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Niagara Falls: A Brief History
By Stephenn Nelson

Historical background

While the name “Niagara” is said to come from an Iroquois word “Onguiaahra”, or “The Strait”, I have found the folklore to be a more interesting story. The legend from Native American Indians tells of Lelawala, a gorgeous maiden betrothed by her father to an Indian warrior she loathed. She chose to sacrifice herself to the Thunder God He-No instead of marrying a man she did not love. The story says that she paddled her canoe over the falls and into He-No’s arms. Together their souls will live forever in the Thunder God’s sanctuary behind the Falls.

You probably already know that tourism is the regions main source of income. This really began during the early 1900’s and even Napoleon's brother Jérôme Bonaparte visited with his bride. After our Civil War the railroads began publicizing the area as a vacation spot. It wasn’t difficult given the history to glamorize Niagara Falls as an ideal honeymoon destination.

The tourism industry enjoyed another boom immediately after World War One. It was the automobile that provided a much need boost to the industry. Travel to the area became much easier and was one of the best vacation destinations that New Yorkers could drive their shiny new cars to.

Almost from the time that Niagara Falls was discovered man has been trying to harness the massive water flow as an endless supply of energy. The first successful effort to use the falls as an energy source was documented in 1759 when Daniel Joncairs powered his sawmill with a small man made canal. The major development came in 1883 when Nikola Tesla invented the three-phase system of alternating current power transmission. This technology made it possible to transfer electricity over long distances. Today Niagara Falls provides about 4.4GW of power to the surrounding areas of both the United States and Canada.

Preservation efforts

Once Europeans began to settle in the Niagara Falls area it was quickly targeted by developers and entrepreneurs alike as a way to make a quick fortune. Unlike today most of the land in the area was privately owned and was easily acquired for development. This came at a cost to the natural beauty of the area. Fortunately a group of concerned citizens led by noted artist Frederick Church formed the Free Niagara movement. This organization was successful in convincing the general public that preservation of the area was in its best interest.

In 1885 the Niagara Reservation State Park, chartered by New York State, began purchasing land from developers in an effort to slow the overwhelming development in the region. The Canadians followed suit in the same year with the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park. Both organizations have been tremendously successful at preserving the area and restricting development so that future generations will be able to enjoy this natural wonder.

Niagara has so much to offer. From a rich history of romance and adventure to a true natural wonder. If you're considering a vacation to the area, I’m sure you’ll be able to find plenty to do. I have listed several good books at the end of this article or you can visit Please remember to leave the area as nice as you found it and to leave the barrel at home.

Niagara Falls : An Intimate Portrait - by John Grant

Fodor's Toronto 2006 : With Niagara Falls & the Niagara Wine Region (Fodor's Gold Guides) - by Fodor's

In the Mad Water: Two Centuries of Adventure and Lunacy at Niagara Falls - by T. W. Kriner

Niagara Falls Volume II (Images of America) - by Daniel M. Dumych

Stephen Nelson is a freelance author that writes for the travel community. You can find out more at

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