Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Letter from Niagara Falls in 1840

On September 21, 1840, someone by the name of Rose, from Rochester, New York penned a letter to her aunt Clara, describing a recent trip to Niagara Falls.  In the letter she describes her excursion to both the Canadian and American sides of the Falls and mentions purchasing some articles, presumably beadwork, from a Tuscarora woman on Iris (Goat) Island. It’s one of the earliest accounts of an encounter with a Native beadseller at the Falls that I am familiar with. The original letter was four pages long but only the first page (figure 1) is illustrated to give you a flavor of her handwriting, as the text is very hard to read in some places. I transcribed the entire letter and you can read it below. It gives you a compressed taste of the period and what it was like for a well-to-do family to spend some time at the Falls during that early period.  I added a few photographs and illustrations to support the text. The letter is transcribed as found, with all the misspellings and conventions of the day.

Fig. 1 – The first page of a four page letter describing a trip to Niagara Falls in 1840.

Mrs. Clara Burhidge
406 Greenwich Street
New York

[page 1]    
Rochester Sept. 21st 1840.
Dear Aunti,
     We arrived here last night after a hard weeks work. I wrote Mary H from Niagarra.  I requested her to carry the letter immediately to our house.  I am affraid that her letter will not reach NY before this one.  We received Aunt Cornelia’s on yesterday week.  we had been anxiously expecting it for some days & when it did come we were half wild with joy.  Mary’s letter will give you some account of our sojourn in her Majesty’s dominions.  It rained when we arrived at the falls & it rained when we left.  The sun shone for 10 minits just after we arrived & showed us one magnificent rainbow.  Mama & L went to Lundie’s Lane the afternoon of our arrival.  It was so wet & muddy that I did not go. – They came home laden with relics.  The first view of the cataract. – disappointed us all. – (figure 2).

Fig. 2 – Full plate Ambrotype taken at the Falls. Circa 1860.

I had been at the Clifton house (figure 3) half an hour before I thought of the roar, of which I had heard so much.  Jane, Mrs. C & myself arrose at 5 the next morning & went to Table rock.  We remained on the English side untill noon, when we crossed to the other side (figure 4).  
Fig. 3 – Circa 1880s trade card advertising the Clifton House, located on the Canadian side of the Falls, where the writer of the letter was staying.

Fig. 4 – The Upper Suspension Bridge, which connected both sides of the Falls, was built in 1869, almost thirty years after Rose crossed over to the American side. In the early 1840s, two businessmen, Thomas Clark and Samuel Street, owned and operated a ferry service, which took people back and forth across the river until the Upper Suspension Bridge was built. Their ferry managed to move in on a thriving Native-run ferry service, for Native men had taken passengers across the river in canoes since the 1820s. It’s unclear which method she used to cross over.

