Niagara County is rich in history — and in quirky trivia! Here are 10 of our favorite facts to share about Niagara Falls USA to enrich your next visit.
Yours, Mine and Ours
Niagara Falls is not “owned” by the U.S. or by Canada. Instead, an international boundary map divides the natural wonder into three waterfalls — the bulk of Horseshoe Falls is on the Canadian side, while the aptly named American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are on the U.S. side.
Maid to Order
Our favorite way to get close to the Falls — the Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls USA’s exclusive boat tour — was launched back in 1846 as a ferry between the U.S. and Canada.
In the late 1800s, the Niagara River was in danger of over-industrialization. An effort to “free” the Falls attracted the support of notables like Charles Darwin, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Morris and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Known as the “Free Niagara” movement, it was led by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Niagara Falls State Park (and Central Park, too, on the other side of New York) — and it was a success.
What’s in a Name?
Goat Island, the island that separates Bridal Veil Falls from the roaring Horseshoe Falls, earned its name back in 1778. Pioneer John Stedman rowed his herd of goats out to the island to keep them safe from wolves. (Unfortunately, a brutal winter did them in instead.) Prior to 1778, it was called Iris Island, owing to the amount of iris flowers found thriving there. Olmsted speculated that the spray from the Falls created a unique growing environment for indigenous plants.
Speaking of Goat Island…
At one point in time, New York City carnival entrepreneur P.T. Barnum wanted to turn Goat Island into circus grounds — but was unsuccessful.
The Lower Niagara River is home to a resilient population of a threatened fish species: lake sturgeon. Once overfished for their eggs (caviar!), these bottom-feeders can live 150 years and grow to be 9 feet long (and weigh up to 300 pounds).
The climate in the Niagara wine region compares to that of Alsace, a famed wine-making region in northeastern France. Combine the climate with the local soil (it’s dolomitic limestone, if you’re curious), and you get ideal conditions for growing vinifera, or European grapes (think: pinot, Riesling, chardonnay, cabernet franc and the like).
During the War of 1812, the British burned the towns of Lewiston and Youngstown to the ground. Members of the Tuscarora Nation came to the aid of the Lewiston citizens in a heroic gesture now commemorated by the Tuscarora Heroes Monument in Lewiston. To this day, the Tuscarora People reside on a reservation atop the Niagara Escarpment.
A Global Port
North Tonawanda and its sister Tonawanda were known as the “Lumber Capital of the World” in the late 19th century, due to their position at the western end of the Erie Canal. Timber from the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as Canada were shipped from the Tonawandas to eastern seaboard ports and beyond.
The Flight of Five locks in Lockport is recognized as one of the most iconic features along the Erie Canal. The staircase of five locks allowed boats to be raised or lowered more than 60 feet in order to traverse the Niagara Escarpment. Two of the historic locks have been restored, and visitors can watch their massive wooden gates at work alongside the modern locks that control today’s traffic.
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