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The Niagara Falls Ice Bridge

A Brief History of Winter and Ice on the Falls

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The Niagara Falls Ice Bridge

The Niagara Falls Ice Bridge: Bain News Service, publisher - 1912. Title from unverified data provided by the Bain News Service on the negatives or caption cards. Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress). 1912.

The Library of Congress/Flickr

Like a miniature glacier rising out of the waters below Niagara Falls, the ice bridge is a tale of natural wonder. While the waters never stop flowing, the perpetual mists created by the falling waters will freeze into layers of ice 50 feet or more thick. With a prolonged and cold winter, the ice can build up to the point where it is known as an ice bridge.

The ice bridge at Niagara Falls is created when ice and slush from Lake Erie flows over Niagara Falls. The ice is then jammed towards the Canadian Falls as piles of ice build into an enormous ice structure several miles downriver.

As early as the 1800s, the ice bridge became a large tourist attraction. According to the Niagara Falls Ice Bridge History page, an early tourism book from 1842 describes the ice bridge as follows:

The river never freezes over but large masses of ice are sometimes collected and blocked in, so as to form a natural bridge, extending up to the foot of the Falls and for two miles down the stream. Magnificent views of the cataract are then obtained from the frozen platform and splendors surpassing the Polar Seas are beheld.
Until 1912, tourists were actually allowed to walk across the ice bridge. Local newspapers reported a booming business as shop owners would build small wooden structures to sell souvenirs, liquor, and other items. In one New York Times Article dated March 5 1882, these ice bridge profiteers are profiled. Often, tourists were convinced to pay money to be guided across the ice jam. But in a sudden turn of events, the ice bridge broke in 1912 and three people were swept downriver to their deaths. From that point on, it became illegal to walk on the ice bridge.

The ice jams both below and above the falls have been so intense, the entire area has gone silent. On March 29, 1848, the sound of the water rushing over the falls halted into an eerie silence as an enormous ice dam formed at the source of the Niagara River on the eastern shore of Lake Erie. The silence extended for over a day as tourists watched the event in amazement.

Even Abraham Lincoln was fascinated by Niagara Falls. Lincoln's 1848 notes for a lecture concerning the Niagara Falls negotiations describe the area:

Niagara --Falls! By what mysterious power is it, that millions and millions, are drawn from all parts of the world, to gaze upon Niagara Falls? There is no mystery about the thing itself-- Every effect is just such as any inteligent man knowing the causes, would anticipate, without it-- If the water moving onward in a great river, reac[hes] a point when there is a perpendicular jog, of a hundred feet in descent, in the bottom of the river, -- it is plain the water will have a violent and continuous plunge at that point-- It is also plain the water, thus plunging, will foam, and roar, and send up a mist, continuously, in which last, during sunshine, there will be perpetual rain-bows-- The mere physical of Niagara Falls, is only this-- Yet this is really a very small part of that world's wonder-- It's power to excite reflection, and emotion, is it's great charm--
By July 15, 1885, tourism and the preservation of Niagara Falls became a priority as the 400-acre Niagara Reservation State Park officially opened. While currently known as Niagara Falls State Park, it is the oldest state park in the country.

References:

Niagara Falls Ice Bridge History
Niagara Falls Live
Library of Congress - American Memory Collection

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