Tag Archives: Niagara Falls State Park

A Challenging Jewel Transformed at Niagara Falls State Park

Thundering waterfalls! Dangerous rapids! Towering ice! Quicksand!

If it sounds like the plot of a Hollywood adventure movie, these engineering obstacles surmounted during the rebuilding of the nation’s oldest state park at Niagara Falls fit the bill.

Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers recognized this massive, seven year, nearly $65 million revitalization project at Niagara Falls State Park as one of nine nationwide nominees for its Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award.

Established in 1960, this prestigious award honors the project that best illustrates superior civil engineering skills and represents a significant contribution to civil engineering progress and society. Honoring an overall project rather than an individual, the award recognizes the contributions of many engineers.  

Other past winners and nominees have included the new World Trade Center, Cowboys Stadium and seismic protection upgrades to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

This nomination for Niagara Falls recognized the complex and dangerous challenges in working in a place where 45 million of gallons of water a minute cascade over the 167-foot waterfalls and where freezing temperatures turn water into thick coats of ice. And that this work had to be done while the park remained open year-round to millions of visitors who come from all over the world.

A portion of the viewing area of the American Falls. In the distance (upper center), are the viewing areas at Luna Island and Goat Island. Horseshoe Falls is in the upper distance. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)

Overseen by the global engineering firm of T.Y. Lin International, work at the park involved 21 separate projects, including bridges, roads, parking, pathways, observation areas, railings, landscaping, electrical, mechanical and drainage systems all spread across the 400-acre facility, its three waterfalls – American, Bridal Veil, and Horseshoe – and its five islands – Luna, Goat and Three Sisters. The entire park is now ADA-compliant, and accessible to all.

To start, engineers initially had to inspect the condition of the existing infrastructure at America’s oldest state park, established in 1885 and inspired by the landscape design principles of Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux, who had overseen the design of Central Park in New York City. These inspections included assessing Luna Island’s pedestrian bridge, which spans the Niagara River a mere 80 feet from the roaring precipice of Bridal Veil Falls.

This white-knuckle account in the March 2020 of Civil Engineering magazine describes what had to be done: “… the team inspected the underside of the bridge at night – using specialized rigging – to avoid conflict with ongoing construction at Luna Island and the patrons occupying the Hurricane Deck 167 feet below… Supported by a system of cables and aluminum platforms suspended just two feet above the flowing river, the engineers performed their hands-on inspection of the existing stone-clad, cast-in-place concrete arch bridge.”

And how much fast-flowing, thundering water that is. On average, 3,160 tons of water flows over Niagara Falls every second. This accounts for 75,750 gallons of water per second over the American and Bridal Veil Falls, and 681,750 gallons per second over the Horseshoe Falls.


Above, engineers suspended above the brink of Bridal Veil Falls as they inspect the pedestrian bridge between Goat and Luna islands. (Photo credit – NYS Parks)

A few feet away from the workers was the brink of Bridal Veil Falls. And this is what it looks like over the edge to the base of the falls and the Cave of the Winds viewing decks…


Similar engineering and contracting work was required to bring new utilities – such as water and sewer, electrical service, fiber optics and telecommunications – from the mainland to Goat Island suspended underneath a 700-foot vehicle bridge over the river. Goat island separates Bridal Veil Falls from the American Falls.

This work “required safety harness tie-offs and specialized scaffolding – all of which required prior approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard and the New York State Department of Transportation.”

At other times, engineers, landscape architects and work crews had to deal with ice caused by the freezing of the constant mist over the falls, and the damage that freezing and thawing would do to rocky surfaces where walls and railings would have to be anchored.

There were some unanticipated man-man obstacles found in what was a heavily developed industrial area prior to becoming a park and generations of infrastructure had to be vetted. Ground-penetrating radar and seismic monitoring equipment were used to map the underground structures to determine whether to excavate or build around them.

And even the ground itself could be unpredictable. As described in the Civil Engineering magazine: “The park presented varying subsurface and poor soil conditions, for example, hidden pockets of soil with a consistency akin to quicksand that created design challenges and potentially hazardous conditions for the contractors.”

In an aerial shot of American Falls, the new Luna Island viewing area can be see at the right edge, with Bridal Veil Falls immediately to its right, , while the decks at the Cave of the Winds is at the bottom right. (Photo credits – NYS Parks)
The new Luna Island viewing area at Bridal Veil Falls, which is ADA accessible. (Photo credit – NYS Parks)

Niagara Falls was rebuilt as one of State Parks flagships under the NY Parks 2020 initiative. In addition to the $65 million spent on these projects, over $55 million more as been spent expanding green space north and south of the park as well as creating a new welcome plaza. So, for those who have not been to Niagara Falls for a while, now is the time to see the new and improved State Park, where engineers and other workers prevailed in a harsh and challenging environment to help bring the park into the 21st century.

