The Picturesque and Sublime on the Great Lakes -- Fascinations of Lake Superior -- Description written a Half Century Ago -- Schoolcraft's Account of the Pictured Rocks -- Constance Fenimore Woolson's Description -- Poetry of the Portage Canal -- St. Mary's River -- Beauteous Mackinac -- St. Clair Flats -- Beautiful Belle Isle -- Put-in-bay -- Niagara Falls -- The Thousand Islands.
It has been only in recent years that the marvels and picturesque beauty of the lakes have begun to be properly appreciated. Thunderous Niagara, mighty and alone in its manifestation of power, has, it is true, attracted the tourist ever since its wonders have become accessible, but Niagara is only one of the many gems that sparkle in the sheen and ever-changing iridescence of these inland waters. From the beauteous cluster of the Thousand Islands, engemmed at the outlet of the lakes, where the imprisoned torrents break away in their final dash to the ocean, on up through the galaxy of lakes to the sublime and gloomy Superior, there is ever-varying scenery, from the restful and peaceful glades by river sides to types of nature that suggest titanic forces. It is fitting here to record the impressions which the more renowned of these scenes of wondrous beauty have inspired in all beholders. Lake Superior is perhaps the most fascinating and the least understood of all the lakes.
Fascinations of Lake Superior. -- Lake Superior has at times, not only the varied interest, but the sublimity of a true ocean. Its blue, cold transparent waters, undisturbed by tides, lie, during a calm, motionless and glossy as those of any small, secluded lake, reflecting with perfect truth of form and color the inverted landscape that slopes down to its smooth, sandy beach. But when this inland sea is stirred by the rising tempest, the long sweep of its waves and the curling white caps that crest its surface, give warning, not only to the light bark canoe, but also to the schooner and lake steamer, to seek some sheltered haven.
"To me," says Alice Wellington Rollins, in Lippincott's Magazine, "the Great Lakes will always mean Lake Superior. It is something unique in the geography of the world, and you have the consciousness of your actual height above the level of the sea as you rarely have on any elevated land that is not actually a mountain. There is something singularly impressive in the mere silence and vastness of our great northern solitudes."
Julian Ralph is impelled to pay his tribute to the monarch of the inland seas in the following language. " How many who have not seen Lake Superior have ever allowed their fancy to estimate what it must be -- that great bowl which we, magnificent belittlers of the grandest of Nature's achievements, call a lake, yet which, were it in Europe, would have become one of the seas of the world, paraded by fleets of war and dividing empires? This lake is like a colossal diamond -- clear, pure, sparkling, lying like a heaven-lighted gem in a bowl of rich greenery fringed with a lace-work of chromatic rocks that take on the most weird and enchanting shapes. The transparency of the water is so remarkable that it is no uncommon thing to see the complete outlines of a boat as it moves through the water, and I have myself seen not only all the divisional lines in the hull of a lake propeller and her keel and rudder, but the screw itself, while it revolved slowly, was in plain sight, so that the vessel looked as it might do if it were moving through the air. This astonishing clearness is not peculiar to the great lake alone, but is a characteristic of all the bodies of water in the entire Lake Superior region, be they little lakes or big ones, be they rivers or rivulets. At Marquette or Mackinac, or wheresoever you journey in this paradise of the seeker for pure air and Nature unalloyed, you may count the pebbles in the water's bed at a depth of twenty-five feet.
"I have come upon Superior at different points, and everywhere the imperial quality has impressed itself upon my mind. It is not merely big in itself, it is big in all its environments and details -- in what you might call all its features. In few parts of the coast of the Atlantic itself has Nature done such bold, majestic work as she scatters lavishly all around Lake Superior; indeed, south of New England the Atlantic is dependent upon the imagination of the beholder for the awe and respect it inspires, since what might be called its shore scenery-is everywhere tame. Very, very far from tame is the setting of this grand bowl of clearest water which our nation seems to be holding above its head, as if in a perpetual invitation for all the world to partake of our bounty. Massive stony walls, giant cliffs, fierce battlemented rocks, are the characteristics of Superior's shores; mighty fortifications against the still mightier water, for everywhere the eternal masonry of the land is torn and ragged."
Charles Lanman describes in " Summer in the Wilderness," published in 1847, a trip on Lake Superior. He says: "I am constrained to yield the palm to Superior. For weeks did I explore its picturesque bays and extended sweeps of shore, following the promptings of my wayward will and storing my mind with its unnumbered legends gathered from the lips of my Indian companions. I seldom took a paddle in hand, unless it were for exercise, but usually employed my time, when the weather was calm, by reading or sketching; and often, when the sunshine made me sleepy, have been lulled into a dreamy repose by the measured music of the oars mingled with the wild chanting of the voyagers. It was the custom with my companions, whenever they caught me in those lucid intervals of joy, to startle me by a piercing whoop, which invariably announced a race upon the watery plain. And then, indeed, was it a most exciting spectacle to witness the canoes gliding to the destined goal, almost as swift as ' an arrow from a shivering bow.' Whenever I expressed such a desire, the party came to a halt upon the shore, and then it was that I mounted the headlands to gather berries or obtain a bird's-eye prospect of the lake. At times the roar of a distant waterfall would fall upon the ear, and I was wont to beg an hour's furlough for the purpose of catching a dozen or two of trout in the waters of a nameless stream. But my chief employment, whenever we landed, was to gather agates and pebbles of loveliest hue. In many places the gravelly shores were completely covered with them; and often, when attracted by one of a particular color or an unusual size, and when deceived by the marvelous transparency of the water, have I found myself far beyond my depths in the sleeping waves, which event was about the only one that could bring me to my senses. Many a time and oft, like a very child, have I rambled along the beach for miles, returning to my canoe completely loaded down with my treasures, which I sometimes carried with me on my journeys for a hundred miles and then threw away to make room for others which I thought still more beautiful. Delightful, indeed, were those summer days on the bosom of that lonely lake. They are associated with my treasured dreams, and I cannot but sigh when I remember that I may never be privileged to enjoy the like again. My reason would not stop the tide of civilization that is sweeping to the remote north and the far Pacific; but if the wishes of my heart were realized none but the true worshipers of nature should ever be permitted to mar the solitude of the wilderness with the song of Mammon.
