Susquehanna River

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Susquehanna River
Susquehanna River near Chesapeake Bay

Susquehanna River near Chesapeake Bay

Water code US591690
location New York , Pennsylvania , Maryland (USA)
River system Susquehanna River
origin Otsego Lake at Cooperstown in Otsego County
42 ° 42 ′ 2 ″  N , 74 ° 55 ′ 10 ″  W
Source height 360  m
muzzle to Chesapeake Bay near Havre de Grace , Harford County , Maryland Coordinates: 39 ° 32 ′ 35 "  N , 76 ° 4 ′ 32"  W 39 ° 32 ′ 35 "  N , 76 ° 4 ′ 32"  W
Mouth height m
Height difference 360 m
Bottom slope 0.5 ‰
length 715 km
Catchment area 71,225 km²
Drain at Conowingo Dam, MD level MQ
1137 m³ / s
Left tributaries Lackawanna River
Right tributaries Unadilla River , Chenango River , West Branch , Juniata River
Medium-sized cities Binghamton , Scranton , Wilkes-Barre , Harrisburg
Map of the catchment area

Map of the catchment area

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with the State Capitol on the banks of the Susquehanna River

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with the State Capitol on the banks of the Susquehanna River

Satellite image of the mouth of the Susquehannas (top left) into the Chesapeake Bay

Satellite image of the mouth of the Susquehannas (top left) into the Chesapeake Bay

The Susquehanna River is a 715 km long, non-navigable river in the northeastern United States .

The river is the longest river flowing into the east coast of the United States and ranks 16th in the country. It was declared an American Heritage River in 1997 . It has two headwaters: the northern one has its source in Otsego Lake near Cooperstown in New York State and is often referred to as the main arm; the shorter one originates in western Pennsylvania and is usually considered the main tributary . Both arms converge at Northumberland , Pennsylvania.

The river drains a catchment area of 71,225 km² and covers about half of the state of Pennsylvania as well as parts of New York and Maryland. The northern inlet winds south through the Appalachian Mountains . The Susquehanna flows into Maryland in the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay . The river contributes about half of the freshwater inflow into the bay. At the Conowingo Dam gauge in Maryland, the average annual runoff is 1137 m³ / s; the highest value measured here was 3550 m³ / s, the lowest discharge was recorded with 85 m³ / s.

The Susquehanna - referred to as Sasquesahanough on John Smith's 1612 map - is the main stream of the state of Pennsylvania, whose capital Harrisburg it also crosses.

The rowing is a popular college sport along the river. Best known are the race in Port Deposit , Maryland and the General Clinton Canoe Regatta between Cooperstown and Bainbridge .


The north arm of the river is the natural drainage of Otsego Lake in New York State. It follows a west-southwest direction through the milk pastures of the northern Appalachians. It receives the Unadilla River in Sidney and the Chenango River in Binghamton . After crossing the state border with Pennsylvania, the Chemung flows into the Athens Township from the northwest . The river bends at right angles between Sayre and Towanda and cuts through the Endless Mountains of the Allegheny Plateau . After the Lackawanna River joins southwest of Scranton , the river turns sharply to the southwest again. It then flows through the former industrial heartland of anthracite mining in the mountainous areas of northeastern Pennsylvania, passing Wilkes-Barre , Berwick , Bloomsburg , and Danville . The western arm then flows into Northumberland just above Sunbury .

Below the confluence of the two arms, the Susquehanna runs south, passes Selinsgrove , where the Penns Creek flows into, and a breakthrough valley at the western end of the Mahantongo . The Juniata River flows into Duncannon from the northwest before the river finally squeezes through the mountains of the Blue Ridge Mountains one last time , northwest of Harrisburg, the largest city on its lower reaches. There the river is about 1500 m wide.

It flows through southern Pennsylvania, where Swatara Creek pours from the northeast, and forms the border between York County and Lancaster County . About 50 km northeast of Baltimore the river finally reaches the north of Maryland , where the Octoraro Creek still flows. The last phase of its course finally leads to the northern section of Chesapeake Bay near Havre de Grace , where the Concord Point lighthouse was built in 1827 due to increased shipping traffic .