The project was funded through Governor Cuomo’s Parks 2020 initiative and the New York Power Authority, via the Niagara River Greenway Fund.

The team that helped make this work and national engineering honor happen included:

T.Y. Lin International managed a team of consultants that included the LA Group,Saratoga Springs, which provided landscape architecture services; McMahon & Mann Consulting Structural Engineers, Buffalo; Foit-Albert Associates, Buffalo/Albany/New York, which provided architecture, engineering and surveying support; PGAV Destinations and Design Island, St. Louis/Pittsburgh, which created the new Cave of the Winds Experience.

The award winner and two runners-up be be chosen Oct. 8, 2021 during the ASCE Convention in Chicago, IL.  

Use this slideshow below to tour the revitalized Niagara Falls State Park…

And the map below shows the layout of the falls, the islands and the various infrastructure projects in the park’s revitalization..

Use the slider bar on this map to locate Goat and Luna islands, and some of the projects involved in the revitalization of Niagara Falls State Park.

Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks


Learn more about how Frederick Law Olmstead advocated for the creation of Niagara Falls as the nation’s first state park in this 2011 book published by The Urban Design Project, School of Architecture and Planning, University at Buffalo.

Women’s History Month for 2021 at New York State Parks

Women’s history has played a prominent role in the story of New York State, and some of these stories can be told through State Parks and Historic Sites.

In honor of Women’s History Month in March, the falls at Niagara Falls State Park will be illuminated March 7 in the historic suffragist colors of gold, white and purple starting at 6 p.m., and continuing on the hour through 11 p.m. The colors were the symbol of the National Woman’s Party, which advocated for women’s right to vote in the early 20th century.

According to a 1913 statement by the union, “Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White, the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose; and gold, the color of light and life, is as the torch that guides our purpose, pure and unswerving.”

The purple, white and gold flag of the National Woman’s Party. (Photo Credit- National Museum of American History/Behring Center)

Women’s History Month originated as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress requested that President Ronald Reagan proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987, Congress passed legislation establishing March as “Women’s History Month” and Presidents have issued annual national proclamations on the event since 1995.

Here in New York, State Parks events and programming will bring some of these stories to life include:

  • Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center, Jones Beach State Park:  The center, which explores how energy consumption shapes the natural environment, will feature a series of professional profiles of women involved in the conservation and renewable energy fields entitled “Women & the Green Economy.” Themes including marine conservation, coastal resilience, solar energy and power distribution will illuminate the roles of women in New York State and the nation.
  • Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, Yonkers: A tour of the Colonial-era mansion will explore the potential relationship between George Washington and Mary Philipse, daughter of the Lord of Philipsburg Manor and a Loyalist during the American Revolution, based on the 2019 novel “Dear George, Dear Mary” by author Mary Calvi. Guided tours start at 1 p.m. March 6, March 13, March 20 and March 27; attendance is limited to COVID-19 safety protocols. The event is free for children and Friends of Philipse Mantor Hall, $3 for seniors and students, and $5 for adults. Advance registration is available by calling (914) 965-4027.
  • Clermont State Historic Site, Germantown: A Facebook Live presentation and lecture entitled “Suffrage in the Hudson Valley” will focus on the fight for women’s rights that resulted in the passage of women’s suffrage in 1917 in New York State, and nationally in 1920 with passage of the 19th Amendment. Presented by Ashley Hopkins Benton, Senior Historian and Curator of Social History at the New York Museum, the event begins at 2 p.m. March 13. Registration is available here.
  • Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site, Newburgh: A presentation on the life of Martha Washington by Parks interpreter Karen Monti will be available on YouTube starting at 2 p.m. March 21. It will be followed by a presentation of the 2021 Martha Washington Woman of History Award to Sue Gardner, a published author, deputy historian for the town of Warwick, and a reference/local history librarian at the Albert Wisner Public Library. The program can be located by searching YouTube for “Palisades Interstate Park Commission Television.” More information is available by calling (845) 562-1195.
  • Clermont State Historic Site, Germantown: Interpreters will share a variety of stories on past women and girls in a program outside at the site at 2 p.m. March 20, as well as on Facebook in the event of poor weather. Registration is available here.
  • Clermont State Historic Site, Germantown: A free Facebook Live presentation will be made 2 p.m. March 6 on the story of Serena Livingston, which includes her courtship with a famous writer, her unhappy marriage to a famous general, and her adventures in the Old West. Registration is available here.
  • Jay Heritage Center, Rye: A Zoom virtual event will be held 6 p.m. March 8 by award-winning historian and Wall Street Journal columnist Dr. Amanda Foreman for a behind-the-scenes look at her documentary, “The Ascent of Woman” – the inspiration for her forthcoming book,  ‘The World Made by Women: A History of Women from the Apple to the Pill,’ scheduled to be published by Penguin Random House in 2022. Currently, Foreman is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal bi-weekly ‘Historically Speaking’ and an Honorary Research Senior Fellow in the History Department at the University of Liverpool. She is a co-founder of the literary nonprofit, House of SpeakEasy Foundation, a trustee of the Whiting Foundation, and an Honorary Research Senior Fellow in the History Department at the University of Liverpool. Registration is available here.
  • Grafton Lakes State Park, Grafton: A presentation will be made on the story of Helen Ellett, who was the second female fire tower observer in New York State, working at the parks Dickinson Fire Tower between 1943 and 1965. Ellett’s work influenced the creation of the Grafton Fire Department. The March 14 event will be held at 10 a.m. until noon, and again from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Preregistration is required no later than 4 p.m. March 9, and can be made by emailing graftonlakessp@parks.ny.gov. Attendance is limited due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Check out this slideshow of Helen Ellett at work…

