Susquehanna River

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Susquehanna Valley)
Jump to: navigation, search
Coordinates: 39°32′35″N 76°04′32″W / 39.54306°N 76.07556°W / 39.54306; -76.07556
Susquehanna River
Asylum Township.jpg
Susquehanna River in Bradford County, Pennsylvania
Country USA
States Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York
 - left Lackawanna River, Mahanoy Creek, Swatara Creek, Conestoga River
 - right Unadilla River, Chenango River, Chemung River, West Branch, Juniata River
Cities Harrisburg, PA, Wilkes-Barre, PA, Binghamton, NY
Source Otsego Lake
 - location Cooperstown, Otsego County, New York, USA
 - elevation 1,180 ft (360 m)
 - coordinates 42°42′02″N 74°55′10″W / 42.70056°N 74.91944°W / 42.70056; -74.91944
Secondary source West Branch Susquehanna River
 - location Carrolltown, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, USA
 - elevation 1,980 ft (604 m)
 - coordinates 40°35′55″N 78°42′56″W / 40.59861°N 78.71556°W / 40.59861; -78.71556
Mouth Chesapeake Bay
 - location Cecil County / Harford County, at Havre de Grace, Maryland, USA
 - elevation 0 ft (0 m)
 - coordinates 39°32′35″N 76°04′32″W / 39.54306°N 76.07556°W / 39.54306; -76.07556
Length 464 mi (747 km)
Basin 27,500 sq mi (71,225 km2)
Discharge for Conowingo Dam, MD
 - average 40,080 cu ft/s (1,135 m3/s)
 - max 1,130,000 cu ft/s (31,998 m3/s) June 24, 1972[1]
 - min 2,990 cu ft/s (85 m3/s)
Discharge elsewhere (average)
 - Danville, PA 29,000 cu ft/s (821 m3/s)
The Susquehanna watershed

The Susquehanna River /ˌsʌskwəˈhænə/ (Lenape: Siskëwahane[2]) is a river located in the northeastern United States. At 464 miles (747 km) long,[3] it is the longest river on the American east coast that drains into the Atlantic Ocean. With its watershed it is the 16th largest river in the United States,[4][5] and the longest river in the continental United States without commercial boat traffic today—for what navigations had been used to improve the waterway for barge shipping of bulk goods by water transport of the Pennsylvania Canal in the Canal Era were let go under the domination of the more flexible and much faster shipping measures under the railroad industry.[6]

The nation's sixteenth largest river by volume, the Susquehanna flows through New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland into the Chesapeake Bay. It forms from two main branches, with the "North Branch", which rises in upstate New York, regarded by federal mapmakers as the main branch,[7] and the West Branch Susquehanna, both of which were improved by navigations in the 1820s—1830s as the Pennsylvania Canal which, using the offices of the Allegheny Portage Railroad actually allowed ladened barges to be hoisted across the mountain ridge into the Pittsburgh area. The 82 mile leg conceived to connect the Delaware to the Susquehanna became instead the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad built by the Pennsylvania Canal Commission. The shorter West Branch, which rises in western Pennsylvania, joins the main stem near Northumberland in central Pennsylvania.

The river drains 27,500 square miles (71,000 km2), including nearly half of the land area of Pennsylvania. The drainage basin (watershed) includes portions of the Allegheny Plateau region of the Appalachian Mountains, cutting through a succession of water gaps in a broad zigzag course to flow across the rural heartland of southeastern Pennsylvania and northeastern Maryland in the lateral near-parallel array of mountain ridges. The river empties into the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland, providing half of the Bay's freshwater inflow. The Chesapeake Bay is in fact the ria of the Susquehanna.


The Susquehanna River is one of the oldest existing rivers in the world, older than the mountain ridges which it dissects, most of which resulted from the Alleghenian orogeny uplift events. The Susquehanna basin, like those for the Hudson, Delaware and Potomac rivers, was well established in the flat plains of eastern North America during the Mesozoic era.[8]


The Susquehanna River looking upstream in Danville, Pennsylvania

Rising as the outlet of Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, New York, the north branch of the river runs west-southwest through dairy country, receiving the Unadilla River at Sidney and the Chenango in downtown Binghamton. It dips south into Pennsylvania briefly to turn sharply at Susquehanna Depot north back into New York. At Athens Township (just south of Waverly, New York) in northern Pennsylvania, just across the New York state line, it receives the Chemung from the northwest and makes a right angle curve between Sayre and Towanda to cut through the Endless Mountains in the Allegheny Plateau. It receives the Lackawanna River southwest of Scranton and turns sharply to the southwest, flowing through the former anthracite industrial heartland in the mountain ridges of northeastern Pennsylvania, past Wilkes-Barre, Nanticoke, Berwick, Bloomsburg, and Danville.

