Thursday, March 19, 2009

Niagara Falls Then and Now: the Schoellkopf Hydro Station collapse

above: Jun.7, 1956 - photo taken just after the Schoellkopf electric power station had collapsed into the Niagara River. This station was located on the American side of the Niagara River, just slightly downstream (north) of the Rainbow Bridge, which is seen in the distance. The roof seen at the bottom was the partially-destroyed south-end of Schoellkopf Station '3A'. The wreckage seen in the center of photo was where Stations 3B and 3C had stood.
below: Jun.7, 1956 - The Schoellkopf power station was captured on the photo just before it collapsed into the Niagara River Gorge: rock is seen sliding down just above the power house building.
The reasons given for the massive collapse were varied: that there had been a minor earthquake; that the River had eaten away at the underpinnings; that water seepage behind the raceways caused the gorge walls to crack, triggering the rock slide which demolished the station's structure attached to the face of the cliff. [One employee (Richard Draper) was killed, several others had to be rescued from the river. Newspaper reports on Aug.7, 1956 confirmed that Draper's body was eventually found in the river; yet there are sites still claiming it wasn't!] The generators fell into the river, and some debris even flew across to the Canadian side, as water kept on gushing out of the broken supply tunnels. click on photos to enlarge!
above: this is the same view on Mar.10, 2010 - the remains of the Schoellkopf hydro generating station, seen above the ice-covered Niagara River.
{note: see my video here which I took on Nov.21, 2012, showing some of the Schoellkopf station's industrial relics still laying along the riverbank, exposed when the Niagara River water level was lowered due to seasonal diversion. Twisted steel girders and even a generator turbine can still be seen, which are usually hidden under water. Starting in the spring of 2013, the area seen in the video was reconstructed, becoming the location of the Maid of the Mist's new winter boat storage facility}
below: this astounding view is of the Schoellkopf power station in 1938, as the Niagara River was thawing out: in front of the station, floating by on a huge chunk of ice, was the steel remnant of the Honeymoon Bridge, which had collapsed into the river on Jan.27, 1938!
The Honeymoon Bridge (also known as the Fallsview Bridge, or the Upper Steel Arch Bridge) was built in 1897-98, and collapsed into the Niagara River in the severe winter on Jan.27 1938 after river ice knocked the bridge off its footings.
It was replaced by the new Rainbow Bridge, which opened Nov.1, 1941.
{see more on the Rainbow Bridge here}.
above: 1938 - a large portion of the collapsed Honeymoon Bridge floats by (heading north, to the left) on an ice floe, past the Schoellkopf hydro-electric generating station. Although this photo is not dated at the library, it was most certainly taken on Apr.13, 1938, just before the bridge sank shortly later that same day, at a point just to the left, slightly downriver past the station.
Eighteen years later, in 1956, the Schoellkopf station itself would also suffer a catastrophic collapse.
The wide Schoellkopf hydro plant seen above at the river's edge was constructed in three major phases.
The northern portion of the complex was known as Station 3A: a bit of the south-end of Stn.3A is seen at the far upper-left of the above photo; it was the building which had the tall, massive man-made stone wall constructed behind it, to conceal the penstocks. (The south-end of Stn.3A was destroyed in the collapse, as seen in the photo at the beginning of this post)
Stn.3A was built during 1903-1913 (I've also seen the dates given as 1905-1914), and eventually held thirteen 10K HP turbines running at 300rpm, and two 1K HP turbines running at 500rpm, totalling a capacity of 132K HP.
Another addition, known as Stn.3B, was built onto the south-end of Stn. 3A during 1918 to 1920, and housed three 37.5K HP generators.
The last Schoellkopf expansion, known as Stn.3C, was built during 1921-1924, and would house three 70K HP turbines.
During the collapse, Stations 3B and 3C, as seen above, were fully destroyed. The oldest section, 3A, was damaged at its south-end, but not completely destroyed.
above: front page of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Evening Review, Jun.8, 1956.
The same tall stone wall which stood over Stn. 3A is seen at the far left. The debris seen at the centre-right of the above photo was mostly that of 3B, while 3C (also collapsed) was immediately farther to the right. In the above photo, the area seen in the red circle is the same area seen in the 2012 photo below, at the far upper-right, where the same jagged edges of the walls still remain.  Below the red circle, square penstock tunnels are seen revealed after the collapse.
below: Feb.9, 2012 - this is where the Schoellkopf Station 3A had stood, with the tall stone wall behind it. The wide row of outlets seen just above the river had been Stn. 3A's outfall spillways. The 3A powerhouse had stood where the trees have now rooted along the slope.
That red-circled area seen in the 1956 photo above (with the jagged stone wall) is the same area seen below, at the far upper right, with the same jagged wall.
The northern portion of Stn. 3A survived the collapse and was repaired to generate some power again, but five years later in 1961, it was decommissioned, when the new Robert Moses Power station opened, further downriver.
above: same view of the 3A site, on Feb.11, 2012, after a snowfall. A coating of snow helps bring another perspective to the view.
above top photo: Feb.9, 2012 - this view is looking to the right of the previous photo; this is where Schoellkopf power stations 3B and 3C had been located. This was once known at the 'High Bank', which became the 'Mill District'. Stn.3A had stood to the left. The shadow cast upon the river is of the Rainbow Bridge.
above lower photo: same view, two days later, on Feb.11, 2012, after a snowfall. 
above top photo: Feb.9, 2011 -  this is looking further to the right, the Rainbow Bridge is seen at the far right. This area along the cliff edge had once been a row of industrial enterprises. At the center-left on the far shore is seen a rounded-top tunnel exit; just below this tunnel opening, at the river's edge, is where an even earlier hydro generating station had stood: this was the location of Schoellkopf Station Number Two [marked with the red '2' in photo below].

