The Cohoes Falls is a waterfall on the Mohawk River in Cohoes, New York. Discovered by the indigenous Mohawk tribe, the falls’ original name was Ga-ha-oose, which is believed to mean “The Place of the Falling Canoe.” Cohoes historian Arthur Masten also wrote in his 1880 history that the phrase might mean “Potholes in the River,” referring to the potholes which appear in the riverbed when it is dry. In the oral tradition of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), the Cohoes Falls are the site where The Great Peacemaker, also known as Deganawida, performed his feat of strength, convincing the Mohawk people to become the founders of the Iroquois League of Nations. Some historians believe the Mohawks launched the Confederacy as early as 1142, though other experts report dates ranging from 1450-1650.
Celebrated by 18th century travelers in letters and journals, The Cohoes Falls, also called The Great Falls of the Mohawk, were regarded as the second most beautiful cataract in New York State after Niagara. In 1804, the national poet of Ireland, Thomas Moore, visited Cohoes and wrote a paean to the waterfall’s beauty: “Lines Written at the Cohos (sic), or Falls of the Mohawk River.” In 1831, however, town leaders built a dam across the Mohawk and harnessed the falls to fuel the turbines of the city’s burgeoning textile industry. Over the next several decades, the predominant company, Harmony Mills, became the largest manufacturer of cotton in the United States, thanks to its control of local water rights. When all the mills closed in the wake of the great depression, city leaders ignored the potential of the falls for tourism and leased the flow rights to a series of power companies including Niagara Mohawk and Orion Power.
The Erie Canal Story here is all about overcoming the navigational barrier of the Cohoes Falls. The original “Clinton’s Ditch” Erie Canal of 1825 went through the city of Cohoes. The later Enlarged Canal was realigned, yet still went through the City of Cohoes. The Barge Canal which opened in 1918 bypasses Cohoes and runs though the Village of Waterford via the Waterford Flight of Locks.
The Cohoes Falls are 75 feet (23 meters) high and 1,000 feet (305 meters) wide. Their flow is most impressive in springtime, sometimes running at 90,000 cubic feet of water per second, but as the season changes there is less water for the falls because so much of the flow is diverted at the Crescent Dam to the Barge Canal through Lock 6. Most of the water is still diverted for power generation; some is diverted for the Cohoes water supply. During the summer, the falls are virtually dry, revealing shale rock formations that have their own distinctive beauty.