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Early Niagara County History
- Usually the history of a county is largely only of local interest, but Niagara has much that is worthy of attention by the State, and even nations. Its location in the extreme northwest corner of New York makes its western boundary line the dividing one between this country and Canada. The Niagara River, separating two nations, while only 36 miles long, is the site of one of the most wonderful natural spectacles of the earth, and at one time was the site of the greatest hydro-electrical power developments in the world. Here, too, it was that the French and English fought for the control of the western continent, and only along the frontier of Niagara County was there a continuous warfare waged throughout the War of 1812. And it was said, in the days of World War I that "if the Kaiser had owned Niagara, he could have won that war."
Niagara was established as a county from Genesee, including the present Erie County, March 11, 1808, with the county seat at Buffalo. As now constituted, it was formed April 2, 1821, when Erie County became a separate entity. Much that is of historic interest occurred before even the latter date. Six years after the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, and the same length of time after Hudson discovered the river that bears his name, two years later than the erection of a few huts on the island of Manhattan, and five years before the Pilgrim Fathers landed on Plymouth Rock, the first white man, Etienne Brule, came to the Niagara region. He had been sent there to gain the aid of certain Indians against the Iroquois. He did not see the Falls, however; even the priest who came into this country in 1626, and the Jesuit Fathers who followed in 1640, failed to find the natural wonder. Many of the French had learned of the great Falls from the Indians, and their position mapped as early as 1612 from these descriptions, but it was not until he who was to be the most frequent of Niagara's visitors of the olden time, La Salle, arrived in 1669 that this spectacle can be said to have been "discovered." This same Robert Cavalier de La Salle, in 1678, built the "Griffon," the first vessel to sail the "unsalted sea" of Erie, and become the "Father of our Lake Commerce."
Whoever discovered Niagara Falls, it seems to be established that Father Hennepin was the first to describe them in 1678, and for 250 years others have attempted to do this adequately, with only fair success. From the industrial point of view, here is a water power of from five to seven and a half millions of horse power per year, three quarters of which is on the Canadian side. Only a small portion of this might is utilized by the industrial plants on both sides of the river, but there is fear that still greater diversions of the water may, in the end, ruin the falls as a spectacle, but these seem unfounded. Secretary Hoover, however, in September, 1925, drew attention to the danger of the erosion of the softer stone, causing breaks in the surface rock, which might seriously impair its beauty.
Use was made of the falls nearly 200 years ago, and then abandoned for a century. There really was very little power utilized until 1895, when a power plant started furnishing electric power to a large reduction company. This latter company is now a maker of aluminum with three tremendous plants by the Falls, and is credited with being the greatest power user in the world. Since 1895 Niagara Falls has become the electro-chemical center of the United States, and this is but one of the many interests surrounding this district. A mere list of the products of this center would fill pages, and the part it played in supplying essential materials during the World War emphasized its importance not only to the United States, but to the world at large.
The county is more than the site of a great natural wonder, and the industrial center around it. Niagara, with an area of more than 300,000 acres, the most of which is arable, is one of the leading agricultural sections in the State, and as a fruit growing section is famous. There are probably few districts of like size with so many bearing apple trees, and for more than a half century it has been the leading apple producing county in the East. Peaches are grown in quantity in nearly all parts of the county, and most of the small fruits are produced in commercial quantities. As high as 3,000 carloads of produce have been shipped in one season; one station, Barker, shipping 1,700. The Niagara grape and peach originated in the county.
The division of Genesee County in 1808, known as Niagara County, was a comparatively unsettled wilderness up to a few years previous to that date. In 1799, a gentleman well acquainted with this part of the State, wrote a friend that "for sixty-five miles east of the Niagara River the country was a wilderness, there being a station at Big Plains to care for the chance visitor on his way to the Falls." "There are two or three huts and one framed house at Buffalo and two or three at Lewiston." The Indian title to the land had been extinguished, but the British still held Fort Niagara. Lewiston was founded in 1798, but existed mostly on paper for a number of years. Not until 1802 were the first American permanent settlements made in this region.
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- Native American
- Trains & Steamboats
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Copyright © 1996 by Richard Frisbie -- All rights reserved.