"But, if that were possible, the nights that I spent upon the shores of the great northern lake have made a deeper impression on my heart than those summer days. Never before has the ocean of the sky and the starry world appeared so supremely brilliant. Seldom would my restless spirit allow me an unbroken slumber from nightfall until dawn, and I was often in a wakeful mood, even after the camp fires were entirely out, and my rude companions were in the embrace of slumber. One of those wonderful nights I never can forget. I had risen from my couch upon the sand, and after walking nearly half a mile along the beach, I passed a certain point, and found myself in full view of the following scene, of which I was the solitary spectator: Black and death-like in its repose was the apparently illimitable plain of water; above its outline, on the left, were the strangely beautiful northern lights, shooting their rays to the very zenith; on the right was a clear full moon, making a silvery pathway from my feet to the horizon; and before, around and above me, floating in the deep cerulean, were the unnumbered and mysterious stars -- the jewels of the Most High. The only sound that fell upon my ear was the occasional splash of a tiny wave, as it melted upon the shore. Long and intently did I gaze upon the scene, until, in a kind of blissful frenzy, or bewilderment, I staggered a few paces, fell upon the earth, almost insensible, and was soon in a deep sleep. The first gleam of sunshine roused me from slumber, and I returned to our encampment perfectly well in body, but in a thoughtful and unhappy mood. In fact, it seemed to me that I had visited the spiritual world, and I wished to return hence once more. My friends had not wondered at my absence, when they awoke, for they supposed that I had gone merely to take my accustomed bath. But enough, enough! The voyager's life is indeed a romantic one, but it will not do for me to talk about it forever, and I therefore bring my description to a close."
The same writer thus describes the topographical features of the northern shore: "The entire Canadian shore of Lake Superior might be denominated as bold and rocky, but there may occasionally be seen a line of the smoothest beach, as if for the very purpose of affording protection to the voyaging Indians when exposed to the dangers of sudden storms. The bluffs are generally of a green sandstone, and frequently rise to the height of five hundred feet above the water, like massive bulwarks which seem to have battled with the elements for many ages. * * *
"The two most prominent peninsulas on this shore are called Thunder Cape and Cariboo Point. The former is about fourteen hundred feet high, and frowns upon the waste of waters, like a crouching lion, which animal it closely resembles in the form of its outline. When passing near its base, it looms against the sky in awful grandeur, the seeming lord and master of the boundless wilderness world around. Cariboo Point is less lofty, but far-famed on account of the hieroglyphics, which have been painted upon its brow in other years, by an Indian race now supposed to be extinct. In the vicinity of these bluffs are found the largest and most beautiful agates in the world.
"The Canadian shore of this lake abounds in rocky islands. There is one deserving of particular notice. It lies in the northeastern part of the lake, and is unquestionably the greatest natural curiosity in this wilderness. I visited it with a party of Indians and miners. * * * It is found about twenty miles from the main coast, and is supposed to be about a dozen miles in circumference. The shores are of sandstone, and for the most part rise abruptly from the water to the height of four or five hundred feet. But the wonder is, that in the center of this island lies imbosomed one of the most beautiful lakes imaginable. It is about a mile long, and the perpendicular cliffs which look down upon it, are not far from seven hundred feet in height. It has an outlet which is impassible for a canoe on account of the rocks and trees that have blocked up the narrow chasm, and at the opening of this outlet stands a column of solid rock which we estimated to be eight hundred feet high. The base is probably one hundred feet in diameter, and it gradually tapers off to about twenty feet in thickness, while the summit of this singular needle is surmounted by one solitary pine tree. The waters of this inner lake are clear, but have a blackish appearance, and are very deep. It is so completely hidden from the surrounding world that the passing breeze scarcely ever ruffles its tranquil bosom, and the silence which reigns there, even at noonday, is intense and almost frightful. In some places the walls which surrounded the lake appear to have been recently rent asunder and partly demolished, as there were immense piles of broken rocks lying at their base; while in other places the upper points and edges are overgrown with moss, and from their brows occasionally depends a cluster of fantastic vines, drooping perpendicularly to the tranquil water, which reproduces this beautiful picture in its translucent bosom. The lake, so far as we could ascertain, is destitute of fish, and the island of animals; but when we were there gulls of every variety, and in immense numbers, were filling the air with their wild screams. The entire island seems to be composed of rocky materials, but is everywhere covered with a stunted growth of vegetation. I spent one day rambling over this singular spot, and one night slumbering by our watch-fire in the shadowy cove at the mouth of the ravine; and at dawn, on the following morning, we boarded our feathery canoes and were joyfully skimming ' over the deep waters of the dark blue sea.' "
"It is computed" he continues, "that the American coast of Lake Superior extends to about twice the length of that which belongs to Canada. Our portion of the northern shore is skirted by a range of mountains which seem to be from two to three thousand feet in height. * * * On the southern shore of the lake is a range called the Porcupine mountains; their varying outlines, seen as you sail along the coast, are very beautiful, indeed. Point Keweenaw is also covered with hills, but less lofty and picturesque than those already mentioned. That portion of the coast lying between this point and the river Saint Mary, is low and, with the exception of the Pictured Rocks, uninteresting. Though our shores are not, generally speaking, what we should call rocky, yet they are distinguished for a variety of remarkable bluffs. Those alluded to above are found on the east of Point Keweenaw, and extend along the coast some nine miles. They have been striped with various colors by mineral allu-viations, and are about one hundred and fifty feet high. The most conspicuous of them is perhaps three hundred feet high, but its most superb feature was demolished by a storm in the year 1816. That feature, according to a drawing in my possession, was an arch or doorway, fifteen feet broad and one hundred high, through which the Indians were accustomed to pass with their canoes. In those days, too, from the crevices in these solid walls of whitish sandstone leaped forth beautiful cascades, and mingled their waters with those of the lake. Beautiful caverns meet the eye in every direction, and the water at their base is of a deep green, and in some places almost fathomless.
