NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. – Unless one counts the mist that sometimes appears as a ground hugging cloud and other times as pulsing bursts of steam, you hear Niagara Falls before you see them. This is unavoidable. More than 3,100 tons – about 758,000 gallons – of water, plunge over the falls every second, producing a rhythmic roar that is both felt and heard.
Here are a few facts you may not have known about the tourist spot:
Niagara Falls are actually three falls. Horseshoe, or Canadian, Falls are the uppermost waterfalls and are divided by the U.S. border with Canada. American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are on the U.S. side of the river downstream from Horseshoe Falls. The American and Bridal Veil Falls are separated by Luna Island, which serves as an observation deck. The American/Bridal Veil and Horseshoe Falls are separated by Goat Island.
Many visitors are unaware that Niagara Falls is actually a state park – and it's the nation's oldest one. Niagara Falls State Park was established in 1885 as Niagara Reservation. The state park property includes about 400 acres, more than a quarter of which are underwater.
There is no general admission fee for the park, which is clean, safe and well-kept, is always open (365 days a year, 24 hours a day). Visitors can walk over and look at the falls for free; however, there is a charge for popular attractions such as the Maid of the Mist boat tour, Cave of the Winds, Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, Niagara Adventure Theater and the park trolley. (Note that because of COVID-19-induced capacity restrictions and high demand, many of these attractions sell out early in the day, so plan accordingly if you need to buy tickets.)
You can walk to downtown from the park. The city of Niagara Falls, which has a population of nearly 50,000, flanks the park property. The falls and most park attractions are within walking distance of an active and energetic downtown.
The Niagara Falls honeymoon trend started with celebs such as Aaron Burr's daughter and Napoleon's brother. Theodosia Burr Alston, made famous in this century by the musical "Hamilton," honeymooned here in 1801 with her new husband, future South Carolina Gov. Joseph Alston. Three years later, Jérome Bonaparte (the younger brother of the French emperor and the Prince Harry of his day), vacationed here with his American bride after their wedding in 1804, putting Niagara Falls on the map as a honeymoon spot.
The falls were formed about 12,000 years ago at the close of the last Ice Age. This makes them relatively young, geologically speaking. They begin about 7 miles downriver from their current location, near present-day Lewiston, New York.
Erosion will eventually erase the falls from the landscape. The power of the falls impresses visitors but also chews away the bedrock over which they flow. Thanks to the annual freeze and thaw, rockfalls and erosion, the falls have steadily moved upstream, sometimes at the astonishing rate of 6 feet per year. The erosion has been somewhat slowed – thanks largely to the regular overnight diversion of some water to the power generation system that cranks out more than 2 million kilowatts of electricity powering homes and businesses in the USA and Canada. However, nature cannot be stopped and eventually, the falls will disappear. But not anytime soon.
Power was first sold as a commodity in Niagara Falls. In 1896, Nikola Tesla, a famous electrical engineer and the namesake of the electric car company, transmitted power from the falls about 20 miles south to Buffalo, marking the first long-distance, commercial use of his alternating current motor. The Schoellkopf Power Station became the first plant from which power was sold as a commodity. The Niagara Gorge Discovery Center stands on the ruins of that old plant.
Native Americans lived, fished and hunted near the falls for thousands of years. The earliest recorded settlers arrived from Ontario between 1300 and 1400 A.D. How they viewed this roaring spectacle is unknown, though one of the first tribes to settle in the area called themselves the Onguiaahra ("thundering waters"), from which the Anglicized name, Niagara, is derived.
In 1678, a French priest, Father Louis Hennepin, became the first European to visit the falls and note their existence. Impressed, Hennepin returned home and wrote a book about his travels and the roaring wonder he witnessed. Visitors have been coming ever since. It’s worth the trip.
Contributing: Jayme Deerwester, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Niagara Falls: 10 things you may not have known about the tourist spot