Niagara River – From The Falls To Lake Ontario

THESE American rivers of ours have their messages, historical, economic, and social, to both reader and loiterer. And, too, are not these streams so very much alive that through the years their personalities remain practically unchanged, while generations of loiterers come and go on forever? Are not the eccentricities of these great living forces forever recurrent, however whimsical they may seem, to us as we stop for our brief instant at the shore?

The word Niagara stands to-day representing power; the most common metaphor used, perhaps, to represent perpetual irresistible force is found in the name Niagara. Now it is admitted that nothing is more interesting than to observe the contradictions noticeable in most strong personalities. View the Niagara from this personal standpoint. I think its most attractive features may be summed up in a catalogue of its eccentric contradictions. It is famous as a waterfall, yet its greatest beauty is to be found in its smallest rapids. Its thundering fall outrivals all other sounds of Nature, yet you can hear a sparrow sing when the spray of the torrent is drenching you; the ” noise ” of Niagara is often spoken of as the greatest sound ever heard, yet most of the cataract’s music has never been heard because it is pitched too low for human ears. Niagara’s Whirlpool is a placid, mirrored lake compared to the rapids above and below it and brings from the lips of the majority of sightseers, looking only at the surface of things, words of disappointment. The great message and influence of the foaming cataract and rapids and terrible pool, to all awake to the finer meanings, as has been so beautifully brought out by Mr. Howells, should be one of singular repose. The louder the music the more certain the strange influence of this message of quiet and calm.

Take, for instance, what is so commonly called the roar of Niagara, but which ought to be known as the music of Niagara., first at the Rapids and then the Falls.

There is sweet music in Niagara’s lesser rapids. Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer observes, most felicitously:

It is a great and mighty noise, but it is not, as Hennepin thought, an ” outrageous noise.” It is not a roar. It does not drown the voice or stun the ear. Even at the actual foot of the falls it is not oppressive. It is much less rough than the sound of heavy surf—steadier, more homogeneous, less metallic, very deep and strong, yet mellow and soft; soft, I mean, in its quality. As to the noise of the rapids, there is none more musical. It is neither rumbling nor sharp. It is clear, plangent, silvery. It is so like the voice of a steep brook—much magnified, but not made coarser or more harsh—that, after we have known it, each liquid call from a forest hillside will seem, like the odour of grapevines, a greeting from Niagara. It is an inspiriting, an exhilarating sound, like freshness, coolness, vitality itself made audible. And yet it is a lulling sound. When we have looked out upon the American rapids for many days, it is hard to remember contented life amid motionless surroundings; and so, when we have slept beside them for many nights, it is hard to think of happy sleep in an empty silence.

A most original and interesting study of the music of the great Falls was made some years ago in a more or less technical way by Eugene Thayer.’ It had been this gentleman’s theory that Niagara had never been heard as it should be heard, and his mission at the cataract was accomplished when there met his ears, not the ” roar,” but, rather, a perfectly constructed musical tone, clear, definite, and unapproachable in its majestic proportions; in fact Mr. Thayer affirms that the trained ear at Niagara should hear ” a complete series of tones, all uniting in one grand and noble unison, as in the organ, and all as easily recognisable as the notes of any great. chord in music.” He had heard it rumoured that persons had been known to secure a pitch of the tone of Niagara; he essayed to secure not only the pitch of the chief or ground tone, but that of all accessory or upper tones otherwise known as harmonic or overtones, together with the beat or accent of the Falls and its rhythmical vibrations.

All the tones above the ground tone have been named overtones or harmonics; the tones below are caned the subharmonics, or undertones. It will be noticed that they form the complete natural harmony of the ground tone. What is the real pitch of this chord? According to our regular musical notation, the fourth note given represents the normal pitch of diapason; the reason being that the eight-foot tune is the only one that gives the notes as written. According to nature, I must claim the first, or lowest note, as the real or ground tone. In this latter way I shall represent the true tone or pitch of Niagara.

How should I prove all this? My first step was to visit the beautiful Iris Island, otherwise known as Goat Island. Donning a suit of oilcloth and other disagreeable loose stuff, I followed the guide into the Cave of the Winds. Of course, the sensation at first was so novel and overpowering that the question of pitch was lost in one of personal safety. Remaining here a few minutes, I emerged to collect my dispersed thoughts. After regaining myself, I returned at once to the point of beginning, and went slowly in again (alone), testing my first question of pitch all the way; that is, during the approach, while under the fall, while emerging, and while standing some distance below the face of the fall, not only did I ascertain this (I may say in spite of myself, for I could hear but one pitch), but I heard and sang clearly the pitch of all the harmonic or accessory tones, only of course several octaves higher than their actual pitch. Seven times have I been under these singing waters (always alone except the first time), and the impression has invariably been the same, so far as determining the tone and its components. I may be allowed to withhold the result until I speak of my experience at the Horseshoe Fall, and the American Fall proper—it being scarcely necessary to say that the Cave of the Winds is under the smaller cascade, known as the Central Fall.

