Ever since records have been kept about the history of the Falls of Niagara, there have only been three occasions when the water flow over the Falls has been greatly reduced and/or restricted. They are as follows:
Unfortunately, news reports in 1848 were stretchy at best. The exact times that Niagara Falls ran dry was not specifically recorded. It however began near midnight on March 29th 1848 and the early morning of March 30th 1848. The full effect of the ice jam upstream at the mouth of the Niagara River at Lake Erie did not take full effect until well into the day of March 30th. The water stopped flowing for approximately 30 – 40 hours before the flow of water at Niagara Falls had returned to normal on the late evening of March 31st and/or early morning hours of April1st 1848.
Sources for the following account are attributed to:
- Buffalo Commercial Advertised – March 30th 1848
- Buffalo Express – March 31st 1848
- The Iris of Niagara Falls, New York – March 31st 1848
- Major R. Lachlan, speech to Royal Canadian Institute 1855
- The Day Niagara Falls Ran Dry – David Phillips
- Globe & Mail news article – March 30th 1955
On March 29th 1848, papers reported that Niagara Falls ran dry. During a weather related occurrence, a south-west gale blowing off of Lake Erie caused ice to jam and dam up at the mouth of the Niagara River causing the water flow to be severely restricted. The water over the Horseshoe Falls and American Falls to be reduced to a trickle for approximately thirty (30) to forty (40) hours. The roar of the Falls fell silent. One of the first residents to notice the deafening silence was farmer, Jed Porter of Niagara Falls, New York. During the late evening of March 29th, he left home for a stroll along the river near the American Falls and realized the thundering roar of the Falls was absent. A closer examination revealed the amount of the water flowing over the Falls had been greatly diminished.
Residents awoke on the morning of March 30th to an eerie silence and realized something was amiss. People were drawn to the Falls to find that the water flow of the Niagara River had been reduced to a mere trickle. Thomas Clark Street, the owner and operator of the large Bridgewater Mills along the Canadian shore at Dufferin Islands was was awakened by one of his employees at 5 a.m. on March 30th reporting the mill had been shut down because the mill race was empty.
By the morning of March 31st, more than 5,000 people had gathered along the banks of the river. All the mills and factories dependant upon water power were stilled.
The river bed was quickly drying. Fish and turtles were left floundering on now dry land. A number of people made their way into the gorge to the riverbed. Here they saw articles that had been lay on the river’s bottom that had been hidden for hundreds of years. Souvenirs picked up included bayonets, guns barrels, muskets, tomahawks and other artifacts of the War of 1812.
Other spectators were able to walk out onto the river bed that had only hours earlier been a torrent of rapids and would have resulted in certain death. It became a tourist and media event. People on foot, on horseback or by horse and buggy, crossed the width of the Niagara River. It was a historical event that had never occurred during recorded time and has never been duplicated since.
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