It was a very good year The year 1885 was a pivotal year in the life of Niagara Falls, NY, a 16-square-mile city about 25 miles north of Buffalo and on the border between Canada and the U.S. If it weren't for what happened that year, we might not have been able to view the
Already, by that time, the area around the Falls was being built up with factories, mills, warehouses, taverns, hotels, and other commercial structures. As well, these business people and property owners were blocking access by putting up high fences and other barriers and charging people to see the Falls. And that might have led to the slow death of the town rather than the healthy 55,000-population resort destination it is today.
So, what exactly did happen in 1885? Bowing to pressure from the 'Free Niagara' lobby, led by the famous landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York City's Central Park, the New York State legislature passed a law creating the 200-acre
Cascade and they will come Thanks to these efforts, today's Niagara Falls, incorporated in 1892, is a bustling place with a thriving tourism industry that, with its sister city on the Canadian side, annually attracts between 14 and 18 million people and brings in something like USD1 billion a year in revenue for the region. The proximity of the Falls to the metropolitan areas of New York and Toronto put it within easy reach of more than 100 million people.
At the same time, the cheap electrical power generated by harnessing the Niagara River and Falls attracted numerous industries to the area during the early part of the 20th century. Some of these industries, such as Occidental Chemical, EI Dupont, Nabisco, US Vanadium, and Goodyear, remain, providing work for those in the population who aren't connected to the hospitality and tourism trade. Many industries, however, either shut down in the last 30 years or moved to the suburbs or surrounding small towns. After a prolonged economic downturn, the city has been revitalizing its downtown area, thus making it more attractive and viable for both residents and businesses.
But there is no doubt in anyone's mind what the prime pump for the economy is: without the Falls, this city would be simply one more border crossing fallen on hard times due to the collapse of heavy industry and shipping. The Falls form a cascade in more ways than one, including a trickle-down effect for the economy.
High rise to low-slung It is the Falls that supports the 3,000 hotel/motel/bed & breakfast rooms in the region. They allow luxury high rises such as
It is the Falls that bring 50,000 honeymooners a year (drawn, some say, by the negative ions released by the falling water and believed to be strong aphrodisiacs). And it is thanks to the Falls that attractions such as
Around Niagara Falls proper lie a series of historic towns and villages including: Lewiston, home of the Outdoor Fine Arts Festival and Lewiston Museum, Lockport, with its Erie Canal heritage and
Geologic shift makes good Niagara Falls has its own
All made possible thanks to a quirky geologic shift 12,000 years ago that sent the Niagara River plunging down the edge of the escarpment.
The city of Niagara Falls, NY, is eternally grateful and shows that gratitude by making sure each and every one of the millions of visitors gets a free and unobstructed look at that Seventh Natural Wonder of the World.
Niagara Falls, NY, has them all…
Be it five-star high-rise on the edge of the Falls or no-frills campground on Grand Island…
Cozy bed & breakfast on a shady tree-lined side-street or convenient back-up-and-park motel along the main drag…
Downtown deluxe or suburban sanctuary…
Jacuzzi honeymoon apartment or simple single with shared bath…
Family efficiency or business traveler's all-equipped and fax/modem computer ready executive suite…
And it has them in numbers, boasting a whopping 3,700 rooms within the city limits. Of those, there's a concentration of more than 1,800 within walking distance of the Falls and other attractions such as the Niagara Falls Convention Center, Aquarium of Niagara, and Maid of the Mist boat ride. And that's not counting the hundreds more in the surrounding areas such as Lewiston, Youngstown and Lockport (or the many thousands more across the river in Canada).
Action central: downtown Facing the Niagara Reservation State Park, home to the Falls, can be found close to a dozen hotels and inns. All of these, starting with the nearest one, Comfort Inn The Pointe, offer spectacular views of the cascading waters amid a high-class upscale ambience. The “big boys” include Holiday Inn at the Falls and Holiday Inn Select, Sheraton Four Points with amenities for both families and business travelers, Days Inn at the Falls, and Ramada By The Falls, a Gold Key award-winning hotel. For added value, couples with an itch to get hitched can do so right at the Quality Hotel & Suites' Falls Wedding Chapel.
