By Eric Freedman
The locale of a pioneering hydropower project near one of North America’s iconic natural wonders is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The National Park Service has approved the designation of the Niagara Power Project Historic District, a “massive complex engineering structure” that “dominates the Niagara River and the surrounding landscape through its massive scale and bold design.” Located in the town of Lewiston, the project sits along the 36-mile river that flows from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and forms an international border between Ontario and New York.
The historic district is 4 ½ miles downriver of Niagara Falls.
According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination, the project deserves recognition for its historic contribution to recreation and culture, industry and government, including its connection with the history of the hydropower industry.
Built in the late 1950s and early 1960s after more than three decades of construction delays, it includes the Robert Moses Dam and Power Plant, the Lewiston Reservoir and the Lewiston Pump Generating Plant. New York’s political leaders intended it as a key part of a statewide plan for affordable hydropower, the nomination said.
The 341-acre Reservoir State Park, which is part of the 2,589-acre historic district, was built atop fill generated by construction of the power project.
While the project is massive, it wasn’t the first effort to harness the power of the Niagara River and Falls. As early as 1759, a loop canal was built upriver of the Falls to power a sawmill, with larger-scale projects constructed in the 1800s.
Construction of the project was not without controversy, such as the taking of private property by eminent domain, including land owned by the Tuscarora Indian Nation, the nomination said.
Canada has also built hydroelectric power plants along its side of the Niagara River.
The New York Power Authority, which operates the project, plans to install a plaque commemorating the designation at its Power Vista visitor center, agency communications officer Maura Balaban said.
In a statement, Power Authority President Gil Quiniones said, “The project’s historic influence on engineering and power production is well-known in its community and throughout New York State, as well as in the power industry, but we are extremely pleased the project is being recognized nationally–not only for the engineering marvel it was when it was first constructed–but for its enduring influence as one of the standout public works initiatives of the mid-20th century and a stellar example of clean energy.”
More than 70 percent of the Power Authority’s electricity comes from hydropower.