GENERAL PLAN FOR
NIAGARA FALLS: GAZETTE BOOK AND JOB OFFICE, FALLS
The Honorable William
President of the Board of Commissioners
of the State Reservation of Niagara.
Sir--In the work to be
undertaken by the State upon the Niagara Reservation, it is to be hoped that whatever is
done shall tell toward a general result that shall be lastingly satisfactory, nothing
being wasted on matters of temporary expediency.
To this end, it is chiefly important that everything shall be done in pursuance of a
general plan, in the preparation of which a judicious view has been taken of the ultimate
scope of the undertaking.
Before asking attention, therefore, to specific features of the plan that we have the
honor now to submit, we shall present a few statements as to its aspect in the respect.
Of all the territory of
the Reservation, about a seventh part has at present an objectionable artificial
character, most of it, for example, having been heaped up or dug out in connection with
road or building operations.
Upon this seventh part the plan looks to operations the aim of which is to reestablish a
permanently agreeable natural character, harmonious with that of the undisturbed parts.
The plan aims at nothing else, anywhere upon the Reservation, but to make a suitable
provision of roads and walks, of platforms and seats, at the more important points of
view, and of other accommodations, such as experience has shown to be necessary to decency
and good order when large numbers of people come together.
It looks to such operations
as will be required to prevent those provisions from appearing harshly intrusive upon the
natural scenery, and to guard the elements of natural scenery from injury and secure their
The above is a round statement of all that the plan has in view.
As to the extent and quality of the provisions for use that the plan contemplates, they
are in that degree of a substantial character that experience in all much frequented
grounds has proved to be soundly economical. That is to say, if less capacious,
substantial and well ordered than the plan contemplates that they shall be, there is
reason to think that the expense of care-taking, repairs and renewals would more that
compensate the saving in construction.
The question, then, whether the scope of the plan might providently be less than it is,
must be a question chiefly of the numbers of people who in the future will be drawn to the
Intending later to present some facts as to the increasing visitation of the place, we
wish here to bring to mind a consideration, the bearing of which upon the question, in a
study of the policy of the State in the premises, should not be overlooked.
People have been heretofore influenced by two motives to wish to see Niagara, one is that
they may be astonished. People in whose minds this motive has been largely predominant
have generally been disappointed in what they found. The removal that your Board has made
of various structures and ornaments that had been placed near the Falls has not lessened
the disappointment of this class of visitors, and it may be safely assumed that no
improvement that the State can make will increase the astonishing qualities of Niagara.
The other motive with which the people come to the place is that of enjoyment to be
obtained through the pensive contemplation of distinctive qualities of beauty in happily
associated passages of natural scenery.
It is in this respect that Niagara deserves to rank among the great treasures of the
world. What your Board has done in the removal of circumstances by which its distinctive
natural scenery has been divided, belittled and put out of countenance, has made it much
more enjoyable in this respect, and it is with reference to further gains of the same kind
that the value of all operations of improvement is to be determined.
If they are well devised with reference to it, then, for this reason alone, the number of
visitors to be attracted to the place in the future might be expected to increase more
rapidly than the population from which they are to be drawn.
But there is reason to expect a much larger increase than would thus be accounted for.
There are many passages of natural scenery which, from the effect they produce may be
classed with Niagara among the world's treasures; yet none of them have long been highly
valued by any one. A few centuries ago, that is to say, people, even the advanced lines of
civilized progress, seem to have taken no pleasure in them.
But a change has since been gradually occurring. It was already well marked among the
educated classes of the last century. In the present it has advanced rapidly with the main
body of people of all advancing countries. As far as our own is concerned, no better
evidence could be wanted of such an advance than is to be had by considering the
legislation that has established the duties of your commission, and the manner in which
this legislation was brought about, in connection with the fact that when in 1806 the
State sold the property which it has lately re-acquired at Niagara, it is not known that a
single one of all its people thought of it as having even a prospective value other than a
There is not the least reason for assuming that this movement has run its course. There is
every reason to suppose that if improvements should now be made upon the reservation,
suited only to the present obvious demands of the public, they would before many years
have to be destroyed to make way for others more sagaciously adjusted to the tendency of
civilized progress in this respect.
Suppose that this should occur. It is to be borne in mind that the wasteful result would
not be, simply, that occurring through the demolition of the constructed improvements, but
in loss of much that would, in the meantime, have been gained by growth, and in the
necessity for opening a new, raw and gaunt face to the forest in order to accomplish the
enlargement of the constructions adjoining it.
We have no doubt that, in the final judgment of the Commissioners, and of all who will
thoroughly study the question with a desire to avoid such waste and destruction, that more
anxiety will be felt least the plan shall prove inadequate that it should prove
As to the question thus suggested, namely, whether the accommodations proposed by the plan
may not be insufficient, two considerations are to be weighed.
First that the more artificial features fill the eye the less will be the effect of
Second, that when the improvements proposed in the plan shall have been fully carried out,
and when, to these, the improvements to be made on the Canadian Reservation shall have
been added, the number of persons at any time visiting Niagara, will be much more
extensively distributed, and will be much more in circulation, than might be supposed from
any experience hitherto had.
For the reasons given, it is, we think, little to be feared that serious waste will
result, either because the plan has been conceived with too broad or with too narrow a
view of the number of guests which the State will be obliged to entertain upon it.
It is more to be apprehended that waste will come because the main object of the State in
making the Reservation shall be lost sight of or become confused in the minds of those
engaged in its direction with objects that are wholly foreign to it.
All the original designers can do to prevent this confusion is to point out the
distinction between the organic purpose with which the plan has been formed, and the
purpose of the class of improvements of which bits and scraps are most likely, as the work
advances, to be interpolated upon it. The effect of such interpolations would be that, to
the extent to which they shall be admitted, neither the older nor the later motives of
design could be followed to fully excellent conclusions, the pursuit of the earlier having
established bars against the introduction of the later, and the pursuit of the later
interrupting and wastefully frustrating the fruition of the earlier.
The danger lies chiefly in the circumstance that the plan looks for none of the beauty
which is commonly the chief object of gardening improvements, and in the probability that
it will be assumed that the pleasure of visitors is to be increased by the introduction,
here and there, of beautiful incidents of that character.
It thus lies largely in the difficulty that may be experienced in distinguishing between
the ultimate object of the designed operations and the object in view in the operations of
common garden works. Take for instance the operations of road and walk making, the grading
of slopes, the dressing of ground surfaces and their clothing with herbage, the planting
and nursing of trees, the building of foot bridges and other constructed objects. The
direct local result of all such operations as are intended on the reservation will be
precisely the same that it is in ordinary gardening works. And to those who do not see the
very different way in which they are intended ultimately to give pleasure, it will always
be thought that the introduction of decorative detail would be an improvement. Once the
reason for excluding decorative detail is lost sight of, there is nothing to hinder the
introduction of any amount of it, and thus bringing about the gradual transformation of
the Reservation into an affair of the sumptuous park and flower garden order, than which
nothing would be more deplorable.
The danger is the greater because, when such results as the plan has in view, have at last
come from operations of improvement, they are generally supposed to have been much easier
of attainment than those seen to come from similar operations in sumptuous gardening.
Probably no one who has not taken to himself a task of each kind and pursued it to its
proper end can imagine how far the contrary is the fact. At no time, therefore, in the
progress of a work such as that of the Reservation is meant by the plan to be, is the
relation plainly obvious of that which comes before the eye of the casual observer to the
operations from which it has resulted. And, in the end, hardly ever is that which is
most valuable in it recognized to be what it is--the ripened fruit of long proceeding
forethought and of a patient persistence in carrying out the organic purpose of a plan. It
is looked upon rather as a wild fruit. It follows that the motives of a plan, in the
pursuit of which designed results of this character have been partly attained, are little
apt to be searchingly inquired after, and, consequently, in all the progress of the
work, are much apt to be misapprehended in details, and overridden with a wasteful
sacrifice of the partly attained results. The necessity, to the full attainment of
designed results, for excluding from such a plan various features that may from time to
time come into the minds of impulsive persons as desirable to have been included--the
motives, that it to say, of reservation, in its design--are particularly liable
to be thus misapprehended, and attempts to afterwards make good mistakenly supposed
omissions of inadvertence are thus particularly apt to lead to waste of value already
There being this difficulty in the way of carrying out the strict intention of the plan,
why should that strict attention be entertained? Why should it not be intended to give
visitors the pleasure that results from the more usual methods of improving places of
A sufficient answer to this point, is that the purpose for which the reservation has been
established leaves no room for choice in this respect.
It is true that no fixed limits, by which all manner of floral and exotic objects of
interest would be excluded from the Reservation, have been prescribed by statute law nor
by any form of legislative record. None have been laid down for us in the instructions of
your Board. Nevertheless, such limits have been fixed in a perfectly binding way, and in
order to guard as far as possible against any misapprehension, at any time hereafter, as
to the organic purpose of the plan, we propose to show how this has occurred.
