Thursday, May 21, 2009

An earlier Niagara earthquake

Photo from NY State

Coincidentally, the week of the Buffalo quake mentioned in the last blog, the Niagara Falls Reporter recalls an earlier quake in the region.

And, on Saturday, I'll be driving through Niagara Falls on my way to the AGU in Toronto.

By Bob Kostoff

This area seems to have lucked out by never experiencing a major earthquake, at least within recorded history. But we have had a few minor tremors from time to time because we do exist in a fault area.

Mostly the tremors just caused some frayed nerves and perhaps a few broken dishes that were rattled off shelves and tables. A couple of incidents were reported in the spring of 1897.

The local newspaper reported in a headline on March 6, 1897, "And the earth trembled."

The report went on to say that area residents were startled at about 10:40 p.m. on March 5 by the rumbles, which were told in a number of headlines as "This city was included in a belt that was shaken severely by a well defined earthquake at 10:40 o'clock last night" and "Windows and dishes broken."

People were rattled and shaken "for miles about between here and Lake Ontario" and it was felt worst below "the mountain ridge. On the Indian Reservation, the Indians were all alarmed." Not to be outdone, "Lewiston and Youngstown residents were frightened," and the trembles caused equal concern in areas of Canada.

At first, the populace was perplexed. The newspaper said, "What was it? A question on everybody's lips this morning. It came over telegraph and telephone wires and down the streets. It fairly howled its way along, but no answer came."

Of course, seismic information was not as sophisticated in those days.

At first, the report said, "the general opinion was that some terrible explosion has occurred."

It must have been a pretty powerful tremor, because "it was so severe that police at the No. 2 Police Station thought a bank had been robbed near them and they investigated, but investigated in vain."

The newspaper office even then was the place to go for information, so reporters fielded a myriad of phone calls from Lewiston, Youngstown, and even from Thorold and St. Catharines in Ontario. The inquiries "were about some explosion that occurred here."

The paper noted, "There are several powder magazines in the vicinity of this city and these were examined and found to be all right. The mystery deepened."

An exhaustive search was made for some building blown to smithereens, but nothing was found.

The newspaper reported, "The shock was so sharp, sudden and short that no one thought of an earthquake."

When no other explanation could be found, citizens began believing an earthquake had occurred here.

A short time later, on May 28, 1897, the newspaper reported in a series of headlines, "Visit of an earthquake. This city included in a broad belt of country that was shaken last night. Many startled in Buffalo. The quake felt eastward into Vermont and north to Montreal. The shock here was rather light but a number noticed it. No damage done." This time, the report said, "thousands of people recognized it at once" as an earthquake. "The quake was distinguishable here in Niagara Falls, though the shock was slight."

Residents of Lockport felt the shock more distinctly. The tremor "rattled windows and blinds."

But in Niagara Falls, such noise was becoming commonplace. The newspaper reported that the quake "was very similar to the effect of heavy blasts in the Tunnel District, which are so frequent that no attention is paid to them."

The tunnel referred to is the one dug from the upper river under the city to the gorge so falling water could turn turbines and generate electrical power.


  1. At around 1:44 p.m. today, we beieve there was a small earth quake here in the St. Catharines area. While sitting at this computer, the floor started moving back and forth, the chair started to move and then the computer screen started moving back and forth. I stood up and looked out the window at the pool and I could see the surface of the water moving in a ripple action. I left the room and my son met me in the kitchen were he said to me,"did we just have an earthquake?" Only one other time have I expereinced an earth quake.
    Mr. Blair M. Phillips
    St. Catharines

  2. Just had an earth quake 5 mins ago in the Niagara Region!! Desk started shaking like crazy!!

    23rd June 2010


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