And there are numerous State Historic Sites and Parks with links to women’s history that are outlined below.

Ganondagan State Historic Site 7000 County Rd 41, Victor, NY 14564: The women of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) lived in a society that afforded them a level of equality and freedom centuries before similar rights would be given to other women in the United States. Haudenosaunee women of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Mohawk, and Oneida chose their chiefs, owned and managed their own property, and held key political positions. When women in New York State began to organize to demand their rights, the Haudenosaunee provided a model of equality. Learn more here.

Caroline Parker Mount Pleasant, of the Seneca Wolf Clan, shown circa 1850 in an daguerreotype taken for Lewis Henry Morgan. (Photo Credit – New York Heritage Digital Collections)

Clermont State Historic Site1 Clermont Avenue, Germantown, NY 12526: Alida Schuyler Livingston was the matriarch of an influential early American family, but she was also a powerful businessperson in her own right who, along with her second husband, exerted significant political and economic influence in Colonial New York. She was part of a larger tradition of Dutch entrepreneurial women in the early colony that thrived thanks in part to the equal economic rights afforded to men and women under Dutch legal tradition. Learn more about her here and here.

Alida Schuyler Livingston. Photo Credit- Clermont State Historic Site.

Johnson Hall State Historic Site139 Hall Avenue, Johnstown, NY 12095: Known at different times of her life as Konwatsi’tsiaienni and Degonwadonti, Molly Brant was a Mohawk woman likely born sometime around 1736 and grew up near what is now Canajoharie, Montgomery County. By the age of 18, Molly was already beginning to participate in local politics and likely met Sir William Johnson, the royal English representative to the Native People of the Mohawk Valley, as she interacted with leaders in the area. Eventually, she and Johnson would become romantically linked and Molly would have eight children with him while living at his estate, Johnson Hall. She spoke her native Mohawk and dressed in the Mohawk style all her life and, after Johnson’s death, Molly would return to the Mohawk and lead as a Clan Mother during the turbulent Revolutionary War period. Learn more here.

A design for a 1986 Canadian postage stamp featuring an image of Molly Brant. (Photo Credit- National Park Service)

John Brown Farm State Historic Site 115 John Brown Road, Lake Placid, NY 12946: Abolitionist John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry before the Civil War earned him a prominent place in history books, but the contributions of his daughter, Annie, have been overlooked for more than a century. Committed to the freedom of the enslaved, Annie served as a lookout for the conspirators leading up to the raid on an armory in Virginia, and was vocal in the shaping of her father’s legacy in public memory, speaking stridently against depictions of him as “mad.” Learn more here and here.

Annie Brown, daughter of John Brown. (Photo Credit- U.S. Library of Congress)

John Brown Farm remains as an historic site today in part due to the actions of another New York woman: Kate Field. Field was an American journalist, editor, outdoorswoman, and actress who helped to purchase the farm eleven years after the 1859 raid in order to preserve it “as a public park or reservation forever.” Learn more about her here.

Kate Field (Photo Credit- New York Public Library)

John Jay Homestead State Historic Site400 Jay Street, Katonah, NY 10536:Founding Father John Jay would serve New York as governor and the country as its first Chief Justice, but his daughters had a strong hand in managing his household and estates. Learn more about the Jay women here.

Jay Heritage Center 210 Boston Post Road, Rye, NY 10580: The Jay family also owned an estate in Rye, New York, where young John Jay was raised. The land remained in the family for generations and was vital in inspiring one of America’s first female landscape architects, Mary Rutherford Jay, John’s great-great granddaughter who began her practice at the turn of the 20th century. Learn more here and here.

Mary Rutherford Jay (Photo Credit- Jay Heritage Center Archives)

Lorenzo State Historic Site17 Rippleton Road, Cazenovia, NY 13035: The Federal-style mansion at Lorenzo looks out onto a garden designed in 1914 by Ellen Biddle Shipman, a woman pioneer of landscape design, to enhance her father’s garden layout with more formal perennial beds. In 1983, restoration was begun following that 1914 plan and today the garden and grounds are available to the public and are often used for wedding ceremonies and receptions. The Lorenzo grounds are open year-round. Plan your visit here.