The question of the Reservation had been under active discussion six years before a
decision in regard to it was reached. The debate on it had been opened by a communication
of the Governor of the State to the Legislature; many leading men took part in it, and it
engaged, at last, a great deal of popular interest. It has been well set forth by a member
of your Board that the result marked the potency of a sentiment closely allied to that of
patriotism and of that from of self-respect that moves men to the greatest act of heroism.
It needs to be pointed out, however, that, while this is true, it is also true that the
heartiest, if not the most loudly pronounced, opposition to the measure had its root in
the same sentiment.
The apparent paradox is to be explained in this way. The result of the larger part of all
operations, with which the public has for many years past been familiar, that have passed
under the name of improvements, and especially of "landscape" or of
"park" improvements, has been that of presenting objects for admiration
calculated to draw off and dissipate regard for natural scenery. Examples of such a result
may be found in the suburbs of most of our cities, where, for example, roads attractive
because of certain picturesque natural elements in their borders have been made by
improvements to take the character of straight, broad, formal streets, avenues or
"boulevards." They may be found also in many costly private villa grounds where
the most complete antithesis possible to charming natural conditions has been obtained
through lavish displays of horticultural art as artificial as Japanese embroidery or
Florentine mosaics. They may be found again in operation of improvement at many places of
public resort, one of which as it passes for an eminent success; may be particularly
referred to. It is that of a place on the sea coast originally attractive not at all above
thousands of others except because of the movement of advancing and retiring waters, as
seen from the sand at the head of a superb beach. The result of improvements at this place
has been the supersedure of this beach by an extensive embankment, formed of logs and
stones, supporting a plateau where visitors are invited to enjoy, from plank walks, an
exhibition of garden finery conceivably pleasing in some other situation, but as far from
helpful to an enjoyment of the ocean scenery as anything that can be thought of.
A common association of ideas growing out of such improvements will explain how a strong
prejudice was established in the minds of many against the project of the Reservation,
upon reading a brief statement that it had been proposed that the State should form a
public park at Niagara. Any such prejudice could hardly fail to be nourished in the minds
of all who visit the Falls on the American side by the fact that a considerable body of
land previously known as the Grove had, a few years before, been made the subject of works
of improvement, the character of which had led to its being called a park ("Prospect
Park"). This ground had originally been truly park-like, that is to say, not
inconveniently wild or rugged nor densely wooded, but of a large and simple natural
topography, and, in a degree, of a secluded sylvan aspect.
Its moderate undulations of surface had a general slope toward the verge of natural crags
of some grandeur, and an outlook across a great chasm upon the face of others unsurpassed
in beauty of varied vegetation naturally growing from crannies and crevices; it looked,
also upon one of the most impressive water scenes in all the world. The improvements made
included specimens of ordinary garden rockwork, a wall sided stream of water, with a
decorative bridge and an island having constructions upon it designed to resemble mossy
ruins, specimens of pseudo-rustic work and of pseudo wild gardening, terraced slopes,
flower beds, "ornamental trees," a monument, a cast iron fountain, several
pavilions, an "archaeological collection," a "Gallery of Fine Arts," a
variety theatre and a quantity of theatrical machinery for decorating the great Fall with
red, white and blue lights.
What was the organic purpose of these improvements? It was to draw visitors by any means
to a particular piece of ground where money could be made out of them, and to so occupy
them when there that they should not wish to go elsewhere. In this respect the
improvements were so far a success that it was boasted that many persons coming from a
distance, and for the first time in their lives, to see Niagara, have been known to go
away having seen no more of it than could be obtained from the midst of this
"park," and that some of them left without having looked for a single moment at
anything beyond the field of its artificial improvements.
Of similar significance is the fact that the largest number of visitors ever drawn to
Niagara had been upon occasions when, to such attractions as have been described there
were added grotesque performances by mountebanks, with fireworks and music.
The discussion of the Reservation project disclosed the fact that great numbers of people
had an uneasy sense of humiliation, which needed but a proper occasion for activity to
developed into a form of righteous indignation against the proceedings; and it occurred, in
consequence, that the most determined, if not the most loudly expressed opposition that
the project of the Reservation at any time received, came from a heated apprehension that
it would open the way to other so-called improvements, of which the effect would be to yet
further divert attention from the distinctive natural scenery of the place.
From the first, the scheme had been presented with a studied purpose to guard against such
a misapprehension; nevertheless, so commonly have the minds of intelligent men been
impressed by the fact that the result of what are called works of improvement is generally
the injury of natural scenery, and more so where they are called works of landscape
improvement or of park improvement, than in any other case, that is was at length found
necessary to organize and for two years maintain a systematic effort by tract
distribution, colporterage and elaborate newspaper publication, to root out the honest
opposition thus arising to the measure. Nor would these means have been successful at the
time but for another circumstance that remains to be stated.
It is this: that while the agitation of the matter was in progress a legal proceeding
occurred that made an early sale of Goat Island probable. To those in whose minds regard
for the preservation of natural scenery would otherwise have remained a ground of
prejudice against the Reservation project, nothing seemed more likely than that any change
in the ownership of Goat Island would be the occasion of a speculation looking to money
making on the principles that had ruled in the improvements that passed under the name of
"Prospect Park," and those carried out at the seashore resort that has been
described. The probability of such result made it possible to obtain a better hearing than
could otherwise have been gained for the assertion that the leading purpose to be
accomplished by the proposed act providing for the Reservation was the defense of the
scenery natural to the place, and its defense, more than anything else, from a class of
improvements embodying such objectionable principals. When conviction on this point had
thus at last been gained, what had before been the most formidable opposition to the
measure became its most effective support.
The history thus summarized is the justification of a view of the proper organic purpose
of the Reservation that, without doubt, will be often regarded by those urging
interpolations upon the plan as meanly restrictive and prosaically illiberal.
In providing for the removal from the Reservation not only of mills and other
constructions for industrial purposes, but of many things originally regarded as luxuries
for the entertainment of visitors, especially of the great illuminating apparatus; in
preventing the approach of a railway for the accommodations of visitors, because of the
injury to the scenery that it would entail, and in forbidding exhibitions in or over the
waters of the Reservation, the effect of which would be to attract a larger number of
visitors to it for other reasons than those presented in its natural scenery, your Board
has taken what we have assumed to be the only admissible view of the proper purpose of the
There can be no doubt of the general satisfaction of the sober-minded citizens of the
State in all these proceedings. But when works of more positive improvement shall have
been undertaken it will be found that great differences of opinion will prevail as to the
line to be followed in carrying out the accepted principal. And some of the warmest
supporters of the measure will prove to be on one side, some on the other, of the line
contemplated in the plan that we suggest. It is our duty, therefore, to more exactly
define our views.
First, then, we are far from
thinking that all that is required to accomplish the designed end is to "let Nature
Incongruities, discordancies, disunities and consequent weaknesses of natural scenery may
result, even at Niagara, from natural causes which though not as unpleasing to an observer
of fine sensibilities as those from the so-called park improvements that have been
mentioned, are yet decidedly regrettable. Of this character, for instance, are the
immediate results of landslides, where otherwise quiet river banks have been undermined by
eddies caused by a temporary snagging near them of drifting stuff. Of this character
trees, the branches of which have been broken down by ice or stripped of foliage by
vermin, or the roots of which have been made inert by an accidental puddling of the clayey
surface above them, or by torrents washing the soil from them, and much else, of which
examples may be found in the Reservation.
Not only are systematic measures for the remedy and prevention of such unfortunate natural
occurrences to be reckoned upon in devising a plan for the lasting improvement of the
Reservation, but systematic arrangements, also, looking to better fortune for many
elements of its scenery than could be expected everywhere to occur through unassisted
processes of nature, as, for instance, in the planting of spots that have accidentally
become bare of vegetation, and in securing nourishment and protection for young growths.
On the other hand, it would equally be a mistake to assume, as many are ready to do that
it will be consistent with the leading purpose of the undertaking and will add to the
interest of the public in the premises, to introduce into its scenery many forms of
vegetation which undeniably possess beautiful qualities and which, if introduced, might
not be unlikely to flourish. Some such would, in our opinion, be as undesirable as the
ornaments of stained glass, cut stone, plaster, paint and fountains that your Board has
been removing. They would be undesirable because, though natural objects somewhere else,
perhaps, they would have an alien individuality and an irrelevant, diverting and
disturbing effect if seen among the elements of the natural scenery of Niagara.
