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The current fuss over removal of the Moses Parkway between Niagara Falls and Lewiston has some firm roots in local history. Quick transportation between the two areas has long been a dream of mankind.

In early days, transportation between the areas was via horse or stagecoach. Then came the railways, and a developing rivalry with stagecoaches. This prompted an argument, and then a race, between competing drivers in the mid-1830s.

Seems stagecoach driver George W. Rector and railway conductor Alva Hiller bet $50 on which conveyance was fastest. They started out at Lewiston Hill and, when the tracks and road converged, the stage and train were neck-and-neck.

When they reached what is now the North End, the train took a curve too fast and jumped the tracks, giving the win and the $50 to stagecoach driver Rector. But, as we all know, trains won out in the end over stagecoaches.

More spectacular transportation between Niagara Falls and Lewiston came with the Great Gorge Railroad in 1889, when Capt. J.M. Brinker, of Buffalo, bought up the franchise rights of the Whirlpool Company. This company had been studying an electric trolley route along the gorge, but could not make the plans fit reality.

Brinker, however, hired the best engineers and geologists, who studied the problems for months before coming up with a feasible plan. In 1890, construction began, and thousands of tons of rocks had to be blasted and removed by about 800 workers.

Eventually they carved out a road bed along the lower river's boiling rapids wide enough to lay two sets of tracks and string up electric lines. The Great Gorge Route officially opened amid much pomp and circumstance on July 18, 1895. Two trolley cars pulled four passenger cars with 300 passengers and a band leaving Lewiston at 11:20 a.m.

All was not wine and roses, however. Shortly after leaving Lewiston, one of the cars jumped the track, causing near-panic among the passengers. No one was hurt, the car was put back on the track, and the intrepid among the remaining passengers reboarded. Some chose to walk back to Lewiston.

Those who stuck with the trip gave rave reviews. The train cruised so close to the river rapids that house-size waves made it seem the train was skimming along on the water. Despite this, business was slow to pick up. Eventually, Brinker and the original backers jumped ship and sold the business to the Niagara Gorge Railway Company.

This firm expanded operations and built a line on the Canadian side running along the top of the gorge parallel to the river. In 1899, the Lewiston Bridge was reconstructed with a train track, and the two routes were combined.

The company provided stopovers, so passengers could get out along the way, sightsee or have a picnic, and jump on a later train to return. On busy days, as many as 38 cars were operating. And there was even a special car to accommodate the rich and famous.

Despite careful planning, the route was always subject to rock falls. The trains operated from May 1 to March 1, taking April off. This was a time when rocks, loosened by the freezing and thawing, were in danger of falling. Despite this care, there were accidents.

An avalanche of ice and rocks tumbled down in 1905, hitting a car, and killing the motorman and five passengers. In 1910, a trolley jumped the track and went over the embankment into the river, killing a dozen passengers.

Again, in the summer of 1917, a portion of the roadway gave way after a heavy rain, and a car with about 60 riders tumbled into the river.

The car and its passenger list were never recovered, so the number of fatalities was never recorded.

The cost of the ride in those days was a dollar, and an estimated 300,000 passengers a year made the trip. Some of the important people taking the daring trip were actress Sarah Bernhardt; the Prince of Wales, later to be King Edward VIII of England; and Prince Henry of Germany, son of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

And, of course, President William McKinley made the trip on Sept. 6, 1901, before appearing at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, where he was assassinated by an anarchist. The Pan Am was spectacularly lighted by newfangled electricity from Niagara Falls.

In the fall of 1935, an avalanche of 5,000 tons of rock descended on the route. This was the last straw, and the route was closed down forever. Little remains of the route now, except the pathway.

The route passes by Devil's Hole, and many Halloween admirers believe the "devils" residing in the hole have "bedeviled" people for ages, including McKinley and explorer LaSalle, killed by his own men in Louisiana.

Perhaps there is some intrepid entrepreneur with billions who would like to reinstitute the route, so that whatever happens to the Moses Parkway would not matter. With technology to put a man safely on the Moon, we can surely make the Great Gorge Route safe.

The big imponderable, as with all development, is funding.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 12, 2011