National Geographic : 1950 Jul
Down the Susquehanna by Canoe It was a good place to look for arrowheads. Next day we entered Pennsylvania in rain and at the mouth of Starrucca Creek made a soggy camp. Lifting our dampened spirits was the sight, through the drizzle, of Star rucca Viaduct's soaring arches. Every hour or so a Diesel-powered Erie train thrummed across. A Mormon Shrine The Susquehanna is the Jordan of Mor monism. In its waters were baptized Joseph Smith, founder of the American church, and his first convert. From 1820 to 1829 the young Prophet lived chiefly in the Great Bend country, where the river dips momentarily into northeast Pennsylvania as if testing the cli mate. In the township of Harmony, now Oakland, he met his wife, buried an infant son, translated the Book of Mormon, attracted his first adherents, and knew his first perse cution-some of it coming from his own father-in-law.* Two days before in Afton we had seen the foundation of the house, just torn down, to which he carried off Emma Hale and married her. West of that town Smith reported he had unearthed one of the golden plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon. Below Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, we scaled the riverbank, crossed the Erie yards, and climbed a hill to McKune Cemetery. It contains the mortal remains of the Prophet's son, family members, and followers, and is the only tangible reminder of the years young Joseph Smith spent on the banks of the Susquehanna. That night we prepared for bed in a barn near Hallstead, Pennsylvania. "What about rats?" Dal wondered. "They won't bother you," Adolph said. "In a barn like this the blacksnakes always keep the rats down." Adolph manages a large nursery with several barns and greenhouses, so his words had authority. Soon after, Dal and Alex discovered that a bed of sorts could be made in the rear of the station wagon by letting the tail gate down. Don spread his bedroll on the flat canoe rack on top of the station wagon, parked just out side the barn. Next morning Alex arose with creaks and groans from his cramped position and looked sourly at Adolph, Toppy, Cay, and me stretched on the luxurious hay. He asked if we'd had any encounters with blacksnakes. "Well, in the dark we couldn't tell what color they were," Cay admitted. That day we fought a head wind most of the way to Binghamton and made a walkover portage of Rockbottom Dam. One of the Susquehanna's large cities, Binghamton inter ested Toppy because of its Ansco plant, manufacturer of photographic materials. The city also makes nationally famous brands of shoes. A tree-chopping bee in which everyone did his bit started Binghamton on its way in 1788 and provided log cabins for the new settlement. In the 1880's a shoe-manufacturing busi ness was established here. From the early days, George F. Johnson, a partner with Henry B. Endicott, initiated policies which have eliminated strikes and serious labor disputes. Good wages, steady work, medical and surgical treatment and hospital care at com pany expense, and homes built and financed at low cost are some of the benefits enjoyed by its 20,000 workers. As we paddled past Endicott, the white con crete buildings of the International Business Machines Corporation were at our right. The river for a short distance here was reddened by the waste liquors and dyes from the large tanneries which produce the leather for shoe making in the Triple Cities. The American Egret-and Other Birds The American egret, at home again along northern waterways after its near extinction seems not to mind this pollution. We sur prised 12 of them on an island below Endicott. Throughout the trip we saw hundreds of water-loving birds, not only egrets but great blue herons, little green herons, kingfishers, killdeers, and ducks. Migrating red-winged blackbirds often filled the skies. With each tributary the Susquehanna got wider but little deeper. The continued shal low going by this time had shredded Sonny's bottom. At Owego, Cay gave up and went home to repair his canoe. Alex went with him, leaving five of us in our two aluminum craft. To this point we had traveled in lightly loaded canoes. We chose campsites where we could drive the station wagon to the water's edge, thus using it for hauling our heavy gear. But at Owego, in spite of shallow water, we loaded everything into Susque and Hanna and paddled independent of the station wagon as far as Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 120 miles beyond. * See "Utah, Carved by Winds and Waters," by Leo A. Borah, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1936.