceed their American rival by sixty-four feet in height !
The accessibility of the Niagara Rapids, because of the fortunate location of the Goat Island group is, in. itself, one of the great charms of the region, and this may explain in part the insuppressible desire of early visitors to reach these glorious points of vantage. The view of the rapids from the Goat Island bridge to-day is said to be the source of chief pleasure “to half the visitors to Niagara.”
George Houghton’s beautiful lines on ” The Upper Rapids” express with fine feeling the effect of these racing cascades on the sensitive mind:
Still with the wonder of boyhood, I follow the race of the Rapids, Sirens that dance, and allure to destruction,now lurking in shadows,
Skirting the level stillness of pools and the treacherous shallows, Smiling and dimple-mouthed, coquetting,now modest, now forward;
Tenderly chanting, and such the thrall of the weird incantation, Thirst it awakes in each listener’s soul, a feverish longing, Thoughts all absorbent, a torment that stings and ever increases, Burning ambition to push bare-breast to thy perilous bosom.
Frederick Almy in The Niagara Book, p. 51. This volume has been of perennial interest to the author because of the contributions of the venerable William Dean Howells and E. S. Martin. No one who in early life has essayed the life of journalist and correspondent can read Mr. Howells’s article in this little book without immense relish; its humour is contagious, and its descriptions of Niagara in 1860, fascinating.
Thus, in some midnight obscure, bent down by the storm of temptation (So hath the wind, in the beechen wood, confided the story), Pine-trees, thrusting their way and trampling down one another, Curious, lean and listen, replying in sobs and in whispers;
Till of the secret possessed, which brings sure blight to the hearer, (So bath the wind, in the beechen wood, confided the story), Faltering, they stagger brinkward,clutch at the roots of the grasses,
Cry,a pitiful cry of remorse,and plunge down in the darkness.
Art thou all-merciless then,–a fiend, ever fierce for new victims? Was then the red-man right (as yet it liveth in legend), That, ere each twelvemonth circles, still to thy shrine is allotted Blood of one human heart, as sacrifice due and demanded?
Butterflies have I followed, that leaving the red-top and clover, Thinking a wind-harp thy voice, thy froth the fresh whiteness of daisies,
Ventured too close, grew giddy, and catching cold drops on their pinions,
Balanced but vainly,–and falling, their scarlet was blotted forever.
When, about 1880, William M. Hunt was commissioned to decorate the immense panels of the Assembly Chamber of the Capitol at Albany, N. Y., he chose, with true artistic feeling, the view of the rapids above Goat Island bridge as the choice picture to represent the great marvel and chief wonder of the Empire State Niagara. It is generally conceded that Church’s
Horseshoe Falls takes rank over all other paintings of Niagara, but Colin Hunter’s Rapids of Niagara excel any other yiew of either the Falls, Gorge, or Rapids on canvas today.
But we must observe here that these Rapids were something aside from beautiful to the French and English officers whose duty it was to defend and supply ” the communication ” from Fort Frontenac to Fort Chartres ; they probably seemed very ” horrid,” in the old time sense, to those who struggled under the burdens of the ancient portage path. The southern termini of the two pathwaysone on either side of the riverwere Chippewa and Port Day, respectively. The route from Lewiston to Port Day was evidently the common portage until after the War of 1812 when the Canadian path was opened. A little below what is known as Schlosser Dock stood the French fort guarding this end of their old portage path, Fort du Portage or Little Fort Niagara, built about 175o, nine years before England conquered the region. Near by stands the one famous relic of the old regime, the Old Stone Chimney of Fort du Portage, later a chimney of the English mess-house at Fort Schlosser. As will be noted later Fort du Portage was destroyed by the retreating French, after the capture of Fort Niagara by Sir William Johnson; to guard that end of the portage the English under Colonel Schlosser built Fort Schlosser in 1761. The road occupying the course of the ancient portage does not extend to the river now, but it bears the old name, and on it you may see, not half a mile back, outlines of the earthen works of one of the eleven block-houses built in 1764 by Captain Montresor the first of which was erected on the hill above Lewiston; these block-houses guarded the important roadway from the assaults of Indians such as the famous Bloody Run Massacre of 1763. Frenchman’s Landing is the modern name for the cove below the Old Stone Chimney where was the terminus of the earliest portage path guarded by the block-house known as the first Little Fort Niagara. This whole district is now the site of the power-houses and mills that are making Niagara a word to conjure with in the centres of trade as certainly as in the ancient day it was a mesmeric word in the courts and camps of the Old World.
The thunder of Niagara Falls reaches our ears even amid the music of these beautiful Rapids, and we are drawn on to the marvellous group of islands that impinge upon the cataract.
