Niagara Falls: A New York Point of View

Having spent several very nice days in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and getting the chance to probably see more in one day than the average visitor sees in a week thanks to my Canadian friends Carole and Steve, the day had unfortunately come when it was time for me to pack up the car, say good-bye to Chef Kevin and the beauty and comfort of Kilpatrick Manor, and point my car in the direction of the American side of the Rainbow Bridge and home. I have to admit I was rather disappointed at having to go home already as there was so much more I would have loved to see and do in the Niagara area but I consoled myself with a stop at the Duty Free store to pick up a few goodies for the folks back home prior to crossing back over to the states.

Entrance to the Rainbow Bridge from the Duty Free Store on the Canadian side

After picking up a few boxes of Maple Cream Cookies that were so darned delicious they alone would make it well worth the drive back up, some Toberlone chocolate for Amanda, and a few other things, I joined the line of cars waiting to make their way over to New York.

Waiting in line to go through the Border Crossing Station

While inching my way forward, I decided to try snapping a picture out of the passenger side window of the view from the bridge.  The result of that experiment is the picture below of the Observation Tower that was pretty crowded on a bright and sunny Saturday morning and a little bit of the Fallsview area to the right.  If you look closely you can see Tower Rock Centre just to the right of the mist at the top of the gorge. I made a mental note to myself that the next time I came up to the area I'd take a walk across the Rainbow Bridge to get some pictures when I wasn't sitting behind the wheel of a slowly moving car!

A view to the observation tower on the NY side of Niagara Falls while sitting in the car on the Rainbow Bridge

It was finally my turn to hand over my passport at the Border Crossing and as is usually my luck, I seemed to manage to find the booth with the less-than-friendly employee.  The man practically threw my passport back in the car at me after grumpily asking me what my purpose in visiting Canada was. I really didn't think he would have appreciated the fact that Hugh Jackman was performing in Toronto as much as the Border Crossing official did when Jamie and I first entered Canada so I didn't even bother to mention the concert and just said that I was visiting friends and the Falls. I wouldn't have been at all surprised to hear him mutter "whatever" but instead he waved me through without even asking me if I had anything to declare. Well, heck, if I'd known that was going to happen, I might have bought more cookies!

The goodies I brought home from Canada with me - including Donny Osmond's favorite fudge!
After officially being allowed to return to the United States, I took a right to make my way over to Niagara Falls State Park - the oldest State Park in the nation having been established in 1885 as the Niagara Reservation following 15 years of effort by a preservation group called the Free Niagara Movement. Members of the group urged New York State to reclaim the falls (which had been sold at a public auction almost seventy years previous) as they felt that the natural beauty of the land surrounding the falls should be protected from exploitation and free to the public. The leader of the Free Niagara Movement was America’s first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York City’s Central Park. The Niagara Appropriations Bill was signed into law in 1885 officially creating the Niagara Reservation and signifying possibly the most important event in Niagara Falls history.

After winding my way through the traffic and paying my $10 vehicle use fee, I found a parking space in Lot #2 on Goat Island that would be an easy walk over to the Falls and that I also hoped would be close to the Nikola Tesla Memorial. Yep, I was in search of Tesla again but I wouldn't find him standing within view of the mighty Falls this time. On the New York side, the inventor who spent a good part of his life having his ideas and designs stolen by Thomas Edison (who I've come to find out wasn't a very nice guy) doesn't have a water view at all.

Archway to the Niagara Falls State Park

To find Tesla, I first had to pass under a stone entryway which was the original arch entrance to the Edward Dean Adams Power Plant - the world's first hydroelectric power plant built by George Westinghouse in 1895 whose design was based on the theory of large-scale alternating-current by Nikola Tesla.

Arch Entrance Plaque

The plant closed in 1961 having been replaced by the much larger Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant and in 1966 the arch was reconstructed in its current location "to commemorate the tremendous impact which the generation of electric power at the Adams Station gave to civilization throughout the world."

