American Falls

3796American Falls, Niagara Falls, New York. CLUI photo.
Niagara Falls is among the largest and most famous waterfalls in the world, and an epic monument of the American Empire.  It is composed of two primary falls, American Falls, on the New York side, and the larger Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side, separated by Goat Island. Numerous viewing opportunities have been built up on both sides of the river, such as observation towers that permit views from above, and elevators inside the falls themselves that take visitors to the base of the falls, enabling a view upwards.

The falls have long been a focus for industry and power generation as well, attracting visionary industrialists like King Gillette, George Westinghouse, J.P. Morgan, and Nikola Tesla. Over the last 200 years, several canals, tunnels and turbine halls have been constructed to capture the energy of the falling water, culminating in New York State’s Niagara Hydroelectric Project, built by Robert Moses in the 1960s, and one of the largest hydropower projects in the world. The Canadians have constructed a similarly-scaled and structured power project on the other side of the gorge.

The industries and communities that developed in the area due to the power provided by the falls are notorious for their innovations and output (the likes of Bell Aerospace, Lackawanna Steel, Hooker Chemical), and their legacy of contamination (dozens of hazardous waste sites along the shores of the Niagara River, including the notorious Love Canal).

American Falls was dammed and shut off entirely for several months in 1969 to construct underwater channels and to bolt faults and fissures, in order to slow erosion at the rim of the falls. While the flow over the falls can be reduced to a trickle by diversion to power plants, minimum flow rates are maintained by treaty with the Canadians, balancing the demands for energy production, and the visual needs of tourism.