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The Hydraulic Canal

In January, 1847, Judge Augustus Porter issued a circular offering a canal right-of-way about 3/4 mile long, extending diagonally from the river above the upper rapids to the edge of the cliff about 1/2 mile below the falls, to any persons who would immediately undertake the construction of the canal.   The circular attracted no immediate response, but in 1852, Caleb S. Woodhull of New York and Walter Bryant and associates of Boston entered into a contract with the heirs of Augustus Porter, the riparian owners, for the acquisition of lands necessary for the intake to the canal on the upper river, the canal and the terminal basin.   The properties acquired by the Woodhull associates included a plot of land with its riparian rights having a frontage of 425 feet on the upper river at at the head of the canal, a right-of-way for the canal 100 feet in width and approximately 4,400 feet long, and about 45 acres of land at the canal terminus fronting on the high bank of the river below the falls for nearly 1 mile.   This conveyance of land included only the lands to the edge of the high bank of the Niagara River and did not include the slop (talus) between the edge of the high bank and the river and only granted the right to excavate down the face of the bank 100 feet.   This limitation of ownership was removed and full rights were acquired under the Schoellkopf management and ownership in 1877. Adams 69

This enterprise was incorporated on March 19, 1853, under the title of the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Company ("The Woodhull Project").   The purpose of this company was to conduct manufacturing, chemical and mechanical business using the water power drawn from the Niagara River immediately above the falls.   It included the construction of a navigable hydraulic canal (entrance near property "C", spillway) with gates, bridges, wharves and other appurtenances.   The canal was to be 70 wide and 10 feet deep, beginning aboutg 1/2 mile above the river rapids and extending 4500 feet to the point on the bluff about 1/4 mile below the falls to its terminal in a basin from which the waters discharge over a perpendicular bank about 210 feet high.   The property rights included about 80 acres on the level plain or plateau below the falls for manufacturing sites exteding about 1 mile along the high bank of the lower river, 1100 feet of water front for wharf purposes above the falls opposite Grass Island and a strip of land 100 feet wide for the canal, the whole situated within the limits of the village of Niagara Falls.   The cost was $550,000.   The village had fewer than 2,000 inhabitants and few structures along the proposed line of the canal.   Charles H. Bigelow, chief engineer of the hydraulic works at the Lawrence, MA, recommended a water turbine 13 inches in diameter then working in France under a fall of 354 feet and driving a factory of 8,000 spindles. Adams 69-74

The Niagara Falls Hydraulic Company failed because the cost of construction exceeded the estimates and the company ran out of money before it could generate any revenues.   In 1856, the company's name was changed to Niagara Falls Water Power Company ("Day Company") under new owners and management.   It acquired money from Stephen M. Allen, who took full charge of construction until 1860, when the company was purchased by Horace H. Day under the name of Niagara Falls Canal Company.   ("Day Company")   The entrance and river portions of the canal were completed in 1857.   The mouth of the canal was called Port Day and 3 steamers passed from Lake Erie to Niagara Falls city.   Excavations allowing commercial use began in 1858 and were completed in 1862.   The 1-mile long canal was completed in 1877, cut mostly through rock.   The cost of the canal between 1853 to 1876 was more than $800,000.   Mr. Day spent his entire fortune on the canal before leasing the canal for manufacturing businesses that might want to use and pay for the water power. Adams 75-76

The Niagara Falls Company did not pay its maturing bonds, so it was sold at auction and purchased on May 1, 1877, for $71,000 by Jacob F. Schoellkopf and associates from Buffalo.   $5,000 more was paid to settle the accounts of Mr. Day.   The property included the inlet from the river, called Port Day, the unfinished canal and its water rights, about 45 acres of land on the cliff that later will be used for the canals and forebays of the manufacturing properties and operated by water power.   At this time, the only use of the canal, which was 66 feet wide and 11 feet deep on the average, was by Charles B. Gaskill, who ran a flour mill since 1875 on the high bank below the falls.   Lake steamers could also used this size canal.   The shaft for his turbine water pits was only 25 feet deep because of the turbine technology of the day, which were mostly of wood rather than steel.   Thus, only 1/8 of the water power was used.   Water was brought from the canal to the turbines first in wooden flumes and later in iron tubes.   After passing through the turbines, the water escaped through short tailrace tunnels and was then discharged from the face of the cliff into the river gorge below the falls.   Thus, the vast potential of the falls' power was unused. Adams 76-77

The new company was called the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing Company and incorporated in 1878 under Mr. Schoellkopf and George B. Mathews.   Jacob Schoellkopf's son, Arthur Schoellkopf, was its manager until his death in 1913.   The first company factory was a flour mill with a capacity of 1200 barrels of flour a day under 22 run of stones, which lasted until 1881, when power for rollers was obtained from 2 "American" cast-iron turbine wheels producing 900 horsepower under a 50-foot head of water that was discharged down the bank 150 feet to the river below.   For the first time in history, businesses using Niagara power were profitable.   Other men established wood pulp and paper product factories followed in the "Milling District".   The canal periodically was enlargened to generate from 8,000 hp initially to 40,000 hp eventually.   In 1881, the first hydroelectric generating station was built on the hydraulic basin to supply electricity for commercial purposes.   Water turbines were installed under an 86-foot head of water.   The electricity operated the paper mill, some small factories and the Brush Electric Light and Power Company, which had been organized in November, 1881 by Schoellkopf and several associates.   The first arc light machine installed weighed 2,250 pounds and delivered 16 2,000 candlepower open arc lamps which furnished street and store lighting.   It was the first public distribution of electricity at Niagara Falls and it stimulated more interest in Niagara power. Adams 78-80

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