BOTANICAL EVALUATION OF THE GOAT ISLAND COMPLEX, NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK
5. TERRAPIN POINT COMPLEX
The low area on the southwestern tip of Goat Island below the bluff is referred to here as the Terrapin Point Complex to account through time for the area of exposed rock and soil surfaces, and shallow water supporting emergent vegetation at the river margin which occurred below the present-day grassed-over bluffs overlooking the Horseshoe Falls. In the nineteenth century, a rock or series of rocks was exposed in the bedrock here such that Grabeau (1901) referred to this area as the Terrapin Rocks. Probably it was Terrapin Rock at first, then with progressively lowered water levels more rock became exposed, the name changing to the Terrapin Rocks, and now that all the area is above water, to Terrapin Point.
That the rocks in the channel resembled the backs of turtles gave the name to the rocks at this corner of Goat Island. Here there was an area of relatively shallow water, due to the recession of the Horseshoe Falls, a process which tends to capture water away from the extremities of the curving brink, and which capture is accelerated with the lower water levels due to diversion.
The rapids could be viewed from the Terrapin rocks, reached by bridges out to them. In 1827, the Porters built a bridge out to one of these rocks to offset "the great attraction on the Canadian side at this time" being Table Rock (Porter, 16 Ann Rep Comm, 1900). This bridge was 300 feet long and projected some ten feet beyond the brink "forming an absolutely unique and dangerous [but safe!] point of observation."
The Porters also built a stone tower here in 1833 which stood for forty years, of rustic construction. It was "the one objective point of all visitors, the Mecca of all pilgrims" and not objected to by anyone as "unharmonious" with the natural landscape (Porter, 16 Ann Rep Comm, 1900). A picture of the tower and bridge was printed in Porter's essay on Goat Island (1900), but erroneously dated 1829 since the tower was built in 1833. Indeed, the Tower is featured in many landscape paintings of the period. It was "needlessly" torn down in 1873 as a concession to a competing commercial interest which had just bought from the Porter family "the last spot of land on the American shore, from which a near view of the Falls could be obtained" (Porter, 1900).
The experience to be had here may be imagined according to the words of the Duke of Argyle:
"When we stand at any point near the edge of the falls, and look up the course of the stream, the foaming waters of the rapids constitute the sky line. No indication of land is visible - nothing to express the fact that we are looking at a river. The crests of the breakers, the leaping and the rushing of the waters, are still seen against the clouds as they are seen in the ocean, when the ship from which we look is in the trough of the sea ...." (Grabeau, 1901).
Part of the power of this view is the display of a fifty-foot drop across ridges in the riverbed extending perpendicular to the flow of the river in the short distance from above the Three Sisters to Terrapin Point (a picture of this view: 16 Ann Rep Comm, 1900).
As discussed in the section on the pictorial tradition, by the time the camera was invented or generally used at Niagara, the native forest at Terrapin Point had most likely been totally lost. Pictures of the slope overlooking the Horseshoe Falls (Porter's Bluff) in 1833, taken together with a variety of other illustrations and indirect evidence, indicate that this slope was probably entirely composed of conifer forest with a rather sharp transition to the deciduous forest more typical of the Goat Island platform (area not on the margins or slopes). Early paintings show that this area was one of the very first to be stripped of its native forest. All subsequent photographs of the wooded slope at Porter's Bluff taken in the early decades of the twentieth century show a replacement forest here of a different character.
Tiplin (1988) published a fine photograph in the Niagara Falls New York Public Library in the early 1860's of the Terrapin Tower taken by George Barker. "Descending a winding path, we reached the south end of the Horseshoe Falls, where a wooden bridge, some forty yards long, or more, resting on a succession of small rocks parallel with the very brink of the Fall but three or four feet from it carried us to the foot of a little tower, whence we ascended a spiral stair to a platform at its summit, surrounded by a light iron railing literally overhanging the great cataract itself" (Kingston, 1956).
A small ledge of rock with a vegetated mat on it is visible in the picture. It resembles the mats on rock on the east end of the Second Sister, with its central shrub and surrounding low herbs. Based on the species characteristic of these mats on the Second Sister, the species composition here can probably be inferred (see section on the Second Sister). The shrub may be a willow. The other rocks in the picture are quite bare. What seldom appears in photographs is the ledge of limestone bedrock against the shore at the base of the sedimentary slope. Photographs are always too high, showing the wooded bank, or are made from above the bank and not down on the ledge, so its is only from maps that one knows of its existence. A "rather abundant" patch of Water Willow (Justicia americana) once grew here in shallow water "on limestone off Goat Island just above the Falls" (Zenkert, 1934).
