Susquehanna River

The line westward from Lancaster crosses one long ridge-like hill after another stretching broadly over the country, and finally comes to the out-lying ridge of the Allegheny range, the South Mountain, beyond which is the great Appalachian Valley. One railroad route boldly crosses this mountain through the depressions in the Conewago hills, where the picturesque- Conewago Creek, the Indian “long reach,” flows down its beautiful gorge to the Susquehanna, and this railroad finally comes out on that river at Middletown below Harrisburg; the other route follows a more easy gradient westward ten miles to Columbia, and this is used by the heavier freight trains. Coming towards it over the hills, the wide Susquehanna lies low in its broad valley, en-closed by the distant ridge of the Kittatinny bounding Cumberland County beyond the river. As it is approached, the thought is uppermost that this is one of the noblest, and yet among the meanest rivers in the country. Rising in Otsego Lake in New York, it flows over four hundred miles down to Chesapeake Bay, receives large tributaries, its West Branch being two hundred miles long, rends all the Allegheny Mountain chains, and takes a great part of the drainage of that region in New York and Pennsylvania, passes through grand valleys, noble gorges and most magnificent scenery, and yet it is so thickly sown with islands, rocks and sand-bars, rapids and shallows, as to defy all attempts to make it satisfactorily navigable excepting by lumber rafts, logs and a few canal boats. Thus the Indians significantly gave its name meaning the island-strewn, broad and shallow river, and it is little more than a gigantic drain for Central Pennsylvania.

On its bank is Columbia, a town of busy iron and steel manufacture, as the whole range of towns are for miles up to and beyond Harrisburg. At Columbia first appeared, about 1804, that mysterious agency known as the ” Underground Railroad,” whereby fugitive slaves were secretly passed from one ” station” to another from “Mason and Dixon’s Line” to Canada, mainly through the aid and active exertions of philanthropic Quakers. All through Chester and Lancaster Counties and northward were laid the routes of this peculiar line, whose ramifications be-came more and more extensive as time passed, making the Fugitive Slave Law almost a nullity during the decade before the Civil War. There were hundreds of good people engaged in facilitating the unfortunate travellers who fled for freedom, and many have been the escapades with the slave-hunters, whose traffic long ago happily ended. At Middletown the Swatara River flows in from the hills of Lebanon County, there being all along the Susquehanna a prodigious development of the steel industry as well as rich farms on the *fertile bottom lands. Here is the historic estate of Lochiel, which was the home of Simon Cameron, who for many years ruled the political destinies of Pennsylvania. He was born in 1799 at Maytown, near Marietta, on the Susquehanna, a few miles above Columbia, in bumble circumstances, and came as a poor printer’s boy to Harrisburg, rose to wealth and power, and when he was full of years and honors placed the mantle of the United States Senatorship upon his son. Their ” Clan Cameron ” which ruled Pennsylvania for two generations has been regarded as the best managed political “machine” in the Union, having in its ranks and among its allies not only politicians, but bankers, railway managers, merchants, manufacturers and capitalists, and men in every walk of life, ramifying throughout the Keystone State.

Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, stands upon the sloping eastern bank of the river in the grandest scenery. Just above, the Susquehanna breaks through the Kittatinny at the Dauphin Gap, giving a superb display of the rending asunder of the towering mountain chain. Opposite are the forest-clad hills of York and Cumberland bordering the fertile Cumberland Valley spreading off to the southwest, while behind the city this great Appalachian Valley continues between its enclosing ridges as the Lebanon Valley northeast to the Schuylkill River at Reading. Market Street is the chief Harrisburg highway, and the Pennsylvania Railroad is the back border of the town. The State Capitol, set on a hill, was burnt, and is being rebuilt. A pleasant park encloses the site, and from the front a wide street leads down to the river, making a pretty view, with a Soldiers’ Monument in the centre, which is an enlarged reproduction of Cleopatra’s Needle. The Front Street of the city, along the river bank, is the popular promenade, and is adorned with the Executive Mansion and other fine residences, which have a grand outlook across the broad expanse of river and islands. Bridges cross over, among them the old “camel’s back,” a mile long, and having its shelving stone ice-breakers jutting up stream. This is the old wooden covered bridge that Charles Dickens wrote about in his American Notes. On his first American visit he came into Harrisburg from York County on a stage-coach through this bridge, and he wrote : ” We crossed the river by a wooden bridge, roofed and covered on all sides, and nearly a mile in length. It was profoundly dark, perplexed with great beams, crossing and re-crossing it at every possible angle, and through the broad chinks and crevices in the floor the river gleamed far down below, like a legion of eyes. We had no lamps, and as the horses stumbled and floundered through this place towards the distant speck of dying light, it seemed interminable. I really could not persuade myself at first as we rumbled heavily on, filling the bridge with hollow noises—and I held down my head to save it from the rafters—but that I was in a painful dream, and that this could not be reality.” The old bridge is much the same to-day as when Dickens crossed it.

Harrisburg was named for John Harris, who established a ferry here, and alongside the river bank is the little ” Harris Park ” which contains his grave. The stump of the tree at the foot of which he was buried is carefully preserved. A drunken band of Conestoga Indians came this way in 1718, and, capturing. the faithful ferryman, tied him to the tree to be tortured and burnt, when the timely interposition of some Indians from the opposite shore, who knew him and were friendly, saved him. His son succeeded him and ran the ferry, and an enclosure in the park preserves this spot of historic memory.