Schoellkopf Station Two was apparently completed in 1904 [though, again, I have read conflicting sources which state that Stn. 2 was already completed in 1901, but had delivered its first power in 1896 (!)]; it initially had 4 turbines delivering a total of 6850 HP, at a head of 210 feet through one 8 foot diameter penstock.

As Stn. 2 was expanded, the last two penstocks built for it measured 11 feet in diameter, and were the largest in the world at the time. (from Niagara by Adams) Above lower photo: same view, Feb.11, 2012, two days later, after a snowfall.

Schoellkopf's Station Number 1 was the first hydro station ever built down in the gorge, it is marked with the red '1' below; it is the smaller building at the right, at the bottom of the gorge. It was apparently opened in 1889, and was actually built to re-use a water plume that was the tail race of another mill, located directly above it, at the top of the gorge. This lower station [which became known as Schoellkopf No. 1] was also variously referred to as the Quigley Lower Mill, or, as the Cliff Paper Co. Lower Mill.

The older mill at the top was the Quigley Upper Mill (also known as the Cliff Paper Upper Mill), which got its water from the hydraulic canal, whose inlet was on the Upper Niagara at Port Day. After use, the Upper Mill's water was then discharged out the cliff face, only utilizing a head of about 75 feet: it was the unrealized potential of this tail-race water, until then wasted, which Mr. Schoellkopf decided to utilize for the Lower Mill (later known as station No. 1) taking advantage of another 125 feet of remaining head.

In 1881, the Quigley Upper Mill was already producing 1,800 HP of hydro electricity, supplying power to the Oneida silver-plating works and another machine shop, and apparently was even exporting some electricity across the river to Niagara Falls, Ont.
below: 1921 aerial view of the High Bank area, showing the Schoellkopf stations, with the 3C site seen in the early stages of construction. The hydraulic canal feeding the old mill district and the Schoellkopf stations is seen at the top.

below: photo dated circa 1889 - the Oneida silver-plating plant is marked at the upper right.
It's interesting to see here that down in the gorge, the Schoellkopf No. 2 station is clearly seen just partially built, still under construction! There is a vacant area between the north-wall of the 'Quigley Lower Mill/Schoellkopf 1', and the partially built Schoellkopf 2. Note that Stn. 2 is seen with only its northern spillway built.
At the left, arrows 3B and 3C show where the future stations would be built; it is this maze of tunnels and pit shafts, as seen here, which honeycombed the cliff, which may have contributed to the eventual collapse of the cliff face in 1956.
below: This is looking at the Schoellkopf site in the Mill District, as it was seen on Jun.24, 1907.
Schoellkopf Station 2 is marked 'd'  in red, at the lower center of the photo. Note, compared to previous photo, that Schoellkopf 2 is now fully built, with three spillways visible.
Stations 3B and 3C were later built in the area at the left of the photo, where all the outfalls are seen pouring out; that is the exact area which would later collapse in 1956.
At the time this photo was taken in 1907, Stn. 3A would have been under construction, further to the left, out of frame.
The Oneida Community factory was located at the upper right of the photo below, just a bit over to the right of the red 'b'. It was the taller building at the upper-right, with the large chimney seen standing just to its right.
 above: Feb.9, 2012 - this is the same view as above. I've tried to find some hints of the buildings which once stood here. I've highlighted some features matching both above photos:

a - rounded top tunnel (still today, right above the round-top tunnel, there is a date stamped into the concrete with the year "1905" within a crest)

b - top of a long covered chute, its descent marked in green. This area at the top of the cliff at this exact spot was the location of the Quigley Upper Mill (also known as the Cliff Paper Upper Mill) That chute must have been the penstock sending water down to Stn. 1.