Ellen Biddle Shipman in her home circa 1920. (Photo Credit- Wikipedia Commons)

Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site7801 New York 69, Oriskany, NY 13424: During the Battle of Oriskany in the Revolutionary War, Oneida womanTyonajanegen (Two Kettles) accompanied her husband Han Yerry Tewahangarahken into battle, reloading his musket for him after he was wounded. She was known for her valor and her skills as a horsewoman, riding quickly to Fort Schuyler to warn of a coming attack. Learn more here.

National Purple Heart Hall of Honor – 374 Temple Hill Road Route 300, New Windsor, NY 12584: The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor has a mission to collect, preserve and share the stories of Purple Heart recipients from all branches of service and across all conflicts for which the award has been available. While there is no comprehensive list of Purple Heart recipients maintained by the government, the Hall maintains a Roll of Honor of recipients submitted by friends, family, and the recipients themselves. For the month of March, the Hall will feature 20 women recipients and additional women recipients on the site’s Facebook page.

Here is one such story, of U.S. Army Sgt. Cari Anne Gasiewicz, a native of Depew, Erie County. Sgt. Gasiewicz served two tours in Korea, where her aptitude for languages prompted her superiors to send to study Arabic at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, she served Iraq as an Arab language linguist with a military intelligence unit.

When her unit was being redeployed from Iraq to Kuwait, she volunteered to drive a supply truck rather than leave via aircraft. On the drive, her vehicle was hit by two I.E.D.s. (improvised explosive device) killing the 28-year-old  on 4 December 2004. In her honor, the Defense Language Institute, located at the Presidio of Monterey in California dedicated Gasiewicz Hall in her name. It is the first building there named for a woman.

Sgt. Carrie Ann Gasiewicz (Photo Credit- National Purple Heart Hall of Honor)

Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site32 Catherine Street, Albany, NY 12202: The success of the Hamilton musical has generated quite a bit of public interest in the Schuyler family history. Learn about Angelica Schuyler’s contributions to military intelligence on the patriot side during the Revolutionary War here. Learn about the stories of enslaved women at the mansion here. Tours of the restored mansion can be reserved in advance here.

Portrait of Mrs. John Barker Church (Angelica Schuyler), her son Philip, and a servant. (Photo Credit- Wikimedia Commons)

Bear Mountain State ParkPalisades Parkway or Route 9W North, Bear Mountain, NY 10911: Considered Colonial America’s first female botanist, Jane Colden (1724-1760) grew up on her family’s farm west of Newburgh. Orange County. After showing an early interest in plants, she went on to write her own Botanical Manuscript describing over 300 native flora. At the end of March, the park will unveil a hand-painted sign detailing Colden’s contribution to botany in the Hudson Valley. It will be located at the Jane Colden Garden at the park’s Trailside Museums and Zoo.

Staatsburgh State Historic Site – 75 Mills Mansion Drive, Road #1, Staatsburg, NY 12580: Ruth Livingston Mills, scion of the wealthy Hudson Valley Livingston family, was a dominating presence in the upper class social circles of the Gilded Age, entertaining from her grand Staatsburg mansion on the Hudson River in Dutchess County. Learn more here about a mysterious artist who painted the portrait of Ruth Livingston Mills and its connection to the suffrage movement for women’s rights.

The portrait of Ruth Livingston Mills. (Photo Credit- Staatsburgh State Historic Site)

Letchworth State Park Castile, NY, 14427: While preservation of the park’s scenic beauty and historic assets is the work of William Pryor Letchworth, his right hand in preserving “The Grand Canyon of the East” was his indispensable secretary, Caroline Bishop. She worked with Letchworth for 27 years, living at the Glen Iris estate with him and the rest of his staff and, after his passing, became the park’s first superintendent and Librarian/Curator of the park’s museum.

Letchworth also was the setting for the story of Mary Jemison, a Scotch-Irish colonial woman adopted by the Seneca during the French and Indian War. She later gained notoriety after writing a memoir of her life. After her death, her body was reinterred near the historic site of a Seneca council house, now within Letchworth State Park.

Statute of Mary Jemison at Letchworth State Park (Photo Credit- Letchworth State Park)

Saratoga Spa State Park – 19 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866: Grace Maguire Swanner graduated from Albany Medical College in 1933 and devoted much of her life outside of private practice to helping to preserve the park’s Lincoln and Washington baths. Dr. Swanner was named acting medical director of the spa in 1953, began a school of massage as a training facility for the spa, and  later wrote  a book detailing the geologic and sociologic history of the park called “Saratoga Queen of Spas”.  

Dr. Grace Maguire Swanner.