The Power Portal Plaque

I'm pretty sure that anyone who goes to Niagara Falls only looking to see how magnificent the falls are ends up walking away with a new understanding of how important all that flowing water was to power generation throughout both the United States and Canada.  Where some of us look at the falls and see only beauty, they were many others before us who looked at them and saw the possibility of harnessing their power and lighting up the night. Nikola Tesla was definitely one of the latter and that's why he has statues on both sides of the Niagara River - something that I'm sure would totally stick in Thomas Edison's craw!

Statue of Nikola Tesla at Niagara Falls State Park, New York.

The New York statue to Tesla is very, very different from the statue in his honor on the Canadian side of the Falls. Whereas a younger Nikola stands guard over Horseshoe Falls, it's an older Nikola who sits studying a set of plans quite a distance away from where the Falls are. The memorial, the work of Croatian sculptor Frane Krsinic, was a gift to the United States from Yugoslavia in 1976 to help us celebrate our bicentennial as well as commemorate the 120th anniversary of Tesla's birth.

Erected and dedicated on July 25th, 1976, the base reads:  "Nikola Tesla, Inventor, July 10, 1856 Smilian Yugoslavia, January 7, 1941 New York.  Tesla's inventions incorporated into Niagara Power Station 1896 - the beginning of the revolutionary march of electric energy. To commemorate one hundred and twentieth anniversary of Nikola Tesla's birth and two hundred years of American Independence - the people of Yugoslavia."

The statue is pretty large and apparently very popular to climb on to get one's picture taken - yet another one of those things that makes me grit my teeth!  Just as I had to do when taking pictures on the Canadian side, I had to wait for kids to stop climbing on the statue long enough for me to get a picture without it looking like part of a playground.  I just don't understand why parents don't teach their children more respect ...

Tourists on the NY side of Niagara Falls

Speaking of people, as you can see there were quite a few around but that wasn't surprising as it was a Saturday in the middle of summer and it's what people do - go on vacation to places like Niagara Falls!

Signage for Terrapin Point
Crisis Emergency Hotline by the FallsLeaving Tesla and the Adams Arch, behind I pointed myself in the direction of Terrapin Point where visitors can get the closest view possible of Horseshoe Falls on the American side. Not too far from the sign providing a few facts and figures about Terrapin Point was a rather ominous sight - an emergency hotline call box. It would have been nice to believe that it was put there simply as a precaution but I had a pretty good idea that it had seen use more than a time or two not only in instances when people may have accidentally gotten too close to the edge but in cases when someone decided to intentionally get too close to the edge. I remember recently reading that for the past century, the number of suicides at Niagara Falls has averaged between 12 and 15. Wow. I thought it was rather odd that I hadn't seen anything similar on the Canadian side but maybe I just hadn't been looking close enough over there. Ah well, on to happier thoughts like a brief (hopefully) history of the development of Terrapin Point on Goat Island.

Goat Island was named in the 1770's by John Stedman who - go figure! - used the island to raise a herd of goats. Stedman had been named " Master of the Portage" by British General Sir William Johnson as it was his job to ensure that the essential British military supply lines and portage routes along the Niagara Frontier were safe and free. With his assignment, Stedman was given the task of reorganizing the methods of transporting material along the portage of the Niagara River including the difficult climb at the Niagara Escarpment. Following the Devil's Hole Massacre on September 14th, 1763 in which eighty civilians and British soldiers were killed, the Seneca Native Americans gave up a four mile wide strip of land along the east side of the Niagara River from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie to the British in order to make amends for the slaughter. One of only two survivors of the massacre, Stedman claimed that the land and the islands above the falls were given to him in the peace talks and it was there that he lived in the first house ever to be built by the falls with his brothers Phillip and William. Stedman left Niagara in 1795 putting his property under the care of a friend but in 1801, Stedman lost possession of his land, including Goat Island, to the State of New York.

In 1805, General Peter Porter and his brother, Judge Augustus Porter, both of Buffalo, came to the Niagara Falls area and in 1816 purchased the falls and the surrounding area including Goat Island from the State of New York at a public auction - as mentioned above. The purchase also provided them with the acquisition of the water rights to the eastern rapids both above and below the falls and it was there that they built a gristmill and a tannery which they operated until they were forced out of business by the opening of the Erie Canal twenty years later. In spite of their failed business ventures, the brothers retained their possession of the land until 1885 when the land was reclaimed by the State of New York for the creation of the Niagara Reservation State Park following the Free Niagara Movement.

