A New Year’s Stroll Through Little Falls, NY

Little Falls, NY, is a lovely and picturesque city in Herkimer County. First settled in 1723, it was originally called “Rock City.” No kidding– many of the city’s plentiful buildings were built perched on the rocky slopes and cliffs. Driving through the streets in an exciting challenge, but the views are simply stunning. Downtown was decorated for the holidays and it exuded a nostalgic “It’s a Wonderful Life” appeal.

Little Falls downtown1

LIttle Falls downtown

Little Falls is another fine example of Upstate New York’s formerly prosperous era, between the Civil War and World War II. Many of the Victorian grand dames lines the streets, some kept up while other decaying.

One of the claims to fame of the city is The Human Polar Bear. City resident and eye specialist businessman Professor Louis Sugarman was thus called the Human Polar Bear for his sensationalist plunges into the freezing cold waters of the nearby Mohawk River. The man apparently bathed “daily,” even in temperatures of 20 BELOW zero!

The day we visited, the Monday after New Year’s Day, was extremely cold and the wind whipped around the rugged cliffs. No baths for us! I originally hoped we could wander the streets a bit, snapping photos and admiring the architecture, but it was too cold. Instead, we sauntered into Ann’s Cafe and Deli Restaurant for coffee and sandwiches. The prices are outstanding and the food was tasty. The coffee was absolutely phenomenal.


After we’d thawed out, we wandered the canal area. Little Falls was one of the Erie Canal cities, and the city thrived from the commerce. Railroads and, later, the highways, replaced the canal. The city slumped from the loss but Lock 17 is here and is a popular tourist site for canal enthusiasts. According to Wikipedia, the lock here at Little Falls was “the highest lift lock in the world at 40.5 feet (12.3 m) in height” until recently.

The city has created a lovely park and visitors’ center in this area by the canal. We wandered the park.

LIttle Falls Canal Park

In the center of the park stands an odd, modern sculpture. It clashes quite loudly amongst a backdrop of very old buildings and antique shops.

LIttle Falls Canal Park scuplture

The park hosts a number of stores. I am not a fan of shopping, but it was so cold that we decided to wander in the building. What pleasant surprises we found!

Little Falls stone mill 1

Little Falls Stone Mill shops

The buildings were crammed full with quirky old stuff for sale. We delighted browsing through so many interesting tools, crafts, furniture and other objects that left us baffled. We spotted this very odd device. It is made from blown glass and is enormous- larger than a beach ball! We played a little guessing game. My son thought perhaps it was a huge Christmas tree ornament. I guessed it was a Victorian decoration for a garden, like those glass globes on pedestals.

I submitted the photo and asked my Facebook friends. What a surprise! Three people answered and knew exactly what it is– a Japanese fishnet float! Fishermen once hung these glass floats on the edges of their nets to make sure the nets did not drop down into the water, lost forever.

I also spotted an old rotary phone. Oh this brought back memories! Remember how long it took, just to dial a number? And if you dialed the wrong digit, what a pain it was to start over!


We spent too long in the shops, looking at so many things. A storm was coming and we knew we must start the drive home soon… but there was always something incredibly interesting to see!

Finally, we made our way out. I took a quick diversion to the bridge over the canal. We were surprised to see extensive damage, still, from the August and September hurricanes and severe flooding that had hit the area. You can see that the floods washed away parts of the foundations of these buildings. Oh no!

LIttle Falls Canal1

The waterway was messy, full of piles of enormous rocks, fallen trees and some debris. I could tell that there had been some cleanup already. I wonder how extensive the damage was after the hurricanes?

Little Falls flood damage

The sidewalk was closed, for obvious reasons. You can see right down through the foundation.

Little Falls Bridge hole

We slowly made our way back to the vehicle. The streets were nearly empty and the clouds were beginning to darken. Next time we return to this little city, it will be in better weather to visit the Nicholas Herkimer Home just east of the city limits.

On our way, we passed by the Fairfield Windmill Project, a hotly contested “renewable energy” project that greatly divided the community.

Fairfield Wind Project1

About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

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