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The History of Hydro-Electricity IN NIAGARA

By Martine Mackenzie

The New York Power Authority has a long and proud history. As an early experiment in public power, it served as a model for federal initiatives such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bonneville Power Administration. Today, the Power Authority produces some of the cheapest electricity in North America, helping to drive New York’s economic revival while its efforts to promote efficient use of energy and to develop new, environmentally-friendly power sources continue to break new ground and to draw national and international attention. By 1954, all approvals were in place, and Robert Moses, New York’s “Master Builder,” who had been designated by Governor Thomas E. Dewey as Power Authority chairman, was ready to go to work. In cooperation with Ontario Hydro, a construction army transformed millions of tons of concrete, stone and steel into a power-producing marvel. The Power Authority’s 800,000 kilowatt (kw) share of the facility is today known as the St. Lawrence-Franklin

D. Roosevelt Power Project. An accelerated construction schedule led to the start of electricity production in July 1958 and delivery of full power a year later, two years ahead of the original schedule.

In 2021, The New York Power Authority hit more than one milestone with the opening of the Energy Zone, its newest Visitors Center located in Utica, NY. The John S. Dyson New York Energy Zone will introduce visitors to the dynamic world of electricity, past, present, and future, and New York State’s part in it. Interactive exhibits, a 3-D immersive movie experience, hands-on activities, videos, and more meet visitors at every turn.

Locally, the Niagara Power Vista, part of the giant complex in Lewiston, NY offers some great fun for people of all ages.

Niagara Power Vista provides a rich educational opportunity for school groups and community organizations. Featuring over 50 interactive exhibits, visitors receive a hands-on understanding of electricity and hydroelectricity. With resources that merge science and play, the Niagara Power Vista is an ideal destination for an immersive STEM learning experience. Educational tours and workshops are offered by reservation only.

There are FREE activities and events all year! Meetings or family gatherings - the Niagara Power Vista offers free meeting space to coincide with exploration of the exhibits! And if you’re looking for a real trip back in time to explore early hydroelectricity in Niagara, just hop on the “Discover Shuttle” from the Power Vista and it will take you down to the site of the former Schoellkopf Power Station.

The Schoellkopf Power Station was constructed in three sections between 1905 and 1924, and at the time of its completion was the largest hydroelectric power station in the world. The complex included offices, gatehouses, and other buildings at the top of the Niagara Gorge, and turbinegenerator stations located at the base. Water was diverted from the Niagara River above the falls, by a 4,600’ canal that ran through the city to the edge of the gorge.

On the morning of June 7, 1956, workers noticed water seeping into the plant from the back wall. By mid-afternoon, the cracks in the rear wall were widening while 40 men worked with sandbags to stop the flow of water.

At 5:00 PM, the Schoellkopf Power Station sustained a catastrophic collapse which destroyed two thirds of the plant. Six generators capable of producing 322,500 horsepower had been demolished. Damage was estimated at $100 million dollars. The most devastating was the sudden loss of 400,000 kilowatts of power from the power grid. Suddenly, a loud rumble was heard from behind the wall, and the wall began to collapse. One of the workers, Richard Draper of Lewiston, was killed. The rest escaped unscathed. The entire southern portion of the plant collapsed into the river below. As the generators blew apart, some debris was propelled to the Canadian side of the gorge.

In 2013, the Maid of the Mist began construction on the site as a location to store their boats during the harsh winter months. As part of that project, the original elevator shaft was restored and elevator access to the Gorge and the Schoellkopf site was granted. Visitors can also access a connected hiking trail as well.

There is no cost to ride the elevator and it is open seasonally.

Open 7 days a week, 9 am to 5 pm (closed certain holidays) nypa.gov

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