Niagara Falls

A History of the Niagara River





Goat Island (American)

Goat Island was named by John Stedman in the 1770's.

John Stedman had been named "Master of the Portage" by British General - Sir William Johnson. 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.

On September 14th 1763, John Stedman was leading one such supply convoy which was traveling southward along the overhanging ledge along the Niagara Gorge that the Seneca Indians called Devil's Hole. Here the Seneca Indians attacked the wagon train killing eighty citizens and British soldiers. Stedman was one of only two survivors of the bloody Devil's Hole Massacre.

In August of 1764, in order to make amends with the British, the Seneca Indians ceded to the British a four mile wide strip of land along the east side of the Niagara River from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. In addition, the Seneca Indians also ceded all the islands upstream of the Falls to Sir William Johnson.

Stedman claimed the land and islands above the Falls for himself. He claimed this land was given to him by the Seneca Indians after the peace talks with the British in 1764.

Stedman lived with his brothers Phillip and William in the first house to be build near the Falls by Fort Schlosser.

John Stedman named the island - Goat Island.  Stedman used to raise a herd of goats on Goat Island during the 1770's. He had cleared approximately ten acres of land on this island. During the extremely cold winter of 1780, all but one of the goats died.

John Stedman left Niagara in 1795. Stedman left his property under the care of his friend Jesse Ware. Profits from Stedman's sawmill were sent to Stedman until 1797.

In 1801, Stedman lost possession of his land including Goat Island to the State of New York.

General Augustus Porter, a United States Commissioner, renamed Goat Island to Iris Island, after the Greek Goddess of the Rainbow. People resisted this name change and the island soon reverted back to its original name of Goat Island.

By 1806, Goat Island had little development. Bears and wolves were common sights along with a plentiful deer population.

In 1816, Augustus Porter bought Goat Island from the State of New York. In 1817, he built a wooden bridge from the mainland to the upper end of the island. This bridge was destroyed by ice during the following winter. In 1818, Porter built another bridge to Goat Island but closer to the Falls. In 1856, this bridge was replaced with an iron bridge.

On July 15th 1885, the State of New York created the New York State Niagara Reservation Park.




Three Sisters Islands (American)

The Three Sisters Islands (actually four islands exist) are located approximately 500 yards east of the Horseshoe Falls along the south/east side of Goat Island. In 1843, these islands were called Moss Islands because the rock surfaces of the islands were covered in moss.

The largest and closest island to the Goat island shore was known by local citizens as Deer Island.

The Sister Islands were named after the three daughters of General Parkhurst Whitney. General Whitney was an American commander during the War of 1812. Following the war, General Whitney became a very successful and prosperous businessman. He owned and operated the Cataract Hotel in Niagara Falls, New York.

In the Spring of 1816, General Whitney took his three daughters: Asenath, Angeline and Celinda Eliza to visit the islands. On this visit, General Whitney and his three daughters became the first to visit the third outer most island. This was possible because an ice jamb upstream of the Falls had reduced the dangerous rapids which normally prevented safe access to this island to a mere trickle and ice clogged the water channel. At the time no bridges to any of the islands existed. Whitney and his daughters were able to walk to the outer most island by crossing on the ice.

General Whitney was so proud of his daughters feat of reaching the island that he asked the owners of the islands, Peter and Augustus Porter, to rename them after his three daughters and his infant son. In 1834, the first island closest to Goat Island was still known as Deer Island. The second island became known as Asenath, the third as Angeline and the fourth as Celinda Eliza.

Today the Three Sister Islands have been renamed as follows. The first island is called ASENATH (a-see-nath), the second island is called ANGELINE, the third island is called CELINDA ELIZA. The fourth and smallest is known as Little Brother Island named SOLON.




Luna Island (American)

Luna Island was originally called Prospect Island. It was renamed Luna Island in the 1800's because famous lunar rainbows were seen over it on bright moonlit nights. Unfortunately, with the advent of nightly illumination of the Falls, moon bows are seldom seen today.

Luna Island is approximately of an acre in size consisting of a thick layer of dolostone rock. In its original state, Luna island was covered with many white cedar trees.