"A cluster of rocks, similar to the above, is found westward of the Apostle Islands. These, however, are composed of a deep red sandstone, and are only about one hundred feet high, extending along the shore for about two miles. The arches here are almost numberless and exceedingly picturesque, and singular; and you may wind your way among them in a canoe without the least danger, provided you have a steady hand and sufficient nerve. And the caverns too, in these bluffs are also very numerous, and some of them are so deep and dark that the eye cannot measure their depths -- and from these gloomy recesses, even in a season of calm weather, always issues a sound like thunder, which must be perfectly terrific when a storm is raging. All these bluffs are covered with a stunted growth of Alpine and other trees."
Poetry of the Portage Canal. -- It would scarcely be expected, perhaps, that the prosaic passage of a modern propeller through one of the narrow artificial canals, built for the convenience of commerce, would evoke the muse of poesy and sentiment.
Describing the passage of the propeller Japan through Portage river a few years ago, Alice Wellington Rollins, in Lippincott's Magazine, 1885, says: "So narrow is the opening of the river that no trace of it is to be seen till we are close upon it; yet swift as the dove from far Palmyra flying, unerring as an arrow from the bow, the great ship sweeps across the lakes to exactly the right spot. The river is hardly the width of a canal, yet curves as no canal would ever curve, so that the captain in giving orders has to watch both ends of the vessel to see that neither runs aground.
"Once in the river we experienced a most extraordinary transformation. Everyone knows what it is to pass in a day or two from northern snow to southern roses; but here, in five minutes, and remaining on precisely the same level, we passed from October to July. The cold lake breeze died away, and on the little inland river the sun was actually oppressive. Sealskins were cast aside and we sent hastily below for sun-umbrellas. The speed of the steamer was slacked to four miles an hour. You heard no click of machinery or swash of water against the sides; we were gliding on through a green and lovely marsh, with water lilies all about us and wild roses in the distance. Cattle stood knee deep in pleasant brooks, locusts hummed and buzzed in the warm air, all sweet summer sounds and scents encompassed us. There was even a little settlement of scattered houses, but the steamer created no excitement in the inmates. One man, painting the window-sashes of his house, with his back to the steamer, never even turned or paused from his work, though he was so near that he might have heard what was said about him on the deck."
The writer then gives this picturesque description of the course through the canal: "At twilight we entered the canal. I have been up the Saguenay, I have been over the Marshall Pass and through the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas, and I have seen many noble scenes in Europe, but no scenery has ever impressed me with such solemity as the landscape on that canal in the twilight of an August afternoon; nor was it merely a personal impression. There were two hundred souls on board, with the usual proportion of giddy, young girls and talkative youths; the negro waiters, as we entered the canal, were singing and playing their violins; but in an instant, as the speed of the steamer was again checked to four miles an hour, every sound was hushed on board. During the hour that was occupied in going through the canal, it is a literal fact that not a sound was heard on the great steamer but the low impressive orders of the captain, and -- if you chanced to be on the captain's bridge -- the ticking of the clock in the wheel-house. People spoke in whispers, if they spoke at all, quite unconscious of it until they remembered it afterwards. What made it so impressive? I am sure I do not know. Certainly, there was nothing awful in the scenery, and we never were in less danger in our lives. We were moving peacefully through a long narrow sheet of perfectly calm water, stretching straight as a die, from the river to the upper lake. If anything had happened, we could have jumped ashore on either side, and another steamer from Buffalo would have come through in a day or two and picked us up. The only thing possible to fear was that we might ground in the shallow water. It was a perfectly clear evening after a most beautiful day. But on either side of us, far as the eye could reach, stretched an apparently unbroken forest. Through the narrow vista, cleared for our silvery pathway, a slow and stately twilight, came solemnly to fold us in its embrace, as we advanced solemnly and slowly from vast and awful solitudes to solitudes more vast and awful still. As we drew near the lake again a little lighthouse gleamed, and as we swept past it out into the broad expanse of limitless waters, the cheerful throb of the machinery quickened again upon the sea, the pleasant swish of the water against the ship greeted us once more; life, movement and gaiety sprang out again on board, and in an instant the entire steamer had burst into laughter and chat and song."
