The Niagara River gorge has been a popular scene for sightseers since Niagara welcomed its first wide-eyed “tourists” hundreds of years ago. Some folks may recall, but most probably do not, that the river gorge use to be the setting for a very popular tourist attraction, the Great Gorge Route Railroad. The path along the gorge from Lewiston to the Falls was the dream of Captain John Brinker, who in 1889 began to purchase land at the base of the gorge and construct several miles of railroad track running next to the river. After removing millions of pounds of rock, the Great Gorge Route opened with much fanfare in 1895. Foreshadowing things to come, the maiden trip of the Gorge Railroad was marred by accident, when the train mysteriously left the track forcing 300 passengers to leap from their cars.
The Great Gorge Route had some better luck when it linked up with a similar railroad operating on the Canadian side of the river, the Niagara Falls Park and River Railway. The combined route was a circular “belt line.” The belt line made it possible for streetcars to journey along the top of the Canadian side of the Niagara Gorge, the bottom of the American side, and crossing the Niagara River on the Upper Steel Arch Bridge and the Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge. Great Gorge RouteThis line was very successful as millions of visitors traveled the route in a 30-year span. Over a half-million passengers each year marveled at the scenic vistas afforded by travel along the Great Gorge Route. Even after the opening day accident, the route was not immune to mishaps caused by its sheer rock walls and proximity to the swirling whirlpool. An ice avalanche killed a conductor and injured eight passengers in 1907. Several other tragedies befell the line in subsequent years and the railway was shut down on the Canadian side in 1932. The Gorge Route on the American side ended on September 17, 1935 when 5,000 tons of rock broke free from the Gorge wall and crashed onto the tracks.
Douglas Farley, Director
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094