Niagara Falls Chapter, NSDAR

Promoting Patriotism, Education, and Historic Preservation in Niagara County, since 1922

History of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls were formed about 12,000 years ago, when glaciers retreated north, allowing water from Lake Erie to flow over the Niagara Escarpment, a ridge that extends in an arc across the northern Great Lakes region, from Wisconsin to New York.

Since that time, erosion has slowly pushed the waterfall about 11 km (about 7 mi) upstream, forming the Niagara Gorge. At present the Horseshoe Falls is receding at an average yearly rate of about 1.5 m (about 5 ft), and the American Falls is being cut away at an annual pace of about 15 cm (about 6 in).

Origin of the name "Niagara"  

The word "Onguiaahra" appears on documents as early as 1641, and a little later "Ongiara."  Both are Iroquois Indian words thought as meaning "The Straight."  A more romantic meaning "Thunder of Waters" is also given. The usual distortion of unwritten words through the years, has transformed it to "Niagara." 

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Horseshoe Falls



Bridal Veil Falls


Cave of the Winds


Niagara Falls State Park



American Falls



American Falls with no water, in 1969



Ice Jam of 1848

Annie Edison Taylor


Marilyn Monroe


Mark Twain


Charles Dickens



The crest line of Niagara Falls was not described as horseshoe shaped until 1721.  The speed of the Niagara River at the crest of the Horseshoe Falls is 20 miles (32km/h) per hour.  The height of the Horseshoe Falls is 53 meters (173 feet) to the plunge pool at the base of the Falls.

The crestline of the Horseshoe Falls is 2,200 feet (670m) in width. The crest line of the Horseshoe Falls is 500 feet (152 meters) above sea level.

The water depth at the base of the Horseshoe Falls is 184 feet (56m).  Behind the Horseshoe Falls is a rock shelf approximately 20 feet (6m) in width.  However, because of the sheer shale cliffs on either side and because of the volume of water falling, access is not possible.

Between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. each day, the volume of water flowing over the Falls is at its maximum rate.

In one second, a total of 600,000 gallons of water flows over the width of the crestline of the Horseshoe Falls.

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The Bridal Veil Falls is the smallest of the three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls. It is located on the U.S. side (in New York State); Luna Island separates it from the American Falls and Goat Island separates it from the Horseshoe Falls. The Bridal Veil Falls faces to the northwest and has a crest 56 feet (17 m) wide.

The Cave of the Winds was a natural cave behind Bridal Veil Falls at the Niagara Falls.

The cave was some 130 feet (40m) high, 100 feet (30m) wide and 30 feet (9m) in depth. It was discovered in 1834, and originally dubbed Aeolus' Cave, after the Greek god of winds. Guided tours began officially in 1841, and continued until a rock fall, in 1920, which made it clear that the passage was no longer safe. The tour officially reopened in 1924, now bringing visitors to the front of the Bridal Veil instead of behind it, on a series of decks and walkways. Tropical storm-like conditions can be experienced, as winds can reach up to 68 mph underneath the falls.

In 1954, the cave was obliterated in a massive rock fall and subsequent dynamiting of a dangerous overhang.

Today, the "Cave of the Winds" is the name of a tourist attraction near the same site. An elevator takes people from the area between the American and Canadian (Horseshoe) Falls down to the level of the Niagara River at the base of the American Falls. A series of redwood decks and platforms allow sightseers to walk right up to the base of the Bridal Veil Falls with water crashing down right on them and flowing beneath the decking.

The decking is removed each fall due to the potential damage caused by ice buildup at the falls and re-installed each spring by park officials for sightseers to enjoy the experience. The decking is not secured to the rocks below by bolts or other construction materials; the wood beam supports are simply wedged into the rock crevices.  

And, yes, the decks are sealed with Thompson's Water Seal.  Click HERE to see the commercial.