In 1954, Luna Island was closed to the public because the bedrock underlying the island had become unstable and there was a threat of rock falling from the island. Luna Island remained closed to the public until 1972 when the island was reopened. The de-watering of the American Falls in 1969 allowed remedial and anti-erosion work to be undertaken to stabilize the rock under this island.

Luna Island was closed to the public in 1954 because of unsafe rock conditions. Following remedial work which included blasting and bulldozing away loose rocks, Luna Island was reopened in 1972.

Luna Island is located along the north side of Goat Island at the edge of the Niagara Gorge in the American Goat Island Channel leading to the American Falls. Luna Island separates the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls.




Green Island - formerly Bath Island (American)

During the mid 1800's, Bath Island was the home of a number of industries and homes. The island was named after the bath houses located at the western end of the island. Bath island also had a toll gatehouse where tourists had to pay a toll before being allowed to advance along a bridge to Goat Island.

During the early 1900's, the name of the island was changed from Bath Island to Green Island after Mr. Andrew H. Green, one of the first Niagara Reservation Commissioners.

The first paper mill was built on Bath Island in 1825. It was a three storey structure which became one of the largest mills of its type in the nation. The mill was destroyed by fire in 1858. The mill was rebuilt but again burned to the ground in 1882.

In the Spring of 1843, the first family to live on Bath Island were Vime Hickox and his parents. George Tulfa also lived on the island for a period of time. By 1850, the families had moved away from Bath Island.

Green Island is located in the American Goat Island Channel leading to the American Falls.




Robinson Island (American)

In 1860, local daredevil, Joel Robinson walked out into the rapids just above the brink of the American falls from Prospect Point with the aid of an iron staff. He made his way to an island located northeast of Luna Island. This island was later named "Robinson Island". Robinson Island is located in the American Goat Island Channel leading to the American Falls.




Ship Island & Brig Island (American)

Ship and Brig Islands were so named because trees growing on these islands resembled the masts of sailing ships.

In 1840, narrow bridges were built to Ship Island and Brig Island. They were later torn down after being declared unsafe.

Ship Island and Brig Island is located in the American Goat Island Channel leading to the American Falls.




Tower Island (American)

In 1922, the International Board of Control suggested building an artificial island upstream from the Falls in order to divert the waters.

On June 2nd 1929, both Governments signed a conventions agreeing to the International Board of Control recommendations. This convention was ratified by Canada in 1929 and by the USA in 1931.

In 1941, The Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Basin Agreement was signed by Government representatives but it was never ratified. In this agreement, the remedial work was approved as was an immediate additional 5,000 cubic feet of water per second diversion by each country for power generation.

On October 27th 1941, as an emergency measure during World War II, the governments of USA and Canada authorized the maximum diversion of waters from the Niagara River for power generation. The Americans were authorized to divert 32,500 cubic feet of water per second and the Canadians were authorized to divert 50,000 cubic feet of water per second. 

Both governments recognized the need for recommended remedial work and agreed to share the costs.

On January 23rd 1942, the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Basin Committee submitted an estimate for the remedial work for Niagara Falls at $803,000.

Construction of the submerged weir began in March 1942. When completed, the weir was 1,455 feet long, extending from within 300 feet of the Canadian shoreline towards the shoal upstream from Goat Island. The width of this rock filled weir was approximately 40 feet and ranged in height according to the river from 2 - 10 feet in depth.

To place the stone in the river, a cable way was constructed. Two 155 foot tall steel towers were built: one on the Canadian shoreline and the other on a man made island just inside the American boundary.

This island is known as "Tower Island" and it still exists today as a terminus for the Hydro Control Dam. To build this island, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a 2,200 foot causeway from the eastern end of Goat Island.

Government negotiations throughout 1949 resulted in the American and Canadian Governments signing the Niagara Water Diversion Treaty in February 1950.

Canada was allowed to divert 56,500 cubic feet of water per second and the USA was allowed to divert 32,500 cubic feet of water per second. Most importantly, this treaty declared that all the water in the river could be used for hydro generation providing that sufficient water was allowed to flow over the Falls to maintain its beauty and scenic effect.

In October 1950, the International Joint Committee were authorized to study and report on remedial work required for the preservation of the Falls. Their recommendations were approved July 22nd 1953.

