The Discovery of Niagara Falls
Samuel de Champlain
In 1604, Samuel de Champlain, was the first of the European explorers to navigate Lake St. Louis (Lake Ontario). He was the first to write about Niagara Falls.
Samuel de Champlain wrote:
"...That there was a fall about a league wide and a large mass of water falls into said lake: that when this fall is passed one sees no more land on either side but only a sea so large that they have never seen the end of it, nor heard that anyone has..."
Although Champlain had never seen Niagara Falls himself, he wrote reports about the Falls based upon those made to him by Indians.
In 1632, Samuel de Champlain became the first to draw and publish a map of Niagara. In this map a very clear and marked outline of the river is given.
Rene Brehan de Galinée
In 1669, Rene Brehan de Galinée, wrote about the Falls of Niagara.
Although he did not see Niagara Falls himself, Galinée based his writings upon Indian reports. Most importantly, Galinée's report became the very first of the explorers to hear the distant sounds of the Falls.
Rene Brehan de Galinée wrote:
"...This outlet contains, at a distance of ten or twelve leagues, from its mouth in Lake Ontario, one of the finest cataracts or water-falls in the world: for all the Indians to whom I have spoken about it said the river fell in that place from a rock higher than the tallest pine trees, that is, about two hundred feet. In fact, we heard it from where we were. But this fall gives such impulse to the water that, although we were ten or twelve leagues away, the water is so rapid that one can with great difficulty row up against it..."
"...With a roar that is heard not only from the place where we were ten to twelve leagues distant but actually the other side of Lake Ontario, opposite this mouth from which M. Trouvé told me he heard it..."
Father Louis Hennepin
The first eye-witness description of Niagara Falls was written by Father Louis Hennepin, a Recollect priest from the Spanish Netherlands, was the first white man to visit the Falls of Niagara in the winter of 1678-1679.
In 1683, Father Hennepin's account of his visit was
published in "Description de la Louisiane". This similar account was again
published in 1697 in Hennepin's own book entitled "Novelle decouverte d'un tres grand
pays situe´ dans l'Amerique" which was published at Utrecht with dedication to
William III of England.
"...four leagues from Lake Frontenac there is an incredible Cataract of water-fall which has no equal.."
"....Betwixt the Lake Ontario and Erie`, there is a vast and prodigious Cadence of Water which falls down after a surprizing and astonishing manner, insomuch that the Universe does not afford it's parallel. Tis true, Italy and Suedland boast some such Things; but we may well say they are but soory Patterns, when compar'd to this of which we now speak. At the foot of this horrible Precipice, we meet with the River Niagara, which is not above a quarter of a League broad, but is wonderfully deep in some places. It is so rapid above this Descent, that it violently hurries down the wild Beasts while endeavouring to pass it to feed on the other side, they not being able to withstand the force of its Current, which inevitably casts them above Six hundred foot high...."
"....'This wonderful Downfal, is compounded of two great Cross-streams of Water, and two Falls, with an Isle sloping along the middle of it. the Waters which fall from this horrible Precipice, do foam and boyl after the most hideous manner imaginable, making an outrageous Noise, more terrible than that of Thunder; for when the Wind blows out of the South, their dismal roaring may be heard more than Fifteen Leagues off...."
"....'The River Niagara having thrown itself down this incredible Precipice, continues its impetuous course for two Leagues together, to the great Rock above-mention'd [Queenston Heights], with an inexpressible rapidity: But having past that, its impetuosity relents, gliding along more gently for two other Leagues, till it arrive at Lake Frontenac (Lake Ontario)...."
Henry de Tonty
Henry De Tonty visited Niagara Falls on February 1st 1679. He was La Salles lieutenant.
De Tonty described Niagara Falls as five hundred (500) feet high and two hundred (200) toises wide.
In part De Tonty wrote:
"...It throws off vapor which may be seen at a distance of sixteen (16) leagues and it may be heard at the same distance when it is calm..."
Baron Louis Armand de Lom D'Arce La Hontan
In 1688, Baron de Lahontan, a famous early traveler described:
"....As for the Waterfall of Niagara; tis seven or eight hundred foot high and half a League broad...."
Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix
In 1721, Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, the best known Jesuit writers on America, wrote a letter that in part read:
"....found the baron de la Houtan had committed such a mistake with respect to its height and figure, as to give grounds to believe he had never seen it....for my own part, after having examined it on all sides, where it could be viewed to the greatest advantage, I am inclined to think we cannot allow it less than a hundred and forty, or fifty feet..."