A picture of the Terrapin Point bank taken in 1938 appeared in Tiplin (1988). Rocks at the base appear in ledges. A flat area existed at the bottom of the picture below the pedestrian bridge, because two small boys are standing on it, their feet, unfortunately, below the picture frame. The area below this bridge must have been periodically inundated, but otherwise walkable (unattributed photograph, Tiplin, 1988, p. 130).
The primitive flora of the river margin at Prospect Point on the mainland part of the Reservation probably had the same vegetation as that of the old and present dolomite ledge at what is now called Terrapin Point, the rocky flats presently at the Second Sister and other similar areas now lost on the upper shoreline and flat areas on the brink of the chasm near the falls on the Canadian side. The present flora of the east end of the Second Sister and at Terrapin Point at the crest of the gorge face are indicative of the primitive flora of these areas. Actually, similar habitats probably exist on bedrock ledges on the north shore of Lake Erie, Ontario, rather than in habitats upstream in the Niagara River, or even on the shores of Lake Ontario. This is due to the fact that the northern Lake Erie shoreline is emerging due to isostatic rebound of the region as a whole, presenting new habitats based on naked rock, just as similar habitats are formed near the falls due to lowered water levels in the early history of the Niagara River.
When Olmsted and Vaux suggested revegetating portions of the shoreline on the mainland part of the Reservation they suggested using native plants characteristic of these habitats (Olmsted & Vaux, 1887). Without insight into the particular kind of habitat once existing on these same areas, inappropriate kinds of native species could have been introduced, producing an artificially conceived "native habitat."
The depiction of the Terrapin Rocks, with tower and bridge in the Porter publication (1900) mentioned above, showed the vegetated bluff or high bank overlooking the area called Porter's Bluff. As in most drawings and photographs, the shoreline and water level is not in view. Extensive scattered White Pine or trees are depicted although this exposed, open area may have been moist enough to have permitted the growth of Hemlock. Dense shrubby growth around the old stairs to the Terrapin Rocks, continue down onto a shallow shelf in the river, thickly overgrown with shrubbery (16 Ann Rep Comm, 1900).
A fine prospect of the Horseshoe Falls and the river could be had above, on the bluffs as well, a fact to which Olmsted and Vaux referred in their plan of 1887 (3 Ann Rep Comm): "At a point about a hundred feet southward [from the falls, but really eastward] a wall of stone was built many years ago to sustain a made bank of earth where, before, there must have been a recess in the face of the bluff and probably a gully extending a short distance back" (Olmsted and Vaux, 1887).
Winter ice must have always been a significant factor of disturbance here, especially if the thin water layer froze. Today, on Terrapin Point, "winter ice may accumulate to a thickness of over 6 m (20 feet)" (Krajewski & Terasmae, 1981).
That there was a ledge of bedrock such as exists presently on the eastern end of the Second Sister and in places on the north shore of Goat Island may be inferred from the geologic map of Kindle and Taylor (1913). The lowering of the level of the river which exposed the Three Sisters, the shore at Prospect Point and all along the front on the Canadian side, and the islands in the American channel also exposed this ledge (Kindle & Taylor, 1913). This ledge is also illustrated in the map for the proposed reservation published by Gardner (1880), and is the only map found that shows the flat separated from the shore and base of the bluffs of Goat Island by a stream of water.
Although seldom captured by pen, brush or photograph, the Terrapin Point Complex had a rich and important flora. Details of its nature may be derived from the botanical journal of George W. Clinton. On June 26, 1862, "at the level of Terrapin Bridge," he was able to find Cooper's Milk-Vetch (Astragalus neglectus) and a species of Vetchling (Lathyrus). Up on the wooded bluffs, he found Thimble-weed (Anemone virginiana). At a later date he referred to Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia glauca) "on the flat near Terrapin bridge," which species he also found on Table Rock, Ontario - a not dissimilar habitat. On July 5th, he observed an orchid: the Northern Leafy Green Orchid (Habenaria hyperborea), Variegated Scouring-rush (Equisetum variegatum), and Kalm's St. John's Wort (Hypericum kalmianum). The Goat Island stations were the only known localities for Kalm's St. John's Wort in New York State. With the loss of these stations the species has been extirpated from the New York State flora.
Later that year, on August 1, Clinton collected a Vetchling (Lathyrus palustris) along with Kalm's St. John's Wort, probably at Terrapin Rocks. On September 11, "On the right of the path to Terrapin Tower saw a hundred Gentians" (Gentiana procera, the Smaller Fringed Gentian), and collected Grass of Parnassus. Again, the similarity of the floras on the Canadian shore where the riverbed had been abandoned, the bedrock close to the surface and in poor drainage to the Terrapin Point Complex flora with similar substrates is indicated by Clinton's finding abundant populations of Smaller Fringed Gentian "in springy fields below Table Rock & also on Goat Island near Terrapin Bridge," and Gerardia and Grass of Parnassus. In 1864 Clinton collected Bluejoint Grass there (Calamagrostis canadensis), which is now frequent all along the south shore of Goat Island. On the bluffs overlooking the flat grew Oaks and Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera, and on the wet limestone itself, as indicated above, Water Willow (Justicia americana).
