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North Branch Susquehanna History

Canoe and Kayak into the History of  Scenic

North Branch Susquehanna River

Drainage Area:

• Total: 27,510 square miles (71,251

square kilometers)

• In Pennsylvania: 20,960 square

miles (54,286 square kilometers)

Length of River:

• Susquehanna River: 444 miles

• The Susquehanna fl ows from

Otsego Lake, Cooperstown, New

York, to Havre de Grace, Maryland,

where it empties into the Chesapeake

Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Major Susquehanna

River Tributaries in


• Juniata, Lackawanna, Conestoga,

and West Branch Susquehanna


Map of Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania
Early Inhabitants


During the period 1400-1525 the upper Susquehanna River Valley was nhabited by Iroquoians whose descendants would be known as the Susquehannocks. Their name meant ‘people of the muddy river’, from the Lenape name of the Susquehanna River, Siskuwihane 

(<sisku ‘mud’, hane ‘river’). The lands of the Susquehanna River

Valley became occupied by the Munsee of the Lenape (or Delaware) and were under the control of the Five (later Six) Nations of the Iroquois nations.


In 1768, the British purchased land

from the Iroquois in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix which opened up

what is now Lycoming County to settlement.

WYOMING MASSACRE - The Battle of Wyoming, Pennsylvania

(also known as the Wyoming Massacre) was an encounter during

the American Revolutionary War between American Patriots and

British Loyalists accompanied by Iriquois raiders that took place in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania on July 3, 1778. More than three hundred Patriots were killed in the battle. After the battle, settlers claimed that the Iroquois raiders had hunted and killed

fleeing Patriots, before using ritual torture against 30-40 who had surrendered, until they died.

In summer 1779, the Sullivan Expedition, commissioned by

General George Washington,, methodically destroyed 40 Iroquois villages, and an enormous quantity of stored corn

and vegetables throughout upstate New York. The Iroquois never

recovered from the damage infl icted by Sullivan’s soldiers, and many died of starvation that winter. The tribes allied with the British continued to raid Patriot settlements until the end

of the war. Many resettled in the area after the war had ended.

Photo of Susquehannock indians in Ssquehanna Valley
Logging on the North Branch Susquehanna

Although the logging industry of

Pennsylvania was centered around

Williamsport and the West Branch

of the Susquehanna River, the North

Branch also contributed a great deal

to the story of Pennsylvania timber.

The virgin forests of Penn’s Woods

held some of the fi nest White Pine

ever seen. This species of tree was

invaluable to American settlers. The

grain of this tree is straight and true,

and it will resist rot and will not

warp. Although very light in weight,

it is remarkably strong.

Not only was this resource valued

by the naval vessels for masts and

spars on ships, but the farmers in

Pennsylvania’s southern tier had

an insatiable thirst for wood to

construct homes and barns. White

Pine fl oats very well and was also used to transport goods from the frontier to the markets downstream,

sometimes as far as Baltimore.


- There were four kinds of rafts.The

first was a  “spar raft” which was

made by lashing tall straight tree trunks together.Other raft types included; a  “timber raft” which was made of squared logs, a “lumber raft” which consisted of logs that had already been sawed into lumber, and lastly  “arks” which had a fl at bottom and was constructed in a manner to allow for carrying cargo such as coal,

Photo of Susquehanna River Logging barges in 1800's

Log rafts on the Susquehanna River.Photo from Lycoming County Historical Society Museum

grain, or other goods from the interior.

By 1796, rafts from both the North and West branches of the Susquehanna were making the trip downstream, some traveling as far

as Norfolk,Va. The industry quickly escalated over the next decades until the river became a super-highway of rafts.

In 1833 it was certifi ed that from the 18th to the 23rd day of May, there floated down the North Branch of the Susquehanna, 2688 arks and 3480 rafts. That averages out to over 1000

rafts and arks per day or between 1 and 2 rafts every minute of the day. •

Anthracite Coal

Even before significant settlement of the valley began; early explorers had encountered a new form of coal – anthracite – that was abundant along the banks of the Susquehanna River throughout its length in the Wyoming Valley. However, because

this “stone coal” was as hard as granite, it simply would not burn or maintain a fi re. Until the invention of the iron coal grate, anthricite coal was virtually useless to the general



Pennsylvania’s anthracite fields were remote and located in deep river valleys surrounded by the significant Appalachian Mountains.

Getting anthracite to market was, at first, nearly impossible because the Susquehanna River was so treacherous. And then in 1826 the development of the Pennsylvania

canal system changed all that. Anthracite coal, cleaner and hotter burning than any coal

available from any other source, fueled the AmericanIndustrial Revolution.

Much of that coal camefrom the Wyoming Valley – from Pittston, Wilkes- Barre, Plymouth, Hazleton, Kingston and hundreds

of other named and unnamed towns, villages,

and settlements spread throughout the region.

Today, Northeast Pennsylvania provides 98% of anthrisite coal in the United States. In the Wyoming Valley in the 1800s and early 1900s,

most of the male population worked in the coal industry.

Anthracite coal grate invented by Jessee Fell
Early American Anthracite coal mining
North Branch Canal

The North Branch Division of the

Pennsylvania Canal was a historic

waterway that ran 169 miles along

the North Branch Susquehanna River between southern New York and north-central Pennsylvania. At its  southern end, the canal connected with the West Branch Canal and the Susquehanna Division Canal at Northumberland, while on the north it connected with

the Junction Canal and the New York

canal system.


Built between 1828 and 1856, the North Branch Canal was part of a large 

transportation network that included 

Pennsylvania’s Main Line of Public Works. The complete canal had a total of 43 locks that overcame 334 feet (102 m) of elevation between its end points. The southern end was 420 feet (130 m) above sea level, and the northern end was at 754 feet (230 m).

One cannot emphasize enough the

importance of the canal system in

its day. It meant prosperity and growth for the communities along its path by opening opportunities for trade. Gradually, as the railroad became a more practical means of transportation, rumors were heard up and down the valley about the closing of the canal. •

Photo of canal at Shickshinny

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