worksongs : urban exploration photography
10/11/07 — Vena Cava

All of the old hydrolectric stations on the New York side of Niagara Falls have been destroyed in one way or another, but bits and pieces of their infrastructure still remain. Some of these components are obvious, like the 18 foot tailrace tunnel that's now utilized by the city's waste water treatment plant. Others are a bit more subtle such as the foundation for a large ventilation shaft that now serves as a makeshift garden bed. Elsewhere, metal railing that once followed the edge of a now-buried hydraulic canal lies without purpose beside an empty field. While there's little left that can compare with some of the visual spectacles on the Canadian side of the Falls, piecing these elements together to get a sense of the region's history has been just as rewarding.

The Niagara Falls Power Company built the first large-scale generating station to make use of Tesla's alternating current. It predates the ones on the Canadian side by several years. In 1895, it successfully transmitted 11,000 volts of electricity 40km south to Buffalo giving birth to the world's first large city streetcar system. Later in 1901, the station delivered power to the famous Pan-American Exposition where awe-inspiring lighting effects and a spectacle of electrical inventions captured the imagination of the world.

With all that said, here's a component that helped get the power there. This five and a half foot concrete tunnel runs out from the station's transformer house. It carried the cables underground for about 2,000 feet after which they were brought to Buffalo via a series of wooden aerial poles. It's admitedly a bit redundant after the first 50 feet, and makes for a bit of a rough and mucky slog, but given the historical context, it's well worth walking its length at least once in a lifetime.