The conservation of the natural scenery at Niagara, in the sense of the term that has been
indicated in the foregoing observations, being accepted as the primary purpose of the
undertaking, it must next be considered that all that may be done for this purpose will be
futile, except as the enjoyment of the result is to be made available by means of such
artificial appliances as walks, roads, bridges, stairways, seats and standing places, and
that, as all such furniture of convenience will lessen the visual space to be occupied by
elements of natural scenery, the smaller and less showy or in any way obtrusive upon the
attention such furniture is, the better the primary purpose will be realized. But this
principal being recognized, it is not to be overlooked that, unless such furniture is much
larger, more substantial and obtrusive than might otherwise be thought desirable, not only
will visitors be put to a degree of toil and discomfort interfering with their enjoyment
of the scenery, but they will be led to movements of more injury to the scenery than
that directly caused even by furniture otherwise undesirably large. Examples of such
injury are already to be found on the Reservation and, as it is not to be doubted that in
the exercise of a common false sentiment measures rightly to be taken for guarding against
such injury will from time to time be vehemently objected to, we will ask attention to one
of them, to be found on the Sister Islands.
Till lately the Sister Islands could only be visited by those who had paid the admission
fee to Goat Island; the approach to them is off the short routes to and from the more
celebrated sights of Goat Island; to go to them it is necessary to leave a carriage
and pass over a foot bridge. They have thus been much protected hitherto from the hurried
and thronging movements of visitors. The admission fee being now abolished, and it having
become the custom for all visitors to go to Goat Island, this protection can no longer be
counted on; and when the regular low-priced omnibus system shall have been perfected, with
a station for setting down and taking up visitors at the foot bridge to the Sisters, it is
to be expected that they will be much oftener and more densely occupied than they yet have
been. Yet, even before the entrance charge had been done away with, the movement of
visitors upon them had already been sufficient to cause a perceptible and unhappy
modification of their original natural character.
A large part of the old ground verdure, for instance, had been killed out, and mud or dust
was often found in its place.
A large part of the rocks no longer had their former interesting surface character, all
their distinctive qualities having been ground out by the heels of visitors. Not many
years before there were to be enjoyed here remarkably luxuriant, low massive bodies of a
description of foliage rare even to most horticultural visitors, and when in perfection
not less beautiful, as a constituent of landscape composition, than that of the most
valued acquisitions our gardens have ever received from distant lands--our native yew, a
shrub supplying the darkest green and the brightest red of our forest. Because of the
unrestricted movements of visitors, some of whom have been crowded by others out of the
more beaten paths, these plants had already lost not a little of their characteristic
beauty and were in a fair way to be gradually worried to death. Elsewhere on the islands
numerous roots of trees were to be seen exposed through the wearing off of the surface
soil, bruised and rendered incapable of supplying the nourishment they formerly had to the
foliage above, which was, consequently, beginning to lose its vigor, grace and density;
and though your Superintendent has taken some precautions to lessen the evil, what has
been said can yet be readily verified by a visit to the islands.
The lesson is more strenuously taught by the present condition of Luna Island, because,
relative to its area, its surface has been more generally worn by the feet of visitors.
Half the dense foliage, originally growing wherever the rock gave it a foothold, has
disappeared, and much of that which remains is feeble and shabby. Unless stringent
measures are used to prevent it, Luna Island will, in a few years inevitably become a
That many parts of the Reservation shall be prevented from being gradually made desolate
by like process, an extent of artificial accommodation, and of artificial expedients for
protecting nature, must be provided that would otherwise deserve condemnation.
But it is not simply to enforce this consideration that the above facts have been referred
to; there is a principal affecting the plan to be based upon them of much greater
importance and which, experience in nearly every public ground wherein the enjoyment of
Nature has been an object has shown to be most difficult to be fully and continuously kept
prominently in view. It is this:
Having regard to the enjoyment by visitors of natural scenery, and considering that the
means of making this enjoyment available to large numbers of them will unavoidable lessen
the extent and value of the primary elements of natural scenery, nothing of an artificial
character should be allowed a place on the property, no matter how valuable it might be
under other circumstances and no matter at how little cost it may be had, the presence of
which can be avoided consistently with the provision of necessary conditions for making
the enjoyment of the natural scenery available.
Suppose, for instance, that a costly object of art like that of the Statue of Liberty,
should be tendered to the State on condition that it should be set up on Goat Island, the
cept to which our argument has tendered would oblige a declension of the gift as surely as
it would an offer to stock the Island with poison ivy or with wolves or bear.
This conclusion will be found to dispose of many suggestions of alleged improvement that
have already been urged, and the like of which will probably never, for many years at a
time, cease to be urged, and urged earnestly, by good men, on grounds superficially
It has been supposed, for example, that one of the first improvements to be made after
throwing open Goat Island would be to replace the little old eating house upon it by a
much larger and finer establishment. If it were a commercial undertaking into which
the State was entering, in competition with the people of the village of Niagara, it
cannot be questioned that the restaurant could be made a profitable branch of it. But
adopting the view upon which the plan of improvements now submitted is based, it is to be
considered that no house can be built upon the island that will not in some degree
dispossess, obscure and disturb elements of its distinctive natural scenery. The question,
then, is, will the absence of places of refreshment cause such hardship to visitors, with
the general enjoyment by the public of the scenery? It is a sufficient answer to say that
there is no point in the Reservation at which a house can be placed that is more than ten
minutes walk or five minutes drive from hotels and restaurants standing on land of private
Similar reasoning will apply to variety of projects that it can have been supposed that
your Board would entertain only through failure to understand that it is precisely against
obtrusions of essentially the same character on the natural scenery as they would involve
that the State has placed the premises in reserve. The project of a camera obscura is one
such; that of prospect towers another, that of a militia parade grounds another.
But of suggestions that have been publicly made for using the Niagara Reservation for
purposes other than that of conservation and protection for its natural scenery and the
facilitation of the public enjoyment of it, that which calls for the gravest consideration
is one for the establishment upon it, in a suitable building, of a collection of objects
helpful to a study of the geology of the region and of the interesting
history of the border lands of the St. Lawrence, the Niagara and the lakes. A museum and
library for these purposes being desirable, there would be obvious advantages of placing
them near the Falls; but the advantage of placing them within the Reservation, rather than
at some other point within the village of Niagara Falls, cannot outweigh the objections
that we have aimed to present to complicating in any manner the purpose which the State
has primarily in view in forming the Reservation. This is no more a scientific or a
scholarly or an educational purpose than it is a commercial purpose.
A venerable and public-spirited citizen of the village, of a family to which the State
already owes much, has offered to present, for the purposes named, a building site, now
his private property, bordering upon the Reservation, on condition that the building and
necessary support of the institution shall be otherwise provided. The situation offered is
a commanding one; it is in the most attractive quarters of the village; the ground is
higher than any on the Reservation, the body of land is larger than would be strictly
necessary; it would have a direct entrance from the Reservation, and it is in all respects
a better site than any that could be proposed on the Reservation.
If the State should think it expedient to take action favorably to a museum, it would
be much better that it should be in a form thus suggested than in that of reappropriating
to the purpose ground that it has reserved for the enjoyment of natural scenery.
In arguing against the proposition to provide refreshment places on the Reservation we
have taken the position that it could be approved only on the ground that otherwise
visitors might suffer hardship preventing enjoyment of the scenery. It is necessary,
however, to maintain that some visitors must even be condemned to what they will think
something of a hardship at certain points in order that the organic purpose of the
Reservation may be carried out as full as the plan contemplates that it shall be.
In the case to which we thus refer the question to be considered is this.
What is to be the effect of certain proposed arrangements in respect to the enjoyment
of the scenery, not by a few visitors of a particular condition, at certain times, but in
the long run, the great body of visitors? And this question is to be discussed not without
regard for those who, from natural endowments or the result of training, are susceptible
to a higher enjoyment than most. It is a question, we are bound to consider, of the
highest average enjoyment.
We will direct attention at once to the point where the judgment on a question of this
kind that is represented in the plan is most likely to be differed with by an important
element of public opinion. It is for your Board to say whether it is sound.
To see the Canadian Fall from the height called on the drawing Porter's Bluff, visitors
approaching in carriages will be obliged, by the arrangement proposed in the plan, to
leave them and walk, or be moved in wheel chairs, a distance of thirty paces. Why should
they be subject to this inconvenience?
The following statement is our answer.
The view of the vortex of the Fall which makes the locality especially attractive can
only be obtained from a space of ground so limited in extent that it does not offer
standing room for the numbers who, at times even at present, wish to occupy it. It is
certain that in the near future newcomers will, for short periods, in many days, be
obliged to wait for those to move on who have come to this point of view before them. The
space in question having this exceptional value, and being so limited in extent, it is to
be considered whether it would be judicious to attempt to provide accommodations for
people in carriages in any part of it? After careful study of the circumstances we have
concluded that it would not. Our readers will be better understood after an actual trial
of the present arrangements on any day next summer, when visitors are unusually numerous,
but they may be mainly presented as follows:
1. A considerable part of those coming in carriages leave them at this point in order
to descend to the brink of the Fall, which is inaccessible by carriages, and those who
know the ground often send their carriages forward in order to enjoy the short walk to a
point beyond, where the Canadian Rapids are best seen. It is those who will not choose to
take either of these courses whose case is to be considered.
2. As to these, it is to be remembered that where carriages are brought one after
another, into a group, in which as they successfully arrive and depart some margin for
movement is necessary, each carriage takes up a space of ground, on average, upon which at
least fifty men can comfortably stand.
