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By Bob Kostoff

Colorful Aunt Ednah Smith's recollections of early pioneer life extended to the Village of Manchester, later to become Niagara Falls. Although there are no startling revelations in her journal, she recreates the milieu as it was.

She wrote, "The very first clearing in the forest, which covered the site of Niagara Falls, was in 1745. A stone building called by historians Ft. du Portage or Little Ft. Niagara was built there on or near to Porter Park.

"In 1750, the French landing place was moved about one-half mile up the river not far from the mouth of Gill creek where another Little Ft. Niagara was built and where later about 1763 the English built Ft. Schlosser."

Ednah reiterated the well-known fact that John Stedman, "the first bona fide white settler," lived there in the Stedman House. He was the wagon master on the portage, then run by the English, who had driven out the French.

She wrote, "Albert Porter came with his father, Judge Augustus Porter, in 1806, taking up residence first in the Stedman House, John Stedman having retired across the river with the English in 1796."

Albert Porter, she said, who grew up with Niagara Falls, is not nearly so well remembered as his illustrious father and his famed uncle, Peter B. Porter, a hero of the War of 1812. Albert Porter actually wrote his recollections of growing up in the new village, and Aunt Ednah found his writings "most interesting."

Paving roads began in that era, perhaps as an experiment, using cobble stones instead of laying logs side by side corduroy fashion. Ednah wrote, "Probably the first stone pavement in Western New York was found in 1812 on the Portage Road. It was some 300 feet in length. It was surmised that the English may have laid it as an experiment or because of the road where stone would have been better than the customary corduroy or log road for the heavy portage wagons."

When DeWitt Clinton visited Manchester in 1810, Ednah wrote, he found "a carding machine, a grist mill, a saw mill, a rope walk, a bark mill, a tannery, post office, tavern and a few houses." She said an acre of land at the burgeoning settlement cost $50.

She also noted that the Native Americans had fashioned a sort of ladder down the gorge to the base of the falls by chopping off branches of a tall cedar tree to about a foot from the trunk. This was fastened to the top of the gorge by grapevines to trees on the banks.

The Indians would climb this ladder down to the base of the falls, where they would pick up duck, geese, deer or bear meat from animals which had been swept over the falls.

Returning to write about Lockport, she wrote that before the canal was built a pond existed in a small ravine in that area. Her flowery description noted that the pond "was fed by numerous springs and rivulets flowing from the Hillside.

"The slopes of the surrounding precipices were covered with trees and shrubs, mossy rocks, ferns and wild flowers, reaching to the water's edge, which was gay with ivy and cowslips. Late in the season the foliage was particularly beautiful owing to the profusion of sumac and maples, whose autumnal brilliance of crimson and gold mingled with the darker green and brown of oaks and evergreens made all the hillside like a gorgeous carpet."

When the canal was built and various types of mills sprang up to make use of the water power, the area was cleared and dredged to make room for commercial boating.

Early Lockport, she noted, had quite a figure skater, who made use of the ice-covered widewaters below the locks, one L.A. Spalding. She said when he was seen carrying his skates down to the area, he was "accompanied by a retinue of admirers."

She wrote, "A large space was given him on the ice, when he would display his agility by cutting his name, true lovers' knots and all kinds of geometric and fantastic figures."

The blasting of bedrock for the locks, she noted, often sent stone missiles over Main Street. "The small stones would rattle down like hail and were anything but pleasant, particularly when one was caught with an uncovered head. One stone weighing 18 pounds was thrown over our house and buried itself in the front yard."

Residents along Main Street, she said, would cut small trees, trim them and lean the poles at a 45 degree angle against their housing, making sort of a covered walkway to protect them from flying stones.

Ednah wrote, "This was a great safeguard and the space underneath was utilized by our Irish brethren by being converted into a pig sty or cow house -- no cholera in those days or impertinent health officers prying into people's domestic arrangements and interfering to prevent their being as dirty as they chose."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 8, 2011