Goat Island is made up of dolostone bedrock covered with glacial deposits. For thousands of years, these deposits lay under deep lake and river waters. About 3,500 years ago, the water level of the Upper Niagara began to drop, eventually exposing the deposits forming Goat Island. The combination of the mist from the falls and fertile soil made Goat Island the site of what was a very special forest that included the largest variety of shrubs and trees in North America.
To the Native American people, the islands and other lands by the falls were sacred because they believed the Thunder Being "Heno," an important deity, lived behind the Horseshoe Falls. By the latter part of the 18th century, Goat Island was in the possession of the British and cared for by the settler, John Stedman. To protect his livestock from the wolves on the mainland, Stedman made a clearing for them on the upper end of the island. During a very severe winter, all of his animals died except one goat. Impressed with the goat's hardiness, Stedman called the land Goat's Island.
In 1816, Peter and Augustus Porter, founders of the nearby village of Manchester (later known as Niagara Falls), purchased the island from the State of New York. The two bothers respected the island's natural beauty and preserved it as a scenic spot building only a few structures. The Porter family maintained the island until 1885, when it and all the other islands above the falls were purchased for $525,000 by the State of New York to become part of the new Niagara Reservation State Park.
Goat's Island's unique beauty was noticed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted wrote of the rare beauty of Goat Island and the "exceeding loveliness of the rock foliage." Quiet contemplation of nature, he felt, would provide for both mental and physical renewal. It was Olmsted's original 1887 design ideas that primarily shaped the Niagara Reservation.
Niagara Falls by Thomas Prichard Rossiter. Courtesy of the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Gift of Terry J. Fox in memory of Camille Merlino.
This image shows Goat Island with a clearing at the upper end. Cascata del Niagara, 1831 by George Catlin. Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted painted on the grounds of Biltmore by John Singer Sargent, 1895, courtesy Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina.
Aerial View of Goat Island. Photograph courtesy of New York Power Authority.
Peter PorterAugustus Porter