The Loss of Fish Creek Falls
A Niagara Gorge waterfall that was
138 feet higher than the Horseshoe Falls

By Scott A. Ensminger

    Fish Creek in the Town of Lewiston, NY originates in the Tuscarora Nation Indian Territory about 0.5 of a mile east of Green Road, at an elevation of 615 feet. It flows to the west paralleling the Niagara Escarpment. It soon reaches the levee for the New York State Power Authority Lewiston Reservoir and flows along its northern border. The reservoir was built in 1961 and displaced 175 members of the Tuscarora Nation and destroyed their 37 homes. The building of the reservoir dramatically changed the natural route of the creek and undoubtedly changed its natural volume. The creek resumes its natural route about 0.3 of a mile east of Upper Mountain Road.

Map of Fish Creek

Fish Creek 01 Fish Creek 02

    Roughly 0.8 of a mile after flowing under Upper Mountain Road the creek enters the southern edge of the Niagara Falls Country Club golf course. After flowing under Military Road (Route 265) it flows behind a residential area along Meadowbrook Drive. Just before reaching Lewiston Road (Route 104) the creek turns northward for 0.1 of a mile then turns to the west flowing under Lewiston Road and into the Niagara Falls Country Club golf course.

Fish Creek 03 Fish Creek 04

    As it enters the golf course the creek is now confined to a concrete channel. It was built in 1962 and is 14 feet wide at its base. The channel somewhat followed the natural course of the creek. About 800 feet past Lewiston Road the creek nears the green of the 15th hole of the golf course. In this area the natural bed of the creek had numerous fissures and sinkholes that allowed a portion of the creek to disappear underground. This underground water flowed to the southwest and exited at Milk Cave about 1,000 feet away. The cave is believed to have had about half a mile of explorable passage. The entrances were filled with concrete in 1962 to ensure the stability of the gorge wall in that area.

Milk Cave Niagara Gorge Wall 01 Milk Cave Niagara Gorge Wall 02

    In the Langto photo above, the upper and lower haul roads used in the construction of the Niagara Power Plant are visible. Construction of the plant started in 1957 and was completed in 1961. The underground portion of Fish Creek cascades from four or five openings for Milk Cave. A concrete wall with a tall wooden fence atop it was built at the base of the cascades. The fence presumably stopped falling ice. This area is now a picnic area along the Artpark Gorge Trail number 7. The water was then funneled into a pipe for a short distance and then allowed to cascade down the embankment. The water then flowed under the lower haul road and into the Niagara River. When the trees are free of leaves the pipes can still be seen from the upper haul road.

    The natural course of the creek continued westwards for about 730 feet to the gorge rim. At an elevation of 562 feet Fish Creek plunged over the cliff in a series of vertical falls and cascades down to the Niagara River's elevation of 250 feet, a vertical distance of 312 feet. This is 138 feet higher than the summertime height of the Horseshoe Falls at 174 feet. In 1836 during the construction of the Lewiston Railroad the natural course of the creek was diverted unto a manmade channel about 150 feet to the north of the natural creek bed. The creek now fell from an elevation of 552 feet to the river below, a distance of 302 vertical feet.

Fish Creek Falls Fish Creek Reentrant

    In the Langto photo above, Fish Creek falls from the manmade channel for the Lewiston Railroad. After falling about 140 feet, the creek was channeled unto a concrete culvert and then into a 3 foot diameter steel pipe. The pipe continued down the embankment, passed under the lower haul road, and discharged into the Niagara River. Presumably the creek was put into the pipe to prevent erosion of the roads. When the trees are free of leaves a section of the pipe can still be seen from the upper haul road, now known as the Artpark Gorge Trail number 7. The lower haul road is now the River's Edge Trail number 8. Both trails can be accessed from a small gravel parking area known as the Fishermen's Lot.

