Van Natta Falls Waterfall Wednesday blog cover
Waterfall Wednesday

Waterfall Wednesday: Van Natta Falls

Van Natta Falls by Laura Jaen Smith. Acrylic landscape painting Wells Falls/Businessman's Lunch Falls Ithaca. 50 NY Waterfalls Project.
Van Natta Falls, 6x6 acrylic on wood panel, 2018

This waterfall was one of my new finds during the Summer Mosaic project of 50 New York waterfalls.  It was not actually listed in the guidebook that I was using for some of the project.  The only way that I was able to find out about it was that I happened to stop at the Welcome Center in Ithaca and there was a visitors’ guidebook right there in the entrance way that had waterfalls on it.  When I looked at it later I came across a waterfall that didn’t look familiar (however the photographer was familiar – local photographer Chris Walter!).

Photo of visit Ithaca guidebook

This waterfall goes by a couple of different names – Van Natta Falls, Wells Falls, and perhaps most commonly Businessman’s Lunch Falls.  It is located by Giles Street tucked into downtown Ithaca and over the years it has been common place for people to come visit during their lunch hour.  The waterfall is part of Six Mile Creek and is on the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve.  

Businessman’s Lunch Falls features four different waterfalls – a 17 foot cascade, a 15 foot nearly vertical drop, a six foot cascade, and a waterfall created by the Van Natta Dam which I featured in this painting.  The dam is 12 feet high and 142 feet across.  

There are two different areas to access the waterfalls, one path further away from Giles Street Bridge that is a fairly easy quarter mile walk to the base of the falls, and a small path right off the side of the bridge that looks like it was created mostly by foot traffic.  Of course I decided to take the latter first.  

Throughout the project of hiking and painting 50 waterfalls throughout this region of New York, I had to push past my fears – mainly of heights (and the unknown) – in order to be able to get to where I needed to be to get the shot.  Most times it turned out okay (the shot and the adventure) and it was always a little more comforting when others were around as well.  

Photo of Van Natta Falls Wells Falls Businessman's Lunch Falls by Laura Jaen Smith

The walk to the top of the falls was not that far, a few yards maybe.  it involved crossing this very stable solid bridge (truly it’s only a few feet off the ground, it just looks scarier in the picture).

You end up on this flat landing where you have an amazing view and can walk right up to the Van Natta.  This area probably would not be as accessible in high water such as now with the awful flooding we’re experiencing, however the time I was there it seemed to be perfect for exploring. 

Photo of Van Natta Falls Wells Falls Businessman's Lunch Falls by Laura Jaen Smith

It then was a tiny little climb down this ridge.  Good news was if the barefoot guy that was already down there could do it, why not me, right?  The biggest trick is to look to the left while climbing down and up it instead of to the right.   

Photo of Van Natta Falls Wells Falls Businessman's Lunch Falls by Laura Jaen Smith
Photo of Van Natta Falls Wells Falls Businessman's Lunch Falls by Laura Jaen Smith

While you’re still facing the left coming down, the first thing you are greeted with is this waterfall.  There is about a five foot ledge where you can almost walk right up to this six foot cascade.  I just thought it was so pretty!  

This cascade is actually my favorite of the four waterfalls and the reason that I originally broke up the area into separate paintings.  Somehow as the painting part of the project progressed when it got time to paint another waterfall from Businessman’s Lunch Falls, I was feeling ambitious and went for a shot that captured the three remaining waterfalls of this area (I’ll talk more about the different reasons later on so keep an eye out for the second of the paintings as the Waterfall Wednesday series continues). 

To the right as you climb down is where the elevation drops for waterfalls three and four (another 32 feet if I did my math correctly).  Look at this view though!  Like I said before, my issues with heights was something that I had to get over (or ignore temporarily) in order to be successful at this project.  Imagine all the beautiful things I would have missed.

Photo of Van Natta Falls Wells Falls Businessman's Lunch Falls by Laura Jaen Smith

The waterfall was originally near an old gristmill that produced flour owned by John E. Van Natta in the late 1800’s.  The original property was sold in 1892 to the Ithaca Light and Water Co who converted the land to a pumping station for the city’s water supply.  

The buildings now remain abandoned and boarded up, which made the scene extra intriguing to me.  I’m looking forward doing a little more research about the area to be able to share with the second painting in this series.  

In the meantime, have you visited this waterfall before?  Do you know any fun pieces of history from this site?

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For more information about the historic structures on this location you can visit the appropriate pages of by clicking here and here.