My next step was to stand on Luna Island, above the Central Fall, and on the west side of the American Fall proper. I went to the extreme eastern side of the island, in order to lose as far as possible the sound of the Central Fall, and get the full force of the larger Fall. Here were the same great ground tone and the same harmonics, differing only somewhat in pitch.

I then went over to the Horseshoe Fall and sat among the Rapids. There it was again, only slightly higher in pitch than on the American side. Not then knowing the fact, I ventured to assert that the Horseshoe Fall was less in height, by several feet, than the American Fall; the actual difference is variously given at from six to twelve feet. Next I went to the Three Sister Islands, and here was the same old story. The higher harmonics were mostly inaudible from the noise of the Rapids, but the same two low notes were ringing out clear and unmistakable. In fact, wherever I was I could not hear anything else! There was no roar at all, but the same grand diapason—the noblest and completest one on. earth! I use the word completest advisedly, for nothing else on earth, not even the ocean, reaches anywhere ‘near the actual depth of pitch, or makes audible to the human ear such a complete and perfect harmonic structure.

Mrs. Van Rensselaer tells us there is yet another music at Niagara that must be listened for only on quiet nights. It is like the music of an orchestra so very far away that its notes are attenuated to an incredible delicacy and are intermittently perceived, as though wafted to us on variable zephyrs.

It is the most subtle, the most mysterious music in the world. What is its origin? Such fairy-like sounds are not to be explained. Their appeal is to the imagination only. They are so faint, so far away, that they almost escape the ear, as the lunar bow and the fluted tints of the American Fall almost escape the eye. And yet we need not fear to lose them, for they are as real as the deep bass of the cataracts.

Whether it be the resounding waterfall producing this wondrous harmony of the floods, or the most

charming choral of the Rapids, the music of Niagara on the mind properly adjusted and attuned must create a most profound impression of repose. The exception to this rule, most terrible to contemplate] is certainly to be found in the cases of the unfortunates whose minds are so distraught or unbalanced that this same call of the waters acts like poison and lures them to death.

I still think [wrote Mr. Howells in his most delightful sketch, Niagara, First and Last] that, above and below the Falls, the Rapids are the most striking features of the spectacle. At least you may say something about them, compare them to something; when you come to the cataract itself you can say nothing; it is incomparable. My sense of it first, and my sense of it last] was not a sense of the stupendous, but a sense of beauty, of serenity, of repose.

In her beautiful description, given elsewhere in our story, Margaret Fuller explains the effect of the Rapids by moonlight on the heart of one who, during the day, had passed through the familiar throb of disappointment in the great spectacle at Niagara.

Now I take it. one must see in Niagara this element of repose or find in it something less than was hoped for. To one who expects an ocean pouring from the moon, a rush of wind and foam like that to be met with only in the Cave of the Winds, there is bound to come that common feeling that the fact is not equal to the picture imagination had previously created. Take the Whirlpool; seen from the heights above, it has that effect of sculpturesque repose [writes Mr. Howells’] which I have always found the finest thing in the Cataract itself_ From the top the circling lines of the Whirlpool seemed graven in a level of chalcedony. . . . I have no impression to impart except this sense of its worthy unity with the Cataract in what I may call its highest aesthetic quality] its repose.’

All this is most impressively true of the central wonder of the entire spectacle, the Falls themselves. That mighty flood of water, reborn as it dies, forms a marvellous spectacle. Writes Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer:

Very soon we realise that Niagara’s true effect is an effect of permanence. Many as are its variations, it never alters. It varies because light and atmosphere alter. Tremendous movement thus pauseless and unmodified gives, of course, a deeper impression of durability than the most imposing solids. . . As soon as this fact is felt, the Falls seem to have been created as a voucher for the permanence of all the world.

But how conform this repose and spirit of permanency with the echoing tones of that never-ending, never-satisfied dominant chord? How reconcile the repose of those dropping billows with the tantalising unrest of that for ever incomplete, unfinished recessional that has been playing down this gorge since, perhaps, darkness brooded over the deep—that seems to await its fulfilment in the thunders of Sinai at that Last Day?

And what could be more human than this in any river—a seeming calm with over it all a never-ending cry of unrest, of wonder, of unsatisfied longing never to find repose until in that far resting-place of which Augustine thought when he wrote:

Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.

Across the American Rapids lies the Goat Island group which divides the waters into the two falls. Goat Island is about half a mile long and half as wide at its broadest part, but slopes to a point at its eastern extremity. Its area is about seventy acres. Besides this there are a number of smaller islands and rocks varying in diameter from four hundred feet to ten feet. Of these smaller islands five are connected with Goat Island by bridges, as are also the Terrapin Rocks.

At the end of the first bridge is situated Green Island, named after the first president of the Board of Commissioners of the New York Reservation. The former name was Bath Island because of the ” old swimming hole “—the only place where one could dip in the fierce current of Niagara without danger. Just a short distance above Green Island are two small patches of land called Ship Island and Bird Island from supposed resemblances to these objects in general contour, the tall leafless trees in winter supposed to be suggestive of masts. These islands were formerly both connected with Goat Island by bridges; one, known as ” Lover’s Bridge, ” from its romantic name was so greatly patronised that both bridges were destroyed by the owners on account of danger.

