Little Falls has a picturesque location on the slope of a narrow and rocky defile, flowing through which the river falls 45 feet (13 m) in less than a mile (1.6 km), forming a number of cascades.
Little Falls was first settled around 1723. The need to portage around the falls promoted a trading location on the site of the future city, allowing it to be the first settlement in the town. Many of the earliest residents were German Palatines. The small settlement here was destroyed by the Indians and Tories in June, 1782, and the place was not resettled until 1790 and was known at times as "Rockton" and "Rock City." Little Falls was incorporated as a village in 1811, and reincorporated in 1827. The City of Little Falls was chartered in 1895.
The Western Inland Canal (early attempt of the Erie Canal) was constructed in 1792 and helped the local economy. The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, passes through the city. Lock 17 of the New York State Erie Canal replaced the 3 locks of the original 1825 Erie Canal and is in height.
Little Falls was a major cheese center in the third quarter of the 19th Century.
In 1900, 10,381 people lived in Little Falls, in 1910, 12,273, in 1920, 13,029, and in 1940, 10,163.
Little Falls was the home of David H. Burrell, an inventor and gentleman farmer, who, in 1885, patented the first technically sound oil burner which could burn both liquid and gaseous fuels. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan declared the year, "Oil Heat Centennial Year" because it marked one hundred years since the U.S. Patent Office granted, to Burrell, a patent for his furnace. Mr. Burrell was also a pioneer in the local dairy industry with many patents for improved machinery registered in his name. His company, D.H. Burrell and Co., was founded in 1885 to develop and distribute this equipment.
In the late 1800s, and early 1900s, eye specialist and health advocate Professor Louis Sugarman of Little Falls, NY attracted hundreds of local spectators, as well as worldwide celebrity, for his daily plunge in the Mohawk River, even when the thermostat hit 23 below zero, earning him the title "the human polar bear".
Bill Warner, a motorcycle racer and world motorcycle land speed record holder, was born in Little Falls. Warner was killed in a motorcycle crash while attempting to set a new record in July 2013.
National Register of Historic Places
The following are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: James Sanders House, Italian Community Bake Oven, Little Falls City Hall, Little Falls Historic District, Overlook, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District, and the United States Post Office.