Long before the land was reclaimed by New York, though, the Porter brothers built a bridge to Goat Island and set up a toll gate at the entrance for the purpose of collecting 25¢ from each person crossing the bridge for the privilege of viewing the Horseshoe Falls at Porter's Bluff - a group of rocks on the brink of the falls that had previously been known as Terrapin Rocks because they resembled giant tortoises. The Terrapin Rocks were disconnected from Goat Island but as the water there was shallow, in 1817 the Porter Brothers constructed a 300-foot long plank walkway built of heavy timbers that extended from the mainland of Goat Island to 10 feet beyond the crest line of Horseshoe Falls.

In 1829, General Parkhurst Whitney, a prominent American innkeeper, constructed Terrapin Tower on several large exposed rocks near the end of the walkway to enhance the visitors' experience. It was the very first tower to be built in the Niagara area and gave brave visitors an unprecedented view of the falls.

Terrapin Tower, from Goat Island, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views 3

The circular-shaped tower, which looked very much like a lighthouse, was constructed of rough stone that was gathered in the vicinity and stood forty feet tall and twelve feet around. Admission to the tower cost visitors an additional 10¢ and gained them access via a single door at the base of the tower to a winding staircase that led to the top of the tower where they walked through an even smaller door before standing outside on a circular balcony guarded by a heavy metal railing.

In 1872, when plans were made for a new tower to be built at Prospect Park by a new company, Terrapin Tower was purposely blown apart with the use of gun powder but unfortunately the plans for a new tower fell through. Following the failed plans, local citizens tried to get the tower at Terrapin Point replaced but were unsuccessful in their efforts and a new tower was never built.

Even though Terrapin Tower was gone, the timber walkway remained in existence for many years following the destruction of the tower. In the early 1900's, the wooden walkway was replaced with a similar steel walkway to Terrapin Rocks and the edge of the Horseshoe Falls and it stayed in use until September of 1954 when the metal catwalk was removed. In 1955 the area was permanently drained of water and then back-filled in order to reduce an irregular water flow over the brink of Horseshoe Falls, an act that also created an artificial viewing space to give visitors the perfect vantage point to look down over the cataract at the very spot where the water hurls itself over the precipice and falls into the misty vortex below. In 1969 the area which had been named Terrapin Point in honor of the original Terrapin Rocks, was closed to tourists due to cracks that were found in the rock foundation and deemed dangerous to the public.

Looking down at the observation area overlooking Horseshoe Falls

For the safety of visitors to the falls, Terrapin Point was roped off until changes were made to the area by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who blasted away 25,000 tons of unstable rock, added more landfill, and built retaining walls and diversion dams to force the Niagara River away from Terrapin Point. Altogether they eliminated about 400 feet of Horseshoe Falls which included 100 feet on the Canadian side - changes that placed the waterfall entirely in Canada. The remaining surface of Terrapin Point was scaled and reopened to tourists in September of 1983 making Terrapin Point one of two major observation areas to overlook the falls and lower Niagara Gorge on the New York side providing visitors with a very close, very magnificent view of the Canadian Falls.

Gee, I guess that wasn't very brief, was it? I'm sorry, I tend to get carried away with the history of an area and the Niagara Falls area has a very fascinating history from the earliest days of the Senecas, the French, and the British all the way to the development of the area as a major producer of hydroelectricity as well as a very popular tourist destination - even back in the days of the Porter Brothers. It's rather hard not to get caught up in it and want to share it with others who, if they haven't already, may someday get the chance to stand at Terrapin Point and be able to say "Hey, I know how this got here!"  Ah well, how about I hush up for a moment and just show you some pictures of the view?