What is commonly known as the Goat Island group consists of the island of that name, containing some seventy acres of land, and sixteen other islands or rocks contiguous thereto. Without undertaking to dispute or defend many of the extravagant assertions made in behalf of Goat Island, to which have been given the titles ” Temple of Nature,” ” Enchanted Isles,” ” Isle of Beauty,” ” Shrine of the Deity,” ” Fairy Isles,” etc. it would, I think, be difficult to disprove the statement often made that no other seventy acres on the continent are more interesting than these bearing this homely name. From the standpoint of the artist and naturalist this statement would probably pass unquestioned. The views already alluded to of the American and Canadian rapids to be gained from this delightful vantage point are probably unparalleled. To the botanist Goat Island is a paradise. Sir Joseph Hooker affirmed that he found here a greater variety of vegetation within a given space than he had found in Europe or in America east of the Sierras, and Dr. Asa Gray confirmed the extravagant statement. Wrote Frederick Law Olmsted:
I have followed the Appalachian chain almost from end to end, and travelled on horseback “in search of the picturesque” over four thousand miles of the most promising parts of the continent without finding elsewhere the same quality of forest beauty which was once abundant about the Falls, and which is still to be observed on those parts of Goat Island where the original growth of trees and shrubs has not been disturbed, and where from caving banks trees are not now exposed to excessive dryness at the root.
In a report, prepared by David F. Day for the New York State Reservation Commissioners, we find explained, in part, the notable fertility of this little plot of ground, although the oft-returning misty rain from the Falls, and the fact that Goat Island never experiences the dangers of a ” forward” spring have much to do in preserving its beautiful robe of colours:
A calcareous soil enriched with an abundance of organic matter like that of Goat Island would necessarily be one of great fertility. For the growth and sustentation of a forest and of such plants as prefer the woods to the openings it would far excel the deep and exhaustless alluvians of the prairie states.
It would be difficult to find within another territory so restricted in its limits so great a diversity of trees and shrubs and still more difficult to find in so small an area such examples of arboreal symmetry and perfection as the island has to exhibit.
The island received its flora from the mainland, in fact the botanist is unable to point out a single instance of tree, shrub, or herb, now growing upon the island not also to be found upon the mainland. But the distinguishing characteristic of its flora is not the possession of any plant elsewhere unknown, but the abundance of individuals and species, which the island displays. There are to be found in Western New York about 17o species if trees and shrubs. Goat Island and the immediate vicinity of the river near the Falls can show of these no less than 140. There are represented on the island four maples, three species of thorn, two species of ash, and six species, distributed in five genera, of the cone-bearing family. The one species of basswood belonging to the vicinity is also there.
Mr. Day has a catalogue of plants in his report to the Reservation Commissioners, giving 909 species of plants to be found on the Reservation, of which 758 are native and 151 foreign. Wrote Margaret Fuller:
The beautiful wood on Goat Island is full of flowers, many of the fairest love to do homage there. The wake robin and the May apple are in bloom, the former white, pink, green, purple, copying the rainbow of the Falls, and fit it for its presiding Deity when He walks the land, for they are of imperial size and shaped like stones for a diadem. Of the May apple I did not raise one green tent without finding a flower beneath.
Explaining the climatic advantages of the island Mr. Olmsted remarks:
First, the masses of ice which every winter are piled to a great height below the Falls and the great rushing body of ice cold water coming from the northern lakes in the spring prevent at Niagara the hardship under which trees elsewhere often suffer through sudden checks to premature growth. And second, when droughts elsewhere occur, as they do every few years, of such severity that trees in full foliage droop and dwindle and even sometimes cast their leaves, the atmosphere at Niagara is more or less moistened by the constantly evaporating spray of the Falls, and in certain situations bathed by drifting clouds of spray.
It is a very irony of fate that this marvellous gem among the islands of earth could not bear a name befitting its place in the admiration and esteem of a world; it was, I believe, Judge Porter himself that named this beautiful spot ” Iris Island,” a name altogether fitting in both wealth of suggestion and beauty of association. One John Steadman, remembered as a contractor to widen the old portage path from Lewiston to Fort Schlosser, and former owner of the island under a ” Seneca patent,” planted some turnips here, we are told, in the year r 770 AM., and in the following autumn placed here “a number of animals, among them a male goat,” to get them out of the reach of the bears and wolves that infested the neighbouring shore near his home two miles up the river. In the spring of 1771 it was found that the severe winter had been too much for all but the “male goat,” who, unfortunately, survived the ordeal, and by so doing bids fair to hand his name down through the centuries attached to the most beautiful island in the world. In the Treaty of Ghent, which set our boundary line here, the island bears the name ” Iris.” Mr. Porter has stated that even if it were desirable to change the name now ” it would seem impossible now to do so.” 1 Is this the truth ? Could not the commissioners who have the matters in hand do a great deal toward inaugurating a change to the old official name that would in the long run prove effective ? The present writer is most positive that this could be done and that it is a thing that ought certainly to be attempted immediately. It would be surprising how much the change would be favoured if once attempted, if guide books and maps followed the new nomenclature. The only possible satisfaction that one can have in the present name is in the horrifying reflection that if the male goat had died the island would probably have been ” Turnip Island ” if not ” Colic Island.”