"...This sheet of water falls upon a rock, and there are two reasons which induce me to believe, that it has either found or perhaps in time hollowed out a cavern of considerable depth. The first is, that the noise it makes is very hollow, resembling that of thunder at a distance. You can scarce hear it at Monsieur de Joncairs, and what you hear in this place may possibly be only that of the whirlpools, caused by the rocks, which fill the bed of the river as far as this, and so much the rather as above the cataract, you do not hear it near so far..."
Monseiur de Joncairs lived along the banks of the Niagara Gorge at Lewiston. De Charlevoix described the abundance of ant hills and rattle snakes
In 1721, Paul Dudley wrote an account of Niagara Falls that was taken on October 10th 1721 from Monsieur Borassaw, a French native of Canada. Borassaw was a boatman and a trader. Dudley's account read in part:
"...measured with a stone of half a hundred weight and a large cod line - found it on a perpendicular no more than twenty-six fathoms (156 feet)..."
"...Particularly it has been said that the cataract makes such a prodigious noise, that people cannot hear each other speak at some miles distant: whereas he (Monsieur Borassaw) affirms that you may converse together close by it. What he observed further to me was, that the mist or shower which the falls make, is so extraordinary, as to be seen at five (5) leagues distance and rise as high as the common clouds..."
Joseph Pierre de Bonnecamps
In 1749, Joseph Pierre de Bonnecamps came to Niagara Falls on a voyage under the direction of Monsieur de Celaron.
Joseph Pierre de Bonnecamps described the Falls of Niagara as:
"...as having a vertical fall of one hundred and thirty-three (133) feet, half - ellipsed divided near the middle by a little island..."
"...width of fall perhaps 3/8 of a league..."
Petre (Peter) Kalm
In 1750, Peter Kalm, a Swedish botanist wrote to a friend in Philadelphia.
It read in part:
"....I doubt not but you have a desire to learn the exact height of this great fall. Father Hennepin, you know, calls it 600 feet perpendicular; but he has gain'd little credit in Canada; the name of honour they give him here, is un grand Menteur, or the great Liar; he writes of what he saw in places where he never was. 'Tis true he saw this fall: But as it is the way of some travelers to magnify everything, so has he done with regard to the fall of Niagara....Since Father Hennepin's time, this fall, in all the accounts that have been given of it, has grown less and less; and those who have measur'd it with mathematical instruments find the perpendicular fall of the water to be exactly 137 feet..."
"...you may remember, to what great distance Hennepin says the noise of this fall may be heard. All the gentlemen who were with me agreed, that the farthest one can hear it, is 15 leagues, and that very seldom...Sometimes 'tis said, the fall makes much greater noise than at other times; and this is look'd on as a certain mark of approaching bad weather, or rain; the Indians here hold it always as a sure sign. When I was there, it did not make an extraordinary great noise: Just by the fall, we could easily hear what each other said, without speaking much louder than the common when conversing in other places. I do not know how others found so great a noise here; perhaps it was at certain times, as above mentioned."
"...When the air is quite calm, you can hear it to Fort Niagara: but seldom at other times, because when the wind blows, the waves of Lake Ontario make too much noise there against the shore - They informed me, that when that when they hear at the Fort the noise of the Fall, louder than ordinary, they are sure a north - east wind will follow, which never fails: this seems wonderful, as the fall is south - west from the Fort: and one would imagine it to be a rather sign of a contrary wind. Sometimes 'tis said, the Fall makes a much greater noise than at other times; and this look'd upon as a certain mark of approaching bad weather or rain: the indians here hold it always for a sure sign - When I was there..."
Peter Kalm described Niagara Falls as horseshoe or semi circle shaped. The height of the Falls was measured at one hundred and thirty-seven (137) feet as measured by Monsieur Morandrier, the King's Engineer in Canada.
Kalm wrote that Goat Island had first been reached in 1739 by two Indians of the Six Nations. They were stranded on the island for nine days before being rescued.
Kalm's letter was first published in January 1751 in the
Monsieur de La Lande
In 1751, Monsieur de La Londe came to visit Niagara Falls and measured the south side of the Falls at one hundred and forty (140) feet high.