Tourists at Terrapin Point
The Niagara River flows over the Falls with the Maid of the Mist in the mists below.
The Niagara River becomes the Canadia Falls.
Looking down the the cascading fallsWater flowing over Terrapin Point
Canadian Maid of the Mist boat approaches the Falls
Skylon Tower as seen from the American side of the Niagara River
Fallsview shrouded in the mists
The decommissioned 1905 Ontario Power Company Generating Station

One of the things that you can see from the American side of the Niagara Gorge that you can't see from the Canadian side as you're generally standing on the sidewalk right on top of it, is the decommissioned 1905 Ontario Power Company Generating Station. The Ontario Power Company was a private, American-owned firm that applied successfully in 1901 for a share of the water flowing over Niagara Falls. Built just above the base of Horseshoe Falls, the plant had 15 generators which produced 203,000 horsepower of hydroelectric power. In 1909 and 1938 the plant’s service was interrupted due to flooding by ice and water and in 1997 its service was interrupted again for several weeks due to the severe ice conditions. The station was decommissioned in 1999 and agreements were concluded in 2006 for the transfer of the plant as well as several other Niagara properties to the Niagara Parks Commission. The powerhouse has been completely cleared of its turbines and control equipment leaving it a dusty, empty space that looks rather like an abandoned fortress by the side of the river.

The Niagara River as it makes it's way to the Falls

As you can see, there really aren't big barriers between the visitors and the river or the falls - just a steel fence with an extra set of crowd control barriers set in front of it for added protection.  I think it's the Park Department's hope that common sense will prevail when it comes to getting too close to the dangerous waters as who really wants to try to view the falls from behind high concrete or glass barriers? That said, people - especially parents of young children - need to be extra cautious when visiting Terrapin Point because no matter how beautiful it may be, the river and the falls can be very, very deadly and it only takes one small slip to end up becoming a statistic rather than someone going home with photographs to show off and stories to tell about how beautiful the falls are.

A view from the top

As a side note, in addition to really enjoying my view of Horseshoe Falls at Terrapin Point one of the things I enjoyed the most was taking pictures for people.  As you can imagine, everyone wants to have a picture taken of themselves standing with the mighty falls in the background (well, everyone except maybe me) so whenever I would see a couple trying to do a picture of themselves "MySpace" style or a group who had one person left out who was taking the photo I'd offer to take a picture for them. It really gave me a lot of pleasure to hear "Thank you so much!" afterward and I've got no doubt I walked up the steps to the top of the Point with a smile on my face!

Niagara Falls State Park Tourist Bus

Arriving at the top of the steps I came across one of Niagara Falls State Park's Scenic Trolleys. The trolleys cover a three-mile route around the park with six stops at the Park's various attractions.  For only $2 for adults, $1 for children 6 to 12, and $0 for ages 5 and under, riders can either enjoy a half-hour narrated overview tour of the park or they can get on and off at any of the attractions. Not a bad deal at all!  If I'd had more time to explore I definitely would have bought a ticket myself but with a long drive home still ahead of me, I was only able to do a more or less "hit and run" tour of the Park and only stay long enough to get some pictures of falls. Not to worry, I'm saving the rest for another time!

View down to Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls

Sign for American Falls, Luna Island, & Bridal Veil FallsA short walk brought me to my next objective: Luna Island where I would be able to get very close to the American and Bridal Veil Falls. By walking across Luna Island, which is very small at only 150 feet wide by 350 long, visitors can stand between the two waterfalls and be just a few feet away from both. The island is located at the southern end of the American Falls and is separated from Goat Island by the smaller Bridal Veil Falls.

At one time the island was called "Young America" by the Porter Brothers and also as Prospect Island but at some point in time the island's name changed again though no one is quite sure when. The island's name is said to have been derived from being the perfect spot to catch a lunar rainbow (or moonbow) which is a rainbow produced by the light from the full moon reflected off of the mist. If you want to test that theory yourself and should you find yourself there on a full moon with a camera in your hand, is willing to pay $25.00 for a decent photograph of a lunar rainbow as seen from Luna Island. The tricky part is that due to the Nightly Illumination of the Falls, moonbows are very rarely seen these days.

