Niagara Falls Niagara
Frontier 2

Winter Scene

Geography is not an indoor sport! Get out and explore New York State!


Physical Geography

Human Geography

Economic Geography

Regions of NYS

American Falls

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 (see #1).

Love Canal Driveway

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). 

 Power Vista

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.

Firing a Musket

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.

McClew Hideout

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).

Black Rock Store

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.

Main Street Tracks

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 areas.

Niagara Frontier Part Two: 

What 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.

QUESTION: Try 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).

QUESTION: There 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 impressive.

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 changing.

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.

QUESTION: The French basically abandoned their holdings in the upper Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley after Fort Niagara fell to the British (along with their colonial supporters).
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 not?

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 baseball team).
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 arts.

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."

  Cave of the Winds


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