Monsieur M. Bonnefans
In 1753, Monsieur M. Bonnefans wrote about his adventures. In this account Bonnefans wrote in part:
"...At a quarter of a league to the north of the last mountain is the famous fall of Niagara, the noise of which may be heard nearly three (3) leagues..."
"...It is impossible when near it to make speaking heard unless very near to the ears..."
Bonnefans described Niagara Falls as 180 feet in height and one quarter of a league wide. The approaches to the falls were inaccessible - covered with bushes.
Bonnefans described a cavern behind the falls as 6 toises long and twenty feet high and a depth scarcely more than fifteen (15) feet.
Monsieur Pouchot visited Niagara Falls from 1755 to 1760.
Pouchot described Niagara Falls as:
140 feet high
Pouchot in part wrote:
"...The noise of the fall, increased by echoes from the surrounding rocks, may be heard a greater or less distance according to the direction of the wind. It is not unusual to hear it ten (10) or twelve (12) leagues, but as a distant thunder, which rolls very heavily..."
Captain Jonathon Carver
In 1766, Captain Jonathon Carver wrote in part:
"...The noise of these Falls might be heard an amazing way. I could plainly distinguish them in a calm morning more than twenty (20) miles. others have said at particular times, and when the wind sits fair, the south of them reaches fifteen (15) leagues..."
Hector St. John de Crevecouer
In 1785, Hector St. John de Crevecouer wrote about Niagara Falls. His account described the "Indian Ladder" as follows:
"...We were obliged to make use of an Indian ladder which is simply two straight trees in which, with their tomahawks or hatchets they cut notches at twelve (12) or fifteen (15) inches from each other. In these notches you put your feet and by this means we got to the bottom..."
De Crevecouer wrote about a ledge behind the Falls which extended fifteen (15) to twenty (20 yards. The rock at which this cavern ended became known as "termination rock".
On July 18th 1787, Captain Enys witnessed and wrote about a moonbow [a rare occurrence when the light of the moon is being reflected through the mist of the Falls creating a colorful rainbow at night].
Captain Enys also described a location along the bank of the Niagara Gorge on the Canadian side which provided tourists with an unobstructed panoramic view of the Falls. This site was located at the brink of the cliff and was known as "Painters Point". This site was was measured and cleared by Lieutenant Tinling, acting engineer at Niagara, of the 29th Regiment.
Painters Point provided the best view and was equidistant from the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls and was located opposite the island [Goat Island].
Luna Falls was referred to as Monmorrency Fall.
The Indian ladder was located 100 yards to the left of Painters Point.
In 1796, Issac Weld wrote an account of Niagara Falls. His account read in part:
"...yet it is nevertheless strictly true, that the tremendous noise of the falls may be distinctly heard at times at a distance of forty (40) miles, and the cloud formed from the spray may be even still further off; but it is only when the air is very clear and there is a fine blue sky which however are very common occurrences in this country, that the cloud can be seen at such a great distance. The hearing of the sound of the falls afar off also depends upon the state of the atmosphere: it is observed that the sound can be heard at the greatest distance, just before a heavy fall of rain and when the wind is in a favorable point to convey the sound toward the listener..."
In 1792, Duncan Ingraham wrote an account about Niagara Falls. His account read in part:
"...after I reached the Genesee River, curiosity led me to Niagara, ninety mile, not one house or white man the whole way. The only direction I had was an Indian path which sometimes was doubtful..."
In 1792, 6,000 Six Nation Indians were living on the New York State Reservation.
Ingraham described the existence of Fort Chippeway along the shore of the Chippeway Creek and of the severely cold winters and hot summers (96° - 100°).
Duke de La Rochefoucault Laincourt
In 1799, Duke Laincourt wrote an account about Niagara Falls. His account read in part:
"...Chippaway was the chief place of an Indian tribe. About a mile above the falls, two corn mills and two saw mills have been constructed in a large bason formed by the river on the left.
It is most remarkable chiefly on this account, that the logs are cut here into boards, thrown into the Chippaway creek near its mouth, and by means of a small lock conveyed into a canal, formed within the bed of the river by a double row of logs of timber, fastened together and floating on the water. The breaking of these is prevented by other large balks floating at a certain distance from each other, which form, as it were, the basis of this artificial canal. The water retains in this canal and the rapidity of the current and conveys the logs into the lower part of the mill, where, by the same machinery, which moves the saws, the logs are lofted upon the jack and cut into boards. Only two saws at a time are employed at this mill. The power of the water is almost boundless..."