St. Mary's River, which links this strange, mysterious upper sea with the lower lakes, is not devoid of charm and beauty. "We fully realize," says Schoolcraft, "the justice of the remark made by Carver that the entrance into Lake Superior affords one of the most pleasing prospects in the world. It presents a scene of beauty and magnificence which is rarely surpassed, even amidst the rugged scenery of the north. The river St. Mary's issues from a deep bay of the lake and passes out between two high promontories, called Point Iroquois and the Grand Cape." The St. Mary's is a noble and broad river, but the channel is narrow, crooked and beset with dangers to all but the most skillful pilots. Rocks that are visible and rocks that are hidden are both numerous. After the exciting part of the voyage is ended the river broadens into almost lake-like width, and innumerable beautiful islands deck its surface. The river ends in Potoganissing bay, and that, in turn, leads into Lake Huron. In the following verses John M. Talman beautifully records his impressions of "St. Mary's River."
The workmanship of Nature's hand
No rarer gem than this has shown;
The glamor soft of fairy land
Upon this luring realm is thrown.
On boulder vast and current swift
The first gleams of the morning quiver,
While in a dreary calm I drift
Adown St. Mary's shining river.
In power, in stateliness and pride,
Majestic ships the waters brave,
As on and ever on they glide
To crown with sail the Huron's wave.
The matin glow, the noontide blaze,
The fiercely swirling eddies shiver;
The peace of old Arcadian days
Surrounds St. Mary's beauteous river.
The devious lines of tree-clad shore
To shapes of wondrous grace are bent,
And flashing waters onward pour,
With thickly verdured isles besprent.
Sweet messages of amity
Shore, isle and stream to lake deliver;
A houseless Venice seems to be
Upon St. Mary's mighty river.
Beauteous Mackinac. -- The meed of praise and popularity has been bestowed by the traveler in a most eminent degree upon the isle of Mackinac, rich in historical associations, and ideal in beauty. A local poet thus sings:
Beauteous isle! I sing of thee,
Mackinac, my Mackinac;
Thy lake-bound shores I love to see,
Mackinac, my Mackinac.
From Arch Rock's height and shelving steep
To western cliffs and Lover's Leap,
Where memories of the lost one sleep,
Mackinac, my Mackinac.
Thy shore once trod by British foe,
Mackinac, my Mackinac;
That day saw gallant Holmes laid low,
Mackinac, my Mackinac.
Now Freedom's flag above thee waves,
And guards the rest of fallen braves --
Their requiem sung by Huron's waves --
Mackinac, my Mackinac.
Mackinac Island lies like a broken link between upper and lower Michigan. Around it meet the waters of the two great lakes, Huron and Michigan, whose level is 581 feet above the sea. The island has sufficient area to cause a journey of nine miles in skirting its shores, yet we may practically walk all over it in a day. It is shapen as if it had been made square, and then some giant force had pulled each of its corners a little away. It rises sheer above the translucent waters, a great plateau, 200 to 300 feet in height, wooded luxuriantly and framed with a broad white beach. Its sides are cliffs, and many of them have detached or semi-detached bits that take the form of pinnacles or half-ruined Gothic towers.
"The natural scenery of the Island of Mackinac," says Julian Ralph, " is unsurpassed. Nature seems to have exhausted herself in the clustered objects of interest which everywhere meet the eye. The lover of Nature may wander through the shaded glens, and climb over the rugged rocks of this island for weeks, and even months, and never grow weary; for each day some new object of beauty and interest will attract his attention. As you approach the island it appears a perfect gem. A finer subject for an artist's pencil could not be found. In some places it rises almost perpendicularly from the very water's edge to the height of 150 feet, while in others the ascent is gradual. Parts of the island are covered with a small growth of hard-wood trees -- beach, maple, iron-wood, birch, etc. -- while other parts abound in a rich variety of evergreen, among which spruce, arbor-vitae, ground-pine, white-pine, balsam and juniper predominate."
Henry R. Schoolcraft, who first visited the island in 1820, wrote that "Nothing can exceed the beauty of this island. It is a mass of calcareous rock, rising from the bed of Lake Huron, and reaching an elevation of more than 300 feet above the water. The waters around are purity itself. Some of its cliffs shoot up perpendicularly, and tower in pinnacles, like ruined Gothic steeples. It is cavernous in some places; and in these caverns the ancient Indians, like those of India, have placed their dead. Portions of the beach are level, and adapted to landing from boats and canoes. The harbor at its south end is a little gem; vessels anchor in it, and find good holding. The little, old-fashioned French town nestles around it in a very primitive style. The fort frowns above it, like another Al-hambra, its white walls gleaming in the sun.