On Green Island formerly stood the immense Porter paper-mill, which not only contributed its own ugliness to the beautiful prospect but also ran out into the current long gathering dams for the purpose of collecting water. All this was removed when the State of New York assumed control_

Passing from the bridge and ascending the steps which lead to the top of the bank, the shelter house is reached. All around and] in fact, covering nearly all the island, is the primeval forest in its ancient splendour—fit companion of the Falls, which defy the puny power of man.

Occasional glimpses of the river may be had through the dense foliage as one proceeds to Stedman Bluff, where one of the grandest panoramas to be seen anywhere on earth bursts upon the view. Here one appreciates the beauty of the American Fall better than at Prospect Point. Turning towards the American shore stone steps lead down to the water’s edge, and thence a small bridge spans the stream separating Goat Island and Luna Island, so called from the fact that it has been considered the best place from which to view the lunar how. The small stream dividing these islands in its plunge over the precipice forms the ” Cave of the Winds.” Half-way across Luna Island is to be seen a large rock on whose face have been carved by an unknown hand the following lines:

All is change.

Eternal progress. No Death!

The author of the sentiment is unknown, but no one has more truly voiced the spirit of the great cataract.

From the edge of the cliff on Luna Island is to be obtained the finest view down the gorge. Along the front of the American Fall are to be seen the immense masses of wave-washed rocks which have fallen from the cliff above. From rock to rock stretch frail wooden bridges, the more important of which lead to the cave.

Luna Island is the last point which one can reach from Goat Island toward the American shore. Proceeding toward the Canadian Fall, one reaches at a short distance the Biddle Stairs. Here a break in the foliage reveals a grand view down the gorge with the Canadian Fall directly in front. A stairway leads to a wooden building down which runs a spiral stairway to the rocks below. This stairway received its name from Nicholas Biddle, of old National Bank fame, who proposed this means of reaching the rocks below and offered a contribution for its construction. The offer was rejected, but his name was given to the structure. A trip to the rocks below this point is well worth while, difficult though it be; the descent. of the spiral stairway is eighty feet. Turning to the right one comes out upon a ledge of rock with the roaring waters below and the line of the cliff above, along the top of which objects appear at only half their real size. Passing around a short curve there bursts upon one’s view the fall which forms the Cave of the Winds–a most beautiful sheet of water. The passage of the cave can hardly be described by the pen. Here one is assailed on all sides by fierce storms and clouds of angry spray. The cave seems at first dark and repelling, for in this maddening whirl of wind and water one is at first. almost blinded; but as soon as the eye becomes accustomed to the darkness, it can follow the graceful curve of the water to where it leaves the cliff above. The dark, forbidding, terraced rocks are seen dripping with water. The passage of the cave is too exciting to be essayed by persons with weak hearts, but the return across the rocks in front of it on a bright day is genuinely inspiring. Here the symbol of promise is brought down within one’s very reach; above, around, on all sides are to be seen colours rivalling the conception of any artist—whole circles of bows, quarter circles, half circles, here within one’s very grasp. The far fabled pot of gold is here a boiling, seething mass of running, shimmering silver. If possible, more glorious than all else, up above, along the sky-line, there appears the shining crest of the American Fall, glimmering in the sunlight. like the silvery range of some snow-covered mountains.

In size the cave is about one hundred feet wide, a hundred feet deep, and about one hundred and sixty feet high. At one point in the cave, on a bright day, by standing in the very edge of the spray, one becomes the centre of a complete circle of rainbows, an experience probably unequalled elsewhere.

About half-way between the stairway and the cave is the point from which, in 1829, Sam Patch made his famous leap, elsewhere described.

On the side of the Horseshoe Fall is to be found a fine position from which to view the mighty force of the greater mass of waters. For some distance along the front of the fall immense masses of rock have accumulated. The trip over these rocks is fraught with danger and is taken by very few. For those who care to take the risk, the sight. is well worth the effort. Just above at the crest are Terrapin Rocks, where formerly stood Terrapin Tower. Professor Tyndall went far out beyond the line of Terrapin Rocks to a point which has been reached by very few of the millions of visitors to this shrine. Passing along the cliff toward Canada] Porter’s Bluff is soon reached, which furnishes one of the grandest views of the horseshoe Fall. Fifty years ago, from this point one could see the whole line of the graceful curve of the Horseshoe; since that time the rapid erosion in the middle of the river (where the volume is greatest) has destroyed almost all trace of what the name suggests. The sides meet now at a very acute angle, the old contour having been entirely destroyed.

