Niagara Falls - how come not a National Park?

I’m not sure this has a factual answer but I can’t figure out how the US side of Niagara Falls wound up being a New York State Park instead of a National Park.

Any historians out there know about this? Thanks.

Niagra Falls was built up and commercialized pretty early on. I suspect that by the time the “national parks” idea caught on, there really wasn’t anything natural left to preserve.

The National Park Service was only 13 years old when Niagra Falls State Park was made into a state park. (Niagara actually pre-dates the modern National Park System.)

Niagara Falls State Park’s website seems to brag that they’re the oldest state park in the USA.

I’m not so sure about that. Yellowstone was the first park to be called a National Park back in 1872. Was Niagara already a tourist attraction?

Yes…in fact, the touristification of Niagra Falls was precisely what prompted the establishment of National Parks from 1872 onward.

The first US National Parks were mostly established on US federal lands in the western US. It wasn’t until the creation of Acadia National Park in Maine in 1919 that the first national park was set up in any eastern state. The next eastern parks were established in the 1930s, Great Smoky and Shenandoah National Parks.

The area of Niagara Falls was settled long before national parks were proposed in the US and was mostly in private hands rather than federal lands. The preservation movement started in the 1870s, and the state park was created in 1885.

Historically, it probably has to do with the fact that the federal government at that time didn’t see its role as buying up private land to create parks in eastern states, but was mainly concerned with setting up protection of federal lands.

This, of course, doesn’t count Hot Springs, Arkansas, which in 1932, was declared a “national reservation”, which served much the same function as a national park.

It was incredibly blatent too. The guy who owned the land around Niagara Falls wanted to make sure nobody could look at the falls without paying him an admission price - so he built a giant fence around the falls.

  1. And no, a national reservation is not the same as a national park, hence Yellowstone gets the distinction as the first National Park. It was so honored in 1972 by the Postal Service in a series of stamps commemorating at the centennial of its founding. The Hot Springs were made into a National Park in the 20th century.

Indian Springs SP in Georgia traces its history to its acquisition from the Creek in 1825. It wasn’t called a “State Park” until much later, but it was certainly operated as one well before New York state acquired the Niagara land.

There are plenty of other places that you’d think would be national parks but aren’t - Diamondhead in Honolulu is a state park.

My favorite is that Garden of the Gods in Colorado isn’t even a state park-- It’s a city park.

Conversely, Rock Creek Park in Washington DC is run by the National Park Service.

And for anyone who cares how they decide to make a new National Park today, here are the basic rules. It can take a while though, the study I have been working on for my job is now on year four.