3. People of an artistic and poetic turn of mind, and all to whom Niagara is naturally
most enjoyable, are more given than others to wander from point to point of it on foot.
The highest enjoyment of it is unquestionably to be obtained in that way. It is not to
be supposed that visitors coming on foot shall be forbidden under all circumstances to
stand upon any part of the small piece of ground in question when it is not occupied by a
carriage. It is not to be supposed that a passage for people coming on foot to this ground
is not to be kept open from end to end of it, or that such foot people are not to be
allowed a standing place, where, as on the ordinary sidewalk of a curbed street, they may
be protected from being driven over by carriages. As the edge of the bank toward the point
of interest of such a standing-place is likely to be often crowded, those waiting until
opportunity offers to take their places along the edge should be provided with seats and
when there is no crowd, as will most of the time be the case, these seats will be taken by
visitors on foot wishing to contemplate the fall. There will, then, be a strip of ground
following the edge of the bank from which carriages are to be kept off, and this space,
making allowance for the people standing, passing and sitting upon it, cannot be less than
ten feet wide. To a man in a carriage wishing to look, as in this case, at an object
considerably below the level of the eye, a line of men standing parallel to and nearly on
a level with the side of his carriage at a distance of ten feet, would be as effective an
obstruction as a high stone wall. Even if we think of the place when it is not to be
crowded, we shall see that it would not often occur that so few people would be found
standing, sitting and passing upon it, that the view across it would fail to be so much
interrupted and disturbed, that it would be better for the occupants of carriages caring
to enjoy it to get out of them and step to the edge of the bank.
Taking all these considerations into account, it will be seen that the number of those
who will choose, being informed of the conditions, if they are allowed, to take such views
as they can, from a carriage, in the line of view of greatest interest, is likely to be
extremely small relatively to the number of those who will come to the ground on foot,
together with those who will, in any case, leave their carriages when they have reached
the place. It is also further to be considered that, to persons disposed to look at the
falls from the near the edge of the bank in an absorbed and contemplative way, carriages
standing and moving close behind them, and all that is apt to occur in connection with
numbers of waiting horses and drivers, may be seriously discomposing.
But we may be asked if it is not practicable, to use such means as are used for placing
spectators one above another in theatres, for example, to supply standing-room for even a
larger number of visitors on foot than the plan provides for, and at the same time to give
a place to a certain number of carriages from which a moderately good view toward the fall
could be had. This is possible, but the number of carriages that could at any time be so
accommodated would be small, and, the space prepared for them being occupied, there would
often be a larger number of those impatiently waiting their turn to be admitted to it than
of those holding it. This objection being duly weighed, it is then to be considered that
any tolerable arrangement of the kind thus suggested, by which a tier of carriages could be
so placed that their occupants could overlook a tier of people on foot, would destroy
naturalness of character in the locality, involve the loss of trees that are an important
element of the local scenery, prevent any subsequent sylvan occupation of the ground, and
interpose an urban, artificial element plainly in conflict with the purpose for which the
Reservation has been made. Would the advantage to be gained outweigh this objection at the
arrangement? It is assumed on the plan that it would not, and for like reasons, and, more
particularly, to avoid the destruction at important points along the shore of existing
trees or of opportunities to grow trees in a manner consistent with, and to the
improvement of, existing natural scenery, no carriage road is, as a general rule, proposed
by the plan to be brought within fifty feet of the river bank. In short, carriages when
used on Goat Island are regarded simply as convenient means of locomotion from point to
point, and at all points where visitors are likely to come together in large numbers
because of views of special general interest to be had from them provisions are proposed
to be made for stopping carriages a few yards back from the river banks within the edge of
the woods, and for having them turned out of the road to wait in convenient shady harbors,
partially veiled by foliage, while those coming in them are, with others who have arrived
on foot, enjoying the outlooks from the best point of view.
We have thus shown certain limits upon the scope of the undertaking, fixed by the
conditions necessary to the successful accomplishment of the central organic purpose of
the State in making the Reservation. We wish next to call attention to a series of
circumstances by which the range of design in preparing the plan submitted has been more
rigidly controlled than, without some special consideration of them is likely to be
The first is this:
The scheme of the Reservation of the State of New York is but a part of a larger
scheme. On a review of the whole scheme it will be found that in certain respects the
scheme of the Reservation of New York has advantages over the Reservation of the Province
of Ontario. It has incomparably greater beauty of a kind depending on refinement and
delicacy, and subtle qualities of natural elements of scenery, and these largely apart
from the actual cataract--incomparably greater beauty of a kind in which the nearness to
the eye of illumined spray and mist and fleeting waters, and of the intricate disposition
of leaves, with infinitely varied play of light and shadow, refraction and reflections,
and much else that is indefinable in conditions of water, air and foliage are important
But there is no place within the New York Reservation from which, as from that of
Ontario, a view of the entire face of the falls, or a near view of the face of either
division of the falls, can be had. To obtain even a quartering view of the American Fall,
it is necessary to leave the American shore.
Again, the topography of the Ontario Reservation is so large in scale, and the interest
of which is to be seen from it is so independent of all such details as contribute to make
the charm of the New York part of the scheme, that even the broad military road that
follows the brink of the Canadian cliff strikes the eye only as an insignificant
circumstance. In respect to grandeur of scenery, nothing can be offered on the New York
side to compare with what is now, even before any improvements are made, to be had at any
point upon a line nearly a mile in length on the heights of Ontario.
To what, as a definite requirement of design for the improvement of the American
Reservation, does this consideration lead? To this: that as it would be impossible to
provide satisfactorily for extensive pleasure-driving on Goat Island, without destroying
its sequestered woodland beauty, and that as a direct view of the cataract could be had by
a thousand people at a time while seated in carriages, without similar destruction on the
Canadian bank, the plan of improvement for Goat Island, without excluding carriages as a
means of transportation, should make provisions for them with solicitous care to avoid
unnecessary injury to its forest, and especially to its forest borders, and should in all
parts be devised with painstaking regard for enjoyments only to be had in perfection by
those willing to seek them at the expense of some little movement on foot.
The second of this series of considerations to which we would ask attention is this:
that at the point where the falls occur the Niagara River makes an abrupt turn, the reach
above being exactly at right angles to the reach below the cataract. From this results not
only the circumstance just referred to, that a full view of the falls can only be enjoyed
from the Ontario side, but this other, that at no point within the New York Reservation
can any but a distant view be had of either one of the falls except upon a line nearly
raking its line of fall. The space that can be occupied by visitors is thus, in each case,
rigidly limited, and but a very small number of persons can ever, at the same moment, be
provided with a favorable opportunity of looking at the falls. Hence it will be seen that
improvements in these places, if planned on a very large scale, will be grandiose, useless
Third: Niagara Falls has been the most celebrated place of resort on the Continent,
perhaps the most celebrated place in the world. It has had a reputation, however, that has
prevented it from being popular. During the last two years, under the direction of your
Board, many of the circumstances out of which this reputation has slowly been bred, have
been removed or mitigated, and, as your Superintendent has reported, a notable increase
has followed in the number of visitors, a perceptible increase in the length of their
visits, and a marked increase in their enjoyment of that which is distinctively enjoyable
In view of what has thus already come about, let it be considered what is likely to be
the effect on the reputation of Niagara and its popularity as a place of resort of further
improvements to be made; what the effect of a growing better understanding by the people
of Niagara, of their interest in protecting visitors from the annoyances to which, though
much has been gained, they are still subject in approaching the Reservation; what the
effect of the further development in all parts of the country with large classes of
hitherto home-keeping people, of the growing custom of annual vacation journeys and the
tendency of the great railroad corporations to encourage the growth of this custom by
offering tourist and excursion special cheap rates of fare for long journeys, as to which
last point some information may be found in a note below.*
* Not looking beyond Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois,
Wisconsin, and Michigan, visitors are found to have been brought to the Falls and returned
last summer at one-fifth the expense that the journey would have cost them (taking the
regular passenger trains) ten years ago.
What, at last, is to be expected as to the number of visitors for whose movements the
Reservation must be prepared?
Already upwards of 10,000 people are known by the record of the railroads to have
arrived in a single day in which no unusual attraction was offered, having come by night
trains, with an intention of leaving on the evening of the same day, consequently with an
impulse to crowd all at once upon the more celebrated points of attraction.
Of this ten thousand it is thought by the Superintendent that full half sought within a
single hour to come to the nearest point on the Reservation at which a view of the falls
is to be obtained. But, because of the circumstance last described, of the narrowness of
the ground from which the view alone is to be had, not more than twenty of the five
thousand could have been at any moment of this hour in a position to see the fall from top
to bottom; not more than two hundred could have had so much as a glimpse of the upper half
of it. The condition thus illustrated is one of great gravity.
