Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Along the Susquehanna River

There is something enticing about water. People flock to it, whether it's a river, a lake or the ocean. In Central Pennsylvania, the small town of Clearfield lies along the west banks of the Susquehanna River. Flowing 228 miles from Cherry Tree to Sunbury, the West Branch forms the lifeblood linking what is now known as the Lumber Heritage region.

It is also the setting for the book I’m currently writing. My heroine and her father own a large logging operation in the area in the 1800s. And the hero? Well, of course, he’s a ship captain who owns the clipper ships in the Chesapeake Bay and who sells the Pennsylvania lumber.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, virgin timber—among it the celebrated great white pine—was harvested to supply to supply lumber for shipbuilding, construction and coal mine props. Much of this lumber was rafted down the West Branch to markets on or near the Chesapeake Bay. Today, the West Branch flows through a northern hardwood forest of oak, cherry, maple and remnants of white pine and hemlock forests of early settlers' times.

The West Branch of the Susquehanna is actually part of the main “North Branch” of Susquehanna River which is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States. At 444 miles long, it drains into the Atlantic Ocean via the Chesapeake Bay and is the 16th largest river as well. The headwaters start in Cooperstown, New York, and join the “West Branch” near Northumberland in Central Pennsylvania.

Before European conquest, the Susquehannock, an Iroquoian tribe lived along the river and gave the Susquehanna its name. In the 17th century, it was inhabited largely by the Lenape. In the 18th century, William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania Colony, negotiated with the Lenape to allow white settlements in the colony between the Delaware River and the Susquehanna.

Local legend claims that the name of the river comes from an Indian phrase meaning "mile wide, foot deep," referring to the Susquehanna's unusual dimensions, but while the word is Algonquian, it simply means "muddy current" or "winding current". Additionally, hanna is an Algonquin word that means stream or river, and that Susquehanna is up for interpretation as meaning long reach river to long crooked river. It has also been said that the Susquehanna River was also called “Oyster River” by the Lenape because of the numerous oyster beds at the mouth of the river where historians found mounds of oyster shells.

Although there are mysteries surrounding the river and how its name originated, there is one constant. The Susquehanna is the main life-sustaining river of the state of Pennsylvania. Its waters allowed settlements to spring up along its banks and businesses and farms to survive and thrive—and Pennsylvania to become the 9th most densely populated of our fifty states.