"The whole area of the island is one labyrinth of curious little glens and valleys. Old green fields appear, in some spots, which have been formerly cultivated by the Indians. In some of these there are circles of gathered-up stones, as if the Druids themselves had dwelt here. There are walks and winding paths among its little hills, and precipices of the most romantic character. And whenever a visitor gets on eminences, overlooking the lake he is transported with sublime views of the illimitable and magnificent water prospect. If the poetic muses are ever to have a new Parnassus in America, they should fix on Michilimackinac. Hygeia, too, should place her temple here, for it has one of the purest, driest, clearest and most healthful atmospheres."
The scenery is romantic in the extreme, and it has four natural curiosities, either one of which would give a reputation to any ordinary island. Arched Rock faces the north, and rises from the water to the height of nearly two hundred feet, presenting from the water a superb piece of wave-formed architecture; and appearing as you look through it from the summit, like the gateway to a new world. Robinson's Folly, also on the north shore, is a picturesque bluff, which obtained its name from a resident who erected a summer-house on the summit of the bluff in question. He was laughed at for his pains, and was warned by the cautious traders and Indians not to spend too much time on the cliff, and especially not to visit it when the wind was blowing. He scorned the advice, and, to show his independence, frequently spent the night in his eyrie. On one occasion, however, in the darkness of midnight, a thunder-storm passed over the island, and at sunrise on the following morning the "cabin on the cliff " and its unfortunate inmate were buried in the deep. Hence the name of Robinson's Folly. Another interesting spot is the Cave of Skulls. It lies on the western shore, and is mainly distinguished for its historical associations. More than a hundred years ago, according to one tradition, a party of Sioux Indians, pursued by the Ottawas, secreted themselves in this cave; and when they were discovered, which happened soon to be the case, the Ottawas built a fire before the entrance of the cave, which they kept up for several days, and when they finally entered the gloomy chamber, their enemies were all dead. Another Mackinac curiosity is called the Needle, a lighthouse-looking rock, which overlooks the entire island, and throws its shadow upon the ruins of Fort Holmes.
St. Clair Flats. -- Another charming type of lake beauty is found in all perfection in Lake St. Clair. To the person making his first trip upstream the St. Clair ship canal has a strangely curious appearance. It is over a mile in length, and is lined on either side by a row of willows. On each end of the north bank a lighthouse is built. At some little distance out in the lake, to the north, are two more lighthouses, which mark another and older channel. All the tonnage passing through the chain of lakes makes use of this canal, so it is one of the most important points along the entire system.
After slowly passing through the canal the steamer enters St. Clair river, with its famous Flats, composed of thousands of acres partly submerged land. No finer hunting and fishing grounds are to be found in the world than around here. There are three natural channels, all deep and wide enough to be navigable to the largest vessels, flowing through the Flats. From these radiate a myriad of tiny channels, along which only a row boat propelled by a skillful hand can go. The water is as clear as crystal everywhere, and what at first view might be taken for an unhealthy marsh, is, in fact, a sweet-scented, healthy meadow, over-abundantly suppled with pure rippling streams. Not so long ago a human habitation was unknown to the Flats. Then Detroit began to assume metropolitan airs, and the many wealthy citizens who wanted a summer resort and watering place right at their doors, built along the center or main channel pretty residences. The fame of the St. Clair Flats becomes more widespread every year.
A few short years ago Nature reigned supreme, and the sedgy solitude of the rippling waters remained undisturbed save by the cry of the wild fowl or the splash of the leaping fish. The red man punted his canoe in wild abandon and hunted and fished un-trammeled by the march of commerce. The inventive genius of mankind changed the reign of Nature with a magic wand, and where the azure waters leaped and danced in reckless freedom there now rises in gorgeous beauty what has been appropriately called the Venice of America. Summer homes whose varied styles of architecture contrast pleasingly with one another and the romantic surroundings; commodious club-houses and hotels that adorn this rapidly-growing rival of the "Queen of the Adriatic," stretch the whole length of the route, and upon which the architect has lavished his skill in designing in rare and artistic fashion. The green-carpeted lawns are embellished with lovely flower beds, and under the rich-hued emerald foliage of spreading willows rest rustic couches where one may sit and drink deep draughts of invigorating ozone.
The Beautiful Belle Isle on the broad bosom of the Detroit river, has been aptly called the playground of Detroit's people. It covers about seven hundred acres, and a few years ago was purchased by the city at a cost of about two hundred thousand dollars. It has been highly improved, and it is doubtful if any consideration would induce the people to part with it. At the upper end of the island is the stone lighthouse, erected by the government to mark the channel.
Put-in-Bay, associated as it is with the battle of Lake Erie, possesses rare scenic beauty, besides its historic and other attractions, and about it cluster other isles of Lake Erie which make the locality a favorite haunt of the tourist. It is one of the best known and most attractive summer resorts on Lake Erie.
Anthony Trollope, the famous English novelist, pays this tribute: "Of all the sights on this earth of ours which tourists travel to see -- at least of all those which I have seen -- I am inclined to give the palm to the Falls of Niagara. I know no other one thing so beautiful, so glorious and so powerful."
Thou flowest on in quiet, till thy waves
Grow broken midst the rocks; thy current then
Shoots onward like the irresistible course
Of Destiny. Ah, terribly they rage, --
The hoarse and rapid whirlpools there! My brain
Grows wild, my senses wander, as I gaze
Upon the hurrying waters; and my sight
Vainly would follow, as toward the verge
Sweeps the wide torrent. Waves innumerable
Meet there and madden, -- waves innumerable
Urge on and overtake the waves before,
And disappear in thunder and in foam.
