The Little Falls Story - River Rapids and Canals
The friendly and scenic city of Little Falls is a cultural gem that was hewn from the rapids of the Mohawk River. Simply put, Little Falls would not exist if it were not for the guiding influence of the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal. At the end of the last ice age, the meltwaters of the Glacial Lake Iroquois cumulated into a collosal waterfall - located near today's Moss Island - that sculpted the geography of Little Falls and much of the Mohawk Valley. Thousands of years later, the resulting rapids - which descends 40 feet - presented an uphill battle for early European explorers, settlers, and river boats, and in the eighteenth century, a thriving community was built around the need to portage these boats and their cargos around the rapids of the Mohawk River. After the revolutionary war, Little Falls continued to grow as it became the home of several important locks on the series of canals, including the Erie Canal, that tamed the Mohawk and connected the Eastern seaboard to Western New York and other landlocked states. Today, Little Falls remains the home to both the tallest operating lock on the New York State Canal System - Lock 17 - as well as the ruin of the oldest extant lock in the United States (1795).
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the waters of the Mohawk River continued to give life to the economy of Little Falls by powering the textile mills that sprang up along its banks during the Industrial Revolution. Thousands upon thousands of immigrants arrived to work in the mills, and gave Little Falls a unique character as a culturally and ethnically diverse place. In 1912, the mill-working women of Little Falls attracted national attention and played a major role in the US Labor movement when they went on a strike that lasted for three months. The strike, organized by socialist nurse Helen Schloss, and the resulting newspaper stories depicting mounted policeman battling strikers throughout the city brought trainloads of prominent IWW organizers, anarchists, and Schenectady Socialists who came to support the mill workers. While the strike was eventually successful - ultimately being mediated by the State of New York, the resulting exodus of the textile industry to the southern states made the mill worker's victory more nominal than real.
Today nearly all of the mills are gone, and the population of Little Falls has diminished to a third of the size that it once was. But the economy and culture of Little Falls remains closely linked to the waters of the Mohawk River. Local industrial facilities, such as Burrows Paper and Redco Foods, continue to harness the Mohawk River, the Little Falls Marina and and nearby Rotary Park continue to serve as a gathering place for the community and as a portal between through which boaters can access little falls, seeking amenities as well as access to the plethora of art, culture, dining, and fun civic festivals that take place throughout the season. Little Falls houses a bustling art communitiy centered around Canal Place featuring a regional art center, galleries, shops, and some of the finest antiquing in Upstate New York. Main Street in Little Falls offers modern shopping opportunities and is the gateway to the sprawling Little Falls National Historic District, which encompasses nearly 350 historically significant buildings that preserve the heritage and the vibrant way of life that the Mohawk River and Erie Canal made possible in Little Falls.