History And Preservation Of Niagara Falls
History and Preservation Of Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls has long been a source of inspiration for explorers, travelers, artists, authors, filmmakers, residents and visitors, few of whom realize that the falls were nearly to be solely devoted to industrial and commercial use. In the 1870s, sightseers had limited access to Niagara Falls and often had to pay merely for a glimpse, and industrialization threatened to carve up Goat Island in an effort to further expand commercial development. Other industrial encroachments and lack of public access led to a conservation movement in the U.S. known as Free Niagara, led by such notables as Hudson River school artist Frederic Edwin Church, landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, and architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Mr Church approached Lord Dufferin, governor-general of Canada, with a proposal for international discussions on the establishment of a public park.
Niagara Fälle. Les chûtes du Niagara. Niagara Falls (circa 1832): aquatint by Karl Bodmer from the book “Maximilian, Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834”
Albert Bierstadt‘s oil painting of Niagara Falls
Goat Island was one of the inspirations for the American side of the effort. William Dorsheimer, moved by the scene from the island, brought Olmsted to Buffalo in 1868 to design a city park system and helped promote Olmstead’s career. Later, in 1879, the New York state legislature commissioned Olmsted and James T. Gardner to survey the falls and to create the single most important document in the Niagara preservation movement, a Special Report on the preservation of Niagara Falls. The report advocated for State purchase, restoration and preservation through public ownership of the scenic lands surrounding Niagara Falls. Restoring the former beauty of the falls was described in the report as a “sacred obligation to mankind.” In 1883, GovernorGrover Cleveland drafted legislation authorizing acquisition of lands for a state reservation at Niagara and The Niagara Falls Association, a private citizens group founded in 1882, mounted a great letter writing campaign and petition drive in support of the park. Professor Charles Eliot Norton and Olmsted were among the leaders of the public campaign, while New York GovernorAlonzo Cornell opposed.
Preservationists’ efforts were rewarded on April 30, 1885, when Governor David B. Hill signed legislation creating the Niagara Reservation, New York’s first state park. New York State began to purchase land from developers, under the charter of the Niagara Reservation State Park. In the same year, the province of Ontario established the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park for the same purpose. On the Canadian side, the Niagara Parks Commission governs land usage along the entire course of the Niagara River, from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.
In 1887, Olmsted and Calvert Vaux issued a supplemental report detailing plans to restore the falls. Their intent was “to restore and conserve the natural surroundings of the Falls of Niagara, rather than to attempt to add anything thereto”, and the report anticipated fundamental questions. How would preservationists provide access without destroying the beauty of the falls? How would they restore natural landscapes damaged by man? They planned a park with scenic roadways, paths and a few shelters designed to protect the landscape while allowing large numbers of visitors to enjoy the falls. Commemorative statues, shops, restaurants, and a 1959 glass and metal observation tower were added later. Preservationists continue to strive to strike a balance between Olmsted’s idyllic vision, and the realities of administering a popular scenic attraction.
Preservation efforts continued well into the 20th century. J. Horace McFarland, the Sierra Club, and the Appalachian Mountain Clubpersuaded the United States Congress in 1906 to enact legislation to preserve the falls by regulating the waters of Niagara River. The act sought, in cooperation with the Canadian government, to restrict diversion of water, and a treaty resulted in 1909 that limited the total amount of water diverted from the falls by both nations to approximately 56,000 cubic feet (1,600 m3) per second. That limitation remained in effect until 1950.
American Falls “shut off” during erosion control efforts in 1969 (see text)
Erosion control efforts have always been of extreme importance. Underwater weirs redirect the most damaging currents, and the top of the falls have also been strengthened. In June 1969, the Niagara River was completely diverted away from the American Falls for several months through construction of a temporary rock and earth dam (clearly visible in the photo at right). While the 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; faults which would, if left untreated, have hastened the retreat of the American Falls. A plan to remove the huge mound oftalus deposited in 1954 was abandoned owing to cost, and in November 1969, the temporary dam was dynamited, restoring flow to the American Falls. Even after these undertakings, Luna Island, the small piece of land between the main waterfall and the Bridal Veil, remained off limits to the public for years owing to fears that it was unstable and could collapse into the gorge at any time.
Commercial interests have continued to encroach on the land surrounding the state park, including the construction of several tall buildings (most of them hotels) on the Canadian side. The result is a significant alteration and urbanisation of the landscape. One study indicated it has caused the airflow near the falls to change direction. Students at the University of Guelph demonstrated, using scale models, that as air passes over the top of the new hotels it causes a breeze to roll down the south sides of the buildings and spill into the gorge below the falls, where it feeds into a whirlpool of moisture and air. The inference was that a documented rise in the number of “mist days” was a result of these breezes, where mist days refers to the mist plume of the falls reaching landside. In 1996 there were 29 mist days recorded, but by 2003 that number had risen to 68. Another study has discounted this opinion and linked mist production primarily to the difference in air and water temperature at the falls. However, this study does not offer opinion as to why mist days have been increasing just that the hotel breezes are an unlikely cause.