The State Parks Blog also has recent posts on women in New York State history, including Beatrice Mary MacDonald,  a World War I nurse who became the first woman to be awarded the Purple Heart; Annie Edson Taylor, a Finger Lakes native who became the first person to survive a plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel; noted African American abolitionist and suffragist Sojourner Truth; and even anti-suffragists in New York who allied with efforts to deny them from obtaining the vote.


Cover Shot- NYS logo in the colors of the National Woman’s Party. (Photo Credit- National Park Service)


Post by Mary Patton, Historic Preservation Program Analyst, Division of Historic Preservation.

Remembering The Queen of The Mist

It is 1901 and the dawn of a new century. The Pan-American Exposition is going on in Buffalo, a world’s fair that was attracting people from all over the world, with many of those visitors taking train excursions to nearby world-famous Niagara Falls.

During the expo, visitation was running between 10,000 to 50,000 people daily at Niagara Falls Reservation State Park. And the attention of these crowds is exactly what Finger Lakes native Annie Edson Taylor wanted to grab.

A 63-year-old widow and retired schoolteacher living in Bay City, Michigan, Annie was in financial straights at that point in her life. Sensing an opportunity in Buffalo, she went there with the idea to become rich and famous by doing something no one had ever done – going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

People had been barrel-riding the rapids below the falls to much popular acclaim during a time when there were no rules in place for such dangerous stunts. Today, there are laws in place at the falls making it illegal for anyone attempting such actions, which since the 1950s have been subject to prosecution and substantial fine by both the U.S. and Canadian governments.

Inspired by the daring barrel-riders in the Whirlpool Rapids below the falls, Annie had her own barrel made of white Kentucky oak to her specifications by a local company.  Cushions, pillows and a harness were placed inside for protection. The barrel had a tube through a hole so air could be pumped in when the barrel was sealed.

First, the rookie daredevil decided she had to test it. So Annie sent out the barrel with a cat inside for a run over Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls on Oct. 18, 1901. When the barrel washed to shore and was opened, the cat emerged unharmed, boosting Annie’s confidence that she too could survive the 167-foot plunge.

Annie Taylor with her barrel and a cat, possibly the cat that went in the test run over Horseshoe Falls. (Photo Credit – U.S. Library of Congress)

On Oct. 24 – her 63rd birthday – Annie set out with her two assistants, William Holleran and Fred Truesdale, to Port Day on the U.S. side of the river that led to the rapids above Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. She had announced her intentions, and onlookers had gathered.

The daredevil had changed into more comfortable clothes – a lightweight blue skirt and blue blouse for her journey. Her assistants tied the barrel to a rowboat, making sure Annie was secured inside before closing the lid. Some air was pumped inside the barrel using a hose, and the men rowed into the river with the barrel in tow.  With the rope cut, the barrel floated off toward the roaring falls.

Annie and her two assistants soak the barrel prior to the trip to help seal it. (Photo Credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)
Annie goes into the barrel before the top is sealed. (Photo credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)
Onlookers are onshore as Annie inside her barrel is rowed into the river above the rapids. (Photo credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)
Annie comes ashore after her plunge, suffering only a few cuts and bruises. (Photo credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)

A few minutes later, several men waiting on shore drag the slightly beat-up barrel to the river’s edge on the Canadian side. They remove the lid to see how she has fared. And Annie is alive!

She gets out stumbling, with only minor injuries, for which she is brought back to the U.S. side and taken for medical treatment. Her stunt has worked, and she has made history as the first person to ever go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive.

Now, she must have believed her quest for fame and fortune would be rewarded. Making an appearance at the Pan-Am Expo’s last day on November 1 to sensational newspaper headlines, Annie posed next to a barrel, most likely labelled, “Queen of the Mist.”

After this feat, Annie made her home in Niagara Falls hoping to cash in. While she had some immediate fame, fortune was to elude her. She found little success on the lecture circuit and even lost her barrel after it was stolen by her manager.

Rather than becoming rich, she was able only to eke out a meager living selling postcards and other souvenirs from a stand in front of a store near the falls. She never attempted any other stunt.

Indigent in her old age, Annie ended up becoming a resident of the County Home in Lockport. She became blind and passed away two decades after her famous plunge at age 82.

The people of Niagara Falls raised funds to help provide Annie with a burial plot at the historic Oakwood Cemetery in a section called “Stunters’ Rest” for daredevils who have braved the falls, either successfully or unsuccessfully, according to an entry on the cemetery in the National Register of Historic Places.

Other stunters buried there included Matthew Webb who died in 1883 in an attempt to swim the Niagara rapids and Carlisle Graham, who survived a trip through the rapids in a barrel in 1886.

While riches eluded Annie in life, her legacy from a bygone era of daredevils lives on. Her records as the first and oldest person to survive a trip over the falls remain intact, nearly a century after her death.