They reach, they leap the barrier, -- the abyss
Swallows insatiable the sinking waves.
A thousand rainbows arch them, and the woods
Are deafened with the roar. The violent shock
Shatters to vapor the descending sheets.
A cloudy whirlwind fills the gulf, and heaves
The mighty pyramid of circling mist
Bayard Taylor says: " I have seen the Falls in all weathers and in all seasons, but to my mind the winter view is most beautiful. I saw them first during the hard winter of 1854, when a hundred cataracts of ice hung from the cliffs on either side, when the masses of ice brought down from Lake Erie were together at the foot, uniting the shores with a rugged bridge, and when every twig of every tree and bush on Goat Island was overlaid an inch deep with a coating of solid crystal. The air was still, and the sun shone in a cloudless sky. The green of the fall, set in a landscape of sparkling silver, was infinitely more brilliant than in summer, when it is balanced by the trees, and the rainbows were almost too glorious, for the eye to bear. I was not impressed by the sublimity of the scene, nor even by its terror, but solely by the fascination of its wonderful beauty. With each succeeding visit Niagara has grown in height, in power, in majesty, in solemnity; but I have seen its climax of beauty."
Oh! I could gaze forever on thy face,
Unwearied still thou matchless waterfall,
Whose twining spells of majesty and grace
My ardent sense bewilder and enthrall.
I must go back where tides of Commerce flow,
And the dull roar of traffic cleaves the air;
But in my heart sweet memories still shall glow,
And to my slumbers summon visions fair.
Niagara! thou wilt freshen all my thought,
And cool the breath of fervid hours for me;
My days shall lapse with thy remembrance fraught,
Thy voices chant my nights' sweet lullaby.
Great Torrent; speed thee to the lake and sea,
With tireless smoke of spray and thunderous roar;
I bless my God, for all thy joy to me,
Though I should see thy marvelous face no more!
In the writing of Nathaniel P. Willis is found this graphic description: "The Rapids are far from being the least interesting feature of Niagara. There is a violence and a power in their foaming career, which is seen in no phenomenon of the same class. Standing on the bridge which connects Goat Island with the Main, and looking up toward Lake Erie, the leaping crests of the Rapids form the horizon, and it seems like a battle-charge of tempestuous waves animated and infuriated against the sky. No one who has not seen this spectacle of turbulent grandeur can conceive with what force the swift and overwhelming waters are flung upwards. The rocks, whose soaring points show above the surface, seem tormented with some supernatural agony, and fling off the wild and hurried waters, as if with the force of a giant's arm. Nearer the plunge of the Fall, the Rapids become still more agitated; and it is almost impossible for the spectator to rid himself of the idea that they are conscious of the abyss to which they are hurrying, and struggle back in the very extremity of horror. This propensity to invest Niagara with a soul and human feelings is a common effect upon the minds of visitors, in ever part of its wonderful phenomena. The torture of the Rapids, the clinging curves with which they embrace the small rocky islands that live amid the surge, the sudden calmness at the brow of the cataract, and the infernal writhe and whiteness with which they reappear, powerless from the depths of the abyss, all seem, to the excited imagination of the gazer, like the natural effects of impending ruin, desperate resolution, and fearful agony, on the minds and frames of mortals."
Edwin Arnold, the noted English critic, thus wrote of the Falls: "Before the balcony in which this is written, the great cataract of America is thundering, smoking, glittering with green and white rollers and rapids, hurling the waters of a whole continent in splendor and speed over the sharp ledges of the long, brown rock by which Erie, ' the Broad ' steps proudly down to Ontario, ' the Beautiful.' Close at hand on our left -- not, indeed, farther removed than some six hundred or seven hundred yards -- the smaller, but very imposing American Fall speaks with the louder voice of the two, because its coiling spirals of twisted and furious flood crash in full impulse of descent upon the talus of massive boulders heaped up at its feet. The resounding impact of water on rock, the clouds of water-smoke which rise high in air, while the river below is churned into a whirling cream of eddy and surge and backwater, unite in a composite effect at once magnificent and bewildering. But if you listen attentively you will always hear the profound diapason of the great fall -- that surnamed the Horse-shoe -- sounding superbly amid the loudest clamor and tumult of its sister, a deeper and grander note; and whenever for a time the gaze rests with inexhaustible wonder upon that fierce and tumultuary American fall, this mightier and still more marvelous Horseshoe steals it away again with irresistible fascination. Full in front lies that wholly indescribable spectacle at this instant. Its solemn voice -- an octave lower than the excited, leaping, almost angry cry of fervid life from the lesser cataract -- resounds through the golden summer morning air like the distant roar from the streets of fifty Londons all in full activity."
President James A. Garfield visited the Falls, when a young man, in 1853, and in the following letter to his brother voiced his impressions of the great masterpiece of nature: "I am now leaning against the trunk of an evergreen tree on a beautiful island in the midst of Niagara's foaming waters. I am alone. No breath of wind disturbs the leaves of evergreen which hang mute and motionless around me. Animated nature is silent, for the voice of God, like the 'sound of many waters,' is lifted up from the swathing clouds of hoary foam that rest upon the dark abyss below.
'Oh, fearful stream,
How do thy terrors tear me from myself
And fill my soul with wonder.'