c - the Cliff  Paper Co. Lower Mill; also known as the Quigley Lower Mill, later being recognized as the Schoellkopf Stn. No. 1.

d - Schoellkopf "Power Station No.2"

e - rock marking location of northern corner of  the Cliff  Paper Co. Lower Mill, (aka Stn. No. 1)

f - the penstocks which fed Stn. No.2

g - the bottom of one of Stn. 2's penstocks is seen exposed today; it had been inside the station building. This is likely Stn. 2's northern penstock.

h - man-made rock wall which appears in both photos; but in today's photo, the outfall, which was seen earlier, has been sealed.

i - a squarish, double-tunnel outlet
above: closer view of rounded-top tunnel [marked with the red 'a' earlier above; this is the tunnel with the "1905" date in the concrete, but it doesn't show clearly in the photo] at the upper-center right. Note at the bottom left is yet another smaller rounded tunnel
 above: closer view of location 'b', at the top of what had been the long covered chute. At the top of the cliff here was where the early Quigley Upper Mill had once stood, and farther to the right, slightly out of frame, was where the Oneida Community Plate factory had stood..
above: closer view of location 'i', looking at the squarish double-tunnel. At left, note the icicles from the seeping groundwater.
above: closer view at the area between location 'h' and 'i' at the top of the cliff, where a door and window are seen at the top. Slightly below the left window, which has been sealed up with stone, can be seen a round tunnel entrance, which has been sealed up with bricks.
below: Feb.9, 2012 - this is a closer view of the outfall spillways located at the southern-end of the Schoellkopf 3A site. 3B and 3C had stood immediately to the right, out of frame. Note the steel beam remnants still laying just above the Niagara River shore, in the center-right. Note also the bright yellow and red colours of the bush whips along the shore, unusual for this time of season.
above: same view, two days later, Feb.11, 2012, after a snowfall. Note between the two photos that the Niagara River level had dropped several feet in two days.
above: Feb.9, 2012 - this is a closer view of the crushed ruins of either Schoellkopf 3B or 3C - it's hard to tell, as this is located right in the center of the collapsed area. This is looking at a portion of the wide row of outfall spillways which had been beneath powerhouses 3B and 3C (similar to 3A's remaining spillways). The mouth of one of the spillways can be seen at the centre-left, and above it, a man-made stone wall remains.
below: an aerial view by John Boyd of the Globe and Mail shows the devastated stations 3B and 3C, with a torrent of water still pouring out unchecked from behind. At the left, 3A is seen severely damaged only at its southern-end. Note the area in the red circle: this is the same rear wall of Stn. 3A, which is still visible today, as seen in the next photo below:
below: Feb.9, 2012 - looking again at the southern-end of 3A - the southern-end of  3A's spillways (as seen in the third-previous photo above) are the same ones seen below at the bottom left; this view looks a little farther up from the river and the spillways, to where the actual powerhouse had stood. The concrete wall seen in the centre had been part of 3A's rear wall (as outlined in the red circle above). Note just above the wall is a rotted wooden barrier covering up another tunnel.
above: Feb.9, 2012 - this view continues looking farther up from the previous photo; this is the view of the relics at the top of the gorge. Here, station 3A had been at the left; at the right would have been the transition to station 3B. (This is the same area which was seen in the photo much earlier above, circled in red, in the copy of the Niagara Falls Evening Review newspaper of Jun.8, 1956.)
below: Here's a bit of a puzzle - according to the Niagara Falls Library Archive, this is a 1992 photo at the corner of Main St. and Culp St., Niagara Falls, Ont. Note the one way sign on the street going left.

above: this is the actual north-west corner of Main and Culp, as seen Mar.17, 2009. It's hard to tell whether this is actually the same corner (with a newer building), as the previous photo above claims. Furthermore, if you look at the previous picture above - at the building to the far right side of the photo - it looks almost identical to the photo below:
above: if you compare the above and the second-previous above photos, the buildings look exactly the same. The problem is, this picture claims that this building is located on Erie St., not on Main St! The storefronts, windows, cornice, and brickwork seem identical in both photos. In the above photo, at the left, there is a vacant lot, where certainly a former structure must have been torn down - possibly the house seen boarded-up on the corner? The caption for this photo says that it is part of the Buckley block built in 1881 and demolished in 1976, and only says it's on the west side of Erie Ave. I think there's a discrepancy with the information provided with these two photos, and that both buildings were actually beside each other - but...where, on Main or on Erie...or somewhere else altogether?
[update: I have since determined that the location of the third-above photo (as claimed on the library file to be at Main and Culp) is wrong - this building was actually on the north-west corner of Erie Ave. and Park St.! The above photo then, is correct - this building was on the west side of Erie Ave., and it stood next door, directly to the north, of the building shown boarded-up.
An additional problem is that both photos are undated
Obviously, by the time the above shot had been taken, the house on the corner had already been torn down; which makes the claim - that the third-above photo was taken in 1992 - totally unlikely, seeing as the above photo shows a mid-70's car. The entire west side block of Erie Ave. (from Park St. to Bridge St.) is where the Niagara Falls bus station now is.
below: July 25, 1914 - looking east down Lundy's Lane, towards Main St. (where the streetcar is seen turning). At the far right (south corner) is A.C. Thorburn Drugs ( with the store's name seen painted on the wall); at the left (north corner) can be seen the Queen Victoria Memorial, which was later relocated to near the corner of Ferry St. and Sylvia Place, beside the Niagara Falls Historical Museum. The banners are in celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the War of 1812... which the Canadians won, by the way...

