Ice Jam on the Niagara

An enormous ice dam formed at the source of the Niagara River on the eastern shore of Lake Erie on March 29, 1848. 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 until the waters of Lake Erie broke through the blockage and resumed their course down the river and over the falls.

[Niagara Falls, General View from Hennepin Point, Winter]. A.G. Landreth, c1914. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

By 1848, Niagara Falls was already a popular tourist spot, attracting thousands of visitors each summer. Daguerreotypist Platt Babbitt set up a studio and began taking images of tourists watching the falls in 1853.

American Falls from Goat Island, Niagara. c1908. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

The commercial development of the land surrounding the falls sparked a movement to preserve the falls’ natural beauty through public ownership. These efforts culminated in the July 15, 1885, opening of the 400-acre Niagara Reservation State Park. Now known as the Niagara Falls State Park, it is the oldest state park in the country.

In his address at the opening of the park, James T. Carter, an eminent New York lawyer and legal scholar, made an eloquent plea for the preservation, through public ownership, of scenic wonders. “These visions of Infinite Beauty here unfolded to the eye are not a property,” Carter insisted, “but a shrine—a temple erected by the hand of the Almighty for all the children of men.” Carter’s address is available in Selected Digitized Books and can be read online or downloaded.

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