The Great Falls – Pawachtuek

(Salisbury and Canaan, Connecticut)

Main attributes of this Native American place: Native name; In Tribal history; Native practices;
Landmark; In historic documents.

The Great Falls (Pawachtuek) are located on the Housatonic River, in Salisbury and Canaan, Connecticut. At the Falls, the Housatonic experiences an abrupt drop in elevation (60 feet) that is unusual for a major river in New England. The tumbling waters and rapids are spectacular when viewed during periods of spring snowmelt or flood. A parking area and boat launching spot are located upriver from the dam, on the Salisbury side of the river. Footpaths lead down to a fenced observation spot where the cascade can
be viewed.

For thousands of years, the Great Falls was a major natural landmark for the Native people of the Housatonic Valley, as they traveled up and down the river on foot or by canoe. The rapids below may have been used as a seasonal fishing site. In the seventeenth century, the Algonquin name for the Great Falls was Pawachtuek. This name is known from an Indian deed of 1685, which was signed by several members of the Mohican community (and was later declared null and void). On the river’s floodplains upstream from the Great Falls, the Native people maintained a series of flatlands, which had individual Algonquin names.

Thoughts to consider as you stand upon this place: Throughout much of the year, the falls are a quiet series of dry limestone bedrock ledges. But in the late winter or early spring, after the snow melts, the cascade puts on a memorable show of roaring, tumbling water, which must have moved the indigenous people of the Housatonic for millennia as it continues to impress observers today.

Contributor: Timothy Binzen


Binzen, Timothy L. 1997. Mohican Lands and Colonial Corners: Weataug, Wechquadnach and the Connecticut Colony 1675-1750. M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut, Storrs. Pp. 106-107.

Dunn, Shirley W. 1994. The Mohicans and Their Land, 1609-1730. Fleischmanns, New York: Purple Mountain Press Ltd. Page 298.