One of the most interesting experiments conducted under these great masses of falling water was essayed by the well-known English traveller Captain Basil Hall in 1827. It seems that Babbage and Herschel had said that there was reason to expect a change of elastic pressure in the air near a waterfall. Bethinking himself of the opportunity of testing this theory at Niagara during his American tour, Captain Hall secured a mountain barometer of most delicate workmanship for this specific purpose. In a letter to Professor Silliman the experimenter described his experience as follows, the question being of interest to every one who has attempted to breathe when passing behind any portion of this wall of falling water:

I think you told me that you did not enter this singular cave on your late journey, which I regret very much, because I have no hope of being able to describe it to you. In the whole course of my life] I never encountered anything so formidable in appearance; and yet, I am half ashamed to say so, I saw it performed by many other people without emotion, and it is daily accomplished by ladies, who think they have done nothing remarkable.

You are perhaps aware that it is a standing topic of controversy every summer by the company at the great hotels near the Falls, whether the air within the sheet of water is condensed or rarefied. I have therefore a popular motive as well as a scientific one, in conducting this investigation, and the result, I hope, will prove satisfactory to the numerous persons who annually visit Niagara.

As a first step I placed the barometer at a distance of about 150 feet from the extreme western end of the Falls, on a flat rock as nearly as possible on a level with the top of the “talus” or bank of shingle lying at the base of the overhanging cliff, from which the cataract descends. This station was about 30 perpendicular feet above the pool basin into which the water falls.

The mercury here stood at 29 .68 inches. I then moved the instrument to another rock within io or 12 feet of the edge of the fall, where it was placed, by means of a levelling instrument, exactly at the same height as in the first instance.

It still stood at 29.68 and the only difference I could observe was a slight continuous vibration of about two or three hundredths of an inch at intervals of a few seconds.

So far, all was plain sailing; for, though I was soundly ducked by this time, there was no particular difficulty in making these observations. But within the sheet of water] there is a violent wind, caused by the air carried down by the falling water, and this makes the case very different. Every stream of falling water, as you know, produces more or less a blast of this nature; but I had no conception that so great an effect could have been produced by this cause.

I am really at a loss how to measure it, but I have no hesitation in saying that it exceeds the most furious squall or gust of wind I have ever met with in any part of the world. The direction of the blast is generally slanting upwards] from the surface of the pool] and is chiefly directed against the face of the cliff, which being of a friable, shaly character, is gradually eaten away so that the top of the precipice now overhangs the base 35 or 40 feet and in a short time I should think the upper strata will prove too weak for the enormous load of water] which they bear, when the whole cliff will tumble down.

These vehement blasts are accompanied by floods of water] much more compact than, the heaviest thunder shower] and as the light is not very great the situation of the experimenter with a delicate barometer in his hand is one of some difficulty.

By the assistance of the guide, however, who proved a steady and useful assistant, I managed to set the instrument up within a couple of feet of the ” termination rock” as it is called, which is at the distance of 153 feet from the side of the waterfall measured horizontally along the top of the bank of shingle. This measurement, it is right to mention, was made a few days afterward by Mr. Edward Deas-Thompson of London] the guide, and myself with a graduated tape.

While the guide held the instrument firmly down] which required nearly all his force] I contrived to adjust it, so that the spirit level on the top indicated that the tube was in the perpendicular position. It would have been utterly useless to have attempted any observation without this contrivance. I then secured all tight] unscrewed the bag] and allowed the mercury to subside; but it was many minutes before I could obtain even a tolerable reading, for the water flowed over my brows like a thick veil, threatening to wash the whole affair, philosophers and all] into the basin below. I managed, however, after some minutes’ delay to make a shelf or spout with my hand, which served to carry the water clear of that part of the instrument which I wished to look at and also to leave my eyes comparatively free. I now satisfied myself by repeated trials that the surface of the mercurial column did not rise higher than 29.72. It -was sometimes at 29.70 and may have vibrated two or three hundredths of an inch. This station was about 10 or 12 feet lower than the external ones and therefore I should have expected a slight rise in the mercury; but I do not pretend to have read off the scale to any great nicety] though I feel quite confident of having succeeded in ascertaining that there was no sensible difference between the elasticity of the air at the station on the outside of the Falls and that, 153 feet within them.

I now put the instrument up and having walked back towards the mouth of this wonderful cave about 3o feet, tried the experiment again. The mercury stood now at 29.68, or at 29.70 as near as I could observe it. On coming again into the open air I took the barometer to one of the first stations, but was much disappointed though I cannot say surprised to observe it full of air and water and consequently for the time quite destroyed.

My only surprise] indeed, was that under such circumstances the air and water were not sooner forced in. But I have no doubt that the two experiments on the outside as well as the two within the sheet of water were made by the instrument when it was in a correct state: though I do not deny that it would have been more satisfactory to have verified this by repeating the observations at the first station.

On mentioning these results to the contending parties in the controversy, both asked me the same question] “How then do you account for the difficulty in breathing which all persons experience who go behind the sheet of water?” To which I replied: “That if any one were exposed to the spouts of half a dozen fire engines playing full in his face at the distance of a few yards, his respiration could not be quite free, and for my part I conceived that this rough discipline would be equally comfortable in other respects and not more embarrassing to the lungs than the action of the blast and falling water behind this amazing cataract.”

