RailsandTrails.com - Texts - 1854 Ohio Railroad Guide
Here, in coming from the south, we first touch the shores of LAKE ERIE--and the first sight of it, if on a bright day, is a glorious sight. It is like, and yet not like, the Ocean. There are two things on the shore of the Ocean which always tell us it is the Ocean, and we do not find them on the Lake. One is the regular surge of the tides. Lake Erie has no tides; and one who has seen the Ocean, misses that regular heave and roar of the waters. Another is, the coast of the Sea has everywhere a certain primitive hardness of feature, which you do not see here. You find yourself on the shore of a great, broad water, which to the eye seems like the Ocean-a vast, sublime expanse of waters; but something reminds you it is not the Ocean, and you look around in a surprised and wondering delight. The surprise would be much greater if we were not well prepared beforehand, to meet such a view.
As a scene, the Lake has always something to interest you. Whether seen in a dark night, amidst scowling tempests and livid lightnings, or in the peaceful calm of a summer's day, it is always interesting. There is scarcely an hour in a clear day, in which several sail vessels may not be seen on its bosom. On the distant horizon, they seem like some light cloud floating on the water, while near by they loom up, under full canvass, glistening in the sun, and majestically approaching. Near by are the fiery steamers, sending forth their dark columns of smoke, and hurrying on with superhuman power. You look over the waters, and strain your eyes in vain to catch the Canada shore, which you know is there, but which seems now buried in the blue sky. You look in vain; but every now and then think you see the blue distant hills, when in fact they are only banks of clouds on the far horizon.
The LAKES of North America form, perhaps, the most remarkable feature of this continent. The Caspian Sea, it is true, is larger than either one of them; but neither the Caspian, nor any collection of Lakes or Seas, is at all comparable to the chain of the American Lakes, which, extending from the Lake of the Woods to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, make, in fact, a continual succession of inland Seas, extending (Lake Michigan included) nearly 2000 miles in extent.
Lake Erie--the sixth in the series-is, in round numbers, about 240 miles in length, by 40 in breadth. This is not more than one-fourth the surface of Lakes Huron or Superior; but is in some particulars more interesting than either. Its commerce is now greater than that of either of the Lakes, and, at its eastern extremity, the whole body of its waters is poured over the rapids and falls of Niagara. The cause and phenomena of Niagara Falls are all explained by a simple reference to the comparative levels of Lakes Erie and Ontario. Lake Erie is 565 feet above tide water, and 322 feet above Lake Ontario. The consequence of this difference is, that the waters of Erie have to descend 565 feet to reach the Ocean, of which 322 feet are between Buffalo and Lake Ontario--only about 40 miles. Part of this is accomplished in the rapids above and below the Falls; but the great descent is at Niagara, where may be seen and studied, in all its glory, that wonderful phenomenon of nature, the FALLS of LAKE ERIE-for such it is--over the grand rock rampart which separates it from Ontario.
Has Lake Erie a tide? is a question which seems to have puzzled the natural philosophers, though now satisfactorily settled. A tide like the Ocean it was never supposed to have. But the Lake was observed to be higher in some years than in others. This was thought by some to be a regular rise and fall. Of late years, however, exact observations have been kept, and compared with those in former time; and the result is, that the rise and fall of the Lake is proved to be very irregular, and to depend merely upon the greater or less fall of water on the great northern plain, whose springs and rains mainly supply the Lakes. The descent of water is various, in different years, and cannot be carried off suddenly, because the obstruction at Niagara is uniform, and the waters of Erie must rise above the ordinary level before the amount carried over the rock ledge of Niagara will be sensibly increased. Col. WHITTLESEY of Cleveland, a distinguished geologist, has given the result of observations on the variations in Lake Erie; and it appears that the whole rise is only from 1 1/2 to 3 feet, and it requires several months-sometimes much more time-for the water to ascend even that height. One important fact may be deduced from this: that there is no danger of overflow on the shores of the Lake, except from those sudden clashes made by a storm; and that is injurious only at the mouths of creeks and rivers, where the water accumulates. These mouths of streams, however, are harbors, generally protected by artificial works, as we see here at Cleveland, where the government has secured the entrance by two long stone piers.