1848 – The Unforgettable Day Niagara Falls Dried Up

Samuel Chase
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1969 – American Falls stopped by the Army Corps of Engineers using a Cofferdam.

Only once in Canadian and American history have the roaring Niagara Falls completely dried up on both sides of the border due to a natural phenomenon. And yes, this really did happen.

Niagara Falls dried up during a weather related incident in 1848 due to a gale blowing off Lake Erie. The gale produced so much ice and snow that the mouth of the great river was dammed up at the entrance to Lake Erie. With Niagara River dammed up from its source, water flow down river over both the Horseshoe Falls and American Falls was essentially reduced to a trickle.

At the time, newspapers reported that a number of people made their way into the gorge of the riverbed and recovered articles that had been lying on  the river bottom for hundreds of years. The souvenirs picked up included bayonets, guns, muskets, tomahawks and even artifacts from the War of 1812.

Niagara Falls Completely Dries Up

1969 – American Falls are stopped using a cofferdam by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The exact dates and times of the stoppage are a little sketchy and the exact time may never be known. However, news reports from the time put the stoppage beginning near, or just after, midnight on March 29, 1848 and ending late evening on March 31 or early morning of April 1, 1848.

For people living around the falls, the unaccustomed silence of the falls was particularly unsettling. It was widely reported that the silence was “strangely eerie.”

The Horseshoe Falls have never again been silenced by the wind and ice. And, an ice boom installed in Lake Erie in 1964 will probably ensure that it never does.

However, there have been several occasions when the water flowing over a portion of the Falls has been severely restricted or reduced to a trickle. They are as follows:

In the 1950’s, the water over a portion of the Horseshoe Falls, nearest the Table Rock Pavilion and Terrapin Point, was redirected with the building of a series of cofferdams to allow for remedial work to be done to the edge of the Falls. This was done to allow a more even water flow and to slow the rate of erosion.

Then in 1969, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a cofferdam which brought the water flow over the American Falls down to a mere trickle. The US Army Corps of Engineers did this to allow a study of the rock formations at the crest of the Falls and to study the feasibility of whether there was any possible way to remove the rock (talus) at the base of the American Falls. In the end, it was decided to just let mother nature take its course.

And, it appears there will be another stoppage to the American Falls in 2019 if the New York State offices of parks and transportation have their way. They have put forward plans to divert water over the American Falls in order to repair two deteriorating bridges, more than a hundred years old, that connect the town of Niagara Falls to the state park on Goat Island located in the middle of the falls and separating the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.

Make your plans now to visit this historic event. And, bring a camera.

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