It is almost impossible to conceive of the immense mass of water tumbling over this precipice. It has been estimated in tons, cubic feet, and horse-power, but the figures are so large as to stagger the human mind. Out there at the apex of the angle, the water, over twenty feet deep] is drawn from almost half a continent, forming a picture to make one’s nerves thrill with awe and delight, where the international boundary line swings back and forth as the apex of the angle formed sways from side to side.

Just off the shore of the island are seen Terrapin Rocks. Why this name was applied is uncertain. These rocks are scattered in the flood to the very brink of the fall and in the titanic struggle with the rush of waters seem hardly able to maintain their position. Upon these rocks on the very brink of the Falls in 1833 was erected, by Judge Porter, Terrapin Tower, for many years one of the centres visited by every person journeying to the Falls. From its summit could be seen the wild rapids rushing on toward the precipice; below shimmering green of the fall. Down, far down, in the depths beneath was the boiling, seething caldron, from which arose beautiful columns of spray. From this position, forty-five feet above the surface of the water] probably a more comprehensive view of the many features of Niagara could be obtained than from any other point. Forty years later it was blown up, not because it was unsafe, as alleged, but that it might not prove a rival attraction to Prospect Point. Recently suggestions have been made looking toward the restoration of this ancient landmark, but no definite action has been taken.

Over a half-century ago, almost opposite this tower on the Canadian side, was to be seen the immense Table Rock hanging far out over the current below. On the 25th of June, 1850, this large mass of rock fell. Fortunately the fall occurred at noon with no loss of life; it was one of the greatest falls of rock known to have taken place at the cataract, for the dimensions of the rock were two hundred feet long, sixty feet wide, and a hundred feet deep. Like the roar of muffled thunder the crash was heard for miles around.

It was from the Terrapin Rocks to the Canadian side that Blondin wished to stretch his rope, elsewhere described, and it was over the very centre of Niagara’s warring powers he desired to perform his daring feat, looking down upon that shimmering guarded secret of the “Heart of Niagara.” The Porters, who owned Goat Island, however, refused to become parties to what they considered an improper exposure of life and Blondin stretched his cable farther down the river, near the site of the crescent steel arch bridge.

Standing upon these rocks and looking out over that hurrying mass of waters, it seems almost impossible to imagine any power being able to stop them; but on the 29th of March, 1848, the impossible happened, the Niagara ran dry. From the American shore across the rapids to Goat Island one could walk dry-shod. From Goat Island and the Canadian shore the waters were contracted to a small stream flowing over the centre of what was then the Horseshoe ; only a few tiny rivulets remained falling over the precipice at other points. The cause of this unnatural phenomenon was wind and ice. Lake Erie was full of floating ice. The day previous the winds had blown this ice out into the lake. In the evening the wind suddenly changed and blew a sharp gale from exactly the opposite direction, driving the mass of ice into the river and gorging it there, thus cutting off almost the whole water supply, and in the morning people awoke to find that the Niagara had departed. The American Fall was no more, the Horseshoe was hardly a ghost of its former self. Gone were the rapids, the fighting, struggling waters. Niagara’s majestic roar was reduced to a moan. All day people walked on the rock bed of the river, although fearful lest the darn formed at its head should give way at any moment. By night, the warmth of the sun and the waters of the lake had begun to make inroads on the barrier and by the morning of the next day Niagara had returned in all its grandeur.

However cold Niagara’s winter may be, the moan of falling water here can always be heard, though at times the volume is very small. The winter scenes here often take rank in point of wonder and beauty with the cataract itself. When the river is frozen over below the Falls the phenomenon is called an ” Ice Bridge,” the blowing spray sometimes building a gigantic sparkling mound of wonderful beauty. The island trees above the Falls, covered by the same spray, assume curiously beautiful forms which, as they glitter in the sun, turn an already wonder-land into a strange fairyland of incomparable whiteness and glory.

A short distance up the river along the shore a position just opposite the apex of the Falls is reached. Here, along the shore of the island, the waters are comparatively shallow, but toward the Canadian shore races the current which carries fully three fourths of Niagara’s volume. Out in the very midst of the current is a small speck of land, all that is now left of what was once Gull Island, so named from its having been a favourite resting place for these birds, which can hardly find a footing now on its contracted shores. From what can be learned of the past history of this island, it must have occupied about two acres three quarters of a century ago. Its gradual disappearance shows to what degree the mighty forces of Niagara are removing all obstacles placed in their path. Goat Island is gradually suffering the same fate. At points the shore line has encroached upon the island to a distance of twenty feet in a half-century. At this point the carriage road used to run out beyond the present edge of the bluff.

Passing on along the shore of the island, Niagara’s scenery is present everywhere. At quite a distance up stream the Three Sister Islands are reached. These islands were named from the three daughters of General P. Whitney, they being the first women to visit them, probably in winter when the waters were low.

To the first Sister Island leads a massive stone bridge. From this bridge is to be obtained a fine view of the Hermit’s Cascade beneath. This little fall receives its name from having been the favourite bathing place of the Hermit of Niagara, a strange half-witted young Englishman by the name of Francis Abbott who lived in solitude here for two years preceding his death by drowning in 1831, during his sojourn at the Falls.