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Established in 1885, Niagara Falls State Park, is located in the City of Niagara Falls, NY, in Niagara County. The park has the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls, and part of the Canadian (Horseshoe) Falls.

Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States. In 1885, the Niagara appropriations bill was signed into law, creating the Niagara Reservation. NY State Assemblyman, Thomas Vincent Welch, figured prominently in getting the bill signed, and served as the first Superintendent of the Park from its inception until 1903, 18 years.

The Niagara Reservation was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1963.  It is a major contributing element to the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area.

The park also overlooks the Niagara Gorge and allows access to the Maid of the Mist tour boats, Cave of the Winds, and other attractions of Niagara Falls.

The park offers a museum, food concession, a movie theater, a gift shop, fireworks, hiking and nature trails, picnic tables, recreation programs, and fishing.

In 2007, Niagara Falls State Park was named as the 10th most beautiful spot in America by The Today Show.

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The American Falls is one of three waterfalls that together are known as Niagara Falls on the Niagara River along the Canada–U.S. border. Unlike the much larger Horseshoe Falls, of which two-thirds of the falls is located in Ontario, Canada, and one-third in NY State, United States, the American Falls is completely within the United States, in the State of NY. 

No Water?  The flow over the American Falls was stopped completely, for several months, in 1969. 

A team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the falls in June, 1969, in order to clear rock from the base of the falls. Rockslides, in 1931, had caused a significant buildup of rock at the bottom of the American side of the falls, and the engineers were to clean up the rock and repair some faults to prevent eventual erosion of the American side of the waterfall.  A temporary dam was constructed to divert the flow of water to the Canadian side; the dam measured 600 feet (180 m) across and was made of nearly 30,000 tons of rock.

The idea was to determine the feasibility of removing the large amount of loose rock from the base of the falls to enhance its appearance.  This action cut back the normal flow of 60,000 gallons a second to almost nothing. Most of the diverted water was either sent over the Horseshoe Falls or diverted to the Robert Moses generating plant's upriver intakes. The action enabled Canadian and US power companies and the US Army Corps of Engineers to do on-the-spot inspections and aerial photographs of the river bed's rock formation.  

In addition to finding two bodies and a deer carcus, geological studies were conducted and some lose shale was removed, but in the end, no action was taken due to unpredictable rock movement.  The dam was removed, in November, of 1969, and water flow returned to normal.  

Ice Jam? The flow of water was stopped completely over both falls (American and Horseshoe) on March 29, 1848, due to an ice jam in the upper Niagara River for several hours. This is the only known time that this has occurred. The falls did not actually freeze over, but the flow was stopped to the point where people actually walked out and recovered artifacts from the riverbed!  

It has been stated, that an American farmer, out for a stroll shortly before midnight, on March 29, was the first to notice something.  Actually, he noticed the absence of something: the thundering roar of the falls. When he went to the river’s edge, he saw hardly any water.  Came the dawn of March 30, 1848, people awoke to an unaccustomed silence. The mighty Niagara was a mere trickle.  The bed of the river was exposed. Fish died. Turtles floundered about. Brave, or foolish, people walked on the river bottom, picking up exposed guns, bayonets and tomahawks as souvenirs.

March 30, was not the only dry day. No water flowed over the falls throughout the daylight hours of March 31, either.  But that night, a distant rumble came from upriver. The low-pitched noise drew nearer and louder. Suddenly, a wall of water came roaring down the upper Niagara River and over the falls with a giant thunder.  The ice jam had cleared, and the river was running again.  

Today, an ice boom is used at the mouth of the Niagara River and Lake Erie, which diminishes the probability of large-scale ice blockages in the Niagara River which can cause flooding, ice damage to docks and shore structures on the river, reductions of flow to the hydro-electric power plant intakes, and prevents potential blockage of the flow of Niagara Falls.  

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Not only was Annie Edison Taylor the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, she was the first person to ever attempt this stunt.  