During the next four years, a 1,550 long Hydro Control Dam was built 250 feet downstream from the submerged weir. The dam extended from the Canadian shoreline and was needed to regulate the water level in the Chippawa - Grass Island Pool. This dam has since been extended.




Navy Island (Canadian)

In 1763, the British established a naval shipyard on a small  316 acre island above the Falls in response to an Indian uprising led by Ottawa Indian Chief, Pontiac. This island became known as Navy Island .

The boats built at this shipyard included the sloops, the Huron and the Charlotte. Schooners built here included the "Boston", "Gladwin" and "Victory". They became the first British ships to ply the Upper Great Lakes.

On December 13th 1837, rebel William Lyon MacKenzie and his group of 300 - 400 rebel supporters had taken refuge on Navy Island. Most rebels were unemployed Americans. Here Mackenzie proclaimed himself Chief of State of the New Republic of Canada and began to organize his new provision government. He further declared Navy Island to be the new home of his government. Bonds were sold to finance the new government. Weapons and money were obtained from sympathizers and other supporters.

The British bombarded Navy Island however it had little effect. On January 14th 1838, MacKenzie and his supporters moved to Grand Island.

During the mid 1850's, 100 acres of land was cleared for farming. By 1865, four families occupied the island.

In 1876, a portion of the island was leased and a two storey summer hotel known as the Queens Hotel was built along the eastern side near the American shore. With docking facilities, the hotel attracted many tourists. The hotel's operation ended during the early 1900's. In 1910, the Queens Hotel burnt to the ground and was not rebuilt.

In 1938, in order to preserve the island and prevent privatization, the Niagara Parks Commission was granted a long term lease of Navy Island from the Canadian Government.

In 1945, Navy Island was unsuccessfully promoted as a possible site of the United Nations Organization.

In 1949, Navy Island was declared a Wildlife and Game Preserve: a status which today remains.



Gull Island

Gull Island is a small elongated island located nearest the Canadian shoreline approximately 100 yards upriver of the Horseshoe Falls. The island is named from the number of nesting gulls which seasonally occupy this island refuge.




Grand Island (American)

Grand Island is the largest island along the Niagara River. It exceeds 17,000 acres in size.

Since 1655, the Iroquois Nation - Seneca Indians controlled the Niagara Frontier including Grand island. They called the island Ga-We-Not: meaning Great Island. The Seneca used this island as a game preserve and an Indian burying ground. Father Louis Hennepin first documented the existence of Grand Island in a publication printed in 1697. Following the Devil's Hole Massacre in 1763 in which the Seneca Indians attacked a British supply wagon train.  The Indians expressed regret for the 'massacre and to show their good faith gave all the islands in the Niagara River above the Falls to Sir William Johnson. This treaty was signed at Fort Niagara August 6, 1764. Sir William Johnson immediately transferred the title of these islands to the King of England.

After the British were expelled from this area, the Iroquois claimed that the title to the islands in the river reverted to them. The State of New York, anxious to avoid antagonizing the Indians, recognized their claim. Representatives of the State met with the Indians in council at Buffalo Creek. There, on September l2, 1815, New York purchased Grand Island and other small islands in the Niagara River for one thousand dollars.

The title to Grand Island was not clear until the boundary survey of 1822. The boundary commission declared that the west branch of the Niagara River was the main channel of the river because it was deeper. The Treaty of Ghent had determined that the boundary between the United States and Canada was to be midstream of the Niagara River. Now that the midstream of the river was found to be the west channel, all the islands with the exception of Navy Island became a part of the United States.

During the 1800's, the Government settlers free land on Grand Island. The population on the island grew to about 150 people occupying seventy cabins.

In 1825, a regular Ferry Service to the island was established.

In 1833, the East Boston Company purchased about 16,000 acres of land on Grand Island for five dollars per acre. The Company planned to cut the white oaks and sell the timber to the shipyards in Boston and New York.

When the island was surveyed by the state in 1824, the land was divided into lots of not more than 200 acres. These were sold at public auction. Mr. Samuel Leggett of New York City, acting for Major Mordecai M. Noah, purchased 2,555 acres as a refuge for members of the Jewish race. The plan was to make Grand Island into a large and flourishing city. This city never materialized.