    When the concrete channel for Fish Creek was built in 1962 the creek was channeled into an underground culvert that starts about 150 feet east of the gorge rim at an elevation of 555 feet. At first a seven foot diameter culvert runs under the northbound section of the Niagara Scenic Parkway before turning to the west, and beginning its decent down the Niagara Escarpment. The underground culvert soon narrows to five feet in diameter and resurfaces just south of the Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park parking area for access to trail numbers 7 and 8. The length of the culvert is 1,348 feet. The creek then descends a steeply sloped spillway, flows over the long abandoned bed of the Niagara Gorge Railroad, and continues down another steep slope to the Niagara River's elevation of 248 feet. The vertical drop of the underground culvert is 201 feet, while the vertical drop of the spillway is 106 feet.

Fish Creek 05 Fish Creek 06

    A tragedy occurred at the Fish Creek Culvert on December 26, 1967, Lynn Atchison, age seven, was playing on the ice and snow of Fish Creek with two of her cousins. Lynn was sitting near the culvert opening on the Niagara Falls Country Club golf course when an ice dam broke and washed her into the culvert's mouth.

    Four State Troopers quickly responded from the Lewiston barracks. Trooper Kenneth J. Troidl volunteered to go into the culvert in an attempt to locate the young girl. Trooper William Peterson tied two fifty foot long ropes together, tying one end to Troidl and the other to himself. As they proceeded into the culvert the downward incline became increasingly slippery. Troidl lost his footing and fell into the icy water and started sliding down the culvert. The increased tension on the rope caused the knot to come undone and Troidl continued his downward slide along the forty-six degree incline. For roughly 1,300 feet he careened down the 201 foot vertical drop of the cement culvert. As he neared the culvert's outlet he was able to slow his descent somewhat by pressing his knees and elbows into the culvert walls. He stopped his descent at the culvert's outlet by grabbing onto some cement projections on the culvert floor.

    On Sept. 23, 1991, the Buffalo News wrote about the incident: As the water carried him (Troidl) toward the gorge at a speed later estimated by engineers at 60 mph, Troidl was convinced he was going to die. "I'm speeding down this culvert, which empties out into the gorge, a drop of 300 feet to the rocks below. I'm thinking that I'm dead. I'm thinking about insurance and what is going to happen to my wife and kids. I'm worrying that my legs are going to be broken and twisted the wrong way, they won't be able to put me in a casket. I said a prayer," recalled Troidl, who was 27 at the time.

Fish Creek Spillway 01 Fish Creek Spillway 02

Fish Creek Spillway 03

    Trooper Thomas Campbell, who was joined by Lewiston DPW employee Robert Blolinski, was dispatched to the culvert's spillway. Troidl was still tied to a section of the rope, but he was able to toss it up to Campbell and Blolinski, and was pulled to safety. Troidl sustained a shoulder injury and was suffering from hypothermia.

    A search along the inside of the culvert and along the Niagara River for several weeks afterward failed to find the body of Lynn Atchison. May she rest in peace.

   Near the 16th green of the golf course stood Fort Gray. Originally built in 1750 by the French, it was used by them until 1759, when it was abandoned. The British rebuilt the fort in 1764 and occupied it until about 1796. In 1812 U.S. Army Captain Nicholas Gray again rebuilt the fort that overlooked the Village of Lewiston. In December of 1813 the fort was burned by the British. In the mid 1950's it was hoped that the remains of the fort would be preserved in a proposed park at Lewiston Heights. The park plans were abandoned and the site was destroyed when the Niagara Scenic Parkway was built in 1962. Near the 16th tee of the golf course are the remains of a war memorial plaque that presumably mentioned the fort and the war of 1812. The foundation is still there but the plaque has been removed.

    The primary source for the elevations mentioned in this article were the March 1962 plans for the Fish Creek culvert. Several photographs in this article were taken from private land. They are presented here to give the reader views of the features mentioned in the article, and are not meant to encourage anyone to enter private land. When hiking in any state park please stay on the established trails.

   A sincere "Thank You" to Martin Stefanowski, Lee Simonson, and Jim Boles for the assistance they provided me in writing this article.

Fish Creek Culvert area
The base map is from Google Maps.

Copyright © 2022 by Scott A. Ensminger.
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