Prior to 1788, with few exceptions the Western New York area was owned and occupied by Native Americans of the Neutral Nation. Those exceptions included the military outposts of the French and British at Fort Niagara and Fort Schlosser.
Fort Schlosser was situated approximately one mile above the Falls. Fort Schlosser was originally called “Little Niagara” by the French. The fort was destroyed in 1759 after the French surrender of Fort Niagara to the British.
In the place of Fort Little Niagara, the British built a small stockade. It was rebuilt by American soldiers and named Fort Schlosser.
Native American Chiefs’: Corn Planter, Red Jacket and Farmers Brother represented the Native Americans in treaties ceding territory of Western New York.
Augustus Porter, a surveyor, was the initial person to purchase and settle upon the land along the American side of the Falls once the British occupation ended. Porter had first visited the Falls in 1795 and 1796.
In 1805, the State of New York offered lands along the American shoreline of the Niagara River for sale. Prior to 1805, no buildings had been built or improvements of any kind had been made in the vicinity of the Falls.
The building that had been previously been built by the French and the British was in ruins except for a house which was built under the British rule near the site of the British stockade. This house had been occupied for many years by John Stedman. Stedman had claimed a large tract of land along the Niagara River near the Falls by falsely claiming to have obtained title from the Native Americans.
Stedman visited Goat Island and established a herd of goats; this is how the island derived its name. The goats perished during the winter of 1780. Stedman cleared approximately 10 acres of land on the island nearest the gorge.
By 1806, Goat Island had little development. Bears and wolves were common sights along with a plentiful deer population.
Augustus Porter, his brother Peter Porter, Benjamin Barton and Joseph Annin jointly purchased large tracts of land at Lewiston, Niagara Falls and Black Rock (Buffalo). In addition to their land purchases, they were also granted exclusive rights of transportation across the portage.
Augustus Porter settled in Niagara Falls, Barton in Lewiston and Peter Porter in Black Rock.
In the summer of 1805, Augustus Porter built a saw mill and a blacksmith shop. In 1806, Augustus Porter moved his family to Niagara Falls. In 1808, Porter built a new house. This house was destroyed during the War of 1812, but was rebuilt on the same site after the war had ended in 1818.
During the War of 1812, government messages were delivered by pony express. This and weekly mail service continued in this manner until 1815.
In the following years, transportation on the lakes became the primary business of Porter, Barton & Company. They built a number of vessels for Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, to supply military posts and to provide transportation needs of the Native American traders and fur companies.
In 1807, Porter & Barton built the first grist mill at Niagara Falls.
In 1808, a rope manufacturing company was established. It provided cordage for lake vessels for the Americans and English alike.
In 1810, Niagara Falls, New York consisted of twelve dwelling houses, a grist mill, a saw mill, a tannery, a tavern, a post office and a rope walk measuring 360 feet long. The walk rope was constructed of hemp.
Prior to 1812, most of the large trees north of Bridge Street had been cut. Young trees and undergrowth lined the edge of the Falls.
On the Canadian side, only Burnett’s Museum occupied the area of the Table Rock. The area in between the Table Rock and the Clifton Hotel was a wet cedar swamp with cedar trees growing down the banks.
In 1815, the Seneca Native Americans sold their rights to Grand Island to the State of New York for $11,000. Buckhorn Island and Beaver Island were subsequently sold to the State of New York for $1000 in cash and $500 per year.
In 1816, Augustus Porter bought Goat Island from the State of New York. In 1817, he built a wooden bridge from the mainland to the upper end of the island. This bridge was destroyed by ice during the following winter. In 1818, Porter built another bridge to Goat Island but closer to the Falls. In 1856, this bridge was replaced with an iron bridge. These bridges allowed Bath Island and Goat Island to become accessible for industrial purposes.
An eastern section of Goat Island was used for the manufacturing of iron.
Manufacturing companies were built on Bath Island including a woolen factory in 1820, a forge rolling mill and a nail factory in 1822 and a paper mill in 1823. The Cliff Paper Mill continued to operate until 1885, when Bath Island reverted to part of the newly formed New York State Reservation Park. The Bath Island Paper Mill had become the largest in the US.
By 1824, Grand Niagara (soon to become the Village of Manchester) had become known as a mill town.
The Village of Manchester would become a centre for manufacturing and mills during the early years of the industrial and power revolution.
Manchester later became what it today called the City of Niagara Falls, New York. In 1832, the Village of Manchester had 550 citizens. Parkhurst Whitney built the new Cataract House Hotel. Development at Niagara Falls was becoming unsightly and unwelcome. In 1836, the Buffalo – Niagara Falls Railway began operating with two trains daily. The rail cars were horse-drawn.
Throughout the 1830’s and 1840’s, Manchester was a tourist hamlet.
By 1838, 20,000 people were visiting Niagara Falls annually.
By 1847, 45,000 people were visiting Niagara Falls annually.
By 1850, 80,000 people were visiting Niagara Falls annually.
The 1840’s heralded the arrival of two daily steam powered trains between Niagara Falls and Buffalo.
By 1841, a trip from New York City to Niagara Falls took only forty-eight hours with a train speeding along at 16 miles per hour. Only several years prior, a trip from Albany to Niagara Falls took several weeks to complete.
In 1850, the population of Manchester was less than 3,000 people.
In 1853, Manchester consisted of several streets with a large railway station in the center and a number of hotels including the Cataract Hotel and the Eagle Hotel.
In 1859, the area of Prospect Point Park was known as White’s Pleasure Grounds. This was the area from where Blondin began his first wire walk.
By 1870’s, large mills and factories had been built upon the edge of the gorge and the river banks upstream of the Falls.
From 1877 until 1885, under private ownership, Prospect Park offered the best view of the Falls. During its years of operation 863,000 people visited the park. The park included an incline railway to the base of the gorge, a ferry house, two pavilions, an art gallery, and an electric lighthouse. At the base of the Falls, the Prospect Park Company erected a large brightly painted sign marking the entrance to the tunnel for the Cave of the Winds.
On July 15th 1885, the State of New York created the New York State Niagara Reservation Park. Prospect Park was acquired for part of this newly formed State Park.
By 1901, Niagara Falls had become one of the greatest industrial/manufacturing centers in the entire US.
In 1912, Niagara Falls, New York had a population of 35,000 people.
In 1935, the State of New York built the Grand Island bridges.