Annie Edson Taylor was born on October 24, 1838, in Auburn, NY. One of eight children, her father, Merrick Edson, owned a flour mill. He died when she was 12 years old but the money he left behind continued to provide a comfortable living for the family. She became a school teacher (she received an honors degree in a four-year training course). During her studies she met David Taylor. They were married and had a son who died in infancy. Her husband died soon after. After she was widowed, she spent her working years in between jobs and locales.

Annie was a poor widow when she arrived in Niagara Falls, in 1901. The sixty-three year old (although she said she was forty-two) saw the stunt as a way to make money. After hiring a manager, she braved the falls on October 24, 1901, in a barrel she designed herself. She survived, but "the heroine of Horseshoe Falls" didn't end up with the financial windfall she expected. She worked as a Niagara Street vendor for twenty years and died penniless.

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Niagara Falls has been one of the most popular destinations for honeymooners in the world since promoters for the area helped institute "honeymooning" as a tradition in the mid-nineteenth century. The 1953 film Niagara starred Marilyn Monroe as a honeymooner with a wandering eye. The film marked Monroe's explosion as a film phenom—perhaps because the film features a full two minutes of Monroe's soon-to-be-famous backside as she walks toward the falls for a better view.

Other popular movies filmed at Niagara Falls, include:

Superman II - 1980: When Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder went to Niagara Falls, Ontario, to film Superman II, they were constantly under siege by fans and media all looking to get a glimpse of the next Superman installment. The scenes in Niagara Falls were shot in some of the most heavily traveled tourist areas during high traffic times, but the movie shooting went off without a hitch and the Niagara Falls area was star-struck for quite a while.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - 2006: Frequently, people think that the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End that shows the ship going over a waterfall was a computer-generated waterfall animation. In reality, the producers of the movie shot footage of the falls from the American side, and then used that footage to create their world ending waterfall in the blockbuster movie.

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"Although it was wonderful to see all that water tumbling down, it would be even more wonderful to see all that water tumbling up." ~Mark Twain

Mark Twain wrote: " NIAGARA FALLS is a most enjoyable place of resort. The hotels are excellent, and the prices not at all exorbitant. The opportunities for fishing are not surpassed in the country; in fact, they are not even equaled elsewhere. Because, in other localities, certain places in the streams are much better than others; but at Niagara one place is just as good as another, for the reason that the fish do not bite anywhere, and so there is no use in your walking five miles to fish, when you can depend on being just as unsuccessful nearer home. The advantages of this state of things have never heretofore been properly placed before the public."   Niagara by Mark Twain From "Sketches New and Old" 1903, Samuel Clemens.

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Charles Dickens wrote:

"It was a miserable day; chilly and raw; a damp mist falling; and the trees in that northern region quite bare and wintry. Whenever the train halted, I listened for the roar; and was constantly straining my eyes in the direction where I knew the Falls must be, from seeing the river rolling on towards them; every moment expecting to behold the spray. Within a few minutes of our stopping, not before, I saw two great white clouds rising up slowly and majestically from the depths of the earth. That was all. At length we alighted: and then for the first time, I heard the mighty rush of water, and felt the ground tremble underneath my feet.

The bank is very steep, and was slippery with rain, and half-melted ice. I hardly know how I got down, but I was soon at the bottom, and climbing, with two English officers who were crossing and had joined me, over some broken rocks, deafened by the noise, half-blinded by the spray, and wet to the skin. We were at the foot of the American Fall. I could see an immense torrent of water tearing headlong down from some great height, but had no idea of shape, or situation, or anything but vague immensity.

When we were seated in the little ferry-boat, and were crossing the swollen river immediately before both cataracts, I began to feel what it was: but I was in a manner stunned, and unable to comprehend the vastness of the scene. It was not until I came on Table Rock, and looked — Great Heaven, on what a fall of bright-green water! — that it came upon me in its full might and majesty."  American Notes, 1842.