"...an iron mine has been discovered near Chippaway creek..."
In 1807, world traveler, Christian Shultz described his approach to Niagara Falls in part as follows:
"...Before the rising of the wind, as I was on deck, I could plainly distinguish the hollow murmuring of the Falls of Niagara, although not less than twenty (20) miles distant [Lake Ontario]. As soon as the wind began to breeze however the sound was lost nor did I hear it again until I landed at this place [Fort Niagara]. The roar of the Falls can be heard at any considerable distance only during a perfect calm, when a light current of air comes from the direction of the falls: when I am told it has been heard at a distance of forty (40) miles across the lake..."
From 1816 to 1817, Francis Hall, traveler visited Niagara Falls. In his written account he described the "Indian Ladder" as being forty (40) feet long with thirty (30) steps. According to Hall the ladder was located ½ mile north of Table Rock.
He further wrote:
"...At Queenston, seven (7) miles from the Falls, their sound, united with the rushing water of the river, is distinctly heard..."
Charles Joseph Latrobe
In 1833, author and traveler, Charles Joseph Latrobe described the millennium of 1800 at Niagara Falls in part as follows:
"...At the commencement of the present century, Niagara was difficult to access, and rarely visited, was still the cataract of the wilderness. The red Indian still lingered in the vicinity, and adored the "Great Spirit" and "Master of Life", as he listened to the "Thunder of the Waters". The human habitants within sound of its Fall were few and far apart. Its few visitors came, gazed and departed in silence and awe, having for their guide the child of the forest, or the hardy back-woodsman. No staring, painted hotel rose over the woods, and obtruded its pale face over the edge of the boiling river. The journey to it from the east was one of adventure and peril. The scarcely attainable shore of Goat Island, lying between the two great divisions of the cataract had only been trodden by a few hardy adventurers depending about stout hearts and steady hands for escape from imminent perils of the passage..."
In 1853, traveler, William Chambers described his approach to Niagara Falls in part as follows:
"...Manchester consisted on several streets in skeleton with a large railway station in the center and a number of hotels..."
"...the Canadian side had a series of paltry curiosity shops and at the Table Rock a labourer wheeling rubbish into the cataract. The road we took was lined with museums, curiosity shops, refreshment booths and raree-shows, a number of chinese pagoda looking edifices and other incongruous buildings had been erected on the Canadian bank. The banks on the American Falls had saw mills built up..."
From 1858 to 1861, Anthony Trollope visited Niagara Falls. His written account of the Falls is one of the most poignant ever written. It read in part:
"...To realize Niagara you must sit there till you see nothing else than that which you have come to see. You will hear nothing else and see nothing else.
At length you will be at one with the tumbling river before you. You will find yourself among the waters as though you belong to them.
The cool liquid green will run through your veins and the voice of the cataract will be the expression of your own heart.
You will fall as the bright waters fall, rushing down into your new world with no hesitation and with no dismay: and you will rise again as the spray rises, bright, beautiful and pure. Then you will flow away in your course to the uncompassed, distant and eternal ocean..."
Sir Carl Wilhelm Siemens
In 1877, Sir Siemens spoke in his inaugural address about the power of Niagara Falls. In part, He said:
"...Take the Falls of Niagara as a familiar example. The amount of water passing over this fall has been estimated at one hundred million tons per hour, and its perpendicular descent may be taken at one hundred and fifty feet, without counting the rapids, which represent a further fall of one hundred and fifty feet, making a total of three hundred feet between Lake to Lake. But the force represented by the principal fall alone amounts to 16,800,000 horsepower, an amount which if it had to be produced by steam, would necessitate an annual expenditure of not less than 266,000,000 tons of coal per annum, taking the consumption of coal at four pounds per horsepower. In other words, all the coal raised throughout the world would barely suffice to produce the amount of power that continually runs to waste at this one great fall..."
"...a copper rod three inches in diameter would be capable of transmitting 1,000 horsepower a distance of say thirty miles, an amount sufficient to supply one-quarter of a million candle power which would suffice to illuminate a moderately sized town..."
In 1877, Vivian Hussey wrote about the magnificence of Niagara Falls. In part, she wrote:
"...It impressed me with a sense of its own grandeur, and of the impotence of man, more than anything I saw..."
Date last updated:
February 20, 2012
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