The origin of the West Branch is near Northern Cambria, Pennsylvania and travels northeasterly through Curwensville (where the river is dammed to form a lake), through Clearfield, Pennsylvania. The West Branch turns to the southeast and passes through Lock Haven and Williamsport before turning south. The North Branch joins the West Branch from the northwest at Northumberland, just above Sunbury.

Harrisburg, with the state capitol dome, from across the Susquehanna River in Wormleysburg, Pennsylvania

Downstream from the confluence of its branches it flows south past Selinsgrove, where it is joined by its Penns Creek tributary, and cuts through a water gap at the western end of Mahantongo Mountain. It receives the Juniata River from the northwest at Duncannon, then passes through its last water gap through Blue Mountain, just northwest of Harrisburg. It passes downtown Harrisburg (where it is nearly a mile wide), the largest city on the lower river, and flows southeast across South Central Pennsylvania forming the border between York and Lancaster counties, as well as receiving Swatara Creek from the northeast. It crosses into northern Maryland approximately 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Baltimore and is joined by Octoraro Creek. The river enters the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, where Concord Point Light was built in 1827 to accommodate the increasing navigational traffic.[9]


Susquehanna River north of Columbia, Pennsylvania

"Susquehanna" comes from the Len'api (or Delaware Indian) term Sisa'we'hak'hanna, which means "Oyster River." [10] This mighty river has two branches that come together at Sakima'ing (modern Shamokin-Sunbury, Northumberland County), and flows south past Harrisburg all the way down to Havre de Grace, Maryland, and into the Chesapeake Bay. Thus the term "oyster." The Len'api called the people at Con'esto'ga ("Roof-place" or "town," modern Washington Boro, Lancaster County), Ka'ot'sch'ie'ra ("Place-crawfish"—modern Chickisalunga, Lancaster County), or Gasch'guch'sa ("Great-fall-in-river"-modern Conewago Falls, Lancaster County)[11] either Minquas ("quite different"), Mengwe ("without penis"), or Sisa'we'hak'hanna'lenno'wak ("Oyster-river-people").[12] The Len'api also called the area Sisa'we'hak'hanna'unk ("Oyster-river-place"). The English called the Eroni (people)[13] of Conestoga, "Susquehannocks" or "Susquehannock Indians" after they were listed as such by John Smith on his 1612 map, with the spelling "Sasquesahanough".[14]


In the 1670s the Conestoga succumbed to Iroquois conquest and assimilation. In the aftermath, the Iroquois resettled some of the semi-tributary Lenape in this area, as it was near the western boundary of the Lenape's former territory, known as Lenapehoking.

The river has played an important role throughout the history of the United States. In the 18th century, William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania Colony, negotiated with the Lenape to allow white settlement in the colony between the Delaware River and the Susquehanna. In late colonial times, the river became an increasingly important transportation corridor with the discovery of anthracite coal by Necho Allen in its upper reaches in the mountains. In 1790, Colonel Timothy Matlack, Samuel Maclay and John Adlum were commissioned by the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to survey the headwaters of the river and explore a route for a passageway to connect the West Branch with the waters of the Allegheny River.[15] In 1792, the Union Canal was proposed linking the Susquehanna and the Delaware along Swatara Creek and Tulpehocken Creek. In the 19th century, many industrial centers grew up along the river.