Annie Taylor’s final resting place in the Stunters’ Rest section of historic Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls. (Photo Credit – Carol Rogers)

While Niagara Falls are essentially the same as they were in Annie’s time, Niagara Falls Reservation State Park, created in 1885 as the oldest state park in the United States, has undergone major improvements as part of the NY Parks 2020 initiative . The park remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click through this slideshow to take a look…

Cover Photo – Annie Taylor on the street in Niagara Falls at her souvenir stand. (Photo Credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)

Post by Carol Rogers, Environmental Educator, Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office, NYS Parks

Sources

Niagara Falls Public Library History Department, Niagara Falls

NYS Parks, Niagara Region, Interpretive Programs Archives

Oakwood Cemetery, Niagara Falls

Juneteenth — Coming to Terms with Freedom

Tonight, the digital lights used to illuminate Niagara Falls will transform the thundering cascade into red, black, and green. Why?

There are three major threads in the answer: this date, June 19th; the colors red, black, and green; and our continued search for freedom. These threads are tightly woven into the fabric of New York’s history, and that of our country.

And one of the threads also carries a man who was born to a farm family in 1821 in a little hamlet called Joy in Wayne County, not far from Lake Ontario.

First the date, Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, in the Galveston, Texas, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army stood in front of a crowd of enslaved people of African descent and their enslavers, and declared the freedom established by the Emancipation Proclamation. Two years after President Lincoln issued that proclamation, those enslaved in Texas finally learned they were free.

“The people are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, become that between employer and hired labor. The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

General Order # 3, as read publicly June 19, 1865 in Galveston by Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army.

Major General Granger was a New Yorker from the hamlet of Joy, in the town of Sodus, Wayne County. A a young man, Granger taught for a time in the one-room schoolhouse on Preemption Road in Sodus. He then enrolled at the West Point military academy, graduating in 1845, going on to serve in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1849.

Granger remained in the U.S. Army, with subsequent assignments in Oregon and Texas, and when the Civil War began in 1861, he was posted to Ohio. He later served in Missouri as part of Union forces that protected a key federal armory at St. Louis from falling into Confederate hands. In 1863, he played a decisive role in averting Union defeat the Battle of Chickamauga.

As war’s end, Granger was assigned to the newly-subdued Confederate state of Texas, where he read General Order #3 . That reading in Galveston became the basis of the African American community’s Juneteenth celebration, which was also known as Emancipation Day.

“In retrospect, it is very fitting that a man from Joy brought so much joy to a suppressed people in our country,” said Wayne County Historian Peter Evans.


Why did it take two years? Well…there are various tales about two earlier Union messengers, who traveled over land, but ultimately did not arrive in Texas. Granger entered the last Confederate state by water, with a fully loaded army.  Texas is a big place, and held many of the enslaved.

Even though Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered on May 9 in Virginia, it took time for word to get out that the war was essentially over.  Major General Granger and army moved from place to place after Galveston, reading General Order #3 repeatedly, setting off much rejoicing from the formerly enslaved, as well as variations of the same question, ‘What now?’

Historical marker in Galveston, Texas, the site of the original Juneteenth. (Photo credit- Galveston Historical Foundation)

Coming to terms with freedom was not an easy task for those newly freed, or for those who had enslaved them. Where were the freedmen to go? What were they to do? Who was going to bring in the crops, cook the meals, care for the children? What had been ‘normal’ life was changed in an instant. A new reality now existed but what did it mean?

Theirs was a position much like what we find ourselves in today. One minute things are moving along pretty much as they had been the day before, our routines keeping everyone’s life flowing, then suddenly wham! We’re faced with something we don’t quite understand and the big question ‘What now?’

Although people point to June 19th  as the exact catalytic moment for celebration, it is the process of coming to terms with freedom that is the driving force behind the celebration of Juneteenth in the 21st century. Spreading the word about freedom and defining what that meant took time and it is something we are still grappling with today.

The Colors: Red, Black, and Green

On August 13, 1920, at Madison Square Garden, New York City, members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) adopted the Pan-African flag, also known as the UNIA flag, and the Black Liberation flag as ‘the’ flag for black people across the diaspora and in Africa. The organization, founded by Marcus Garvey, was composed of members from around the globe. The flag was created in response to a popular 1920 song, “Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon.”

Pan-African flag.

In 1921 the UNIA published the Universal Negro Catechism, which outlined the meaning of the colors of the flag. “Red is the color of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty; black is the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong; green is the color of the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland. “

At a time when racism was living in our country under the title of Jim Crow, and segregation was real even in New York, African Americans were working to improve their circumstances in every way possible. The UNIA flag took flight and the colors were embraced. They were seen throughout the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, and various black liberation movements around the world. They appeared everywhere and are also the colors of the candles used during Kwanzaa. They are the colors which symbolize to most African Americans and others who have supported their fight for human rights that the struggle was and remains real and the work continues.