Fourth: Each of the better known points of attraction on the New York Reservation is
close upon a danger line, established by the circumstance that the position of the falls
and that of the shelf over part of which they pour is constantly subject to recession. The
upper part of this shelf is of a stone much firmer than that of the lower part on which it
rests. Through the action of the air, of dampness, frost and thaw, and of the jar from the
concussion of the falling water, the weaker supporting stone is cracked and thrown out
much faster than that above it. Recesses are thus formed of varying depth and breadth. At
intervals they become so deep that the upper stratum fails to be supported and falls,
sometimes suddenly in large masses , more commonly by bits and bits, the result being that
along the upper edge, both where it is covered with water and where, as on the flanks of
the cataract, it is not, there is a degree of instability not to be exactly defined, but
of which an illustration is presented in the sudden fall this present winter, without the
slightest previous warning, of a large block of rock that was last summer daily crowded
with visitors, the iron railing fixed for them to rest against having gone down with the
rock. This was on the Canadian bank.
The recession at the head of the Canadian Fall has been upwards of a hundred feet in
thirty-three years, and Professor Gilbert, of the U.S. Geological Survey, points out that
as the head of the fall wears back, the sides of necessity fall in, whether the water
falls over them or not, so that the gorge is really extending as fast as the head of the
The recession of the American Fall has, for years past, been much less rapid; not
perhaps exceeding a foot a year, while on the dry land it may have been even a little
less. Yet the process described is constant. Every year several tons of fallen rock are
removed from the public foot-path at the foot of the cliff by which visitors approach the
Cave of the Winds. During the last year a mass has fallen at a point directly under the
wooden balcony of Hennepin's View, a point much frequented by visitors. Twenty years ago
the carriageway between Stedman's Bluff and Porter's Bluff ran upon ground much of which
has since been undetermined and fallen.
All of the more widely celebrated points of view of the New York Reservation are close
upon the edge of the cliff, and are subject to the insecurity here explained.
When in the midst of a dense throng, men generally fail to realize the danger of its
moving upon insecure ground, and often with no bad intention aid to communicate an impetus
to it that suddenly brings great peril to those on its margin. This being considered,
reason for prudence will be found in the fact that last summer your police were often
obliged to forcibly draw men, women and children back from positions in which a light push
would have compelled them to step on crumbling, half detached rock, below which there was
empty space for a hundred feet.
It will be seen that the circumstance thus illustrated makes many propositions that
might otherwise be thought desirable for the better accommodation of visitors at the
points of chief attraction impossible to entertained. It also condemns suggestions that
might otherwise be approved looking to the use of more substantial and expensive
expedients of accommodation than the plan we submit has in view, because they would not be
sufficiently lasting to justify their cost.
We do not wish to close this division of our report without observing that great
throngs of visitors are to be anticipated only during a short period of that year, and
then only during certain hours of the day. During these few hours those composing them
will rarely scatter far from certain well defined localities and the routes of movement
between them. They will but little occupy parts of the Reservation most delightful to
ramblers. This because few visitors, coming in any large company for a days' refreshment
or even for two days, will wish to leave without having seen the more celebrated
spectacles of the place, or will have time, beyond what will be needed for seeing them,
for the quiet strolling and resting, through which alone the more secluded beauty of the
Reservation is to be contemplatively enjoyed.
A word may also be said here as to the quality of the visitors to whom, by the low rate
of fare offered by the railroads, Niagara is now becoming available as never before. They
are thus far, as a rule, of the most orderly class of people in the country--of
disciplined habits and good-natured if not courteous disposition. Eighty of the
companies, coming at excursion rates the last year, were religions, benevolent and
scientific associations. All such bodies are under leadership of such a character
that they can be depended on to conform to reasonable rules, provided the motive at the
bottom of these rules is understood; and, on this point, what is mainly important is that
the one purpose for which the State invites the Reservation to be visited--namely, the
enjoyment of certain passages of natural scenery of a distinctive character--shall plainly
control all the arrangements it makes, and that this purpose should not be found so
complicated with purposes common to any other places of resort as to confuse the sense of
propriety of its guests.
The leading general principle of the plan having been so far set forth, what is
intended in various particulars will be explained under several heads to follow.
THE UPPER GROVE.
Reception House, Public Lavatory, Bureau of Advice for Excursionists,
Arrangements for Picnics, Offices of Administration.
The State has undertaken to provide for an enjoyment by all comers of that
which is distinctively valuable within its Reservation. No plan should be adopted
for the improvement of the Reservation under which any number of well disposed and
decently well-bred visitors shall find it difficult to avoid a serious interference with
the requirements of this enjoyment on the part of others.
What will be he extremist
trial in this respect to which the proposed
improvements will be subject?
It will occur when several trains are arriving nearly together loaded
principally with people who are not accustomed to traveling, who are ill-provided with
means for lessening the discomforts of travel, who have passed a hot night with little
sleep in rattling cars, from which, loaded with dust and cinders, carrying baskets of
provisions, and some of them children, they come in troops upon the Reservation, "to
We are assured by the experience of many other places of resort that,
unless extraordinary precautions are taken to prevent it, results will follow of a most
unseemly character, destructive of the pleasantness of the place in all respects, and this
not only for the time being but permanently, the most secluded and otherwise delightful
parts of the grounds gradually acquiring a disorderly and squalid character, the reverse
of that natural sylvan freshness which is it principal aim of the undertaking to
conservate. How can such a result be guarded against?
The answer of the plan is this:
The Reservation on the shore of the mainland is limited, except for a
short distance at one point, to a strip intended to be barely broad enough to
sustain a belt of woods by which the buildings of the village on its border will be
screened from other parts of the New York, and from the Ontario, Reservations. At
the excepted points its breadth is doubled, and the ground in this broader part is already
wooded. This additional breadth was not advised to be taken with a view to the
arrangements to be described below. It includes the district before referred to,
formerly known as the Grove, later as Prospect Park, and is to be considered here in two
divisions, to be called respectively, the Upper Grove and the Lower Grove.
The point in the
Reservation that will be first reached by visitors
coming directly towards the falls from the railroad stations is in the Upper Grove.
The Upper Grove commands no view of the falls and is separated from them by the Lower
The plan proposes, first, that at the point of entrance to the Upper Grove
for visitors coming from the railroad stations, a large building shall be open to them in
which there shall be an office of advice and guidance, a lavatory, cloak room, toilet and
other conveniences, of the general character of those to be found in a few of our
best railway stations.
Second, that outside of this house, but within the Upper Grove,
conveniences shall be supplied for those who wish to eat provisions that they have brought
with them. Among these conveniences there are to be large shelters, partly
open and partly enclosed, that may be used in rainy weather. The entire series of
arrangements is to have in view economy and efficiency in keeping the premises neat
Third, that the taking of provisions of any kind on any other part of the
Reservation shall be forbidden by ordinance and really prevented as a cardinal necessity
of the success of the plan.
It is expected to result from these measures that, however large the number of people
arriving at any time may be, they will tarry a varying period time in the Upper Grove,
according to the varying use they will have occasion to make of what it offers them, and
then will leave it for the most part singly, or in small parties, and will gradually
scatter, some moving away in carriages, some on foot, some taking the Inclined Way to the
foot of the falls, some going to Goat Island, some to Canada, some lingering much longer
than others at the nearer points of interest--all having been refreshed and brought to a
state of body and mind more favorable to their enjoyment of the scenery and to the
exercise of good nature in the pursuit of that enjoyment than would be possible except
through the use of arrangements of the nature thus indicated.
There will need to be a Superintendent's office, with, near by it, storage rooms, tool
rooms and workshops for repairs. These should be accessible by carts without entering the
roads of the Reservation and should not attract the attention of visitors within the
Reservation. The plan proposes that they should be under the same roof with the
reception-rooms for excursionists, with entrances both from the boundary street and from
within the Reservation, the length of the building being increased from time to time as
convenience shall be found to require. The exterior walls of this building are intended to
be of stone taken from the walls of the building to be moved. It is to be one story in
height, with a basement.
THE LOWER GROVE
This section of the Reservation is likely to be more frequented and to be oftener
inconveniently crowded with people than any other. This is because it is the nearest point
to the village and to the railway stations, at which a view of the falls and of the great
chasm can be had, and because the place of descent to the ground below the falls and to
the steamboat and ferry landing, by the Inclined Railway, is within it.
Near the parts where crowds are most likely to gather the trees are dilapidated through
the effects of the freezing of the spray from the falls upon them. They are more or less
rotten-hearted and not to be depended upon; nor can any trees be expected to be grown with
the lasting good effect in the locality. For these reasons, and also because of the
insecure character of the rock on which the place rests, as before explained, it cannot be
hoped that a pleasing natural character can be fully attained throughout the district.
This makes it particularly important to do away with its present artificial elements as
much as possible, and to make those that are necessary, in the greatest degree
The removal is advised of all the yet remaining structures intended for ornament or
amusement, and of all the buildings except the little cottage in the border of the
Reservation near the Suspension Bridge, and the ferry house which is low and the stone
walls of which, being under a roof, may be covered by creepers to be easily protected in
winter from being dragged down by ice.