The vegetation appears to have derived from the Canadian flora, indicated by with the presence of Hypericum kalmianum. This species, which, in Ontario, is "abundant at intervals along Lake Erie from Crescent Beach to Point Abino and westward" (Zenkert, 1934) in New York State is only known from Goat Island, where its presence was recorded from 1843 (Torrey, 1943). Torrey reported it also from Table Rock, on the Canadian margin of the Horseshoe Falls, and Abbe Provancher from the talus at the base of the Falls, presumably in Ontario (Provencher, in Day, 1888). Another station occurred at another island in the Horseshoe channel, Cedar Island, Ontario, which possessed a population "in the vicinity of the bridge crossing to the mainland on the way to Dufferin Islands" (Panton, 1890). The Cedar Island station was destroyed in 1904 (Siebel, 1985). Day (1901) reported seeing it growing on Goat Island "in a damp situation." The belief that this species occurred in an area in the Canadian channel may be based on a specimen collected from the First Sister Island by Townsend, 1892 (BUF).
Certain elements in these relatively young habitats on both sides of the river appear to have been similar: thin soil (gravels) over dolomite bedrock, ice scour or ice deposition in winter, flushing by the fluctuating river heights, and spray, all seem to be characteristic.
In 1954 the "Terrapin Point the area was permanently dewatered and backfilled to create a large artificial viewing space. A much smaller artificial extension was constructed at Table Rock [Ontario]. These projects are intended to prevent sections of the Horseshoe crestline from dewatering during low water levels and to control the rate of crestline recession" (Krajewski & Liberty, 1981).
Terrapin Point was subjected to "remedial work," similar to that performed at Luna Island in 1972, wherein the bedrock was stabilized with dowels, bolts and cable tendons, and drains were placed to discharge the pressure of groundwater on the caprock. At Terrapin Point a "large overhang must first be removed by blasting. Then, rock bolts, possibly cable tendons and a subsurface drainage system will be used to stabilize the remaining surface" (Krajewski & Liberty, 1981). This blasting was accomplished in 1983. Such blasting further reduced the aboriginal flora of Terrapin Point, and the species listed below are what remains.
Happily, one of the last populations of the Smaller Fringed Gentian (Gentiana procera) in New York State, and of a State Heritage species of Willow-Herb (Epilobium glandulosum), escaped destruction.
Presently, Terrapin Point is a section of the dolostone crest of the Niagara River Gorge overlooked by sedimentary bluffs, isolated by an elevation on which visitors wishing to view the Horseshoe Falls might stand. The entire section below the bluff is old riverbed recently exposed due to reduction of water flow over the falls. The dolostone ledge is isolated from the river current at the ledge's southern edge by a low breakwall, to the east is the elevated visitor's platform, to the west the precipice, to the north after some yards a weedy, shrubby vegetation prevails and continues north into the sloping sedimentary bluffs with wooded crest vegetation. The dolostone exposed section supports a water-favoring flora of Sedges, Rushes, Sneeze-weed (Helenium autumnale), and others, due to the constant seepage of river water through joints and fractures onto this natural ledge, and the more or less continuous spray of the cataract. There always seem to be wet pools or puddles present, and little or no soil. Visitors may view this "native garden" simply by looking down as they enjoy the prospect across the plunge pool of the Horseshoe Falls.
The entire area of "made land" at Terrapin Point has been filled with soil, graded and planted with lawn grass. No policy of reforestation appears to be presently in place. The absence of trees and shrubs here not only impoverishes a potentially unusual native habitat, wetted almost continuously by the spray from the Horseshoe Falls, but removes substrates that could prevent so much atmospheric moisture from drifting back into the impoverished central woods, and damaging native trees and the shade trees maintained in front of the Terrapin Point restaurant (see section on the central woods).
The present dolomite projection area below the viewing wall on Terrapin Point is probably indicative of the kind of habitat existing prior to dewatering. It is one of the most floristically interesting of the areas left of the young shore-line floras.
Terrapin Point also provided an interesting habitat for land snails. The Conchological Section of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences enjoyed collecting these animals on Terrapin Point - one of their number being photographed bravely standing on the rocky shelf near the edge of the precipice (Robertson & Blakeslee, 1948).