Monument at the site of Gen. Clinton's dam at the source of the Susquehanna River on Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, New York

In 1779 General James Clinton led an expedition down the Susquehanna after making the upper portion navigable by damming up the river's source at Otsego Lake, allowing the lake's level to rise and then destroying the dam and flooding the river for miles downstream. This event is described by James Fenimore Cooper in the introduction to his novel The Pioneers. At Athens, Pennsylvania, then known as Tioga or "Tioga Point", Clinton met up with General John Sullivan's forces, who had marched from Easton, Pennsylvania. Together on August 29, they defeated the Tories and Indians at the Battle of Newtown (near today's city of Elmira, New York). This became known as the "Sullivan-Clinton Campaign" or the "Sullivan Expedition".

Conflicting land claims by Pennsylvania and Connecticut to the Wyoming Valley along the Susquehanna led to the founding of Westmoreland County, Connecticut, and the Pennamite Wars, which eventually led to the territory being ceded to Pennsylvania.

In 1833, John B. Jervis began a canal system to extend the Chenango river and connect the waters of the Susquehanna from Chenango Point to the Erie Canal. In October 1836, water from the Susquehanna was connected to the Erie Canal at Utica. Although water-travel was popular during that era, canal-transport became unprofitable after the railroad became the dominant means for transportation.[16] Forcing boats to climb a net height of 1,009 feet between basins, there were over one hundred water locks which could not be maintained.[16]

The Susquehanna River holds importance for members of the Latter Day Saint movement as the location where Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery received the priesthood from heavenly beings and the place in which the first Latter Day Saint baptisms occurred. Smith and Cowdery said that they were visited on May 15, 1829, by the resurrected John the Baptist and given the Aaronic priesthood; following his visit, Smith and Cowdery baptized each other in the river. Later that year, they said they were also visited near the river by the apostles Peter, James and John. Both events took place in unspecified locations near the river's shore in either Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, or Broome County, New York.

During the Civil War's 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, the commander of the Department of the Susquehanna, Union Major General Darius N. Couch, resolved that Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia would not cross the Susquehanna. He positioned militia units under Maj. Granville Haller to protect key bridges in Harrisburg and Wrightsville, as well as nearby fords. Confederate forces approached the river at several locations in Cumberland and York counties but were recalled on June 29 when Lee chose to concentrate his army to the west.

In 1972, the remnants of Hurricane Agnes stalled over the New York-Pennsylvania border, dropping as much as 20 inches (510 mm) of rain on the hilly lands. Much of that precipitation was received into the Susquehanna from its western tributaries, and the valley suffered disastrous flooding. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was among the hardest hit communities. The Chesapeake Bay received so much fresh water that it killed much of the marine life.

In March 2011, Crary Park in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania was inundated with a flood when the Susquehanna at Wilkes-Barre rose above 27 feet.[17] Six months later, the entire town was "devastated" by a 42-foot record flood.[18]

In June 2006, portions of the river system were affected by the Mid-Atlantic Flood of June 2006, a flood caused by a stalled jet stream-driven storm system. The worst affected area was Binghamton, New York, where record setting flood levels forced the evacuation of thousands of residents.

In September 2011, the Susquehanna River witnessed some of the worst flooding since Agnes back in 1972.

Bridges, ferries, canals and dams[edit]

The Susquehanna River has played an important role in the transportation history of the United States. Prior to the 1818 opening of the Port Deposit Bridge, the river formed a barrier between the northern and southern states, crossable only by ferry. The earliest dams were constructed to support ferry operations in low water. The presence of many rapids in the river meant that while commercial traffic could navigate down the river in the spring thaws, nothing could move up. This led to the construction of two different canal systems on the lower Susquehanna; the first was the Susquehanna Canal, also called the Conowingo Canal or the Port Deposit Canal, completed in 1802 by a Maryland company known as the Proprietors of the Susquehanna Canal; the second was the much longer and more successful Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal. The canals required additional dams to provide canal water and navigation pools. As the industrial age progressed, bridges replaced ferries, and railroads replaced canals, often built right on top of the canal right of way along the river. Many canal remnants can be seen in Havre de Grace, Maryland, along US Route 15 in Pennsylvania, and in upstate New York at various locations. These latter remnants are parts of the upstream divisions of the Pennsylvania Canal, of privately funded canals, and of canals in the New York system.

