Susquehanna Headwaters

Otsego Lake, the source of the Susquehanna River, is one of the prettiest lakes in New York State, and is at an elevation of eleven hundred feet above tide. It is nine miles long and about a mile wide, the Susquehanna issuing from its southern end at Cooperstown, a hamlet of two thousand people, beautifully situated amid the high rolling hills surrounding the lake. The name of the lake comes from the ” Ote-sa-ga rock ” at the outlet, a small, round-topped, beehive-shaped boulder a few rods from the shore, just where the lake condenses into the river. This was the Indian Council rock, to which they came to hold meetings and make treaties, and it was well-known among the Iroquois and the Lenni Lenapes. James Fenimore Cooper, the novelist, who has immortalized all this region, called the lake the ” Glimmerglass.” His father, Judge William Cooper, founded the village of Coopers-town in 1786, afterwards bringing his infant son from Burlington, New Jersey, where he was born in 1789. Here the great American novelist lived until his death in 1851, his grave, under a plain horizontal slab, being in the little churchyard of Christ Episcopal Church. There is a monument to him in Lakewood Cemetery, about a mile distant, surmounted by a statue of ,his legendary hunter u Leatherstocking,” who has been described as ” a man who had the simplicity of a woodsman, the heroism of a savage, the faith of a Christian, and the feeling of a poet.” The old Cooper mansion, his home, Otsego Hall, was burnt in 1854, and its site is marked y a rock in the middle of the road, surrounded y a railing. ” Hannah’s Hill,” named after his daughter, and commanding a magnificent view, which he always described with rapture, is on the western shore of the lake, just out of town. The charm of Cooper’s genius and the magic of his description have given Otsego Lake a world-wide fame. In one place he described it as “a broad sheet of water, so placid and limpid that it resembled a bed of the pure mountain atmosphere compressed into a setting of hills and woods. Nothing is wanted but ruined castles and recollections, to raise it to the level of the scenery of the Rhine.” And thus has the poet sung of it :

“0 Haunted Lake, from out whose silver fountains The mighty Susquehanna takes its rise ; O Haunted Lake, among the pine-clad mountains, Forever smiling upward to the skies, A master’s hand hath painted all thy beauties ; A master’s mind hath peopled all thy shore With wraiths of mighty hunters and fair maidens, Haunting thy forest-glades forevermore.”

All around Otsego Lake and its neighborhood are the scenes which Cooper has interwoven into his novel, The Deer-Slayer. About seven miles north-west are the well-known Richfield Springs (magnesia and sulphur), near Candarago Lake. This Indian name, meaning ” on the lake,” has recently been revived to supersede the old title of Schuyler’s Lake for this beautiful sheet of water, enbosomed in green and sloping hills, which is the chief scenic charm of Richfield. To the eastward from Otsego Lake is the romantic Cherry Valley, another attractive summer resort, and the scene of a sad Indian massacre in 1778, the site of the old fort that was then captured being still exhibited, with the graves of the murdered villagers, to whom a monument has been erected. A few miles farther, in a narrow upland wooded valley surrounded by high hills, are the Sharon Springs (sulphur and chalybeate), which in earlier times were so popular with our German citizens, who were attracted by the resemblance to the Fatherland, that the place was called the ” Baden-Baden of America.” The name of Sharon came from Sharon in Connecticut, and the spring water is discharged with a crust of white and flocculent sulphur into a stream not in-appropriately called the Brimstone Brook. In this valley, east of the springs, one of the last Revolutionary battles was fought, Colonel Willett’s American force in 1781 routing a detachment of Tories and Indians with severe loss. There are grottoes in the neighborhood abounding in stalactites and beautiful crystals of sulphate of lime. Not far away is the noted Howe’s Cave, an immense cavern, said to ex-tend for eleven miles underground, being an old water-channel in the lower Helderberg limestone, and which has many visitors, attracted by its fine display of stalactites and grand rock chambers, with the usual subterranean lake and stream. All this region was originally settled by Germans from the Palatinate.

The Susquehanna, steadily gaining in volume, flows in wayward course down rapids and around many bends to Binghamton, near the southern border of New York, where it receives the Chenango River, and its elevation has declined to eight hundred and sixty feet. This is a busy manufacturing city and railway junction, having forty thousand inhabitants. The first settlers came in 1787, and William Bing-ham of Philadelphia owning the land at the confluence of the rivers, the town was afterwards named for him. The Chenango Canal connects the Susquehanna waters from here with the Erie Canal, about ninety miles northward, at Utica, the Indian word Chenango meaning “the bull thistle.” Entering Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna now flows many miles past mountain and village, around great bends and breaking through the Allegheny ridges, passes along the Wyoming Valley, already described, and finally going out through the Nanticoke Gap, reaches Northumberland, where it receives its chief tributary, the West Branch. This great stream comes for two hundred miles from the westward through the Allegheny ranges, passing Lewisburg, the seat of the Baptist University of Lewisburg, Milton, and the noted lumber town of Williamsport, famous for its great log boom. This arrangement for collecting logs cost a million dollars, and extends about four miles up the river above the town, with its massive piers and braces, and will hold three hundred millions of feet of lumber. The river front is lined with basins and sawmills. In earlier years this boom has been so filled with pine and hem-lock logs in the spring that the river could almost anywhere be crossed on a solid floor of timber. Unfortunately, however, the vast forests on the slopes of the Alleghenies have been so generally cut off that the trade has seriously declined. At Northumberland lived Dr. Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen gas, who died there in 1804, and is buried in the cemetery.

The Susquehanna now becomes a broad river, and just below flows past Sunbury, the railway outlet of the extensive Shamokin coal district. This town was originally Fort Augusta, built in 1756 to guard the Susquehanna frontier just below the junction of its two branches. In the French and Indian War it had usually a garrison of a regiment, and it was then regarded as the best defensive work in Pennsylvania. After that war it gradually fell into decay, although during the Revolution it was always a refuge for the Susquehanna frontier settlers fleeing from Indian brutality and massacre. Many prominent officers of the Revolutionary army received their military training at this fort. The settlement was originally called Shamokin, from the Indian name of the creek here falling into the Susquehanna —Schakamo-kink, meaning, like Shackamaxon, “the place of eels.” For fifty miles below Sunbury the broad Susquehanna winds among the mountain ranges, traversing one after another, until its channel is narrowed to pass through the great Dauphin Gap in the Kittatinny, five miles above Harrisburg, where the river bed has descended to an elevation of three hundred and twenty feet above tide.