March 29, the Day Niagara Falls ran dry.

On March 29, 1848, one of the first residents to notice a deafening silence was farmer Jed Porter of Niagara Falls, New York.

A fairyland of ice and snow, Niagara Fall, 1903


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.

The ice jam had become an ice dam.

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, owner of the large Bridgewater Mills, 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.

Ice had piled up in Lake Erie to the point where it had choked off all the water flowing to Niagara falls.

By the morning of March 31st, more than 5,000 people had gathered along the banks of the river. All the mills and factories dependent upon water power were silenced.

Tourist and media event

Spectators were able to walk out onto the river bed that had only hours earlier would have resulted in certain death.

It became a tourist and media event.

Brave or foolish people crossed the Niagara River on foot, on horseback or by horse and buggy.

People picked up stuff that was suddenly exposed, including guns, bayonets, and tomahawks.

A squad of soldiers of the U.S. Army Cavalry paraded their horses up and down the river bed.

Some foodies shared a picnic lunch at the bottom of the pool that had been dug out by the thundering water.

They probably enjoyed the enthusiasts dancing the quadrille on a flat rock near the middle of the stream!

Meanwhile, the enterprising “Maid of the Mist” tour craft owner stuck to business.  He blew up rocks on the river bed to prevent future damage to his boat.

Burned-Over District

Eerie Frozen Niagra image from 1911


Others believed that the drying up of Niagra Falls was the beginning of doomsday.

Theological explanations thrived because western New York state had been a “Burned-Over District” for half a century.

The area had been so heavily evangelized as to have no “fuel” (unconverted population) left over to “burn” (convert).

Thousands of people filled the churches to attend special services.

They prayed for Niagara falls to start flowing and the world to continue.

Failing that, they’d settle for salvation and forgiveness of their sins as the Last Judgment approached.

With each passing hour, the level of fear and anxiety among residents grew proportionately.

On the night of March 31st, a loud low pitched growl and groan were heard coming from upstream.

This announced the return of the normal flow of water along the Niagara River.

A wall of water surged forward at surprising speed, covering again perhaps forever what had been exposed.

Sources: Niagrafrontier, vaviper, Wired

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