Niagara Falls is the preeminent attraction of the early Nineteenth Century, encompassing the aspect of a wonder belonging to the natural world and the sublimity of the work of the Creator. The tourist goes in order to behold a natural wonder and to experience an elevation of the soul that comes with contemplation of the divine. He goes also for amusement.


J.W. Hill, Watercolor of the Erie Canal, 1830

The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, is a means of travel and an attraction in and of itself. The locks of the canal can provide stopping points at which the tourist may enjoy a brief excursion on land.

[At Little Falls] the traveller may step on shore at the two locks, and walk along the tow paths, as there are five more locks a mile above. If he wishes to stop a few hours to view the scene more at leisure, the village of Little Falls is only half a mile from that place, which is a large and comfortable in, with canal boats and stagecoaches passing very frequently. If he intends to stay but a few hours, it is recommended to him to have his baggage left at a little tavern on the canal, where it can be readily transferred to another boat.

Theodore Dwight, The Northern Traveller  

[Trenton Falls] This most interesting vicinity is well worthy the attention of every person of taste, being justly considered one of the finest natural scenes in this part of the country. An excellent inn is kept near the falls by Mr. Sherman, who has a large collection of rare and curious petrifactions, collected among the rocks, worthy of examination.
      From this house you descend a long staircase down the steep bank of the West Canada Creek, which has cut a frightful chasm through a rocky range, in some places 150 feet deep, and is seen gliding swiftly by through a declining channel below. The chasm continues for four miles, and presents the greatest variety of cascades and rapids, boiling pools and eddies. The passage of chasm between the rocks is everywhere very narrow, and in some places is barely sufficient to permit the stream to pass; while the rocks rise perpendicularly on each side; or sometimes even project a considerable distance ahead, so that it has been often necessary to form an artificial path by means of gunpowder. These places appear dangerous, but only require a little caution and presence of mind to ensure the safety of the visiter, as strong iron chains are fixed into the rocks to offer him security. There are four principle cataracts, between the staircase by which you first descend and the usual limit of an excursion, which is about a mile and a quarter up the stream.
      Near the foot of this a melancholy accident occurred in 1827. A lady from New-York was drowned by slipping from a low bank; unseen, although her friends and parents were near her. The ear is stunned by the falls, the rocks are slippery, and great caution is recommended.
      There are several other cataracts besides those already mentioned, both above and below; and a stranger might spend some time here very agreeably in observing them at leisure, and in catching the fine trout with which the creek abounds. The house is commodious, and has the reputation of furnishing one of the best tables in this part of the state.

Theodore Dwight, The Northern Traveller  

The main draw is Niagara.


Frederic Church, Niagara Falls, 1857

Hints to the traveller at Lewiston:
It will be the intention of many strangers who arrive at this place, to devote several days to viewing the Falls of Niagara, the battlegrounds in the vicinity, and perhaps in making short excursions in different directions. To those who have leisure, such a course may well be recommended; and it may almost be a matter of indifference whether they first visit the American or the British side. The public accommodations are excellent at both places, and the river may be safely crossed at any hour of the day, by ferry, at the expense of about half a dollar, including the transportation of luggage down and up the steep banks. A staircase is erected near the falls, on the British as well as the American side, to furnish a convenient mode of descending to the foot of the cataract, which the charge is 25 cents for each person. During the pleasant seasons of the year, both places are the resort of great throngs of visiters. Stagecoaches also pass up and down on both sides every day at equal rates.
To such, however, as have but a short time to spend in this neighborhood, it may be strongly recommended to proceed directly to the British side. The cataract on that side is higher, broader, more unbroken, and generally acknowledged to be the noblest point of the scene. The visiter may indeed see it to great advantage from Goat Island, on the American side, but the view from Table Rock ought by no means to be neglected. The finest view from the level of the water below is also afforded on the west side.

Theodore Dwight, The Northern Traveller  

Unadulterated the Falls are breathtaking. However, various activities take place in, on or around Niagara Falls which both heighten its capacity for attraction and produce clutter in the landscape which detracts from, or despoils, the purity of experience the tourist expects the Falls to impart.

In the summer of 1827, a schooner, called the Michigan, was towed by a steamboat to the end of Grand Island, and then by a row boat under the command of Captain Rough, to the margin of the rapids, where she was abandoned to her fate. Thousands of persons had assembled to witness the descent. A number of wild animals had been inhumanely placed on her deck, confined, to pass the cataract with her. She passed the first fall of the rapids in safety; but struck a rock at the second, and lost her masts. There she remained an instant, until the current turned her round and bore her away. A bear here leaped overboard and swam to the shore. The vessel soon filled and sunk, so that only her upper works were afterward visible. She went over the cataract almost without being seen, and in a few moments the basin was perceived all scattered with the fragments, which were very small. A cat and a goose were the only animals found alive below.

Theodore Dwight, The Northern Traveller  

People, too, become attractions as they begin to devise various ways in which to challenge the Falls in front of an audience.

The notable jumper Sam Patch. . . leaped from a ladder 125 feet high; into the gulf, and escaped unhurt.

Theodore Dwight, The Northern Traveller  

 

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