"I gaze upon the broad green waters as they come placid and smooth, like firm battalions of embattled hosts, moving in steady columns, till the sloping channel stirs the depths and maddens all thy waters. Then with angry roar the legions bound along the opposing rocks, until they reach the awful brink, where, all surcharged with frantic fury, they leap bellowing down the fearful rocks, which thunder back the sullen echoes of thy voice, and shout God's power above the cloudy skies! O man! Frail child of dust thou art to lift thy insect voice upon this spot where the Almighty thunders from the swelling floods that lift to heaven their hoary breath, like clouds of smoking incense. O, that the assembled millions of the earth could now behold this scene sublime and awful, and adore the everlasting God, whose fingers piled these giant cliffs, and sent his sounding seas to thunder down and shout in deafening tones, ' We come from out the hollow of His hand, and haste to do his bidding.' "
One more description will be reproduced, that of Charles Dickens. The popular novelist says: "Then, when I felt how near to my Creator I was standing, the first effect, and the enduring one -- instant and lasting -- of the tremendous spectacle was Peace. Peace of Mind, tranquillity, calm recollections of the Dead, great thoughts of Eternal Rest and Happiness, nothing of gloom or terror. Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart, an Image of Beauty; to remain there, changeless and indelible, until its pulses cease to beat, for ever. Oh, how the strife and trouble of daily life receded from my view, and lessened in the distance, during the ten memorable days we passed on that Enchanted Ground! What voices spoke from out the thundering water; what faces, faded from the earth, looked out upon me from its gleaming depths; what Heavenly promise glistened in those angel's tears, the drops of many hues, that showered around, and twined themselves about the gorgeous arches which the changing rainbows made! I think in every quiet season now, still do those waters roll and leap, and roar and tumble, all day long; still are the rainbows spanning them, a hundred feet below. Still, when the sun is on them, do they shine and glow like molten gold. Still, when the day is gloomy, do they fall like snow, or seem to crumble away like the front of a great chalk cliff; or roll down the rock like dense white smoke. But always does the mighty stream appear to die as it comes down, and always from its unfathomable grave arises that tremendous ghost of spray and midst, which is never laid; which has haunted this place with the same dread solemnity since Darkness brooded on the deep, and that first flood before the Deluge -- Light -- came rushing on Creation at the word of God."
The Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence river begin near Kingston, and extend down the river a distance of about fifty miles. They form the most numerous collection of river islands in the world, the part of the river containing them being sometimes called the Lake of the Thousand Islands. The islands vary in size from a spot not larger than a good sized row boat to a tract of land several miles in circumference, the largest island being about eighteen miles in length. Many of these islands are guarded by rocks and crags of varied and even fantastic appearances, which rise to a considerable height above the level of the water. They number 1,692, and in the summer season their rich foliage hangs over the water, furnishing many nooks and corners and bays and open spaces of the greatest imaginable picturesqueness and beauty. The intertwinings and intricacies of these waters are thus described by a traveler who descended the St. Lawrence river in 1819: " Loch Lomond, with her two dozen islands, has sheltered the manufacturers of ' peat reek' from the scent of the revenue officers; but this Lake of the Thousand Islands must be the very paradise of smugglers, should such a trade ever become profitable in Upper Canada -- and a hopeless business it will be for the excisemen who are sent to ferret them out."
The trees on these islands are mostly cedar, with here and there a fir rearing its lofty head, and as these firs usually grow on rocks which are comparatively treeless, they present an unusually pecturesque appearance. Formerly water-fowl abounded in these then quiet haunts, and occasionally a majestic eagle was to be seen soaring aloft, looking down upon the earth as if attempting to determine on which side of the boundary line between the two countries he was in duty bound to alight. This boundary line was accurately determined by commissioners appointed for that purpose in 1818, and it was by them that the number of islands was accurately counted.
In 1831-32, Henry Tudor, barrister-at-law, made a tour of this river, and in his published narrative gave the following description of the Thousand Islands: " Nothing can be imagined more lovely and picturesque than winding your constantly meandering course through this verdant labyrinth. All the endless varieties of shape, color, height, size and contour are exhibited in every changed appearance. Their forces, indeed, are as diversified as their numbers. Some of them, covered with a rich, green sward, repose on the stream so nearly level with it, as if floating down upon its bosom. Others elevate their summits in bold, perpendicular ascents, crowned with the most luxuriant foliage; and here and there is seen an islet formed of fantastic rocks piled on each other, and contrasting their rugged and barren surface with the smiling verdancy of the rest. On some few of these fairy islands you perceive a cottage, or a log house, rearing its simple structure amid this landscape of loveliness and silent beauty, and affording a relief in the symptoms of human existence which it offers to the otherwise unbroken that reigns around. On another side you see a natural terrace, or a glade, peeping forth from its half concealed position in a wood, while the transparent water casts back from its placid current the rocks and trees by which it is overshadowed."
Xavier Marnier, in 1850, wrote as follows of the St.Lawrence: "There is probably no river on earth that has heard so many vows of love as the St. Lawrence, for there is hardly a Canadian boatman that has ever passed up or down the river without repeating, as the blade of his oar dipped into the stream and as it arose, the national refrain:
Il y a longtempe que je 1'aime,
Jamais je ne 1'oublierai! *
"No, surely these can not be the Isles of Greece, with their mantle or light and their balmy fruits -- the poetic isles that inspired the song of Homer and crowned with flowers the brow of Anacreon -- -the voluptuous isles which bore the immortal Paphian beauty, the alma mater of Lucree that intoxicated to death the senses of Sappho. No, this is neither Rhodes that still appears before my eyes, nor Cyprus, that I long to see again, nor Lemnos. These are more captivating and sweeter still.