Here we spent the day. We traversed Iris (formally Goat) island from one end to the other. We crossed all the little [page 2] bridges leading from that island to the smaller ones who surround it. We assended the tower [Terrapin’s] (figure 5). 
Fig. 5 – Terrapin Tower was built in 1829 on Goat Island at the eastern edge of the Horseshoe Falls. The circular shaped tower was forty feet tall and twelve feet in diameter. It was constructed of rough stone gathered locally. Access to the tower cost an additional 10¢. A winding staircase led to a small door at the top. Here was an outside circular balcony guarded by a heavy metal railing. It provided an unparalleled view of the Falls and the gorge below.
     In 1872, Terrapin Tower was purposely blown apart, not because it had become unsafe, but rather not to compete with a planned new tower at the recently purchased Prospect Park by a new company. The plans for a new tower subsequently fell through and the replacement tower was never built. Citizens tried unsuccessfully to get the Tower at Terrapin Point replaced. The timber walkway remained in existence for many years following the destruction of Terrapin Tower and it was still in existence as late as 1905.
We went into all the museums. – We went up & we went down & round.  we walked & climbed & run, & slipped & tumbled, sometimes with the wind & sometimes with the water.  On Iris [Goat]island we saw an Indian & squa of the Tuscarora tribe of whom we bought (figure 6).  No matter what you shall see when we get home. 
Fig. 6 – Stereo view taken by the British photographer William England for the London Stereoscopic Company in 1859. The title of the view (on the back) is a “Group of Indian Women at Bead Work – Scene on Goat Island, Niagara.” This is the earliest stereoview that I’m familiar with of a group of Tuscarora women selling at the Falls. There is a later group of stereoviews of Tuscarora women selling beadwork at the Falls that was taken by photographer George Barker. Most have orange mounts and they all date to around 1870.
 At 3 PM we went to the hotel on the American side to wait for the cars to conduct us to Bufula [Buffalo]. – We were all delighted beyond measure with the falls.  Even mama is more than satisfied.  The only drawback to her happiness, was that Aunt Cornelia was not there.  I believe she has made arrangements with the hotel keeper to accomodate the whole family next summer for a month at a time.  She has selected the site for her country residence on the Island.  The journey had almost cured her of her desire to leave NY, but now she says that if such a thing should happen Niagara is the spot.  We took the cars from Bufalo at Nia.  At Tantawanta Creek there was a break in the road where we had the pleasure of alighting from the cars in as heavy a rain as ever fell the mud was about 12 inches deep.  Here we had an opertunity of displaying our agility in leaping from log to log to gain the other train of cars now & then a miss step would bring us one shoe loss in the mud.  We got to B about 9 as tiered dusty, yet mery a set as were ever launched from an omnibus.  –– Here we remained all day and saturday. We like B much it is so like NY. – We took [page 3] dinner with Mrs. Carheart.– Miss Patty was at their sister’s.  she is a compleet boarding school miss.  We took tea with Mrs. Lacy I like her very much. When we were in Toronto I wished for the boys to see the review of the English trops.  I was affraid however that the splendor of their uniforms might have corrupted their patriotism.  But when we got to B we saw another review.  There were about 500 men reviewed.  It was field day.  The children would have been delighted to see the horses fly round the ground with the rapidity of lightning, draging the canons behind them then they would form & fire. First the infantry would give a feu de joy.  & then the artillery would rattle. At B we met a gentleman & 2 ladies from Cleveland acquaintances of Mr Willard. They were going home & asked us to accompany them but the lake is so rough that it is uncertain when the boats would leave, besides traveling on Erie is very dangerous at this time of year. I do not think we shall go to Montreall  L declares she will not go on board of a steamer until we get to Albeny. We are going this week to see Mrs. Grey. – Tell L Moore that she is a good girl to finish her bag so soon.  I should like to have her with me very soon & tell me all about L Clavin’s marriage.  I have written this letter to you both because I forgot Aunt Cornelia’s when I suppose Rose is quite a woman now.  Mrs. G has given me a sort of dolls crib for her & is about as long as this sheet of paper and half as wide. I wish Aunt Clara would prepare the bedding for it before we return.  I have not room to tell you all I wish to.  Pray do write immediately.  How is L’s foot.  Tell Uncle B that I can

[page 4a]  2 or 3 numbers for the truth of my statement respecting the peaches.  Ask him how politics go they say here that there is no hope for Matty & we began to think so far we have seen only 3 Locos since we came west.  Tell L that I guess Arthur has his eye on her. – Is Mr Robers married yet.  – would not he like an intercessor.  Let us know what is going on in the church. Mr G has introduced us to an itinerant New preacher.  A Mr Roberts.  He appears to be a very fine man has preached in our city & knows Mr Gayger  Mr LeFevre & the parsens  He came & spent the afternoon & evening with us to  [page 4b]  talk of Whitaker, Between Lockport & this place we saw 2  of our churches.  Tell Aunt Ann that in the presents which we smugeled from Canada she was not forgotten. Kiss all the children & remember us to all those we should remember. Tell Bridget she must take good care of Aunt C & Lydia.  Where did Mrs Baldwin get her scandal. – That is it.  Write the day after you get this if possible & believe me your Rose.
Mama has sent her a box of Cat Prints & an other of her old school notes.