Eventually, when the Inclined Railway shall require extensive repairs, it will be wise
to substitute for it an arrangement such as will be advised for another locality in which
there are essentially similar requirements to be met. This could be placed at a point less
subject to be crowded and where it would be more unobtrusive than the present structure.
But considerations of economy will postpone this improvement for many years, and the
existing arrangement will be here considered as permanent.
Little explanation of the plan of roads, walks, standing and sitting places, beyond
that which can be obtained from the drawing will be required. Along the edge of the crags
a space is to be prepared for people to stand upon, from twenty to thirty feet wide and
extending from the brink of the fall to the high ground back of the present wooden
balcony, from all of which a fine view will be had of the nearer fall and the river above
it, a view of the islands, of the Canadian Falls and the verdurous declivity of the
Ontario Reservation. The present surface of this standing space is intended to be reduced
to a slope with an inclination towards the falls of about one in sixteen, which is not too
steep for convenience in walking, while it will allow visitors at a distance to look over
the heads of those nearer the most attractive point. The present stone parapet is
obtrusively artificial in its rigid lines and angles, and it is a needless obstruction
where every inch of foreground view of the falls is of great value. Its removal is
advised. As to what should be substituted for it, choice lies between a wall of field
stone varying little in character from a natural foreground object and of the same tone of
color and texture of surface with that of the adjoining ledge, and an iron railing. If a
railing can be made offering equal security without holding the eye, so valuable is space
at this point, that we think it to be preferred.
We have designed a railing that we would recommend for experimental consideration, and
as its advantages cannot be otherwise explained a model of it is submitted.
The aim of the entire plan for the improvement of this critical point of the
Reservation is, while providing much larger and simpler accommodations for visitors, to
restore, as nearly as it is now practicable, the original aspect of the brink of the fall
and the verge of the chasm.
There are two points on the edge of the crag from which fine near views of the face of
the American Fall are to be had. One is from a projection of rock South of the wall of the
Inclined Railway. It is advised that the available space for visitors at this point shall
be enlarged by a balcony extending from the projecting rock mentioned to another less
prominent on the other side of the railway wall. It would be supported by brackets built
into the face of the wall, an existing and for the present indispensable piece of
construction. While hiding nothing natural, throwing a shadow on that which is artificial
in the existing arrangement, and in itself unnoticeable, it would add not a little to the
pleasure of the public.
The other point is that of Hennepin's View, now occupied by a wooden balcony, a few
rods further from the fall. It commands the best general view of the falls to be had from
the Reservation. It is also, from the condition of the rock below, the most hazardous
point to which visitors are invited, and cannot long be safely left in its present
condition. It is proposed that a better and less conspicuous balcony of iron shall take
its place, and that it shall be made secure either by a construction to support the rock
below it, or that it shall be sustained in the rear in such manner that it will remain
when the rock falls out.
A striking and impressive view of the fall from a point just within the ordinary drift
of its spray, and midway between its crest and its foot, is to be has with perfect safety
by removing the house built for the apparatus for illuminating the fall and replacing it
with a convenient covered balcony. The whole affair should be exteriorly of rough
unpainted wood, and as much as possible obscured. Skillfully managed, it would scarcely be
seen from any point. It does not appear on the drawing, its place being under the rock
shown. It would be accessible by the existing stairs alongside the railway.
The great iron structure housing the railway is excessively conspicuous from Stedman's
Bluff, and is a very awkward circumstance. So long as it must be retained, there should be
large openings in its sides, to be closed in winter by shutters, and it should be made less
obtrusive by painting more nearly the color of the rocks behind it.
THE MAINLAND ABOVE THE GROVES
Except in the groves at the North and upon a few rods of ground at one or two points
elsewhere, the present surface of the mainland within the Reservation is of artificial,
and most of it of markedly unnatural and infelicitous form. Little material has been
brought upon it, and little taken away, but in the grading of roads, canals and
embankments, cellar digging and the depositing of rubbish, nearly the whole has been
shifted or buried.
For half a mile above the fall the present shore is in part a substantial wall of
stone, in part a crib-work construction of stone and logs, and is everywhere built out
from ten to thirty feet beyond the old natural shore. Originally, all of the ground
inclined with gentle undulations toward the river, the immediate margin if which was in
some cases flat and boggy, but generally sloping, with a surface partly strewn with
boulders and overgrown with bushes and grass.
An exact restoration of the old shore is not to be attempted, but its original
character is intended in the plan to be regained, the original causeways, embankments,
ridges and mounds being mostly reduced, the canals and excavations filled, all the
waterside crib-work and walls removed, and the surface brought to flowing lines of varying
inclination toward the river.
Some have been of the opinion that the removal would lead to violent inroads upon the
land because of the intensity of the current of the river close against the present shore.
After examining, at various points, the condition of the shore where it is in its
natural state and washed by a similar current, it is our judgment that no serious
incursion of the river would result, and that little more earth would wash away than would
give a new natural shore of the most desirable form and outline. If, at points, a
continuous and increasing wear should appear to be threatened it is proposed to use the
stone of the removed constructions to form provisional rip-rap walls, afterwards to be
made firm against ice where required, by such expedients, neither conspicuous nor costly,
as may be necessary to answer the purpose.
The short walls would need generally to be not more than three feet high above the
ordinary surface of the water; they would have pockets or crevices running through them,
and would serve as revetments for banks of soil in which the dwarf willows, rushes, ferns,
irises, flags, and other waterside plants of the region would be planted so as to partly
grow through and partly over them, with a result in view that would differ but little in
character from that of the natural, low, rocky shores of the neighboring islands.
DRIVE ON THE MAINLAND
It will be seen from the drawing that carriage-road called the Riverway is intended to
be made from end to end of the Reservation. This is a necessity and will stand instead of
the old village street from which it varies in course only through the motive of keeping
it, as a broad artificial object, and those moving upon it, as far from the shore and as
much out of sight of Goat Island as possible, and in the substitution of continuous, long,
curving outlines for the present discontinuous straight outlines with angular changes in
direction. At points it is divided in order to avoid injury to a few promising trees of
WALKS ON THE MAINLAND
A broad walk is planned to follow near and on the river side of the carriage-road, but
at a slightly varying distance from it, in order that trees may be planted near the road
not in rows but naturally disposed.
Narrow branch walks are thrown out from the main walk, and generally upon sub-branches
of these, and in positions where they may be partly screened from view from the drive and
main walk, seats facing interesting points in the Rapids are provided for.
These and other seats in the Reservation may generally be formed with a substantial
structure of the stone from the old buildings of the locality, the actual seats being of
slatwork, darkly stained and at points fortified with metal, the object being to reduce to
a minimum, the opportunities for penciling and cutting them, so irresistible to a
certain class. Some are to have simple trellises over them, upon which canopies of vines and
creepers, natural to the region are to be trained.
The Reservation includes a part of a bluff by which the Riverway abreast the upper
rapids is bent toward the river. Upon the face of this bluff there are some good trees and
from the upper part of it there is a fine view of and over the placid water of the river
above the Rapids. A walk by which this point of view can be gained is shown on the
drawing, and at the best point of view, a sheltered seat.
Where the present street has been formed by cutting into the bluff, and the bluff side
is sustained by a retaining wall, it is proposed to use the same expedient, but to
reconstruct the wall with a sloping face and in such a manner as to subdue its artificial
character and partly cover it with fitting vegetation.
CONCOURSES ON THE MAINLAND
At the upper end of the Riverway at the point known as the Old French Landing which is
of historical importance and from which views open of much interest in different ways, a
space for the turning and resting of carriages is planned.
In connection with it a summer house is proposed, to which visitors may resort to in
case of showers, and in which walkers may rest in seats convenient for the enjoyment of
Where, near the opposite end of the Reservation, the Riverway and the broad village
street between the railroad stations and the Reservation come together, another turnway
and resting place is required. At this point is the terminus of a street railway and the
Soldier's Monument, of the Town of Niagara and from it the greater number of visitors will
first come upon the Reservation and first see the river and the Rapids. It will be a
vestibule to the reception-house, the Upper Grove and the Superintendency, and the
principal point for taking hired carriages.
For all these reasons, the turning place should have considerable amplitude, and as it
must, for convenient use, be of nearly level surface, and as the present surface of the
ground has a rapid slope, a retaining wall will be economically used to sustain it on the
side toward the river, giving the concourse the character of a terrace. This wall is
intended to be formed of rock-faced stone, to be taken from the retaining wall of a
disused canal near by.