There are several nuclear power plants on the Susquehanna River: Susquehanna , Peach Bottom , Three Mile Island

Historical meaning

The river has played an essential role in the history of the United States . Before the European occupation of the continent, the Susquehannock - a tribe of the Iroquois - lived on the river and gave the river their name. During the 17th century, the banks were mainly inhabited by the Lenape , whose western boundary was the river. In the 18th century, William Penn , the founder of the Pennsylvania Colony, negotiated with the Indians permission for whites to settle between the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers.

It is said that the name of the river comes from an Indian phrase according to which the river is miles wide, but only very deep; in the Algonquin languages , the term simply means "muddy river".

Towards the end of the British colonial era , the river became more and more important as a transport route, especially after Necho Allen discovered deposits of anthracite coal on its upper reaches . In 1792 the construction of the Union Canal was proposed to connect the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers along the Swatara Creek and Tulpehocken Creek .

In 1779, General James Clinton led a campaign down the river after temporarily making the upper reaches navigable. To do this, he had the water of the river dammed up at Otsego Lake and then destroyed the dam. This increased the water level of the river downstream. The event was described by James Fenimore Cooper in the introduction to his work The Settlers or the Sources of Susquehanna (Original title: The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna ) and was known as the Sullivan Expedition . In Athens , then known as Tioga or Tioga Point , Clinton met with General John Sullivan's troops who had left Easton . On August 29, 1779, these troops defeated the combined forces of the British and their allied Indians at the Battle of Newtown , near present-day Elmira .

Disputes between Pennsylvania and Connecticut in the Wyoming Valley along the Susquehanna River led to the founding of Westmoreland County and the Pennamite-Yankee Wars , which eventually resulted in the cession of the area to Pennsylvania.

In the 19th century, the river saw the growth of industrial centers along its course.

The Susquehanna River is important for Mormonism because it is here that the reappeared John the Baptist is said to have conferred the Aaronic priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829 . Joseph and Oliver then baptized each other in the river. Later that year they received the Melchizedek priesthood from the apostles Peter , James the Elder, and John . Both happened in unspecified locations in Susquehanna or Broome Counties .

During the Civil War in 1863, during the Gettysburg campaign, the Union Army commander for the Department of the Susquehanna , Maj . Gen. Darius N. Couch, ensured that Robert Edward Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia could not cross the Susquehanna River. He posted militias under Major Granville Haller around the major bridges in Harrisburg and Wrightsville and nearby fords . Confederate units approached the river at various points in Cumberland County and York County , but were recalled on June 29 when Lee decided to pool his army west.

In 1972, the residual lows of Hurricane Agnes over the state line between New York and Pennsylvania stalled. In the hilly area fell up to 500 mm of precipitation. Most of this rainfall was brought into the Susquehanna River by its western tributaries, and the valley suffered catastrophic flooding. Wilkes-Barre was one of the hardest hit cities on the river. Agnes brought so much fresh water into Chesapeake Bay that much of the saltwater fauna in the bay died.

Seven years later one of the most serious incidents in the history of nuclear power generation occurred southeast of Harrisburg when more than 150 m³ of radioactive water spilled into the river at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant after a design accident .

In June 2006, large parts of the river system were flooded . This was caused by a storm system that, driven by the jet stream , led Binghamton in particular to new high tide levels, forcing thousands of residents to be evacuated and causing significant damage to property and infrastructure.


Section of the Susquehanna breakthrough through the Appalachian Valley and Ridge Province above Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, image from the ISS. The brownish appearing back (vlonru: Peters Mountain, Third Mountain, Mountain Cove - Second Mountain, Blue / Kittainny Mountain) are of predominantly sandstone - and conglomerate built bearing strata, while the valleys of predominantly shales are underlain bearing strata. The age of the closely folded layers reaches from the Upper Ordovician to the Lower Upper Carboniferous .


Below the confluence of the two main arms, the Susquehanna River forms a breakthrough valley across the Appalachians . This shows that the river already existed there before the old fold mountains, which were largely leveled by erosion , were lifted again around 15 million years ago . The river system of the Susquehanna, together with those of the Hudson River , Delaware River and Potomac River, is one of the oldest in North America and could have existed on the crumbling supercontinent of Pangea when the Central Atlantic opened . The rocks in the catchment area of ​​the Susquehanna River come mainly from the Paleozoic . Only as a border river between the counties York and Dauphin and Lancaster does the river cross an approximately 20 km wide strip below Harrisburg with sediments and volcanic rocks of the Mesozoic Era . These are the filling of a narrow fossil depression that forms the connecting piece (English: neck ) between the Newark Basin further east and the Gettysburg Basin further south-west. Newark and Gettysburg basins are fossil rift basins of the Newark supergroup , and thus geological evidence of the early phase of the formation of the Central Atlantic.