VASCULAR PLANTS: HISTORICAL RECORDS
Acer spicatum MOUNTAIN MAPLE. "Near the Horseshoe Falls," Day, 1888. Day, 1901. Zenkert, 1934.
Campanula aparinoides MARSH BELLFLOWER. "Near Horseshoe Falls," 1892, Edward C. Townsend (BUF). "In grassy places on the edge of the River," Day, 1888.
Justicia americana WATER-WILLOW. "Shallow water," 1924. "near brink of Falls," 1928. "shallow water of Niagara River, on limestone off Goat island, just above the Falls, where rather abundant," Zenkert, 1934.
Saururus cernuus LIZARD'S TAIL. "At the head of Niagara Falls," Zenkert, Aug. 14, 1929. Zenkert, 1934.
Parnassia glauca GRASS OF PARNASSUS. Sept. 19, 1877 (J. D. Hooker's American Journal. Day, 1883. "near the Horse-shoe Fall," Day, 1888. Day, 1901.
VASCULAR PLANTS: RECENT RECORDS
Note that the following flora is not of what is called Terrapin Point on maps today, which is a barren lawn-scape entirely covering the old wooded bluffs. These species represent only the flora of the wet dolomite ledge at the precipice beyond the observation deck. Visitors look down on this vegetated rocky surface, which is exposed riverbed. Its flora is the remnant of that of the dolomite ledge examined by Asa Gray and probably J. D. Hooker, George Clinton, David Day, Charles Zenkert and other botanists before 1940.
Angelica atropurpurea PURPLE-STEMMED ANGELICA. 1986.
Aster lateriflorus STARVED ASTER. 1986.
Aster novae-angliae NEW ENGLAND ASTER. 1986.
* Butomus umbellatus FLOWERING RUSH. 1986.
* Chenopodium album LAMB'S QUARTERS. 1987.
Cornus racemosa PANICLED DOGWOOD. 1986.
Cornus stolonifera RED-OSIER DOGWOOD. 1987.
Epilobium glandulosum WILLOW-HERB. 1986.
Eupatorium maculatum JOE-PYE-WEED. 1986.
Eupatorium perfoliatum BONESET. 1986.
Eupatorium rugosum WHITE SNAKE ROOT. 1986.
Gentiana procera SMALLER FRINGED-GENTIAN. 1986.
Gerardia purpurea var. parviflora SMALL-FLOWERED PURPLE GERARDIA. 1987.
Helenium autumnale SNEEZEWEED. 1986.
Impatiens biflora SPOTTEN TOUCH-ME-NOT. 1986.
Lonicera japonica JAPANESE HONEYSUCKLE. 1986.
Lycopus americanus CUT-LEAVED WATER HOREHOUND. 861224021.
Lycopus virginicus VIRGINIA BUGLEWEED. 1986.
Mentha arvensis var. glabrata AMERICAN WILD MINT. 1986.
* Plantago major COMMON PLANTAIN. 1986.
* Rhamnus cathartica COMMON BUCKTHORN. 1987.
Salix interior SANDBAR WILLOW. 1986.
Sambucus canadensis ELDERBERRY. 1986.
Scirpus validus GREAT BULRUSH. 1986.
Solidago caesia BLUE-STEMMED GOLDENROD. 1986.
Solidago canadensis CANADA GOLDENROD. 1986.
Solidago graminifolia NARROW-LEAVED GOLDENROD. 1986.
Solidago juncea EARLY GOLDENROD. 1986.
* Sonchus asper SPINY-LEAVED SOW-THISTLE. 1987.
Verbena hastata COMMON VERVAIN. 1986.
Verbena urticifolia WHITE VERVAIN. 1987.
* Viburnum lanatana WAYFARING-TREE. 1987.
Amblystegium tenax. var. tenax. Terrapin Point, 2 Nov. 1988, Buck, 16440 (NY).
Brachythecium rutabulum. Terrapin Point, 2 Nov. 1988, Buck, 16444 (BUF, NY)
Bryum flaccidum. Terrapin Point, 2 Nov. 1988, Buck, 16441 (BUF, NY).
Calliergonella cuspidata. Terrapin Point, 2 Nov. 1988, Buck, 16445 (BUF, NY).
Cratoneuron filicinum. Terrapin Point, 2 Nov. 1988, Buck, 16447 (BUF, NY).
Fissidens adianthoides. Terrapin Point, 2 Nov. 1988, Buck, 16446 (BUF, NY).
Philonotis marchica. Terrapin Point, 2 Nov. 1988, Buck, 16439 (BUF, NY).
Protoblastenia rupestris (Scop.) Stainer. On rock, Harris, 16443 (NY).
Verrucaria muralis Ach. On rock, Harris, 16443 (NY).