In 1852, Grand Island, Buckhorn and Beaver Islands were made into the town of Grand Island.

The first time that a bridge was proposed for Grand Island was in 1819.

On October 28th l 933, ground was broken for a south bridge . By July 1935, the two bridges connecting Grand Island to the mainland were completed. Two bridges were built owing to the size of the island: one north and one south.




Grass Island (American - no longer exists)

Grass Island was a small elongated natural island located along the American shoreline of the Niagara River near Port Day, approximately 1,500 meters upriver of the Falls.  The gap in the river between Grass Island and the American mainland was filled in the 1960's by the New York State Parks Commission when the Robert Moses Parkway was being built through the Niagara Reservation. Grass Island ceased to exist following this construction. Today the pool of water located immediately upstream of the International Water Control Dam is named the Chippawa - Grass Island pool. It is from this large "pool" of water from which the New York State Power Authority and the Ontario Power Generation Company draw water from for their respective hydro generating stations downstream.




Willow Island (American - no longer exists)

Willow Island was a man-made island located along the American shoreline nearest the mainland directly across from Goat Island. This island was created in 1759, when Daniel Joncairs dug a narrow canal above the falls on the American side to drive a water wheel. He was able to draw enough water from the river to turn a water-wheel to power a small sawmill. This construction created Willow Island and was named from the many willow trees lining the banks.

The canal was filled in the 1960's by the New York State Parks Commission when the Robert Moses Parkway was being built through the Niagara Reservation. Willow Island ceased to exist following this construction. construction.




Cedar Island (Canadian - no longer exists)

Cedar Island was a small crescent shaped - elongated natural island located along the Canadian shoreline approximately 200 yards upriver (east) of the Horseshoe Falls. This island was named after the white cedar trees originally found on this island. Throughout the years, the island was known as Swayze's Island, Long Island and Crescent Island.

This island was first occupied by  Isaac Swayze by government lease in 1804. Swayze could occupy this island but couldn't build any structure other than a wooden residence. The five acre island remained undeveloped.

By 1857, strong water currents had caused extensive erosion. The island had been reduced to a mere two acres in size.

In 1857, Samuel Street obtained a lease from the government for Cedar Island. Here, Samuel Street built a fifty (50) foot tall wooden pagoda styled tourist observation tower called "Street's Pagoda". The tower was mounted above a small house. Street's tower was a square shaped wooden structure covered in wooden lattice work.

The tower was too far from the brink of the Falls to offer a good view and was unsuccessful financial venture.

In 1905, the American based - Canadian Niagara Power Company built a hydro-electric generating plant on Cedar Island. It took advantage of the normal river current which used to flow around Cedar Island. This power station was inaugurated as the William Birch Rankine Power Station.

Cedar Island became nonexistent during the construction of the Rankine Power Plant as a result of land filling.

Today, the remnants of what was once Cedar Island is located where the current site of the Canadian Niagara Power Company is situated.




Hogg Island  (Canadian - no longer exists)

Hogg Island was a man-made island located at the mouth of the Welland River and the Niagara River. It was originally part of the south Willoughby bank of the Chippawa Creek (currently known as the Welland River). Between 1825 and 1829 it was separated from the main land as part of construction of the Welland ship canal. This channel had been too shallow to allow vessels to transit the creek thus resulted in an excavation project in 1838 which deepened the channel and created this island. 

The island is believed to have been named after one of the construction workers, Thomas Hogg. The island remained in existence until 1917 when the Hydro Electric Power Commission began work on the construction of the intake structures for the Chippawa - Queenston  Power Canal. This excavation removed most of the south bank of the island, reducing it to a mere shadow of what it once was. In the 1950's as Ontario Hydro began building intake structures for tunnels as part of the Sir Adam Beck #2 project, the north channel was filled in to join with the remnants of Hogg Island. 

Hogg Island ceased to exist becoming part of the northern shoreline of the Welland River.













Date last updated: February 13, 2012






The following locations and facts about them are but a few of many famous sites & attractions to be found in Niagara Falls. The best of it is FREE to think of Niagara Falls when planning your next vacation. If you have questions of a current or historical nature about the Niagara Falls area or suggestions feel free to e-mail Rick at





Niagara Falls
A History of the Niagara River