In 1954 Luna Island was closed to visitors as the bedrock underlying the island had become unstable and there was a fear that rock might fall from the island causing injuries or death. In June of 1969, the Niagara River was completely diverted away from the American Falls for several months through construction of a temporary rock and earth dam so that anti-erosion work could be performed. While Horseshoe Falls absorbed the extra flow, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studied the riverbed and mechanically bolted and strengthened any faults they found in addition to removing any loose rock. In November of the same year, the dam was dynamited and water was restored to the American Falls but it was still several years - not until 1972 - before it was decided that Luna Island was safe for the public to return to.

Bridge across to Luna Island

Access to Luna Island is via a small footbridge that connects it to Goat Island located just  a bit upstream from the crest of Bridal Veil Falls - named for its appearance but which has also been known as Luna Falls and Iris Falls.

Visitors sitting a little too close to the edge of the Niagara River

While crossing the bridge over to Luna Island I stopped to take a look upriver and was rather surprised to see these two folks sitting on a rock so close to the edge of the water.  I don't  know, maybe I worry too much but when there's a waterfall with a total vertical drop of 176  feet just downstream a bit, I think I'd be way too nervous to sit that close to the edge. After all, accidents do happen.

View from Luna Island to the top of the American Falls

The picture above is a view to the other side of Luna Island where the river flows over the American Falls. 

Looking across the top of the American Falls

From where I was standing, I had a pretty good view of not just the falls but also of Prospect Point and its observation tower on the other side.  The Prospect Point Observation Tower rises 279 feet from the base of the Niagara Gorge where visitors can get a commanding view of the area.  Inside the tower are four elevators that take passengers to the boarding area for the Maid of the Mist boats.  The tower is open year-round (weather permitting of course) and admission is free from November 1st to April 1st, from April to October it only costs $1 (children 5 and under are free) or if you're going to be a passenger on the Maid of the Mist, the cost of admission is included in your ticket. Not a bad deal at all!  Again, I found myself wishing I had more time but I guess it just means another trip is definitely in order! 

As I stood looking out over the falls, I couldn't help but notice the one dry spot in the middle of the waterfall where there was no water flowing over and it looked like there was a patch or two of moss.  It definitely required a closer look ...

Branching out at the edge of the American Falls.

I found it rather hard to believe that a small log (or at least it looked small from where I was standing, it may be much, much bigger than I think it is!) was holding back the river from flowing over that one part of the precipice but that's exactly what it looked like.  And then for some reason I got to thinking that it would be pretty cool to be able to somehow make your way out to that one spot and have a seat and just look around at the water all around you but I figured that the only way to get there would be via helicopter and once you got out there you'd probably be too scared to do much more than want to get out of there!  Yes, it was a silly thought!

A view down to Cave of the Winds

Meanwhile below Bridal Veil Falls, there were a lot of people going on the Cave of the Winds Tour that were having themselves quite the time getting soaked in spite of their bright yellow raincoats!

Bridal Veil Falls

In spite of the name, there is no actual Cave of the Winds anymore as it was obliterated in 1954 during a massive rock fall and the subsequent dynamiting of a dangerous overhang. The original cavern, located behind Bridal Veil Falls, was discovered in 1834 by Joseph W. Ingraham, who had spotted the cave from above the gorge. The first two people to walk behind Bridal Veil Falls into the cavern were Barry Hill White and George Sims. At that time they named it "Aeolus' Cave" after the Greek God of the Winds. Later on Ingraham and other supporters, decided to change the name to "Cave of the Winds". The natural cave was 130 feet high, 100 feet wide, and 30 feet deep.

Early visitors had to access the cave either via a rope or ladder but in 1820 the Biddle Staircase opened giving more visitors a chance to visit the cave. Guided tours officially began in 1841 when the Porter Brothers began charging $1 per person to visit and the popularity of the attraction continued to grow until a rockfall on September 6th, 1920 killed three people and made it clear the passage was no longer safe.

The Cave of the Winds

In 1924 the tour officially reopened with elevators replacing the staircase but instead of bringing visitors behind Bridal Veil Falls, guides now bring visitors to the front of the falls using a series of redwood decks and walkways. On the Hurricane Deck, less than 20 feet from the torrents of Bridal Veil Falls, visitors can experience tropical storm-like conditions with winds that can reach up to 68 mph while getting doused with the spray from the rushing waters. In consideration of those with special needs, a Cave of the Winds viewing area has also been set up for handicapped individuals and adults with children in their arms.

