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Niagara Falls, NY

In DepthYoung in geologic time, Niagara Falls were created by the recession and melting of a mammoth ice sheet. As the ice retreated some 50,000 years ago the land rose behind it, forming such ridges as the Niagara Escarpment. The melting ice formed a vast lake in what is now Lake Erie and its surrounding lowlands; the lake overflowed about 12,000 years ago, creating Niagara Falls.

The falls originally formed 7 miles north in what is now Lewiston. Due to erosion they are currently about midway between lakes Erie and Ontario on the Niagara River, a 37-mile-long strait that is bisected by the international boundary. The cities of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Niagara Falls, Ontario, are connected by bridges across the river.

The Canadian, or Horseshoe, Falls are 177 feet high with a deeply curving crest of about 2,200 feet. The American Falls, higher at 184 feet, have a shorter, fairly straight crest of about 1,075 feet. The third and smallest of Niagara's falls, Bridal Veil, is separated from the other falls by Luna and Goat islands.

Untouched, the combined flow of the water over the falls would be about 1.5 million gallons per second; however, one-half to three-quarters of the river is diverted for the generation of electricity before it reaches the falls. Most of the siphoning is done at night. The water flow is reduced to about 700,000 gallons per second during the tourist season and to less at other times.

The first people to gaze upon this natural spectacle were ancestors of the Seneca Indians. They were the area's first inhabitants some 2,000 years ago. One of the earliest Europeans to view the falls was French priest Father Louis Hennepin in 1678. History recounts that upon seeing the spectacle Hennepin fell to his knees in prayer, saying of the falls that “the universe does not afford its parallel.”

In the next few years the French built and rebuilt several forts at the mouth of the river. Old Fort Niagara was to play key roles in the major wars of the next 90 years. In 1759, during the French and Indian War, the British captured the fort. They held it until 1796 when they withdrew to Fort George in Canada.

The War of 1812 was the most devastating to hit Niagara Falls. Many small settlements on both sides of the river were looted and burned. Niagara Falls witnessed the Battle of Lundy's Lane, the war's bloodiest, on July 25, 1814. Neither side could claim victory in that fierce conflict. Five months later the Treaty of Ghent ended 2.5 years of fighting and reinstated the boundary line.

After the war Niagara Falls entered a new era of peace and prosperity. Settlement began in earnest, and by 1892 Niagara Falls was incorporated as a city. With the arrival of steamships in 1820, the Erie Canal in 1825 and the railroad in 1840, the town became accessible to tourists. An old saw predicts that “the love of those who honeymoon here will last as long as the falls themselves.”

A different type of romance lured daredevils to the falls in the 1800s and early 1900s. The first stuntster was Sam Patch. He survived two dives into the waters below the falls. The first person to go over the falls in a barrel was Annie Taylor in 1901. William Fitzgerald took the plunge in 1961. He was arrested as soon as he surfaced, because stunts on the river and falls had by then been outlawed.

In 1895 the world's first commercial hydroelectric plant was built at the falls. The Niagara Power Project opened in 1961 with 13 generators and a total installed power of 2,190,000 kilowatts, one of the largest hydroelectric facilities in the world. But the power won't last forever; the falls are eroding about an inch per year. For the next 2,500 years, however, the falls will look much the same as they have since Father Hennepin's visit.

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Niagara Falls, NY

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Travel Information

City Population



571 ft.

Sales Tax

The sales tax in Niagara Falls is 8 percent. An additional 8 percent is levied for hotel/motel rooms, and 14.75 percent is added for rental cars.



Police (non-emergency)

(716) 286-4547


Mount St. Mary's, in Lewiston, (716) 297-4800; Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, (716) 278-4000.

Visitor Information

10 Rainbow Blvd. Niagara Falls, NY 14303. Phone:(716)282-8992 or (877)325-5787

Air Travel

The nearest airport offering major domestic flight service is Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF), at Genesee Street and Cayuga Road in Cheektowaga, just outside Buffalo; take I-190S exit 16 to I-290E exit 51 heading east, then straight on Axis Street. Shuttle buses run between the airport and major hotels; phone (800) 551-9369. Taxi service is available with fares averaging $90. Short- and long-term parking is available at The Parking Spot at 4099 Genesee St.; phone (716) 633-6040.

Rental Cars

Hertz, (716) 297-1800 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.

Rail Service

Passenger rail service is available at the Amtrak station at 27th Street and Lockport Road; phone (716) 285-4224.


Connections by bus may be made at Portage and Ashland roads; phone (716) 285-9319. A Greyhound bus station is at 240 First St.; phone (800) 231-2222.


Cab companies include Airport Taxi, (716) 633-8294, AA Taxi and Blue United Taxi, (716) 285-3333. Rates are $2.50 for the first half-mile, then 50c for each additional sixth of a mile.

Public Transportation

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (Metro) offers bus service within the city and outlying areas, including connections to Lockport and Buffalo. Service is generally from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fares are $2; $1 (ages 5-11, ages 65+ and the physically impaired); phone (716) 855-7300.

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