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Frozen Niagara Falls Attracted Victorian Crowds

Frozen Niagara Falls attracted adventurous crowds through the 19th and early 20th century. To be precise, the Falls and river froze enough to completely stop the outpour of water only once, on March 29, 1848. Another near-freeze occurred in 1912 when the American Falls Froze. On years when the temperature reaches below zero for many days, the falls freeze partially. This occurred in 1906 and 1912. Whether fully or partially frozen Niagara Falls yields spectacular images.

The Freeze of March 29, 1848

On March 29, 1848, millions of tons of ice became lodged, forming an enormous ice dam at the source of the Niagara River on the eastern shore of Lake Erie. According to the Library of Congress:

“Just after midnight, the thunderous sound of water surging over the great falls at Niagara came to a halt as the flow of water became severely restricted due to the ice jam. The eerie silence persisted throughout the day and into the next evening…”

A bridge of ice formed and a few brave souls walked or rode horses across the river.

Thirty long silent hours later the waters of Lake Erie broke through the blockage and the frozen Niagara Falls resumed business as usual.

The Ice Bridge Beckons Brave Adventurers

The ice bridge often forms when the area has several days of sub-zero temperatures. According to Niagara Parks this happens during a mild spell followed by a strong southeast wind. Ice breaks up and travels down the Niagara River to the falls.

“This wet ice is then forced up out of the water below the Falls where it freezes into a huge mass, taking the appearance of a glacier; with the potential of building up to an incredible height of ten stories!”

By the 1880s, improvements in transportation allowed people to explore the natural wonders of America. Yellowstone became the first national park in 1871. Spectacles including Glacier Point and Yosemite’s Firefall became favorite destinations.

Preservationists’ efforts were rewarded on April 30, 1885, when Governor David B. Hill signed legislation creating the Niagara Reservation, New York’s first state park. Also in the 1880s people flocked to the frozen Niagara ice bridge.

“…it became a popular pastime to gather on the ice for entertainment and to enjoy refreshments served out of outdoor huts set up on the frozen surface. This continued until 1912, when an unfortunate mishap during a particularly mild spell led three people to their deaths, ending the era of public access onto the ice bridge.” (Niagara Parks)

A Valuable Source Of Hydroelectric Power

The first commercial hydroelectric power plant was built at Niagara Fall in 1879. In 1893 Westinghouse Electric designed a large AC system for Niagara Falls. It was activated on August 26, 1895.  Niagara Falls was the final victory of Tesla’s Polyphase Alternating Current (AC) Electricity, which is today lighting the entire globe.

To ensure there will be no interruptions of power, authorities installed steel ice-cutters to prevent total freezing.

Daredevils Attracted Huge Crowds

Niagara Falls and its dramatic rapids had been the site of extreme stunts through the late 1800s. Blondini walked a tightrope across the falls in 1859. The Great Farini challenged him in 1860, doing it with a washing machine on his back. In 1876 Maria Spelterini did it wearing peach baskets on her feet.

Annie Edson Taylor said she had no choice. She was down on her luck and running out of money as her charm school business was fading. With swarms of visitors expected to attend the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, Taylor saw an opportunity to reverse her fortune. On her birthday, October 24,1901 she became the first woman to go over the Falls in a barrel.

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