In the late 1800s, the Niagara River was in danger of over-industrialization. An effort to “free” the Falls attracted the support of notables like Charles Darwin, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Morris and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Known as the “Free Niagara” movement, it was led by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Niagara Falls State Park (and Central Park, too, on the other side of New York) — and it was a success.
What’s in a Name?
Goat Island, the island that separates Bridal Veil Falls from the roaring Horseshoe Falls, earned its name back in 1778. Pioneer John Stedman rowed his herd of goats out to the island to keep them safe from wolves. (Unfortunately, a brutal winter did them in instead.) Prior to 1778, it was called Iris Island, owing to the amount of iris flowers found thriving there. Olmsted speculated that the spray from the Falls created a unique growing environment for indigenous plants.
Speaking of Goat Island…
At one point in time, New York City carnival entrepreneur P.T. Barnum wanted to turn Goat Island into circus grounds — but was unsuccessful.
The Lower Niagara River is home to a resilient population of a threatened fish species: lake sturgeon. Once overfished for their eggs (caviar!), these bottom-feeders can live 150 years and grow to be 9 feet long (and weigh up to 300 pounds).
The climate in the Niagara wine region compares to that of Alsace, a famed wine-making region in northeastern France. Combine the climate with the local soil (it’s dolomitic limestone, if you’re curious), and you get ideal conditions for growing vinifera, or European grapes (think: pinot, Riesling, chardonnay, cabernet franc and the like).