Although in 1997 the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) created a flag to honor the day, we have chosen at this pivotal time in our Nation’s history to use the colors most New Yorkers would recognize as those representing the continued struggle for freedom, dignity and human rights by African Americans and members of the African diaspora: the red, black, and green of the Black Liberation flag.  

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Juneteenth will now be an official state holiday.

“Friday is Juneteenth – a day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States – and it’s a day that is especially relevant in this moment in history,” Governor Cuomo said. “Although slavery ended over 150 years ago, there has still been rampant, systemic discrimination and injustice in this state and this nation, and we have been working to enact real reforms to address these inequalities. I am going to issue an Executive Order recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees and I’ll propose legislation next year to make it an official state holiday so New Yorkers can use this day to reflect on all the changes we still need to make to create a more fair, just and equal society.”

Juneteenth is now recognized as a holiday or special day of observance by 47 states, with New York first marking it as a day of observance in 2004.

The Juneteenth Flag. (Photo credit- National Juneteenth Observance Foundation)

Freedom in Our Time

At the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, we continue to work to bring forward the under-told stories of the lives, cultures, and work of Africans and African Americans who helped to build New York and our Nation. The thread of their lives must be woven back into the whole cloth of our State’s history.

We do so by sharing with you the entire historic timeline. From the arrival of the first Africans who were enslaved in New Netherland in 1625 to 20th century locations that mark important cultural shifts and points of pride from around our State.

Exhibits like the Dishonorable Trade at Crailo State Historic Site help us to understand how an empire was laid on the foundation of the global slave trade. We celebrate the preservation of African culture In New York, during the years of enslavement at Pinkster.

Reviving A Dutch Holiday with African Flavor

As spring moves toward summer, we are in the time of an historic celebration dating to New York’s colonial era known as Pinkster – the Dutch word for the religious holiday of Pentecost. Pinkster was a three- to five-day celebration beginning the Monday following Pentecost Sunday held in Dutch Colonial New Netherland and later New … Continue reading Reviving A Dutch Holiday with African Flavor

In the Adirondacks, we operate the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, at the home of a New York abolitionist who took up arms in a bid to liberate slaves in the South.

We honor the dedication of service given by men of African descent, first to the colony of New York and later to the United States at many of our military parks, from New Windsor Cantonment to Fort Ontario. Remembering the enslaved and free who served in the Revolutionary War all the way to the Harlem Hell Fighters during World War I.

We bring to light the work of men just trying to make a living during the Great Depression, through their employment in the Civilian Conservation Corps.

A Legacy of Strength

During the 1930s when racial segregation and Jim Crow held sway over much of America, there was a Depression-era federal public works unit where African-Americans, not whites, were in command. And it was here in New York State Parks. To combat rampant unemployment among young men, President Franklin Roosevelt had created the Civilian Conservation Corps … Continue reading A Legacy of Strength

The work and commitment of women like Sojourner Truth and Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for President and the inspiration for the largest State Park in New York City.  All while saving important landmarks connected to Black culture across 200 hundred years of State history.

Shirley Chisholm State Park

Wonderful places right in our own neighborhoods like the historic Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered “The American Dream” address, to the Colored Musicians Club in Buffalo, through the State’s Registry of Historic Landmarks and supporting them as they seek national recognition. We do this, not only for the African American community, but for all the communities that have helped to build New York.

Colored Musicians Club in Buffalo. (Photo Credit- Empire State Development)

Our history has always been blended. Henry Hudson did not find an empty land, but one filled with people and culture; the Munsee, the Wappingers and Lenape among them, to this more was added. The formation has been forward moving, but not always easily.

New York is and has been one of the main gateways through which people have entered this country and continue to do so. It has also been a way towards freedom as thousands passed through on the Underground Railroad, heading north to Canada. Aiming for Niagara Falls and the freedom that lay just on the other side.

As we continue to come to terms with freedom, we invited you to explore the rich stories of others who have also found themselves struggling with defining what those terms meant to them. Narratives to be found at our parks and historic sites, online and in person. These stories, from those of the Native Peoples at Ganondagan to the newly renamed Marsha P. Johnson State Park cross over and through all the cultures and timelines that create the vibrancy of New York.

Marsha P. Johnson State Park in New York City.

And, what became of Gordon Granger? A year after he read General Order #3, he was reassigned as an officer in the 25th Infantry Regiment, which was of four racially segregated regiments made up of African American enlisted men and white officers.

These four regiments became known collectively as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” which was the nickname given by Native Americans to African American soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars of the west.

With the Statue of Liberty at one end and Niagara Falls at the other we offer this lighting of Niagara Falls as a symbol of our continued willingness to be inclusive and open, even amidst struggle and pain.

