In 1859, Prospect Point and Park was privately owned and was known as White’s Pleasure Grounds.
In 1845, Prospect Park Incline Railway was located just north of the American Falls in Niagara Falls, New York. It was built by General Parkhurst Whitney, the owner of the Eagle Tavern. Whitney was one of the earliest Niagara Frontier hotel owners. He later became the owner of the famous Cataract Hotel.
The incline railway was built to replace an earlier staircase that was built in 1818, by General Whitney to enable people to access the ferry landing at the base of the Niagara Gorge. Whitney was a co-owner of this ferry service.
The incline railway was located near the privately owned Prospect Point.
After 1889, an agreement over landing rights was reached by owners of the Maid of the Mist and the four year old Niagara Reservation State Park.
The incline railway was covered and consisted of two sets of rails leading from the top of the gorge to the bottom. On each rail rode a cable propelled open railcar. Like all other incline railways: one car went downward while the other went upward. Each car counter balanced each other. Each car was capable of carrying 15-20 passengers at a time. It also contained a parallel 250 step stairway along one side of the incline railway which could be used by anyone at any time or in case of an emergency.
The Prospect Point Incline Railway operated for years on water power and was later converted to electricity once hydro electric power began being generated at Niagara Falls.
The incline railway ride cost 5 cents per person.
In the 1860’s the owners erected two wings: one on each side of the lower landing. This became the famous “Shadow of the Rock” tourist attraction. The buildings consisted change rooms and a covered walkway where tourists after paying $1 would change into rain outfits before walking out to a raised open-air platform from which they could view and feel the powerful waters of the American Falls.
The $1 fee also included a guide book and an opportunity to “bathe” in the “curing waters of the cataract” as well.
During its existence, the Shadow of the Rock attraction provided stiff competition for the Cave of the Winds attraction located a short distance away on Goat Island.
In 1892, the Shadow of the Rock attraction buildings at the base of the gorge were destroyed by ice and fire. They were never rebuilt.
In 1894-1895, the Niagara Reservation State Park built a chalet type building in their place at the base of the incline railway. The building housed a waiting room and lower terminal. This building continued to operate until it was demolished in a spectacular accident in 1907.
On July 6th 1907, a cable of the Prospect Point Incline Railway snapped in half sending the two railcars containing five occupants crashing to the base of the incline and into the chalet office and waiting room below.
A tailor from Buffalo, New York was killed instantly after sustaining a fractured skull and other internal injuries. He and a female companion were in the descending car when the cable broke. His female companion sustained a fractured jaw.
In the ascending car were a Kentucky couple and their 5 year old son. As they were one quarter the way up the incline, the cable broke and they went crashing back down through the wall of the chalet. They survived but sustained non life threatening fractures.
Amazingly, an alert tourist waiting in the waiting room below saw the event unfold and was able to warn others thus preventing further deaths and/or injuries.
All the injured were taken by the maid of the Mist tour boat to the Canadian shore where they were taken to hospital for treatment.
The demolished building was never repaired and the 42 year old Prospect Point Incline Railway was torn down.
In 1908, work began on elevators which operated in separate shafts drilled through the rock and opened out to a building at the base of the gorge. At first there was no building at the top of the gorge to protect passengers using the elevators. Reservation officials originally felt that a building at the top would detract from Parks appearance. They later changed their mind when shelter was necessary to protect tourists from inclement and winter weather.
The new elevators opened to the public on January 20th 1910. They continued in service until 1954 when they were closed because the elevator shafts were leaking water at the time of the massive rock fall of Prospect Point. During this rock fall, an estimated 180,000 tons of rock broke away from the mainland and fell to the base of the gorge below.
Following the Prospect Point rock fall, the elevators were condemned and never placed back into service.
The Niagara Reservation State Park built the Prospect Point Observation Tower as a replacement to the closed elevators. Building on the tower began in 1960. The tower observation deck which included a new elevator to the base of the gorge was open to the public on February 10th 1961.
Date last updated:
February 13, 2012
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