The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

American Falls


3715Overlook at Pawtucket Falls, Lowell, Massachusetts. CLUI photo
WATERFALLS ARE UNSURPASSED AS SYMBOLS of the drama of nature, yet many of them are now reconstructed relics, whose controlled flow is often a balance between the economies of tourism and energy production. This does not make them any less beautiful but adds an evocative layer of complexity that compounds their significance and raises their stature as meaningful landmarks of our post-industrial age. Urban waterfalls represent a technological fall from the garden, blending natural nostalgia with hubristic industriousness.

3716The American Falls exhibit at CLUI featured videos of selected waterfalls viewed from a raised wooden platform with angled interpretive plaques, similar to how many waterfalls are viewed in the field. CLUI photoThe CLUI presented an exhibition about urban waterfalls in the USA at its main office and exhibit space in Los Angeles in 2014. The exhibit was as much about romantic portraiture as it was about industrial infrastructure, and was distilled from ongoing research and documentation being conducted by the CLUI into the ways in which water is managed across the nation.

Most of the major waterfalls of early America were drowned by dams, or dried out by diversions, as they were among the first places to go to capture kinetic energy for commercial use. They were also obstacles to movement, and were submerged as rivers were flattened, dammed and locked for navigation and flood control. A few specimens, however, remain in the middle of the urban and industrial nation that formed around them, where they are still, slowly and resiliently, at work, eroding.

The CLUI exhibit, titled American Falls: Overlooking Urban Waterfalls, featured seven waterfalls, representing different regions of the USA, and their respective relevance to local and national industrial history. ♦

3717Though used to generate electricity, and controlled by a dam at the top of the falls, Shoshone Falls, Idaho, known as the Niagara of the West, is not urban like its eastern counterpart. Like Niagara though, it is often a backdrop for weddings, attesting to the extreme romanticism that waterfalls elict. CLUI photo