1. Luna Island sits
between the Bridal Veil Falls (foreground) and the American Falls (distance).
No matter what the season there will be a rainbow, but in winter you can
enjoy the view without many tourists. The photo was taken from Goat Island
2. Love Canal is
found on the southeastern fringe of the City of Niagara Falls, a working
class neighborhood. Many streets are now abandoned due to a major environmental
disasters in the 1970s. (See #2 on the right).
3. The Power Vista is a hands-on interpretive center located next to the Robert
Moses Power Plant in Lewiston. Water is diverted around the Falls and it
drops 300 feet to generate much of the electricity used in the Northeast.
4. Old Fort Niagara is an important geographic stop
on the Niagara Tour. In the summer months special demonstrations and encampments
are held that help keep history alive.
5. Old McClew Farm: This a documented station on the
Underground Railroad, probably the last stop before Freedom Seekers went
over the border to Canaan.
6. The Locks: There used
to be five small double locks in Clinton's Ditch days. The modern Barge
Canal uses two large locks instead, but a trip through them is still a geographic
must! (Read the section to the right for more information).
7. Black Rock is a neighborhood in North Buffalo. It
has been the home to many different immigrant families for over a century.
This is a place you should walk through.
8. Downtown Buffalo is struggling to maintain businesses
and customers. A good way to explore this section of the city is by the
subway, which is actually above ground here, and under- ground in outlying
Niagara Frontier Part Two:
You Should See...
1. The trip should begin with the Falls, although you would think I would save
the "best" for last. But, as I stated previously,
they are the pivot point for the entire region, so they will be the
first place for this discussion.
There, are actually three falls at Niagara: the Horseshoe
(Canadian Falls), the American Falls, and the small Bridal Veil
Falls. Most people say that the best views are from the Canadian side,
and a trip over there is definitely worth it. However, you should
not overlook Niagara Falls, NY with some special viewpoints that allow you
to see the mighty Niagara up close and personal. One is Prospect Point on the mainland. Here you can
see the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls in the distance. This is
also the gateway to the Maid of the Mist,
a boat ride that should not be missed! The experience of being drenched
in the spray in the middle of the Horseshoe is absolutely incredible.
You should drive (or walk or cycle) over to Goat Island, which sits between the two
falls. The island is completely inside the borders of New York. You
can see the Horseshoe Falls from Terrapin Point and you can walk over
to Luna Island (in season) to see the two smaller American falls. The
view of the huge dolostone rocks that have fallen into the gorge gives
you another perspective on the power of this river. Furthermore, while
on Goat Island, you can take the Cave of the Winds
Tour and walk along a plankway right up to the base of the falls.
to internalize the feelings you have as you experience Niagara Falls from
the various vantage points. Do you feel fearful, excited, overwhelmed,
troubled? Geography is about emotions (not just the names of state capitals)!
2. The Niagara Reservation
is the oldest state park in the United States. The park's goal is to preserve
a wildnerness in the midst of tourism and industry. You will see mixed
results. The gorge itself is mostly natural, but the parkland above is
a quilt of mowed lawns and gardens surrounded by the tourist traps that
make Niagara Falls infamous. If you cross over to Niagara Falls, Ontario,
you see a significant difference. The manicured look is much more evident,
which is very impressive to most visitors. However tacky tourism and gambling
rules if you walk up Clifton Hill.
To see the Niagara River gorge to the fullest extent, you must
travel north along the Robert Moses Parkway. But before leaving
the city of Niagara Falls, you should drive through two sections away
from the tourist attractions. First is "downtown" on Main Street.
Here you see the sadness of economic hardship, with its abandoned store
fronts and emptiness. The second place that a geographer should visit is
the Love Canal neighborhood. Take the
parkway south (toward Buffalo). Just before the Grand Island Bridge, get
on the LaSalle Expressway. Exit on 80th Street and
turn left. You see a normal residential neighborhood until you get to the
giant landfill in the middle. This is the site of one of the worst environmental
disasters in US history. Today, the chemical wastes dumped here seem to
be contained. But in the 1970's, homes around here noticed a leakage in
the basements and yards. Most of the residents were bought out (after a
very lengthy and difficult negotiations) and their homes were torn down.
Some people chose to stay, and they live in the contaminated zone even today.
Spend some time walking down one of the abandoned streets. Do you
see evidences that families once lived here? And how about the houses
still remaining? Why are these people doing still living in the shadow of
a disaster? (In the photo above, there is a driveway without a house,
but there is a tire swing still hanging on the right, next to the arrow).
has been new construction in the northern fringes of this neighborhood
in recent years. Do you think this is a wise decision, or will it lead
to another tragic scene in a few decades?