"It seems as though a fairy, a friend of man, caught a Titania from the North, had in its sport with Ariel, scattered all these islands upon this mirror of the waves and these mysterious woods and mounts of verdure to awaken by their aspect thoughts of goodness with those who pass this way. What should be done in such a place of repose if not to dream? "
This beautiful region is far renowned as a most pleasant summer resort, and thousands visit the Thousand Islands from all parts of Canada and the United States, on pleasure, picnic and sporting excursions. These parties hire an elegant yacht or boat built at Kingston, and sail about for hours with their friends from island to island, camp under the trees, shoot water fowl, catch fish, and amuse themselves in a thousand different ways.
Dr. J. G. Kohl visited these islands in 1854, and thus writes of them: "I was told by a gentleman that in his youth they were inhabited by Indians, remnants of the Iroquois or Six Nations, to whom the whole north of the State of New York belonged. These islanders were called Mississagua, a name that still occurs in various localities on the St. Lawrence. Their chief resided on one of the principal islands, and the rest were scattered about on the others in bark huts or tents."
An Indian Legend. -- These islands for more than two centuries have been the scene of many historic events and legendary tales. Perhaps the most beautiful and popular of all the legends connected with this locality is that of Hiawatha, so well known to all lovers of American poetry, though not located among the Thousand Islands by Longfellow. It relates to the origin of the League of the Iroquois, entered into at a time of which no record gives the date.
"Hundreds of years ago, Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha, the Deity of the streams and fisheries, came down from his dwelling place in the clouds to visit the inhabitants of the earth. He had been deputed by the great and good Spirit, Ha-wa-ne-u, to visit the stream and to clear the channels from all obstructions, to seek out the good things of the country through which he intended to pass, that they might be the more generally disseminated among all good people of the earth -- especially to point out to them the most excellent fishing grounds, and to bestow upon them other acceptable gifts. About this time two young men of the On-ondaga nation were listlessly gazing over the same blue waters of the Lake of the Thousand Islands, and during their reverie they espied as they thought a single white speck, beautifully dancing over the bright, blue waters,and while they watched the object with the most intense anxiety, it seemed to increase in magnitude, and moved as if approaching the place where they were concealed, most anxiously awaiting the event of the visitation of so singular an object, for at this time no canoes had ever made their appearance in the direction from which this was approaching. As the object neared the shore it proved in semblance to be a venerable-looking man, calmly seated in a canoe of pure white, very curiously constructed, and much more ingeniously wrought than those in use among the tribes of the country. Like a cygnet upon the wide blue sea, so sat the canoe of Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha upon the Lake of a Thousand Islands.
"As a frail branch drifts toward the rushing cataract, so coursed the white canoe the repelling waters, propelled by the strong arm of the god of the river. Deep thought sat on the brow of the gray-haired mariner; penetration marked his eye, and deep, dark mystery pervaded his countenance. With a single oar he silently paddled his light-trimmed bark along the shore, as if seeking a commodious haven of rest. He soon turned the prow of his vessel into the estuary of the ' double river,' and made fast to the western shore. He majestically ascended the steep bank, nor stopped till he had gained the loftiest summit of the western hill. Then serenely gazing around as if to examine the country, he became enchanted with the view, and drawing his stately form to its utmost height, he exclaimed in accents of wildest enthusiasm, Osh-wah-kee, Osh-wah-kee!
" Approaching the two hunters, Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha gained their confidence, and drew from them a knowledge of the difficulties under which they labored; disclosed to them his spiritual nature, and the object of his mission. In the passage of the three up the river, they witnessed many things which could only be considered as miracles, and described as the wonders of Indian mythology. They ascended to the smaller lakes, Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha, placing all things in order for the sustenance and comfort of man, taught them how to cultivate corn and beans, not before grown by them, made the fishing grounds free, and opened to all the uninterrupted pursuit of game. He removed all obstructions from navigable streams, and distributed the fruits of the earth among all mankind.
" Pleased with his success, he assumed the nature and habits of a man, and received the name, Hi-a-wat-ha (meaning very wise man), and fixed his residence on the shores of the beautiful Cross Lake. Upon the occasion of a hostile invasion he summoned a council of all the tribes from the East and from the West, and urged upon them the importance of uniting themselves into a league for their common defense. Next day they adopted and ratified the league of union which he advised. Having brought his council to a close, he arose, and in a most dignified manner addressed them, recounting what he had done for them, advised them not to admit other people into their confidence, and said: 'Remember these words; they are the last which you will hear
"Then were heard the joyful sounds of the most delightful singing voices, and amid the general confusion caused by the sweet melody of celestial music, and while all eyes were turned toward the heavens, Hi-a-wat-ha was seen seated in his white canoe majestically to rise higher and higher above the heads of the multitude until he was entirely lost to view, and the fascinating music became fainter, more plaintive and low, and died gradually away, as the wise man, Hi-a-wat-ha, the God-like Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha, vanished from their sight, in the same mysterious manner as that in which he had at first appeared, from the Lake of a Thousand Islands."
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.