BOTANICAL EVALUATION OF THE GOAT ISLAND COMPLEX, NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK
2a. "The Spring"
As the Porters made the island accessible to visitors, the spring was used as perhaps the only source of refreshment, outside of eating the native gooseberries and currants (Gurney, 1841) or obtaining beverages and other fare from a resthouse on Green Island (see section on Green Island).
A great deal of attention was paid this area by the Superintendent in the first fifteen years of the Reservation, most of the attention due to the fact visitors drank from the spring to slake their thirst. It was not very far from the bridge to the Island. In 1890 "An additional substantial stairway is much needed to take the place of the dilapidated steps leading to the Spring on Goat Island" (6 Ann Rep Comm, 1890). The stairway was "made of oak with iron risers set on stone piers" (Scott & Scott, 1983). "A suitable stone spring house has been erected about the spring on Goat Island, which protects the spring from falling leaves and adds to the convenience of the public" (7 Ann Rep Comm 1891). This spring received a stairway to it consisting of "four flights and four landings" (7 Ann Rep Comm, 1891). "Permanent oak seats have been built into the balconies of the stairway at the Spring" (9 Ann Rep Comm, 1893) and a picture of a little stone-enclosed area with children drinking from a cup with a flight of wooden steps in the background is appended to the 11th annual report of the Commissioners for 1895. In 1894 a gravel walk was built "from the head of Goat Island to the spring" (11 Ann Rep Comm, 1895).
In the 15th annual report of the Commissioners (1899), the frame platform at the Spring was replaced by a flooring composed of "ledges of natural rock, laid in sand." A similar kind of surfacing may be seen in other areas of the north slope, and appears to be an attractive way to face the slope. This surfacing almost duplicates natural rock strata.
The usefulness of the Spring was maintained for many decades and the public was encouraged to use it as a public drinking fountain. Carriage parking was established there.
In 1905 or 6 "a new trail called "Fisherman Trail" was constructed to the Spring along the island's north shore" (Scott & Scott, 1983).
Modifications in the natural surroundings continued, with the eventual replacement of all the native vegetation. Presently, very old horticultural embellishments remain near here: dense groves of Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana). The Buckthorn is unfortunately seeding itself throughout the vegetation on the slopes and river margins. Once a grove of this has been established, little grows beneath it. Most of the trees in this area are alien, mostly Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), and of considerable age. The presence of alien trees at this locality is in sharp contrast to the high native tree diversity characteristic of the rest of the northern slopes of Goat Island.
It is probable that at a much earlier date, such as at the time of David Douglas' visit to the Island in 1823, that this area was very much boggier than now, and was altered perhaps during the Porter ownership for the convenience of visitors. Somewhere on the island, David Douglas observed Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), probably the remnant of a larger population, isolated by drainage modification of some sort and other wet-soil species, such as Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) and Poison Sumac (Rhus vernix) (see section on Douglas' diary). Running streamlets might also have supported the hydrophilic False Mermaid plant (Floerkea proserpinacoides) and other wet-woodland species still present at Dufferin Islands across the River in Ontario, but now absent on Goat Island. These cool, wet slopes once supported stands of Arbor Vitae, which were visible from the mainland (Michaux, 1819) perhaps in the manner of trees along the slopes facing Dufferin Islands today, only more dense.
On the 1883 Evershed map of land to be purchased for the Niagara Reservation, the spring is drawn leading down to a small alluvial channel at the river margin corresponding to its outlet. Just east of it, there is a small swamp drawn, just as one was drawn for the western extremity of the Second Sister Island. The north shore swamp area with its plant community has since disappeared, probably due to lowering of river volume (see section on hydrology). It is highly probable that the species composition of this wet area, on the north slope of Goat Island in a wooded situation with canopy, would be quite different from that of the open, sunny alluvial area at the Second Sister's west end.
Around 1898, the neighboring city of Niagara Falls was experiencing a scourge of typhoid fever. A state expert was brought in that year to investigate local wells and found "only two wells of 43 checked contained water fit for use. He also said the spring on Goat Island was contaminated" (Mizer, 1981). Before the city could control the impurities in its water, Superintendent Thomas Welch, a native of the city, tragically died of the disease in 1903 (20 Ann Rep Comm, 1904).
"The frame platform at the Spring on Goat Island has been removed, and the space floored with ledges of natural rock, laid in sand. The Board of Health of the city of Niagara Falls has called attention to the probable pollution of the water by persons dipping pails and other vessels into the spring to obtain water. To guard against possible contamination, it may be well to close the opening in the stone canopy of the Spring, so that the water may be obtained only through a tube" (15 Ann Rep Comm, 1899).
Today, a cove-like area between the two bridges to Goat Island with a stone or concrete stair leading down to a wet area near the water's edge is what is left of the Spring. Saturated soil here is a remnant of this outlet. This wet, northward-sloping area is presently dense with the water-loving Spotted Touch-Me-Not in the latter part of summer. Water to the spring was probably fed through a joint in the bedrock below the overlying sediments. The flow of this water appears to have been interrupted. Just west of the vehicular bridge, a grassy rivulet runs out of the bank which may be a descendent of the Spring.
During the foray to Goat Island, part of the 1886 meeting in Buffalo of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American bryologists C. R. Barnes, Elizabeth Gertrude Britton and Lucius M. Underwood collected an unusual moss in this vicinity (see bryophyte section). These populations may still be seen.
Fissidens grandifrons. Spring on Goat Id., Niagara Falls, N.Y. Aug. 27th, 1889 North American Mosses named and presented by E. G. Britton [New York Botanical Garden].
Fissidens grandifrons. Goat Island. Near the "Spring" Aug. 1886 L. M. U[nderwood leg.] The Underwood Collection, 1914. [New York Botanical Garden].
Fissidens grandifrons. Niagara River - Goat Id. 1886. Aug. 21 Named by C. R. Barnes North American Mosses Presented by E. G. Britton [inside packet] Stream below the spring, Goat Island, Niagara River. C. R. Barnes, legit. Aug. 21, 1886 [New York Botanical Garden].