3. Now you can leave Niagara Falls and travel down river (north)
following the gorge. Some stops that I recommend include the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center (formerly the
Schoelkopf Geologic Museum) just
north of the city. There are some nice displays that will help you understand
the glacial history of this part of the state, and the origin of the
Falls at the end of the Ice Age. It sits next to the site of a power plant
that collapsed into the gorge about fifty years ago. You can see the ruins
from an overlook near the museum.
Another place for a quick stop is Whirlpool
State Park, which offers a view of the second most interesting
geological wonder of Niagara. The whirlpool is deadend offshoot of the
river, and it marks the spot of an old abandoned gorge. For those of you
who are more adventurous, you can walk down to the river level on a path
on the north end of this park. The river and the rapids nearby are very
And just a couple more miles downstream - and that's north
on the Niagara River - is the Power Vista,
a wonderful (and free) interactive museum that teaches you about
the generation of electricity. It also offers a great view of the gorge.
Just north of here is the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and the Niagara Escarpment. This steep cliff is not
just a local feature, but it extends all around the Great Lakes, from
near Rochester to the Bruce Peninsula in Canada to Green Bay, Wisconsin.
This is where Niagara Falls was born around 11,000 years ago. Erosion has
undercut the falls and they have migrated slowly but surely upstream to
their present location, leaving a gorge behind like a giant scar in the
landscape. Due to erosion, the vista around Niagara Falls is constantly
QUESTION: The two
very large power plants (one American, one Canadian) are both found here
near Lewiston, not at Niagara
Falls. The water to turn the turbines is piped in from above the
falls. What is the advantage of this strategy? (Hint: the bigger the drop,
the greater the efficiency of the conversion to electrical energy).
4. North of the Escarpment, the river becomes much more placid,
even navigable. Sitting at the end is Old Fort
Niagara, which guarded the frontier for decades. This state
park has preserved and restored the fort so it looks much like it did
when Britain and France were fighting over domination of the continent.
It last saw combat in the War of 1812, and it was the site of an important
treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom that led to the
demilitarization of the borderlands. The dominant building is also the
oldest, the French Castle. (shown at the top of this page in
the background). Most of the ramparts and other structures were built
by the British or the Americans later on. Try to see all the buildings
in order, and don't be shy about asking questions.
If you are lucky enough to visit during a special event (such as
a French and Indian War encampment), then interact with the reenactors!
They can give you a much more personal view of the history of this region
than a pamphlet (or an internet website) can.
French basically abandoned their holdings in the upper Great Lakes and
the Ohio Valley after Fort Niagara fell to the British (along with their
Knowing what you know about geography, why was this military decision
necessary? How would they get supplies to those remote regions? And even
though the American Revolution ended in 1783, the British did not give up
control of this fort until 1792. Why not?
5. When you leave Old Fort Niagara, take Rte. 18 east. This is part
of the Seaway Trail, which extends all the way
to Massena in far northern New York. You will be squeezed into a wedge
between Lake Ontario to the north and the Niagara Escarpment to the south.
This is part of the fruit belt of the Lakes, due to a microclimate
of slightly milder temperatures than farther inland. This is discussed more
fully in the Seaway section.
When you get to Olcott, turn right and take Route 78 South almost
to Newfane. Watch for the sign directing you to Murphy Orchards.
On this farm you can pick strawberries take a tour through the cherry trees,
and of course, there is a gift shoppe. But more significantly to geographers,
this is a recognized site from the Underground Railroad, when the
farm was owned by the McClew family. Pictured on the right is the entrance
to a hidden basement below the barn where Freedom Seekers reportedly were
hidden by the McClews. The present owner has done a lot of research about
this secret place, and you should definitely try to talk to the staff about
the oral history of this site.
QUESTION: This "safe
house" is about twenty miles from the Niagara River. What special significance
would that give to this site?
This is also the home to a very unique form of Upstate architecture,
the cobblestone house. Buildings made of rock, of course, are
found just about everywhere, but the stones used here are usually egg-shaped,
since they once were at the bottom of an Ice Age lake. There are around
five hundred houses still standing in western New York, and some of the
most stunning examples are found in Niagara and Orleans Counties. A restaurant
in Wilson is a great example. Travel
into Orleans County, turn right onto Rte. 98 and go south to the crossroads
of Childs. There you will find the
Cobblestone Society Museum (pictured below)
with some great information about how these 19th century buildings were
constructed. You can also take a tour of some of the other buildings owned
by the society in the Childs area, including a one-room schoolhouse.
