"The Cohoes Falls"When looking at the magnificence of the Cohoes Falls one is taken back to a time of grandeur once present in the time of the Iroquois Confederacy . There remains a remnant of their admiration for the Falls in an Indian legend, one of the Hiawatha tales, which is related thusly:
"Once long ago before the White Man came, the land of the trees and rivers was free to all Red Men. Life was good, the Great Spirit smiled, peace reigned in the Wilderness of the Savage. The braves hunted, the squaws labored, as was the way.
Once a young maiden, the beautiful daughter of a chief and the pride of the tribe, was working at the river's bank. She tired in the heat of the day and sought the shade of one bark riding at the water's edge. She sat, and quickly fell into a deep sleep from which no motion of the craft would wake her.
The canoe slipped from its mooring, was caught quickly by the river's swift current, and glided silently toward the white water at the brink of the Falls. The rapids and the tumbling water's roar woke the slumbering maiden. She screamed to no advantage, attempted unsuccessfully to right the bark's course and finally resigned herself to her fate, death at the Fall's edge. The mists covered her, the Falls claimed her, and no remains were ever found.
The Tribe mourned its loss and all Red Men marked this place, for a princess...daughter of a warrior, died there. All called the place Coho, the place of the Falling Canoe."
This legend of the Falls, however, does seem to have some basis for verification. In 1655, a famous Dutch explorer, Adriane Vander Donck, in his Description of New Netherlands retells the incident:
"In the area of the great falls of the Macques Kill (Mohawk River) which the Indians name the Cahoos Falls...An occurrence of this kind took place here in our time. An Indian whom I have known accompanied by his wife and child with sixty beaver skins descended the river in his canoe in the spring when the water runs rapid and the current is strongest... This Indian carelessly approached too near the Falls before he discovered the danger, and notwithstanding his utmost exertions to gain the land, his frail bark with all on board was swept over by the rapid current and down the Falls; his wife and child were killed, his bark shattered to pieces, his cargo of furs damaged. But his life was preserved. The Cohoes Falls is one of the Iroquois most sacred sites due to the Peacemaker's miraculous emergence after his plunge into the Falls."
There are many different versions of the word Cah-hoos as it filtered through the many dialects to the Indian language. Joseph Brandt, the leader of the Cherry Valley Massacre, attested that the word was of Iroquois origin and the meaning-a canoe falling. Another evidence of the Iroquois naming the Falls was contained in Morgan's League of the Ho-de-sau-ne-eor Iroquois which stated "Cohoes Falls: in Mohawk dialect Ga-ha-oose, means ship-wrecked canoe." The Indians, therefore, not only immortalized the Falls through legend but gave them their name. In 2011, the importance of the Cohoes Falls in Iroquois history resulted in Brookfield Renewable Power ceding part of their land holding at the Cohoes Falls to allow the Iroquois access to their sacred site for the first time in 300 years.
Another appreciative visitor was the Reverend Johannes Megapolensis, the first minister of the gospel in Albany, who in 1642, to friends in Holland and his impressions of the marvelous sight.
"Through this land runs an excellent river...When we saw not only the river falling with such a noise that we could hardly hear one another, but the water boiling and dashing with such force in still weather, that it was all the time as it were raining...I saw there in clear sunshine when there was not a cloud in the sky.in a great abyss the half of a rainbow...of the same color with rainbow in the sky.
" In April of 1660, Jasper Dankers and Peter Sluyter, two Dutchmen seeking areas for prospective colonization also recorded their impressions.
..."We rode to visit the Cahoos, which is the falls of the great Macquas Kill (Mohawk River) which are the greatest falls not only in new Netherlands, but in North America, and perhaps...in the whole world.
As you come near the Falls, you can hear the roaring which makes everything tremble, but on reaching them and looking at them, you see something wonderful, a great manifestation of God's power and sovereignty of his wisdom and glory."
Governor Thomas Pownal, an Englishman visiting the area in 1660, described their appearance, also. Greatly impressed by the power which caused air trapped between the rocks to "fly off from this Fall and disperse itself, and fall in heavy showers for nearly half a mile round the place," he made an on-the spot sketch which was finished later in England.
