Niagara Falls To Be A Trickle Soon — Residents Recall The Falls’ Historic 1969 Shut Off

Back in 1969, Niagara Falls was shut down until the water was a reduced to a mere trickle. People who were kids at the time still remember the astonishing sight, and now they may get to see it again.

In perhaps a couple years’ time, Niagara Falls will be shut off, this time to repair a couple of historic bridges that will ultimately improve access to the site, the Buffalo News reported. The thundering water was turned off 47 years ago to study erosion and the buildup of rock at the base of the falls.

Back then, a man named Gary Walters witnessed the unusual site for himself. Decades later, he posted an old home movie of the experience on YouTube, WKBW reported. The spectacle of a completely dry Niagara Falls was quite remarkable to see, added Robert Borgatti, who was 13 and lived in Niagara Falls back in 1969.

He drove his bike to waterfall several times to take a look.

“I remember being a little disappointed because the scene was just a desolate landscape of rock, debris, tree limbs and construction equipment.”

Jim and Sharon Chamerblin remember the sight, as well: “They just put the bridge across of the top of the island here from the shore and shut it right down. It was amazing,” Jim said. “To divert the water you’d be able to see the Falls itself. The bare rock and everything. I think it would be an interesting thing to see,” Sharon added.

City historian Michelle Kratts said tourists poured into the city from all over the world to watch Niagara Falls run dry. She called it “the nature of curiosity. You want to see what’s underneath, to see its skeleton.” In fact, workers found two bodies after the dewatering, as well as millions of coins that they carried out in buckets.

New York State is in the very preliminary stages of a plan to dewater Niagara Falls and repair the bridges. There are three plans, and two of them require the waterfall to be shut down; they’ll be presented at a public hearing Wednesday.

Right now, the plan is to turn off the falls on the American side in the next two to three years and divert the water to Horseshoe Falls in Canada via a cofferdam, Popular Mechanics explained. Most of the water, about 85 percent, already flows over Horseshoe Falls; the rest comes out on the U.S. side.

The point of the project is to replace two stone arch bridges. They were built in 1900 and 1901 and allow tourists to access Goat Island; one stretches from the mainland to Green Island, the other from Green to Goat Island. Goat Island lies between Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls in the Niagara River.

Niagara Falls is being shut off
Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side. Photo By Deymos.HR / Shutterstock

But these bridges were closed 10 years ago after the base of one collapsed. Temporary bridges were installed, which are still in place, quite ugly, and restrict the view of the falls. A replacement has been discussed ever since the collapse, said Niagara Falls historian Tom Yots, who witnessed it.


“The biggest problem is coming up with the money to do this. These beautiful bridge designs go back to the beginning of the 20th century. Olmsted designed what construction was to look like in that park so they don’t look out of place. The (temporary) bridge is everything Olmsted would have abhorred.”

The project could cost anywhere from $21.6 million to $37.3 million.

Depending on which option is chosen, Niagara Falls could be shut off for five months in the first year of the project, from August to December, or for nine months from April to December, or the entire tourist season. Construction could take two years.

Some people, like Niagara Falls historian and author Paul Gromosiak, thinks turning off the waterfall is unnecessary and ruins its beauty, but most people support the plan, like Kalie Pries, who spoke to WKBW.

“It’s kind of sad that it will be because people won’t be able to come and see it and they won’t be able to see how pretty it is. Some people say it’s spiritual when they come and see it. But I guess they have to do what they have to do.”

[Photo by Aivolie/Shutterstock]