Those looking for slightly more low-key accommodations have their choice of several inns and motels in the downtown area. These include the 18-room Coachman Motel, and the Econolodge, formerly The Red Maple Inn, featuring brailled exits and elevators. If you're a backpacker or like to save your money for shopping and the sights, try Hostelling International-Niagara Falls, where you can get a bed for $13 a night.
Bed & Breakfasts abound in the Niagara Falls area—and not just on the outskirts of town either. Victoria's Angel Rose, for example, is a cozy four-room B&B whose backyard faces the Niagara River while the Rainbow House Bed & Breakfast is a combination inn and wedding chapel, and Manchester House Bed and Breakfast offers homemade breads and muffins for breakfast.
Along the boulevard On the eastern outskirts of the city, Niagara Falls Boulevard or Route 62 abounds with hotels and motels, especially in the area close to Niagara Falls International Airport, Niagara Falls Prime Outlet Malls, and Summit Park Mall. The Best Western Summit Inn lies directly across from the airport while both the Econo Lodge and Howard Johnson Inn are poised at major intersections to help travelers get quickly from place to place.
As for motels, the choice is vast with more than two dozen lined up along the boulevard and ranging from the tiny 3 Star and 17-room Sands to the 50- and 55-room Thruway Inn and Scottish Inns respectively. Some have heated pools; others Jacuzzi suites; some welcome pets; others have kitchenettes. But the motels, small or large, have one thing in common: clean, comfortable rooms at affordable prices.
Pitching that tent Couples and families looking to make Niagara Falls part of their camping vacation have several options, including the Niagara Falls KOA on Grand Island, directly opposite Martin's Fantasy Island, Niagara Falls North KOA, outside the historic town Lewiston, Four Mile Creek State Campgrounds in Four Mile Creek State Park, and the Niagara County Camping Resort, with 240 wooded sites near Lockport. For RV'ers, the Knights Inn grounds along Niagara Falls Boulevard feature the Beacon Trailer Park, offering sites at USD20 a pop. No matter what you choose, it's a swell way to get closer to nature.
Those who like to be in touch with nature but from within the comfort of a cozy, quilt-covered bed need look no further than the line-up of B&Bs along the country roads and Niagara River banks north and east of the Falls. From the stately almost Southern feel of the Cameo Inn and Cameo Manor North along the Seaway Trail in Lewiston to Joanne's Bed and Breakfast in Youngstown with its singing Irish host and Lockport's Hambleton House B&B, a short walk from the Erie Canal, there's something here just for you.
So, whether you choose five-star service and heated swimming pool or pastel-colored motel with pink flamingos, whether you seek your thrills in an antique-furnished B&B or a tent with electric hookup, you're bound to find something to your taste and budget in the land of the roaring waters.
Please Note: Room rates and other costs fluctuate greatly depending on the time of year. So please check all rates to make sure you're not in for a surprise when you arrive.
Roaring Falls, rumbling stomach When it comes to figuring out why those millions of eager tourists flock to Niagara Falls, New York, each year, it's definitely a no-brainer. But even the most die-hard, honeymoon-bound, just-can't-get-enough Falls gawker has to stop and get a bite to eat at some point, right? That's when you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that there is more to Western New York cuisine than beef on weck, Buffalo chicken wings, and Friday night fish fries!
In fact, restaurants in the Niagara Falls area run the whole gamut from upscale hotel dining spots with fancy-garbed waiters to delightful mom and pop emporiums, from theme-based establishments and fast-food eateries to ethnic delights and deli diners. And we haven't even mentioned the country inns whose dining halls take you back to a simpler, less confusing time.
There's an old saying among restaurant reviewers that, when visiting a place you don't know anything about, you can't go wrong eating at a hotel. You might not get the best meal in town but it won't be the worst either. And the service is bound to be beyond reproach. That's definitely the case here where hotels such as Sheraton Four Points and Holiday Inn at the Falls have their own on-site restaurants in the casual Country Kitchen and Phin's Seafood Bistro respectively. Among the best is the Greenery at the Travelodge Hotel Fallsview, offering an eclectic choice of dinner dishes from spaghetti to surf and turf.
A family tradition Becoming a little more adventurous, you'll find plenty of fine restaurants in the area. Many are family-owned and operated establishments serving delicious authentic cuisine. Whatever your pleasure, there is sure to be a chef ready to tame your growling stomach.