Before the end of the last ice age, the Susquehanna River was much longer. Chesapeake Bay was once its lower reaches but was inundated by global sea level rise at the end of the Pleistocene .

Bridges, ferries and hydraulic engineering facilities

Four bridges over the Susquehanna River (front to back):
Amtrak Susquehanna River Bridge , Thomas J. Hatem US 40 Highway Bridge, CSX / B & O Railway Bridge, and Millard E. Tydings I-95 Highway Bridge

The Susquehanna River has always played an integral part in the history of transportation in the United States. Before the opening of the Port Deposit Bridge in 1818, the river formed a barrier between the northern and southern states that was only crossed by ferries . In order to enable ferry operation in the shallow water, dams and weirs were built early on. The many rapids in the river meant that the river could only be used economically at the time of the snowmelt, the journey upstream was not possible. That is why two different canals were built on the lower reaches; the first was the Susquehanna Canal (sometimes called the Conowingo Canal or Port Deposit Canal ) and was completed in 1802 by a Maryland company. The second was the longer and more economically successful Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal . These canals required the construction of additional dams to hold the water back. In the course of industrialization , the ferries were replaced by bridges and railways were built instead of the canals, often on their drained ground. Remnants of these canals are visible in Havre de Grace , Maryland, along US Highway 15 in Pennsylvania, and in upper New York. The latter are remnants of the upper section of the Pennsylvania Canal and canals of the New York Canal System. The canals have disappeared or opened up in parks, and today's dams are used to generate energy or for tourist purposes.

Today more than two hundred bridges span the river. The only remaining ferry in the National Register of Historic Places registered Millersburg Ferry is located in Millersburg , Pennsylvania and operates during the summer months. The most famous bridge is the Rockville Bridge and spans the river between Harrisburg and Marysville . At the time of its construction in the early 20th century, the Rockville Bridge was the longest stone arch bridge in the world. It was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad and replaced an iron structure.


The Susquehanna River is heavily polluted by intensive animal husbandry, agricultural fertilizers, untreated or insufficiently treated sewage. In 2003, the river contributed 44% of the nitrates , 21% of the phosphorus, and 21% of the sedimentation in the Chesapeake Bay. The EPA has threatened Pennsylvania with sanctions if the state does not significantly reduce pollution in the catchment area by 2010.


  • Jack Brubaker: Down the Susquehanna to the Chesapeake. Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park 2002.
  • Susan Q. Stranahan: Susquehanna, River of Dreams. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1995, ISBN 978-0-8018-5147-6 .

Web links

Commons : Susquehanna River  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Two Lights on the Hill . Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  2. ^ Kelton, Dwight H. Indian Names of Places Near the Great Lakes . (Detroit, MI: Detroit Free Press Printing Company, 1888).
  3. Anishinaabe : azhashkijiwan "be a muddy current"
  4. Jump up ↑ Doctrine and Covenants , section 13
  5. Jump up ↑ Doctrine and Covenants, sections 27–128
  6. ^ Larry E. Taylor, William H. Werkheiser: Geologic map of the Lower Susquehanna River Basin showing the locations of selected wells and springs. Pennsylvania Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, Harrisburg (PA), 1984 ( digitized version )
  7. ^ Susquehanna took own course over millions of years; Most rivers flow between mountains. This one cuts right across them. In: Sunday News , Lancaster, PA, Jan. 31, 1999, p. 7
  8. ^ Description of the Geology of York County Peninsula . Penn State University Libraries. Archived from the original on April 10, 2008. Retrieved June 24, 2008.
  9. ^ Gwendolyn W. Luttrell: Stratigraphic Nomenclature of the Newark Supergroup of Eastern North America. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin. No. 1572, 1989, p. 3 / fig. 1 ( online )
  10. Chesapeak Bay Foundation: Susquehanna River Named America's Most Endangered River for 2005 ( Memento of March 10, 2007 in the Internet Archive )