William L. Clements Library

Past Exhibit

Exhibit at the Great Hall of the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

February 11—May 30, 2008

Curated by Brian Leigh Dunnigan and Clayton Lewis

Watercolor by Thomas Smith, ca. 1820s

Perhaps no other feature of the American landscape is better known around the world than Niagara Falls. The changing aspects of Niagara are represented by a wide variety of original materials from the Clements Library collections. Through maps, prints, photographs, books, original artwork, and tourist ephemera, this exhibit reveals how this natural feature was perceived and its resources utilized from European discovery to the early twentieth century.

European explorers came to know the Niagara during the seventeenth century, and the power and majesty of the falls soon became an allegory and a symbol of the untamed expanse of the North American continent. But, as impressive as they were, the falls formed a barrier to transportation that had to be circumvented by those using the waters of the Great Lakes as a highway to the interior.

Nineteenth century technology allowed waterborne commerce to bypass the falls and their power was harnessed for industry. But the romantic grandeur remained, and Niagara Falls increasingly became a magnet for tourists, a role it continues to play today.