The Mainland division is designed to be planted with a view to its being ultimately
covered with forest trees, growing to as great a height as they can be brought while
retaining umbrageousness and enjoying conditions in respect to abundant nourishment, air
and light likely to give them long life. To this end, such trees of the different species
now growing on Goat Island as attain the first magnitude are to be planted thickly. They
are to be thinned out gradually as they come to interlock, until at length not more than
one-fourth of the original number will remain, and these, because the less promising will
have constantly been selected for removal with little regard to evenness of spacing, will
be those of the most vigorous constitution, those with the greatest capabilities of
growth, and those with the greatest power of resistance to attacks of storms, ice, disease
and vermin. Individual tree beauty is to be little regarded, but all consideration given
to beauty and effectiveness of groups, passages, and masses of foliage. Except willows for
some damp places along the shore in front of the high ground, quick-growing, fragile and
short-lived trees are to be excluded. Of others, a considerable variety of species is to
be used, and those of each species are to be well distributed through out the plantation,
in order that if any one of the species becomes specially subject to destructive
influences, as is liable to be the case, the body of foliage, as it will be seen from the
bridge, from Goat Island, and from the Ontario shore may not be greatly injured, and may
not fail to screen the village houses from view.
The trees are to be planted with the intention, while avoiding formality, to leave
frequent clear spaces between their trunks, the centre lines of which spaces will be
diagonal to the shore line, in the direction that will leave the Rapids open to view from
the drive, and opposite to that of the line or view from Goat Island toward the buildings
on the inland side of the Reservation.
The native underwood of the neighborhood is to be planted in thickets and allowed to
grow in natural forms, at frequent intervals along the shore, and in occasional groups of
upland, enough of it being introduced to prevent, in connection with the grouping and
interspacing of groups to be formed by the process of thinning the tree plantations, a
grove or orchard-like monotony of trunks.
Treatment of artificially
Early in the century the upper part of the forest of Goat Island was cleared and the
ground cultivated. A few small clearings have been made at other points, in some of which
a thick young growth has sprung up. By thinning and planting it is intended that all these
species shall be refurnished with trees in the manner proposed for the mainland, but less
closely, as the foliage is not intended as a screen, and some variety in its disposition,
as shown on the drawing, will be pleasing.
WEST BANK OF GOAT ISLAND
The steep river bank between Porter's Bluff and the Sisters has at times been slightly
undermined by the river, and thus made a graceless inclined plane, with a raw surface and
angular crest. Deflecting piers of logs and stones, so slight as to be unnoticeable,
placed at the water's edge by the former owners, have proved adequate to prevent the
undermining process from going further. It may be desirable after a few years to replace
these with something of the same character equally unobtrusive, but more substantial. It
will also be desirable to hasten the process already begun by which nature would in time
substitute outward curves for the angle at the top of the bank and inward curves nearer
the base, and to fully reclothe the whole with foliage and verdure. Except a few trees in
the upper part to cast shade upon the adjoining walk, the planting for this purpose would
be of such bushes and plants as will not grow above the line of sight, toward the Rapids,
of visitors standing on the walk that is laid out along the top of the bank. None such can
be found anywhere in the world more beautiful than those indigenous to the island.
No other improvements are contemplated on Goat Island, except in connection with the
means of communication to be spoken of elsewhere, and except those which will gradually
result from continuous proper care of the forest, the particular methods of which involve
too much expert detail to be profitably considered in this report.
The same course suggested for the shore of the Mainland is proposed to be taken in
dealing with the present artificial shores of Bath Island, the old dam and crib-work being
wholly removed and the river allowed to take its course. The result will probably be the
washing away of nearly all of the made land, leaving a new shore varying but little from
the outline shown in the drawing. A considerable improvement of the scenery will thus be
gained, and it need not be feared that more of the island will go than is desirable. When
the intended result shall have been accomplished a most attractive view will be had of the
Rapids and the shore of Goat Island--dark and exceeding beautiful, under overhanging
foliage, from a point where, on the drawing, seats are indicated which are to be
approached by a branch from the main walk across the island.
The bridges by which Goat Island is reached from the Mainland are proposed to be
retained, superfluities of ornament only being removed. After a few years the walks on
them may, if found necessary; be widened by outriggers, and slightly projecting balconies
added at the piers, in order that visitors wishing to look from them upon the Rapids may
do so without impeding those moving by on the sidewalks. They are so shown on the drawing.
With these improvements the bridges will not be as spacious as could be desired and
will be inelegant, but they are unpretending and to remove them and substitute anything
much better would be a more costly piece of work than we can recommend to be soon
undertaken. We think that, with watchful care of the piers and prompt strengthening of
them at any point where they may seem to be at all falling into disrepair, they are likely
to hold good, barring extraordinary lunges of ice or floating timber, for many years. We
have been asked to consider whether, when a new bridge shall be wanted, it might not be
better placed at a point some distance up the stream, where a bridge had stood for a time
before the present one was built. The view from the Mainland near the present bridgehead
toward the islands, with the cross currents setting between them, has great interest and
would be more pleasing if the bridges were removed. But the view from the same quarter in
the direction of the middle of the Rapids is still more interesting--there is, indeed,
nothing to compare with it in all the world, and no possible form of bridge could be
placed in the position suggested that would not greatly injure it. In our judgment
will be lost by keeping the bridge where it is.
We propose no change in the foot-bridges of the Sister Islands so long as they may
continue safe without extensive repairs. There is a little scroll work upon them which may
with advantage be removed.
The foot-bridges by which passage is had with what is now called Terrapin Rock are
suitably simple, rude structures, but from their position disagreeably hold the attention
of visitors looking from Porter's Bluff upon the Canadian Fall and mar the scene. It is
proposed that they shall be shifted to the lines shown in the drawing, where they would be
less conspicuous, and the rocks will serve as abutments and piers for them would be more
prominent. We also propose that they should be somewhat lower.
The foot-bridge to Luna Island is a disagreeable artificial object, so placed as to mar
the scene that in certain conditions of light and atmosphere is the most gorgeous of any
of the Falls. We propose that it be shifted a short distance up-stream, where it will be
much covered by trees, will be out of the direct line of view of the American Fall from
Stedman's Bluff, and much less obtrusive. There are rocks projecting on each side from the
shore on the line suggested, making the position constructively satisfactory.
Bridges to other of the islands in the Rapids have been suggested. Nothing would be
gained by making these islands accessible that would compensate the injury which the
bridges and the people who would be seen upon them and upon the islands would bring to the
THE DRIVE ON GOAT ISLAND
Nothing has done so much to deter people from making good use of Niagara Falls as the
bad character of the carriage service of the village. This has, till lately, been
ill-organized and unregulated, and has so fully represented penny wisdom pound folly as to
give rise to a general belief that strangers could not avoid taking carriages without
being subject to such persecution wherever they went as destroyed their peace of mind,
and, when they had taken them, could not escape swindles, impositions, and incivilities, to
many, more vexatious than downright robbery. The evil has, during the last two years, been
much lessened, but it has not been removed and until a much greater improvement can be
secured the bad reputation of the Falls will not be wholly overcome.
The best means to get the better of it that your Board can use lies, probably, in the
direction of a further development and improvement of the route-carriage system, in which
a beginning has been made, the methods of use and manner of payments of which vary not
essentially from those of the omnibus and street car system of large cities.
By such improvement of the roads as is practicable, and by a finely economical
adjustment of horses, vehicles, movements and stoppages to the peculiarities of the
service, the cost rate per passenger can be even yet further reduced, while the
convenience, comfort and care-freeness which can be offered at a fixed low price will be
much greater than could heretofore be secured at any price. It may be fairly reckoned,
therefore, that after a few years but a small proportion of the visitors to Goat Island
will use any other form of wheel conveyance, and the road system of the plan has been
The drive shown, by which a circuit of the Island may be made in a carriage, at a
distance usually from fifty to 100 feet from the bank, is generally intended to be twenty
feet wide, varying slightly in accommodation to the trees between which it is to pass.
This in less than many would have it. We feel, however, that the road should be as narrow
as it can be and tolerably answer its purpose, because at best many trees must be
destroyed to make way for it, and the wider the opening the more havoc will storms make
with trees left standing near by.
The intention is that carriages shall be allowed to pass through the road moving only
in one direction. At all points where there will often be occasion for carriages to stop,
the road is to be broadened, and, as before explained and as will be seen from the
drawing, harbors are to be opened for carriages that are to stand in waiting. With these
precautions a given number of carriages proceeding between the harbor points at a not very
greatly varying rate of speed will be less crowded on a road of twenty feet than one of
forty feet, as roads are ordinarily used; less than on a city street of sixty feet if slow
freighting wagons are admitted and stoppages are frequent at houses on either side.
It will be seen that two cross roads are provided by which visitors in carriages who
may wish to return to the main land without completing the circuit of the Island can do
WALKS ON GOAT ISLAND
A circuit walk of the Island, in the more frequented parts, fifteen feet wide but
intended to vary slightly in adjustment to the trees, will be seen on the drawing. It
mainly follows as close to the steep bank as will be safe and convenient, and to a great
extent takes the place that had been cleared of trees for the old carriage road.
Where it would be imprudent to lead a throng, and at a few points, where, if carried
close upon the bank, the walk would be inconveniently indirect or would oblige the removal
of trees of special importance, it is kept back, and usually in these cases there are loop
walks running nearer the bank upon which are shaded seats commanding specially interesting
views. The circuitousness of these minor walks will prevent them from being used by
hurried crowds and they will bring no danger to those moving deliberately.
