top of page

From Free to Fee: Paid Admission to Niagara Falls Started Before Civil War

The origins of tourism at Niagara Falls date back hundreds of years to a time when indigenous peoples would come to hunt and fish near the majestic falls. However, it wasn't until the late 18th and early 19th centuries that the Falls started to become a popular destination for sightseers.

From Free to Fee: Paid Admission to Niagara Falls Started Before Civil War

Around this time, locals began realizing they could profit off of this natural wonder by guiding visitors through the area, offering accommodations, or selling souvenirs. As interest grew, larger infrastructure developments began including bridges, paths, and viewpoints. One of the first recorded tourist facilities at Niagara Falls was Biddle's Stairs, a 45-meter ladder constructed on the American side of the falls in 1829 by entrepreneur Josiah Tryon.


The real commodification of Niagara Falls began with William Forsyth, a former international trader, who in 1846 acquired a large section of land on the Canadian side of the falls that included the best vantage points. Recognizing the commercial value of these viewpoints, Forsyth erected barriers and began charging people for admission. While initially his move sparked a considerable controversy, the idea gradually gained acceptance. The years Forsyth began charging admission for Niagara Falls viewers was just prior to the Civil War era.


Today, a fee to view Niagara Falls can seem natural or even inevitable, yet in the years preceding the Civil War many Americans saw such a charge as a disgrace - representing an attempt to restrict access to what they considered a public good. Despite this, commercialism at Niagara Falls has persisted and developed into a robust tourist industry that continues to draw millions of visitors from around the world each year.

bottom of page