Today two hundred bridges cross the Susquehanna. There are two ferries which cross still cross the Susquehanna. The Millersburg Ferry at Millersburg, Pennsylvania and the Pride of the Susquehanna at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania are seasonal tourist attractions. The canals are gone or are part of historical parks, and dams are related to power generation or recreation. Perhaps the most famous of the bridges, the Rockville Bridge, crosses the river from Harrisburg to Marysville, Pennsylvania. The Rockville Bridge, when constructed, was the longest stone masonry arch bridge in the world. It was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1902, replacing an earlier iron bridge.

Environmental threats[edit]

Satellite photo of the Susquehanna (upper left) where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay (center)

The environmental group American Rivers named the Susquehanna "America's Most Endangered River for 2005" because of the excessive pollution it receives. Most of the pollution in the river is caused by excess animal manure from farming, agricultural runoff, urban and suburban stormwater runoff, and raw or inadequately treated sewage. In 2003 the river contributed 44% of the nitrogen, 21% of the phosphorus, and 21% of the sediment flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.[19] It was designated as one of the American Heritage Rivers in 1997.[20] The designation provides for technical assistance from federal agencies to state and local governments working in the Susquehanna watershed.


The Susquehanna River has long been associated with boating because of its many migratory fish. Many tourists and local residents use the Susquehanna in the summer for recreation purposes such as kayaking, canoeing, and motor-boating. Canoe races are held on various sections of the river every year like the amateur race held in Oneonta, New York.

Susquehanna rowing and paddling have a long history. Starting in 1874, rowers from Shamokin Dam, Pennsylvania raced men from Sunbury. The General Clinton Canoe Regatta, a 63 mile (claimed 70) flat-water race, takes place each year in Bainbridge, New York on Memorial Day weekend. Binghamton University Crew, and Hiawatha Island Boat Club are also located on the river, in the Southern Tier of New York.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "USGS 01578310 Susquehanna River at Conowingo, MD". United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2010-08-03. 
  2. ^ "Lenape Talking Dictionary". Retrieved 2012-05-27. 
  3. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed August 8, 2011
  4. ^ Susquehanna River Trail Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, accessed March 25, 2010.
  5. ^ Susquehanna River, Green Works Radio, accessed March 25, 2010.
  6. ^ Paddle the Susquehanna, accessed September 10, 2011.
  7. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Susquehanna River
  8. ^ "Description of the Geology of York County Peninsula". Penn State University Libraries. Archived from the original on 2007-10-29. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  9. ^ Simms, William Q. "Two Lights on the Hill". Lighthouse Digest, Inc. Retrieved 2006-12-28. 
  10. ^ Brinton, Daniel G., C.F. Denke, and Albert Anthony. A Lenâpé - English Dictionary. Biblio Bazaar, 2009. ISBN 978-1103149223, p. 132.
  11. ^ Zeisberger, David. Indian Dictionary: English, German, Iroquois—The Onondaga and Algonquin—The Delaware. Harvard University Press, 1887. ISBN 1104253518, pp. 48, 161, and 222.
  12. ^ Brinton, Daniel G., C.F. Denke, and Albert Anthony. A Lenâpé - English Dictionary. Biblio Bazaar, 2009. ISBN 978-1103149223, pp. 81, 85,132.
  13. ^ Zeisberger, David. Indian Dictionary: English, German, Iroquois—The Onondaga and Algonquin—The Delaware. Harvard University Press, 1887. ISBN 1104253518, p. 141. There were two broad language groups in the East, Len'api (usually called Algonquian) and Eroni (usually called Iroquois). While the former terms are native, the latter are sanctified in writing by the French.
  14. ^ Interactive copy of John Smith's map, center right portion
  15. ^ Storey, Henry Wilson. History of Cambria County, Pennsylvania. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1907.
  16. ^ a b Chenango, Whitford.
  17. ^ Skrapits, Elizabeth (March 12, 2011). "Winter flood slams Shickshinny". The Citizens' Voice. Retrieved March 18, 2011. 
  18. ^ Hughes, Matt (November 5, 2011). "Shickshinny offered help from group of Buddhists". Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. Retrieved November 18, 2011. [dead link]
  19. ^ Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Annapolis, MD. "Susquehanna River Named America's Most Endangered River for 2005." April 13, 2005.
  20. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Washington, D.C. "American Heritage Rivers: Upper Susquehanna and Lackawanna Rivers." October 19, 2006.

External links[edit]