Numerous trails through the thick woods will provide for moderately direct passage
between all distant points. They are designed to be little more than trodden foot-paths
and will give forest seclusion to those using them. We believe that with rare exception
(as of invalids,) a much greater degree of the distinctively characteristic enjoyment of
Niagara is to be had by those who go on foot than by those who take carriages. Carriages
may be often seen driving past the most charming passages of scenery, their occupants not
having had their attention called to them. Last year we saw several carriage-loads of
visitors within an hour pass Porter's Bluff at a trot, without having their eyes turned
toward the fall. Had they been on foot following the circuit walk of the plan such a loss
would have been impossible to them. What has hitherto led the greater number of visitors
to take carriages has been a supposition, assiduously nursed by those interested, that they
would need a guide, and that, except by the aid of the only guide offering, in the person
of an irresponsible brawler on the box of a shabby vehicle, they would not know where to
go or what to see.
Simple instructions posted at the railroad stations, the hotels and the entrances of
the Reservation, with modest guide-boards at all points where strangers might be at fault
as to their best course, would, with the system of walks proposed in the plan, remove the
difficulty and greatly advance the popularity of the place.
Reckoning upon a turn of custom in this direction the plan of walks is more spacious
and extended than it would otherwise have been.
At points of special attraction, provisions are made for seats out of line of movement
upon the main walks. At two points on Goat Island large shelters, also, are suggested to
which resort would be had by walkers in case of sudden showers. Both are in the midst of
the woods; they are intended to be simply large roofs supported upon piers of rough
masonry, without walls, except that at opposite ends of each there should be enclosures
for water-closets, and the keeping of police conveniences. They are to be the only things
on the Island of the character of buildings except the covering of a piece of machinery
next to be described.
APPROACH TO THE CAVE OF THE WINDS
The wooden staircase by which visitors descend to the Cave of the Winds has been
represented to be much dilapidated and inadequate to present demands, and a number of
propositions have been before your Board to put in its place a structure several
large to contain a passenger elevator as well as a staircase.
All these propositions are open to the objection that the structure proposed would
present prominently to view, from widely different points both on the Ontario and New York
shores, and from the bridge and the boats, a large artificial object, crossing from top to
bottom one of the grandest features of the natural scenery of the Falls. Also to the
objection that as the face of the cliff recedes a readjustment of the affair would soon be
It is our opinion that any structure at this point would be contrary to the
fundamental principles of the undertaking. Assuming that access to the Cave of the Winds is desirable,
if it can be had without injury to the scenery, we should propose, as an alternative, that
the descent should be made through a shaft and tunnel; the head of the shaft to be about
fifty feet from the edge of the bank, with an elevator moving in it of the form of an
ordinary hotel elevator, to be operated by concealed water-power. This would cost less
than a structure of the same capacity built out from the cliff.
There is nothing at all unusual in any of the required operations, and no difficulty in
Near the bottom of the elevator a small cabin is proposed to be built of logs, and made
as unnoticeable as shall be practicable, which will be used as a dressing-room for those
who wish to enter the Cave. From this cabin a steep pent-house roof, supported by strong
framework of timber is advised to be constructed over the path leading to the Cave, in
order that visitors may be protected from falling stone. These structures would come where
the sloping mass of debris meets the vertical face of the cliff, and being formed of
timber left unpainted, and partially covered by the trees and bushes that have sprung up
just outside of the position, would in a few years be scarcely visible.
We should, perhaps, add that we do not think that there is an immediately pressing
necessity for the construction proposed. The present structure can be put in good
repair at a trifling outlay, and it answers its purpose fairly well. The improvement of
roads and walks is a matter of much more importance to the great body of visitors.
On the arrival at Stedman's Bluff by visitors coming from the bridge, the interest of
the scenery culminates in the view of the American Fall from that height. The present
stairway leading down the bank to the brink of the falls is on the line of this view, and
it is proposed to reconstruct it as shown on the drawing, so as to afford a series of
opportunities for outlook to be reached by steps that will be used by the visitor only in
descending, another path with steps for ascent being provided a little to the Eastward
where there will be no outlook of special interest.
The intention of the plan is, that the walk from the footbridge to this Island shall be
carried, as at present, to the verge of the fall at its West end, but that visitors shall
be prevented from crowding upon the side of the Island toward the Bluff, and that bodies
of foliage shall here be grown sufficient to secure the larger part of the ground which
visitors will be allowed to occupy from the sight of those looking from the superior point
of view on Stedman's Bluff.
At this point is to be found the most impressive view upon the Reservation, being that
looking into what, because of the former shape of the Canadian Fall, is called "The
Horsehoe." The nearer the spectator stands to the precipice on the North, looking
Westwardly, the better the view. It is fine, however, all along the edge of the bluff for
about fifty yards, beyond which point considerable bodies of foliage interpose that cannot
be removed without detriment to the scenery. This space of fifty yards, therefore, is
At present the enjoyment to be obtained from what is otherwise the best point of it is
much less than it might be because it is at the head of a flight of wooden stairs that
lead to the ground at the foot of the bluff, people passing upon which break the view, and
because, also, horses, carriages and people on foot, seeking this best point, are often
crowded together in a way most unfavorable to quiet contemplation.
At a point about a hundred feet Southward a wall of stone was built many years ago to
sustain a made bank of earth, where, before, there must have been a recess in the face of
the bluff and probably a gully extending a short distance back. The plan proposes to take
down this wall, open and enlarge the gully in such a manner as to form an inclined path,
to be used instead of the present stairway, a part of it being bridged over so that the
line desirable to be occupied by visitors looking from the height toward the Horseshoe may
not be interrupted. At the point now occupied by the upper steps of the staircase the
general level would be preserved, and a small projection made which would still further
improve the best point of view.
As an additional facility for reaching the ground under the bluff opposite this point a
foot-path with steps at intervals is planned at a short distance to the Southward.
CHECK UPON THRONGS AT CERTAIN POINTS
There are two duties of the State to the people in regard to which there should be no
doubt of the Commission's responsibility or of its power to meet it efficiently.
One is to make sure that visitors, in the orderly and reasonably prudent use of the
means provided them for the enjoyment of the scenery of the Reservation, shall not be
placed in conditions of peril from sources that the Commission can guard against by such
police regulations as have been approved in the experience of other places of large public
resort. The other is to make sure that visitors, not actively disposed to disorder, shall
not be constrained to courses through which and important elements of scenery or any
property of the State shall unduly come to injury.
Having in view a much larger number of visitors than has heretofore been known, there
are places on the Reservation where we must question whether due precautions for the
safety of visitors and the preservation of the property of the State can be maintained if
access to them and occupation of them is absolutely unrestricted.
It is advised that in every such situation the Superintendent shall be authorized to
regulate by means of a gate and turnstile the number of visitors to be at any time in
occupation of the ground. Under ordinary circumstances the gate would be open and passage
to the place unobstructed, but, upon needful occasions, the gate would be closed and
visitors let in and let out by turnstiles at each end of the gate, the turnstiles for
admission not opening after a certain number had entered except as room was made by those
leaving, their outgoing serving mechanically to give the proper number admission by an
action communicated through the turning of the outlet turnstile.
In the general design thus submitted we have endeavored to foreshadow and fairly meet
all the requirements that can be legitimately conceived as having a just claim to your
We believe that none of the improvements suggested can be left out of any comprehensive
scheme undertaken by the State for a judicious development of the Reservation over which
it has assumed control.
Each work of construction will at some time, in our
judgment, require to be executed
in a conscientiously complete way, but when all that is proposed is fairly done there will
be no need for any fresh appropriations for construction. The work henceforth will be,
strictly, a work of maintenance. It is for your Board to determine what recommendations
should be made to the State in regard to appropriations for improvement, what works should
be first undertaken and what should be postponed. Although not asked to advise at this
time as to the relative importance of the various features of this necessarily large and
complex undertaking, we may be permitted to close our report with the expression of a hope
that you may decide to take up first the proposed carriage drives on Goat Island; not
because it is desirable to meet an obvious public demand in this respect for additional
accommodations, but because it is expedient, as soon as practicable, to take advantage of
the healing processes of natural restoration by fresh growth, which will commence as soon
as the openings required for the new roads are cut through the existing woods.
FRED'K LAW OLMSTED
The General Plan For The
Improvement of the Niagara Reservation has been
reproduced here in a way faithful to the 1887 original copy, except where obvious spelling
errors occurred. Niagara Frontier Wildlife Habitat Council and Niagara Heritage
Partnership believe the philosophy expressed by the plan, as reflected by its specifics,
to be even more relevant in today's world than it was in the 19th century. The
luxuriant native foliage to which Olmsted often refers is even more important now to
residents and visitors as green space shrinks and essential to our migrating and resident
birds as wildlife habitat vanishes.