In 1804 the great Irish poet, Thomas Moore, wrote to his mother in Ireland:
"I was to see the Coho Falls or the Mohawk River and was truly gratified. The immense fall of the river over a natural dam of thirty or forty feet high, its roar among the rocks and the illuminated mist of spray which rises from its foam were to me objects all new, beautiful and impressive..."
He was so moved that he chose to immortalize the sight in a 34-line poem entitled "Lines, Written at the Cohoes Falls of the Mohawk River, which opens:
From the rise of morn till set of sun
I have seen the mighty Mohawk run,
Oh! I have thought, and thinking sighed
How like to thee, thou restless tide!
But urgent as the doom calls
Thy water to its destined falls,
And the last current cease to run!
Oh may my falls be as bright as thine!
May heavens forgiving rainbow shine
Upon the mist that circles me,
As soft as now it hangs over thee!
Soon there were other visitors who saw more in the falls than esthetic beauty: they recognized them as a productive resource which could be utilized to benefit man. One of the first people to recognize the potential water power in the Falls was Canvass White, an engineer who had come to the area to work on the Erie Canal, he had little trouble convincing men of means of the profitability of such an endeavor. In 1826, these men organized the Cohoes Company with Mr. White as president, Steven Van Rensselaer, vice president; as trustees Peter Remsen, Charles Dudley, Francis Olmstead, Henry Wycoff. The charter of this company provided that it... "be lawful to maintain a dam across the Mohawk River above the great Falls for the purpose of supplying water for the corporation. Giving full authority to cut, construct and make a canal or canals necessary to supply water for manufacturing establishments which may be erected.
The most significant step in the process of development was taken in the early part of 1831 with the construction of wooden dam at the head of the Falls. This provided great encouragement for the creation of many industrial shops using water as a source of power. This victory of harnessing the Falls was short-lived.
In January of 1831 the first dam was destroyed by an ice flow, which washed away some 300 feet of the structure. Their seemingly endless endeavors at rebuilding dams finally proved successful in 1839. The dimensions of the new dam were nine feet high and fifteen-hundred feet long of timber construction, reinforced with stone and concrete.
The men had been successful in the damming of the Falls. By the spring of 1832 the first two canals were completed. They were called Basin A and Basin B, the later constructed for the purpose of receiving water from the former and transferring it into the river. There were finally a total of ten canals built on three different levels which allowed for water to be used six times before being dumped back into the river.
The development of the power system proved to be of great assistance to industry but greatly reduced the splendor of the Falls. Despite this fact Cohoesiers returned to their appreciation of the beauty of the spot and in 1865, an inn was built on a spot where the Mohawk flows over a rocky declivity of seventy-five feet. This inn, The Cataract House, opened and prospered under the management of John Partridge. In 1867 the improvements made Cataract House into a two story sprawling mansion, furnished by a New York firm. Verandas overlooking the Falls provided a most effective scenic view.
One of the most favorite attractions of local folk who came to see the Falls was the ride on the Belt Line, a tour in an open trolley car over the seventy foot drop of the Falls. Because of the great number of visitors, many daredevils were inspired to attempt daring feats to gain recognition. On April 15 and on April 22 of 1899 Bobby Leach went over the Falls in a barrel and provided the town with a few spectacular memories.
Back in the middle of the 19th century the main transportation west was the Erie Canal. The falls at Cohoes were a stunning sight as the canal boats passed by. Therefore it was only natural that they accrue the distinction as being the second largest next to the falls at Niagara. Both falls have no rivals in New York State.
The quantity of water discharged over the falls per second places both the Niagara Falls and the Cohoes Falls in the following light: Celilo Falls in Washington Oregon discharge 225,000 cubic feet of water per second; The Great Falls on the Potomac River in Maryland discharge 207,000 cubic feet of water per second; Niagara Falls on the Niagara River discharge 100,000 cubic feet of water per second and the Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River discharge 27,000 cubic feet of water per second.