These three islands are replete with small bits of scenery and overflowing with beauty. In them are to be found the smaller attractions of Niagara; not so much of the stern majesty and awful grandeur, but smaller and more comprehensible features come before the view following each other in rapid succession. On the second Sister Island is one point which should be visited by every one. Just before reaching the bridge to third Sister Island, by turning to the right and proceeding along a somewhat difficult path for a short distance one comes to a point at the water’s edge and finds lying right below him the boiling waters with their white, feathery spray; here also is the small cataract between the second and third islands fed by the most rapid although small stream of Niagara. From this point is to be obtained one of the most varied of scenic effects of any point at the Falls. The scenery from the third Sister must be seen to be appreciated. From its upper end one looks directly at the low cliff which forms the first descent of the Rapids. Here the waters start from the peaceful stream above on their maddening race for the Falls. Out along the line of the cliff the waters deepen and increase in rapidity toward the Canadian shore. Just below this ledge, probably three hundred feet from the head of the island, the current is directed against some obstruction which causes it to spout up into the air, causing what is called the Spouting Rock.

Many have been the changes wrought by the waters themselves since white men knew the Falls; but a thousand years hence the visitor to Niagara will behold the main fall not from Terrapin Rocks or Porter’s Bluff, but from this third Sister Island. The Rapids then shall have almost entirely disappeared, but their beauty will be compensated for by the additional grandeur of the fall itself. The gorge will have widened and the fall itself shall have added fifty feet to its height, making it two hundred feet high. Third Sister Island should be gone over thoroughly, for it offers some of the finest views, especially of colouring, above the Falls, and many of them.

Niagara owes its sublime array of colour to the purity of its water. Nothing finer has been written on this subject than the words of the artist Mrs. Van Rensselaer, whom we quote:

To this purity Niagara owes its exquisite variety of colour. To find the blues we must look, of course, above Goat Island] where the sky is reflected in smooth if quickly flowing currents. But every other tint and tone that water can take is visible in or near the Falls themselves. In the quieter parts of the gorge we find a very dark, strong green] while in its rapids all shades of green and grey and white are blended. The shallower rapids above the Falls are less strongly coloured] a beautiful light green predominating between the pale-grey swirls and the snowy crests of foam—semi-opaque, like the stone called aquamarine, because infused with countless air-bubbles, yet deliciously fresh and bright. The tense, smooth slant of water at the margin of the American fall is not deep enough to be green. In the sunshine it is a clear amber, and when shadowed] a brown that is darker, yet just as pure. But wherever the Canadian fall is visible its green crest is conspicuous. Far down-stream, nearly two miles away, where the railroad-bridge crosses the gorge, it shows like a little emerald strung on a narrow band of pearl. Its colour is not quite like that of an emerald, although the term must be used because no other is more accurate. It is a purer colour, and cooler, with less of yellow in it—more pure, more cool, and at the same time more brilliant than any colour that sea-water takes even in a breaking wave, or that man has produced in any substance whatsoever. At this place] we are told, the current must be twenty feet deep; and its colour is so intense and so clear because, while the light is reflected from its curving surface, it also filters through so great a mass of absolutely limpid water. It always quivers, this bright-green stretch] yet somehow it always seems as solid as stone, smoothly polished for the most part, but, when a low sun strikes across it] a little roughened, fretted. That this is water and that the thinnest smoke above it is water also] who can believe? In other places at Niagara we ask the same question again.

From a distance the American fall looks quite straight. When we stand beside it we see that its line curves inward and outward, throwing the falling sheet into bastion-like sweeps_ As we gaze down upon these] every change in the angle of vision and in the strength and direction of the light gives a new effect. The one thing that we never seem to see, below the smooth brink, is water. Very often the whole swift precipice shows as a myriad million inch-thick cubes of clearest glass or ice or solidified light, falling in an envelope of starry spangles. Again, it seems all diamond-like or pearl-like, or like a flood of flaked silver, shivered crystal, or faceted ingots of palest amber. It is never to be exhausted in its variations. It is never to be described. Only, one can always say, it is protean, it is most lovely] and it is not water.

Then, as we look across the precipice] it may be milky in places] or transparent] or translucent. But where its mass falls quickly it is all soft and white—softer then anything else in the world. It does not resemble a flood of fleece or of down, although it suggests such a flood. It is more like a crumbling avalanche, immense and gently blown, of smallest snowflakes; but, again, it is not quite like this. Now we see that, even apart from its main curves] no portion of the swiftly moving wall is flat. It is all delicately fissured and furrowed, by the broken edges of the rock over which it falls, into the suggestion of fluted buttresses, half-columns, pilasters. And the whiteness of these is not quite white. Nor is it consistently iridescent or opalescent. Very faintly, elusively] it is tinged with tremulous stripes and strands of pearly grey] of vaguest straw] shell-pink, lavender, and green—inconceivably ethereal blues, shy ghosts of earthly colours, abashed and deflowered] we feel, by definite naming with earthly names. They seem hardly to tinge the whiteness; rather, to float over it as a misty bloom. We are loath to turn our eyes from them, fearing they may never show again. Yet they are as real as the keen emerald of the Horseshoe.’