Getting soaked at the Cave of the Winds

The decking, which is not secured to the rocks below by any bolts or other construction materials but which is simply held in place by wood beam supports that are just wedged into the rock crevices, is removed each fall due to the potential damage caused by ice buildup at the falls. In the spring, skilled workers rebuild the decking that will allow summer visitors to reach the Hurricane Deck and during the rebuilding process visitors can take a walk called the Gorge Trip with an incredible view that allows them to watch the process.

One other thing that I was able to see better from the American side of the Niagara River (which flows North and confused the heck out of me when I was trying to figure out how on earth that was possible!) was the Canadian Maid of the Mist boats.  From the Canadian side it was hard to see passengers boarding and taking off but on the American side there's a much clearer view of the loading docks and the boats packed full of passengers heading towards the falls to become enveloped in the constant mist that rises from the base of the falls.

Docking area for the Canadian Maid of the Mist

The first Maid of the Mist was launched in 1846 as a steamboat ferry service between the Canadian and American sides. The ferry service pre-dated the construction of the first Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge 2.5 miles downstream from the Falls by two years and did very well until 1848 but with the opening of the bridge the ferry service lost business. At that time the owners of the ship decided to turn towards tourism and when the operation flourished, in 1854 they added a second, more luxurious boat.

Plagued by financial difficulties and the fear of the upcoming American Civil War, the owner of the Maid of the Mist sold her at auction in 1861 and it wasn't until June 13th, 1885 that a new Maid of the Mist made an appearance on the Niagara River. The new ship ventured closer to Horseshoe Falls than any other before her and the new owners became so successful that they christened a new ship in 1892.

Maid of the Mist passing by the American Falls

In 1996, the Maid of the Mist Attraction celebrated its 150th anniversary with the present four Maids – there have been seven Maids in total - carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers each year on a spectacular, never-to-be forgotten half-hour cruise.

A packed Maid of the Mist boat

It really looked like everyone was having a really good time and it made me wish that I a) had the extra time and b) had someone to go with me on a cruise but I guess that's something that's just going to have to wait for another visit and another blog post - much like the view from Prospect Point Park on the north side of the American Falls, a journey to the Cave of the Winds, and a trip up the Observation Tower!  Oh yes, I think another trip to the Niagara Falls area is definitely going to be in order one of these days but that's okay as, all things considered, it's really not that far from my driveway!

The distance from the Niagara Falls State park in NY to home!


  1. Mother Mercy. This was a LOT to see in one short trip.

    You and Miss Nikon outdid yourselves!

    I just want to state clearly that in NO WAY would I ever be on that wooden scaffolding decking thingy in a yellow rain coat or a rain coat of any other color. Ever.

    The End.


  2. F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. photos Linda, as always. I love that you managed to catch the rainbows too. The Maid of the Mist looks a bit overloaded but I guess they know what they're doing right? Didn't dare show MWM the photo of the fudge - he'd have drooled all over my laptop! LOL

  3. Great shots. We were looking forward to a Canadian trip in October, but that fell through. Perhaps one day we'll make it to the falls.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  4. Regarding the Niagara River's flow, take a look at this political misstep from a decade ago:

  5. Thank you, Leo, now that's pretty funny but in a sad kind of way as obviously a geography lesson was missed there somewhere.

    I asked my Canadian friends about it while I was there and they both said that frankly, they had never noticed that the Niagara River flowed in the "wrong direction" which makes me wonder how many people even notice that the river flows south to north rather than north to south as is a river's normal route of travel.

    Either way I definitely found it fascinating!

  6. Dick and I were on the Maid of the Mist. I still remember that chilly mist. Beautiful photos, as always, and a great history lesson.

    I look forward to the next adventure...

  7. My Hubby and I had our honeymoon there (as did my parents, ironically). It took us a year to get there, but it was a great trip. Thank you for all the work you did in this post, it brought back tons of great memories!!!


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