Below the islands resound the Falls. Perhaps there is no better method of describing this almost indescribable wonder than by taking the familiar walk about them beginning at the common point of commencement, Prospect Point.
It is important on visiting the Falls for the first time to obtain as good a view as possible, as the first view comes but once. Many are somewhat disappointed with it, since from a distance the Falls give the idea of a long low wall of water, their great height being offset by their great breadth of almost a mile. The best yiew is from the top of the bank on the Canadian side; but as most of the tourists reach the American side first it is from this standpoint that most visitors gain their first impression. No better vantage ground can be gained on the American side than Prospect Point. Here, placed at the northern end of the American cataract, is the best position to make a study of the geography of Niagara. Stretching from your feet along the line of sight extends the American Fall to a distance of 1060 feet. At the other side of the American Fall is the Goat Island group. This group stretches along the cliff for a distance of 1300 feet more. Beyond this extends the line of the Horseshoe Fall for a further distance of 3010 feet, making in all a total of slightly over a mile. To the right, down the river is the gorge which Niagara has been chiseling and scouring for unnumbered centuries; this chasm extends almost due north for a distance of seven miles to Lewiston. Down the gorge the gaze is uninterrupted for a distance of nearly two miles, almost to the Whirlpool where the river turns abruptly to the left on entering this whirling maelstrom, issuing again almost at right angles to continue its mad plunges.
To the left, up the river lie the American Rapids, where the water rushes on in its madness to hurl its volume over the 160 feet of precipice and into the awful chasm below. Just below Prospect Point and somewhat higher in altitude than it, is what has been called Hennepin’s View, so named after Father Hennepin, who gave the first written description of the Niagara. Here one sees not only the Horseshoe Fall in the foreground, as at Prospect Point, but the American Fall also, which lies several feet lower than our point of vantage.
Proceeding up the river the next point of interest reached is the steel bridge to Goat Island. The first bridge to this island was is constructed by Judge Porter in 1817 about forty rods above the site of the present one. In the spring of the next year this bridge was swept away by the large cakes of ice coming down the river. It was rebuilt at its present site, its projector judging that the added descent of the rapids would so break up the ice as to eliminate any danger to the structure; and the results proved his theory true. This structure stood until i8 when its place was taken by a steel arch bridge, which served the public until 1900. In that year the present structure authorised by the State of New York took its place.
Looking upon this structure, one wonders how the foundations could possibly have been laid in such an irresistible current of water. First, two of the largest trees to be found in the vicinity were cut down and hewn flat on two sides. A level platform was erected on the shore at the water’s edge and on this the hewn logs were placed about eight feet apart, supported on rollers with their shore ends heavily weighted with stone. These logs were then run as far out over the river as possible, and a man walked out on each one armed with an iron pointed staff. On finding a crevice in the rock forming the bottom of the river, these staffs were driven firmly into the rock and then lashed to the ends of the timbers, thus forming a stay to them and furnishing the means necessary for beginning the construction of the crib. The timbers were planked, and the same process was pursued until the island was reached.
While the second bridge was under construction, the famous Indian chieftain and orator, Red Jacket, visited the Falls. The old veteran is said to have sat for a long time watching the process of bridging the angry waters, the transforming power of the white man at work, conquering a force which to him appeared more than able to baffle all the ingenuity of man. On being asked by a bystander what he thought of the work of construction he seemed mortified that the white man’s hand should so desecrate these sacred waters; folding his blanket slowly about him, with his eyes fixed upon the works, he is said to have given forth the stereotyped Indian grunt, adding “Yankee.”
Upon this bridge we find one of the best positions, as we have noted, from which to view the Rapids. From the point of their beginning, about a mile above the Falls to the crest of the cliff the descent is over fifty feet. Here, standing upon what seems in comparison but a frail structure, one can realise the grandeur of the Rapids. In the terrible race they seem to be trying to tear away the piers of the bridge which arc fretting their current.
The Niagara River:Niagara River – Buffalo And The Upper NiagaraNiagara River – From The Falls To Lake OntarioNiagara River – The Birth Of NiagaraNiagara River – Niagara Bond And FreeNiagara River – Harnessing Niagara FallsNiagara River – A Century Of Niagara CranksNiagara River – The Old Niagara FrontierNiagara River – From La Salle To De NonvilleNiagara River – Niagara Under Three FlagsNiagara River – The Hero Of Upper Canada