One should walk through the New York State Reservation, which extends for some distance above the commencement of the Rapids, to get a more complete view of the scenery above the Falls, the wooded shores of Goat Island, the swiftly moving waters, the broad river, the beginning of the Canadian Rapids, and the Canadian shore in the distance. On up the river at a distance are to be seen those forest-clad shores of Navy Island and Grand Island.

On the Canadian side of the river, after crossing the steel arch bridge just below the Falls, beautiful Victoria Park is first reached. From this position a new and entirely different view of the American Fall is obtained from almost directly in front. Turning and going up the river a fine view of the Horseshoe is obtained from a distance. Just opposite the American Fall is Inspiration Point, from which the best view of the Falls is to be obtained. From here one can watch the little Maid of the Mist as she makes her trips through the boiling waters below.

On up the river one wanders, past Goat Island, whose cliff is seen from directly in front. Just before reaching the edge of the Horseshoe the position of old Table Rock is seen. Little is left of this old and once famous point for observing Niagara’s wonders. Several different falls of immense masses of rock, one of which has been mentioned, have reduced it to its present state. Here the Indian worshipped the Great Spirit of the Falls, gazing across at his supposed home on Goat Island; and here comes the white man to look upon the wonders of that mighty cataract with a feeling almost akin to that of his red brother. Here one could stand with the maddening waters rushing beneath] the Falls near at hand, its incessant roar assailing the ears while the spray was wafted all round. Little wonder that the red man worshipped, or that the white man looks on with feelings of awe, admiration, and wonder.

Passing on up the river and around the pumping station for the neighbouring village, one reaches the point at the water’s edge from which the ” Heart of Niagara ” can best be seen ,where millions of tons of water are continually pouring over the cliff and causing some of the most beautiful effects produced by the spray called the ” Darting Lines of Spray” to be seen anywhere at the Falls. From this point one sees up the river over a mile of the Rapids with their madly hurrying waters rushing on as if to engulf everything below.

Along the water’s edge] the journey should be pursued. A short distance farther up stream, a crib work has been built as a protection to the bank. Here is to be gained one of the finest views of the Canadian Rapids, one feature of which can not be seen to so great advantage from any other point. The ” Shore-less Sea,” as this view has been called, is a grand and inspiring sight. Gazing up the stream the Rapids are seen tumbling on toward one, with no land in sight. The clouds form the sky-line and it is as if the very chambers of heaven had been opened for a second deluge. It is, indeed, a ” Shoreless Sea,” tumbling on, a grand and awful sight.

Pursuing one’s way on up the river, Dufferin Islands arc reached. These are formed by a bend in the current. Here is a sylvan retreat, full of lovers’ walks and beauties of nature. Here is the burning spring–escaping natural gas from a rift in the rock. Not far from this point, on up the river, was fought the battle of Chippewa. About a mile above these islands, at the mouth of Chippewa Creek, stood Fort Chippewa, built by the British in 1790 to protect this, their most important portage.

To reach the points of interest, just mentioned, on the Canadian side, as well as those down the river] it is best to make the trip from one scenic position to another by electric car. Returning to the Horseshoe one will doubtless have called to his mind that about a mile back to the left occurred the famed battle of Lundy’s Lane on July 5, 1814. At the edge of the cliff on the right was the position of the ” Old Indian Ladder,” by means of which the Indians used to descend to the lower level for the purpose of fishing. This ladder was only a long cedar tree, which had been deprived of its limbs and had been placed almost perpendicularly against the cliff. On down the way a short distance, the road which leads down the face of the cliff, to the Maid of the Mist’s landing, is reached. Just beyond this point, at the top of the inclined railway, is to be obtained the best view of the steel arch bridge. Just below the bridge, opposite, on the American shore, a maddened torrent comes pouring from the base of the cliff as if anxious to add its fury to that of the waters round. It is the outlet of the tunnel which disposes of the tail water from the electric powerhouse over a mile above, mentioned in our chapter on power development at Niagara. The manufacturing plants of the Hydraulic Company, the first to use Niagara’s waters to any great extent for power, are situated just opposite.

A short distance on down the stream, and after descending a slight incline, the point where Blondin stretched his rope across the gorge in 1859 is reached.

Next on the journey the cantilever bridge is reached. This bridge was constructed in 1882. Just below this is the steel arch bridge, both being railroad bridges. The second one was first constructed as a suspension bridge by John A. Roebling, being the first railroad bridge of its kind in the country. It has been several times replaced, the present structure having been erected in 1897. Just below the railroad bridges several persons have made the trip across the gorge on ropes.

