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Geographic Oddities

Niagara County has always held many geologic and geographic secrets. Probably the most fascinating mystery for early settlers here was the great falls at Niagara. Considered a spectacular natural phenomenon when first gazed upon by European missionaries, the mystery of how the falls were formed was only solved in the 19th century. Geologists of course now know that the creation of the falls took thousands of years and covered several miles from present day Lewiston to their current location.

The Niagara Escarpment that traverses the county from west to east, and over which the Niagara River tumbles, was formed after millions of years of glacial movement and land rebounding activity and is still eroding back today. Its geological term is a cuesta, a ridge with a gentle slope on one side and a steep bluff on the other. It is interesting to note that the early settlers called the escarpment, “the mountain” (hence the roads, Upper and Lower Mountain). Cutting across the relatively flat surface of the county, it may have looked like a “mountain” to the earliest white inhabitants. Also, the north facing escarpment wall is not as steep as it may appear. As it moves further east from Canada, it breaks into a series of slopes or terraces rather than a steep bluff. The settlers also learned that the escarpment could affect the weather and crop production. More recently, the escarpment has become a major factor in the winemaking industry in Niagara County.

Early settlers encountered some of these oddities and were puzzled by them. In 1818, Jesse Haines, Lockport’s first surveyor, purchased lots along the east side of the Transit Road that extended south from High Street down to present day Lincoln Avenue and east beyond Locust Street. Contained within that tract, Haines discovered about one hundred circular pits, 12’ –15’ in diameter, 4’ deep, with a sand embankment all around. In and around these pits grew huge oak trees that were centuries old. Judging from the sand, the general similarity of the pits and the arrangement of the trees, Haines concluded that the pits were not natural but man-made. Who made them, and what their purpose was, is still considered a mystery. Unfortunately, the pits were destroyed over time by development and no trace of them remains today.

Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094

Previous Moments
Geographic Oddities

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The Old Stone Chimney

Indian Schooling

From Middleport to Juneau on Horsebacks

Bath Islands

Lockport vs. Niagara Falls

Life Masks

Mud Ball Canons


More Historical Articles

For More Information: www.NiagaraHistory.org

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