A young participant tries her hand at drumming during a 2012 Juneteenth celebration at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid.

Cover Photo- Niagara Falls at Niagara Falls State Park, by New York State Parks. All photos by NYS Parks unless otherwise credited.

Post by Lavada Nahon, Interpreter of African American History, Bureau of Historic Sites, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Gorge-ous Gulls of the Niagara in Winter

The Niagara River is well-known as an international destination for its tremendous waterfalls, which form spectacular ice formations during the winter. Perhaps a lesser known fact, however, is that the river is also a critical haven for migrating birds during this time of the year.

Gulls, in particular, are a common sight along the Niagara, with as many as 100,000 gulls stopping over the river during the winter and fall.

The river is attractive to gulls because it offers them food and shelter, and serves as a rest stop for long migrations from the arctic to the Atlantic coast. As well as providing plenty of small fish, the area also serves as protection from storms that can affect the Great Lakes during the wintertime.

Created in 1885, Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States, with hundreds of thousands of visitors annual drawn by the immense power and beauty of the thundering cataracts. Looking down from the edge of Niagara Gorge in autumn or winter, the air above the turbulent waters is at times white with wheeling and diving gulls.

In recognition of the river’s important habitat for feeding, nesting, wintering, and during migration, it has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society.

Just down the river, Fort Niagara State Park on Lake Ontario also is recognized as part of this area.


“The site is particularly noteworthy as a migratory stopover and wintering site for Bonaparte’s Gulls, with one-day counts ranging from 10,000-50,000 individuals (2-10% of the world population). One-day Ring-billed Gull counts vary from 10,000-20,000, and one-day Herring Gull counts vary from 10,000-50,000. The river also hosts a remarkable diversity and abundance of waterfowl.”

Audubon Society on Important Bird Area in Niagara River Corridor

These gull populations peak in the winter, so going bird-watching is a great way to get outdoors during the cold season and see yet another wonder that the falls, the river and this region have to offer.

If you choose to go birding along the river this season, here are some gulls you might end up seeing:

Bonaparte’s Gull

A nonbreeding Bonaparte’s Gull in flight. (Credit- Wikipedia Commons)
A breeding adult Bonaparte Gull, with its distinctive black head. (Credit- Wikipedia Commons)

Bonaparte’s Gull is a small gull with a white underbelly, grey back, and thin, black beak. The top outer parts of its wings have wedges of white edged in black. Breeding adults have black heads but nonbreeding and young gulls have a white head with a dark smudge behind its eye. These gulls like to winter near people and, in fact, are the only gulls that regularly nest in trees!

Ring-Billed Gull

A Ring-Bill Gull stands on a rock. (Credit-State Parks)

Ring-Billed Gulls have yellow beaks with a black band, or ‘ring’, encircling it. The breeding adult has a gray back and black wingtips. In the winter, these birds develop tan streaking across the head. These yellow-legged birds may be found further inland.

Herring Gull

An adult Herring Gull. (Credit-State Parks)

Herring Gulls are on the larger side and are much like the quintessential seagull. They have yellow eyes, pale pink legs, and a red spot on the bottom of their yellow beaks. An adult has a grey mantle and black wingtips, much like the Ring-Billed Gull. These birds start of uniformly dark and then get paler and they grow older, their plumages varying over their first four years. Herring Gulls may be found year-round along the Niagara.

Great Black-Backed Gull

A Great Blacked-Back Gull in flght. (Credit- Wikipedia Commons)

The Great Black-Backed Gull is the world’s largest gull! It has black wings and mantle, a white underside as an adult, and red rings around its eyes. Like the Herring Hull, younger birds’ plumages change as they age; the younger Great Black-Backed Gulls can be differentiated because of higher contrast in their colors than the young Herring Gull. These gulls come to Niagara from the East Coast.

Iceland Gull

An iceland Gull in flight. (Credit-Audubon Society)

Iceland Gulls are slightly smaller than Herring Gulls. These gulls, when adults, have a pale gray mantle and wingtips that can vary in color, from white in the east to black in the west. The darker winged gulls used to be labeled ‘Thayer’s gulls’ and considered a different species, but the two were combined in 2017. These gulls come to Niagara from the Arctic.

Sabine’s Gull

A Sabine’s Gull in flight (Credit-Audubon Society)

This small gull has a spectacular wing pattern, long pointed wings, a notched tail, and a short black bill with a yellow tip . Generally a prized sighting for birders, because it nests on tundra of the high Arctic and migrates south at sea, often well offshore. Those from eastern Canada and Greenland mostly migrate eastward across North Atlantic and then south.

These are just six of the 19 different species of gulls have been spotted here. So, grab your binoculars and see for yourself!


Sources:

Cover Photo: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Audubon Society of New York: https://ny.audubon.org/

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/

Important Bird Areas of Canada: https://www.ibacanada.com/