In the United States in the early Nineteenth Century, new advances in transportation allowed Americans to travel through their new country, appreciating its many natural beauties. Of the country’s numerous natural wonders, none rivaled Niagara Falls.
In 1824, Miss Mary Donnaldson of Montgomery County, traveled with her brother Edward and his wife to Niagara Falls. Fortunately, she kept a journal of her experience, now part of the Donnaldson Papers at the Historical Society of Montgomery County.
Miss Donnaldson gives vivid descriptions of the operation and noise of the steamboats, the vistas of the Hudson River, and the newly opened Erie Canal. She describes why they choose to travel by the canal from Albany to Schenectady even though the canal route was longer, 28 miles, than the land route, 15 miles, “it was … a new and therefore a preferable mode of travelling.” The Erie Canal was the technical wonder of the age, and Donnaldson describes many details about the elevation and the operation of the locks.
When the group reaches Niagara, Donnaldson describes it in the language typical of the time.
“The immense force with which the waters rush to the precipice, the suddenness with which they are precipitated the spray which they throw … as they descend into [the] stream below, & the beautiful white mist which rises from the gulf into which they have fallen, & which is driven by either direction by the wind, are all points to fix the attention and rivet themselves in the memory of the beholder.… Below where the waters are received, – a charm presents itself resembling in whiteness, an immense bed of snow, but lighter, more liquid & if such an exposition is allowable, conveying the impression of something unearthly & purely spiritual.”
On the return trip, the party traveled overland and visited the Finger Lakes and Saratoga where they took the waters at the spring. Throughout the journal, Donnaldson describes the people she met and many tales of the War of 1812, and she references the writings of Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper.
She ends her journal, “To the friendly eye that map peruse these pages, I can only wish a portion of the gratification I received during my journey – and less weariness tan I have experience in recording its progress.”