The first Indian chef in the city, Jaswant S Chahal, owns Sardar Sahib, an authentic Indian restaurant in the downtown area with a menu that includes family recipes passed down for generations. Make that centuries. The food is mouth-watering and not as scorchingly hot as you might have been led to believe.
Other generational restaurants include Fortuna's, whose secret is the Old World recipes and the use of only the freshest ingredients, and La Palermo, boasting mama's own recipes. And we mustn't forget Como Restaurant, the dream of Italian immigrant Francesco Antonacci when he came to the United States. Opened for business in 1927, today, the restaurant is the largest of its kind, with line-ups to get in.
Running on empty There are also a fair number of the newer trendy restaurants in the city. If you're running on empty after an exhausting day sightseeing, race on down to Duncan's for a Tex-Mex fill up guaranteed to get the engine revving again. Speed is the featured item on the menu. But no, it's not something they serve. It just happens to be a car racing-themed establishment.
For a rocking good time, try Tommy Ryan's Rock & Roll Diner. You can listen to the jukebox belting out your favorite oldies but goodies from the 50s and 60s while you enjoy a king-sized breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And both you and the kids will get a kick out of the 1959 Cadillac... with its front-end hanging above the entrance to Niagara's version of the Hard Rock Café, located at the foot of the Niagara Reservation State Park. Enjoy loud music and good food at this museum of the stars with guitars, clothes and other memorabilia from the likes of John Lennon and Eric Clapton.
Good food meets affordable prices There are a number of restaurants in the area aimed at the traveling family where good food, hefty portions and low prices meet. The Goose's Roost might look like your average family diner from the outside but the food is definitely above average. The Alps Chalet is known as a place to get an affordable home-cooked meal. Here, your little tyke under five eats free. Further out near the Niagara Falls Prime Outlet Malls, the Timber Lodge Steakhouse, with log cabin motif and deer antlers on the walls, serves large portions of delicious food for the hungry traveler with a big appetite for red meat.
Top of the Falls Restaurant, on Goat Island, serves both delicious fare and a spectacular view of the American Falls. It's great for the romantic night out as well as being the perfect location for an unforgettable dinner with the family. The upscale Atrium Restaurant is set in a lush garden atmosphere, and a glass ceiling permits a view of the beautiful sky over Niagara. The Red Coach Inn Restaurant, with its British pub ambience, prepares unforgettable cuisine which you may enjoy fireside when there's a chill in the air. As an added bonus, the restaurant, set within an inn of the same name, offers a spectacular view of the Upper Rapids of The Falls.
Heading out to the country One of the best kept secrets in the Niagara Falls region is the plethora of historic and picturesque small towns and villages in the surrounding areas—each with its own hot dining spots.
Just a short trip north, a brilliant scenic drive, lies the village of Lewiston, located on the banks of the Niagara River. It is the home of the Riverside Inn where you will be treated to delectable cuisine and an awe-inspiring view of the Niagara Gorge from its summertime patio. As well, if you happen to come down at the right time of year, you can take part in the Taste of Lewiston food festival, bringing together restaurants and food shops for a smorgasbord of delicious samplings.
Situated a little further north in the town of Youngstown, home to Old Fort Niagara, the Fyfe & Drum Restaurant allows you to feast on contemporary cuisine, while stepping back in time with its 19th century decor.
There you have it, just a sample of some of the fine restaurants in the Niagara Falls, New York, region. And, of course, if what you really desire is a beef on weck, Buffalo chicken wings, or Friday night fish fry, go right ahead. You're sure to find these delights at just about any of the eateries we've mentioned.
Roaring waters 'Onguiaahra:' An Iroquois word meaning 'Thunder of Waters' or, more prosaically, 'The Straits'. Today's 'Niagara' results from the written transcription of the word into French in the 17th century.
While the Falls themselves are relatively young at 12,000 years old, it was a measly 500 years ago that they split into today's Canadian Horseshoe and American Falls (with the Bridal Veil Falls forming a third, very narrow set). In the middle sits Goat Island, named to commemorate a herd of goats that froze to death on the island during the winter of 1780.
