Housatonic River

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Coordinates: 41°10′08″N 73°06′31″W / 41.16889°N 73.10861°W / 41.16889; -73.10861
Housatonic River
Looking south down the Housatonic River toward the I-95 bridge in Milford, CT.
Country USA
States Connecticut, Massachusetts
Counties Fairfield, CT, Litchfield, CT, New Haven, CT, Berkshire, MA
City Pittsfield, MA
Source Muddy Pond
 - location Washington, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, USA
 - elevation 1,440 ft (439 m)
 - coordinates 42°23′12″N 73°06′45″W / 42.38667°N 73.11250°W / 42.38667; -73.11250
Mouth Long Island Sound
 - location Milford, New Haven County, Connecticut, USA
 - elevation 0 ft (0 m)
 - coordinates 41°10′08″N 73°06′31″W / 41.16889°N 73.10861°W / 41.16889; -73.10861
Length 139 mi (224 km)
Basin 1,948 sq mi (5,045 km2)
Discharge for Stratford/Milford, CT
 - average 4,700 cu ft/s (133 m3/s)
 - max 48,600 cu ft/s (1,376 m3/s)
 - min 54 cu ft/s (2 m3/s)
Discharge elsewhere (average)
 - Great Barrington, MA 767 cu ft/s (22 m3/s)
Housatonic River watershed

The Housatonic River (/ˌhsəˈtɒnɪk/ HOOS-ə-TON-ik) is a river, approximately 139 miles (224 km) long,[1] in western Massachusetts and western Connecticut in the United States. It flows south to southeast, and drains about 1,950 square miles (5,100 km2) of southwestern Connecticut into Long Island Sound. Its watershed is just to the west of the watershed of the lower Connecticut River.


The Housatonic rises from four sources in far western Massachusetts in the Berkshire Mountains near the city of Pittsfield. It flows southward through western Massachusetts through the Berkshires and into western Connecticut, and empties into Long Island Sound between the towns of Stratford and Milford.

The river's total fall is 1,430 feet (440 m) (959 feet (292 m) from the confluence of its east and west branches). Its major tributaries are the Williams River, Green River and Konkapot Rivers in Massachusetts, the Tenmile River in New York, and the Shepaug, Pomperaug, Naugatuck, and Still Rivers in Connecticut. It receives the Naugatuck River at Derby, Connecticut, and the Still River south of New Milford, Connecticut.

Five dams impound the river in Connecticut to produce hydroelectricity: the Falls Village, Bulls Bridge, Shepaug, Stevenson and Derby dams. The last three dams form a chain of lakes: Lake Lillinonah, Lake Zoar and Lake Housatonic, from New Milford south to Shelton.


The river's name comes from the Mohican phrase "usi-a-di-en-uk", translated as "beyond the mountain place".[2]

Inspired by the river during his honeymoon, the American classical music composer Charles Ives wrote "The Housatonic at Stockbridge" as part of his composition Three Places in New England during the 1910s, drawing his text from a poem of the same name by Robert Underwood Johnson. The town of Stockbridge is located in southwestern Massachusetts. The river enters Stockbridge on the east side of town before turning south toward Connecticut.

From about 1932 until 1977, the river received PCB pollution discharges from the General Electric plant at Pittsfield, Massachusetts.[3] Although the water quality has improved in recent decades, and remediation has occurred,[4][5] the river continues to be contaminated by PCBs.[6] Additional remediation is planned.[7]

There is an American nuclear weapon test of the same name, although it is not known if the name came from the river or some other source.

The United States Navy named a ship for the Housatonic River. The USS Housatonic has the distinction of being the first ship in history to be sunk by a submarine, the confederate vessel CSS H.L. Hunley.

Covered wooden bridges[edit]

Three wooden covered bridges cross the Housatonic River. Two are in Connecticut: one known as Bull's Bridge, which spans the river between Gaylordsville and Kent, and another at Cornwall, known as the West Cornwall Covered Bridge. Reinforced with present-day materials, both bridges carry normal vehicle traffic, albeit in only one direction at a time. The third bridge, located in Sheffield, Massachusetts, was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1998; it is now open only to foot traffic.[8]


The Housatonic River is a popular whitewater paddling destination beginning at Falls Village, Connecticut and continuing to Gaylordsville. Most of the river is quickwater and Class I whitewater with long sections of Class II-III whitewater. A deadly and extreme Class VI resides at Great Falls in Canaan (Falls Village) and is most likely not able to be paddled. The most dangerous and difficult section that is navigable is by Bulls Bridge, with Class V whitewater.

There are several minor and major dams along the river that form lakes. Most notable are two lakes in Connecticut, Lake Zoar, which borders Monroe, Newtown, Oxford, and Southbury, and Lake Lillinonah. Both lakes are major water-sport recreation outlets for the surrounding towns.

Two of the three lakes formed by the dams are used for rowing by clubs, schools, and to host regattas. Lake Lillinonah is used by the GMS Rowing Center and is host to the GMS Regatta.[9] Lake Housatonic is used by the Yale University Crew Team and the New Haven Rowing Club and is host to the Derby Sweeps & Sculls and the Head of the Housatonic.

The Housatonic River is also a popular fly fishing destination. Fly fishing on the Housatonic River (which is strictly catch and release) has been compared with western rivers and is among the finest for trout in the eastern United States. The most popular area for fly fishing is in Litchfield County, Connecticut between the dam at Falls Village and the Cornwall Bridge.

The Appalachian Trail follows the river along this section from the Bulls Bridge covered wooden bridge near Kent to Falls Village.

View of the "fly fishing and paddling" section of the river during a snowstorm. Surrounding forests are still wild and support animal life despite the threat of suburban encroachment.

References in culture[edit]

Mentioned on the season 2 episode, "Shall We Gather at the River," of the TNT series Falling Skies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed April 1, 2011
  2. ^ Housatonic Valley Association. Cornwall Bridge, CT. "History of the Housatonic River." Accessed 2010-02-16.
  3. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Boston, MA. GE/Housatonic River Site in New England: Site History and Description." 2009-11-12.
  4. ^ Housatonic River PCB Soils and Sediment Remediation
  5. ^ Housatonic River 1½ Mile - Overview
  6. ^ deFur, Peter L. (2004). "Housatonic River Ecological Risk Assessment." Environmental Stewardship Concepts, Richmond, VA. Presentation at EPA Public Peer Review Meeting, 2004-01-13
  7. ^ Housatonic River "Rest Of River Remediation"
  8. ^ Massachusetts Covered Bridges - Upper Sheffield Bridge. Coveredbridgesite.com. Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  9. ^ GMS Rowing Center. New Milford, CT. "About Us/Vision."

External links[edit]