above: same view, looking east down Lundy's Lane towards Main St., with Ferry St. continuing down into the distance. Thorburn's Drug Store is at the near right, at the far right across the street is an Imperial Bank branch, at the left is a Bank of Hamilton branch. Note the streetcar tracks are seen running down Lundy's Lane (from behind the cameraman), going across Main, and then down onto Ferry St. in the distance (Note, date of photo unknown, but, this must be from 1925 or later, because it was in 1925 that the Lundy's Lane streetcar line was extended uphill all the way to Lundy's Lane and Winery Rd. (now Dorchester).
above: same view, Mar.5, 2009. The former Thorburn Drug store building is still on the corner, at the centre-right (with the white sign on its side); the former Bank of Hamilton building is still seen in the left distance (under the yellow billboard). Near where the square yellow pylon sign is now seen (to the far-centre-left), is where the Queen Victoria Monument once stood, at the north-west corner of  Main and Lundy's Lane. With the major widenings of Lundy's Lane which occurred over the years, the Victoria monument had actually stood farther out, where the road now is, between where the dark car and silver van are seen.
above: this view looks west, up towards Lundy's Lane hill. The A.C. Thorburn Drugstore side is seen at the left, with a large ad on the side, for Neilson's ice cream bricks; Laura Secord candies, cigarettes, postcards and Kodaks. On the post at right is a King's Highway marker sign for Hwy. 20 and Hwy. 3A. Kerrio's Welding Works has barriers up on Lundy's Lane while working on the removal of the streetcar tracks. (date unknown, pos.1948)
The building seen in the centre of above photo (behind (west of) Thorburn Drugs) was an auto garage; the same building is still seen in the second-previous photo above, at the far right)
below: another view of Thorburn Drug's sign, which was painted onto the store's sidewall facing Lundy's Lane. The sign is different from the one seen above: this one shows an affiliation with the I.D.A. chain, and also has an ad for Elizabeth Arden toiletries. Thorburn's has a neon sign on the corner; farther down Main St. is also seen a neon sign hanging over the sidewalk in front of Swalm's. (date unknown)
above: same view, Mar.29, 2010. There had once been a police station and jail cell at the rear of the Thorburn building.
below: Jan.5, 2009 - looking east down Robinson St., where a tree's crown had snapped off, with the Skylon tower lined up in the distance.

above: Mar.5, 2009 - same view; the tree's remaining limbs have all been removed.
below: Feb.20, 2008 - looking at the Hilton Hotel tower construction.

above: Aug.10, 08
above: Dec.8, 2008
above: Mar.5, 2009
below: Mar.31, 2008, looking up the Murray St. hill towards the Hilton tower under construction. The Fallsview casino is seen at the left.

above: same view, Mar.12, 2009
below: Jun. 1975 - a CN diesel sits by the Bridge St. CN station in Niagara Falls, Ont.

above: same view - Amtrak engine #106 sits idling at 4:30 pm on Mar.19, 2009, by the Niagara Falls, Ont., CN VIA station on Bridge St., having just crossed the Niagara River bridge into Canada pulling five passenger cars on the New York City to Toronto run.
The older photos in this post are from the Niagara Falls, Ont. historical Library Archives; the recent photos are by R. Bobak.
Below: video of the former Schoellkopf generating station site, as seen Mar.10, 2010, by R. Bobak.

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safdar ali said...

Nice post with great details and info. I never heard before this about these places. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate your job. niagara falls

Joseph said...

Wonderful and very informative post! I really enjoyed the read.

Nick Vivid said...

Regarding the Schoellkopf power plant collapse - When I was a kid, we did a school field trip to Niagara Falls, and I distinctly remember them showing us an 8mm film of the actual collapse. It gave me nightmares. They said it was filmed by a tourist from China. That's all i can recall. Can't find this video anywhere, but it must exist. You know anything about this?