Although a rich hunting, fishing and food-gathering ground for native peoples for thousands of years, the first recorded non-native sighting of the Falls took place in 1678, when a Recollet father by the name of Louis Hennepin stood on the edge and marvelled at what he must have felt was one of God's natural wonders. He went on to write a book about his travels—Description de la Louisiane—which was widely read in Europe. His name is now on parks, streets and other memorials throughout the Niagara Region, including Hennepin Park in Buffalo. A seven-foot-high mural by American painter Thomas Hart Benton, depicting Father Hennepin and a group of Native Americans at Niagara Falls, hangs near the main entrance of the Niagara Power Project Visitors' Center.
Conflict in paradise At the turn of the 19th century, the natural beauty of the region didn't spare it from the political machinations between a feisty young republic itching to flex its might and a behemoth British Empire determined to show the upstart it still had plenty of firepower left before the sun set—and no doubt smarting from the licking it had taken less then 40 years before.
Thus, the stage was set for the War of 1812, the first and thankfully last war between the U.S. and Canada, which now boast the longest undefended border in the world. One story has it that, when President James Madison declared war, British and American officers were having their traditional dinner and drinks at Fort George on the Canadian side near the village of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Gentlemen that they were, they agreed to finish those drinks and accompanying conversations before starting up hostilities the following day.
The war raged for two bloody years with American troops invading the Canadian side and shelling positions across from Fort Niagara, as well as securing Fort Erie and Queenston, at least temporarily. However, amid accusations of cowardice, bungled orders and even a duel between two U.S. generals who disagreed on tactics, the Americans were eventually driven back across the border. Ironically, a treaty left the boundaries pretty much as they were before the hostilities began.
Nuptials and negative ions Even before the war, Niagara was already famous as the place where, in 1801, Theodosia Burr, daughter of future U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr, and Joseph Alston chose to 'conclude their nuptials', followed three years later by Jerome Bonaparte (Napoleon's youngest brother) and his Baltimore-born bride, Elizabeth Patterson. From this trickle of adventurous romance was born the tradition that would later become a flood—honeymooning by the cascading waters. Hey, there are those who believe the waters give off negative ions which act as an aphrodisiac. Just as good an explanation as any.
Whatever the case, expansion came rapidly with the building of the Erie Canal, which enabled barges to ship goods back and forth from the Atlantic Ocean and New York City to the Great Lakes. You can view some of the canal's history and other memorabilia at the Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises and Canalside Emporium. The area also served as part of the Underground Railroad for hiding escaped slaves and eventually taking them into Canada and freedom.
But it was tourism that put Niagara Falls on the map. People came first by buggy, boat and train—and then by car and bus. In the 50 years between 1820 and 1870, the tourism trade increased 10-fold as the site became more and more accessible. By the 1870s, it had become a full-fledged part of the local economy, with the Falls as the natural focus of attention.
And, until 1912, when several people died, tourists in the winter were actually allowed to walk out onto the river below the Falls to get a close-up view of the 'thundering cataract'. This was thanks to a natural 'ice bridge', which formed from the combination of spray and cold. A newspaper report from 1888 has some 20,000 on the ice, tobogganing, skating, buying hot drinks, sketching, and generally having fun. It all came to an abrupt end when the ice bridge collapsed on February 4, 1912, and three unfortunates lost their lives.
Quintessential sex goddess Niagara Falls is also known as a magnet for daredevils, until a recent ban put a halt to such activities. While the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, due to their immense width and spectacular plunge, have been the preferred destination for most of these thrill seekers, the American Falls have had their share, starting with one Sam Patch. In 1829, Patch jumped 110 feet from a platform on Goat Island to the base of the Falls below—twice!
Among the kings and queens and political dignitaries who have visited Niagara Falls down through the years, perhaps the most famous has been the quintessential sex goddess herself, Marilyn Monroe, and her then husband, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio. Marilyn, in town in 1952 to film the suspense thriller Niagara with co-star Joseph Cotten, spent her time holed up in Schimshack's restaurant and inn when not on the set. The film, which had Monroe and Cotten on their honeymoon, unleashed a wave of romantic couples and spurred the development of getaway motels, which line many of the main streets to this day.
But today, Niagara Falls is more than a honeymoon getaway. There's something here for the entire family, no matter what time of year. And, standing by the edge of those Falls listening to the thunder of the water, you'll swear you can hear the rush of history swirling by: 12,000 years of it with, one hopes, thousands more to come.