QUESTION: One of the
goals of a geographer is to use our knowledge of the present to help interpret
the past. Most cobblestones were built in the 1830's and 1840's. The Erie
Canal lies just a few miles to the south. What is the connection? Who
had the expertise to construct these magnificent buildings?
6. U.S. Route 104 runs east-west through Childs. (In previous
times, it was called the "Honeymoon Trail", since it leads you back to
Niagara Falls). Take this highway back into Niagara County until you get
to the intersection with Route 78. Go south to the city of Lockport. This town sits on the Niagara
Escarpment around a dozen miles east of the Falls. Its main claim to fame
are the incredible locks of the Erie Canal that bring that waterway up to
the same elevation as Lake Erie (at Buffalo). When they were completed
in 1825, they were considered one of the great engineering masterpieces
of the time. Today there are two large locks that raise and lower boats (including
a tour boat you can ride) a height of 70 feet. In the 19th century, there
were five double locks. The remains of those locks are used as a spillway
today. Make sure you get out of the car and walk around the locks. There
is a small museum you can visit, but the big show is the locks in operation.
You can only appreciate them from water level. Reach out and touch the rock
face on the Escarpment. This is the very durable Lockport Dolostone,
a carbonate rock similar to limestone. Imagine how difficult it was to
excavate the canal here with 19th century technology.
QUESTION: The locks
lead up the cliff in a southwesterly direction toward Buffalo. Why didn't
the engineers take the canal due west to the mouth of the Niagara River.
Wouldn't have that been easier? Yes, but not smarter. Why
7. And speaking of Buffalo, that
is the next destination. The second largest city in the state sits both
on the end of Lake Erie, and at the terminus of the Erie Canal. This made
the "Queen City" a geographic crossroads, a gateway to the west. Immigrants
got off the packet boats and boarded steamships toward Michigan and beyond.
Grain from midwestern farms were shipped here and stored in huge graineries
along Buffalo Creek. And iron ore and coal were shipped here to fuel the
steel factories in south Buffalo. The labor consisted largely of new Americans
from eastern and southern Europe. But now the factories have closed for
the most part, and Buffalo is a city in transition, trying to move beyond
the Rust Belt into a hi-tech future.
A good place to begin your geographic visit is the Black Rock neighborhood, just off the Scajagewa
Expressway near Buffalo State College. Look for the twin spires of the
Catholic Church. This is an old ethnic community, for many years the home
of Polish (and other Eastern European) immigrants. I suggest getting out
of your automobile, and tour some of the community by foot. Look for evidence
of the different ethnicities. Churches are a good clue. For example, one
church has a plaque with the word "Magyar" on it. What does that tell you?
QUESTION: Is Black
Rock a healthy neighborhood? Are most of the homes and businesses occupied,
and are there people around doing their daily chores? If you were hired as
a community planner, what recommendations would you make?
8. Other neighborhoods worth investigating include, Elmwood Avenue, which runs south from the Black
Rock area to downtown, and the Kaisertown neighborhood, off of Exit 2 of
I-190 in southeast Buffalo. The first is an "artsy" section of town, with
interesting shops and restaurants. (Does its location near Buffalo State College
have anything to do with that?). And Kaisertown, obviously, was the traditional
German-American section of the city, but it has changed. On Clinton Street
there is a bar called "Brewski", and a block away is a church called St.
Casimir. Who lives here now?
And don't neglect Downtown Buffalo itself! Most medium-size cities have
seen a decline in the central business district, and Buffalo is no exception.
But they have tried to bring people back. Ride the train in Buffalo Place
(a.k.a. Main Street). Unlike subways in most cities, it is above ground here,
and then goes down into a tunnel on its way to the University of Buffalo
campus. See the photo of Buffalo Place on the left.)
In this area there are hotels, some restaurants, the HSBC Arena (home
of the NHL Buffalo Sabres) and Dunn Tire Park (home of the Buffalo Bisons
As you move out of downtown, you will find the Theater District,
including the historic Shea Theatre. Suprisingly
to most visitors, Buffalo has a long and proud tradition in the performing
QUESTION: Has the experiment
with urban renewal been successful here in Downtown Buffalo? As you explore
look for evidence. How many storefronts are vacant? How many people do you
see out on the streets? Does the time of day make a difference?
To continue traveling through the Niagara Country, follow this
link to find out "What You Should See."
Go to the next section!