Soon the Whirlpool is reached, and the madly rushing waters are seen as at no other place on the surface of the earth. Rounding the rapids, the car runs over a trestle work in crossing the old pre-glacial channel of the river referred to in our geologic chapter. Here one can look down on the waters almost directly beneath him, with the forests covering the sloping incline of the ancient bed of the river stretching up to the level above. Just as the car finishes the rounded curve of the Whirlpool, at the point of the cliff at the outlet, one catches the best view of both inlet and outlet at the same time, flowing directly at right angles to each other. The car continues on its course, now near, now farther back from the edge of the gorge. One catches occasional glimpses of the bridge far below, over which the electric line passes back to the American shore. For over three miles the car continues its course along the cliff before the next point of special interest presents itself in Brock’s monument.

From this monument one of the finest panoramic views of the surrounding regions can be obtained. The monument stands on Queenston Heights, with the remains of old Fort Drummond just back of it.

All about is historic ground. On the surrounding plain and slopes was fought the battle of Queenston Heights. Every inch of ground has some story to tell of that struggle. The car soon begins to descend the incline which, ages ago, formed the shores of Lake Ontario. Below, at the end of the gorge, the river seems to forget its tumultuous rush, and spreading out pursues a placid and well-behaved course to the lower lake.

About half-way down the descent, the point where General Brock fell is reached, which point is marked by a massive stone monument set in place in 186i by King Edward VII., then Prince of Wales. Just below to the right is seen an old, ruined stone house which was General Brock’s shelter after being wounded, and in which was printed, in 1792, the first newspaper of Upper Canada. The bridge is soon reached, in the crossing of which, a fine view of the last mad rush of the waters is gained as they issue from the gorge into the placid stream leading to the lake below. On they come with the waves piled high in the centre, tearing along in a mad fury, until they seem to be pacified by a power stronger even than their own; and they glide smoothly along to the end of their course in the lower lake.

On the American heights stood old Fort Gray] connected with the history of the War of 1812. On the American shore was the head of navigation, and up the cliff all the freight sent over the old portage was hoisted by hand and later by machinery. High up on the American cliffs, half-way between the Whirlpool and Lewiston, is the famous “Devil’s Hole,” an interesting cave known among the Indians, we are told, as the ” Cave of the Evil Spirit.” Here, it has been stated, geologists find some of the clearest evidences of the former existence of the presence of the Falls in that far day when the migration had extended thus far up the river from the escarpment at Lewiston.

Much has been said about the rapids of the river below the Falls—the lesser Rapids of Niagara. What of this seething, spouting, tumbling mass that races along below these towering cliffs, maddening, ungovernable, almost horrifying to gaze upon? It is very singular how little is said about this torrent. They illustrate very significantly the fact that mere power has little of charm for the mind of man; it interests] but often it does not please or delight. In our chapter on the foolhardy persons to whom these bounding billows have been a challenge, and who have attempted to navigate or pass through them, are descriptions of their savage fury and wonderful eccentricities. The most interesting fact respecting these great rapids is the unbelievable depth of the channel through which they race, since it sometimes approximates, according to the best sources of information, the height of the towering cliffs that compose the canyon. By government survey we know that the depth of the river between the Falls and the cantilever bridge is two hundred feet. The Whirlpool is estimated as four hundred feet deep, and the rapids above the Whirlpool as forty feet deep; the rapids below the Whirlpool are thought to be about sixty.

The romantic situation of the two ancient towns, Lewiston and Queenston, at the foot of the two escarpments, on opposite sides of the river, is only equalled by the absorbing story of their part in history when they were thriving, bustling frontier outposts. The beauty of the locations of these interesting towns contains in itself sufficient promise of growth and prosperity equal to, or exceeding, that of beautiful Youngstown, near Fort Niagara, or Niagara-on-the-Lake on the Canadian shore. This lower stretch of river teems with historic interest of the French era and especially of the days when the second war with Great Britain was progressing; in our chapters relating to those days will be found references to these points of present-day interest in their relation to the great questions that were being settled by sword and musket, by friend and foe, who met beside the historic river that empties into Lake Ontario between old Fort George and old Fort Niagara.

For ease of access, romantic situation, historic interest, and many of the advantages usually desired during a hot vacation recess, these towns along the lower Niagara offer a varied number of important advantages; if by some magic touch a dam could be raised between Fort Mississagua and the American shore, rendering that marvellously beautiful stretch of river—unmatched in some ways by any American stream—slack water, one of the most lovely boating lakes on the Continent could be created, whereon international regattas in both winter and summer could be held of unusual interest_ Is it supposable that this could be effected without great detriment to either the yachting fraternity, whose sails] from the verandah of the Queen’s Royal, are always a delight, or the steamboat interests, which could land as well at Fort Niagara, perhaps, as at Lewiston, or at Niagara-on-theLake, which could be connected with the Gorge Route. The river’s current is all now that keeps the lower Niagara from being as popular a resort of its kind as can be suggested. All the elements of popularity are in fair measure present here, and immensely enjoyed yearly by increasing multitudes.

A little beyond the mouth of the Niagara, just over those blue waves, rise the spires of the queen city of Canada, Toronto. To all practical purposes this beautiful city stands at one end of Niagara River, as Buffalo stands at the other. Historically and commercially this is altogether true, and we elsewhere weave its history into our record.

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