National Geographic : 1950 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine quehanna, and the larger stream is never thereafter entirely free of carbon silt.* We canoed into Wilkes-Barre in a violent squall. Two police squad cars escorted us to our hotel. Next morning we visited the Huber Colliery of the far-flung Glen Alden Coal Company (page 93). Emerging from the mine, we drove to Prospect Rock on a ridge rising high behind Wilkes-Barre. Partway up the slope, smoke issues from a "perpetual" coal-mine fire underground. No mines underlie the city's business center, but we were told one can cross under the Susque hanna in mine tunnels. The rapids near Nanticoke mark the west end of Wyoming Valley. Suddenly a man appeared on shore, waving at the tumbling water and yelling. "Your canoes will never make it," he kept repeating. We looked the water over and, ignoring our friend's well-meant advice, ran the rapids without incident. Halfway to Shickshinny we came upon a low zigzag dam of loose stones shaped like a great M. We drifted to one of the points, then back-tracked and fought our way through a narrow rocky corridor, the only break, next to the right bank. Here a couple of men were working on the dam. "What is this contrap tion?" we shouted. "It's an eel trap." "I'd call it a canoe trap," said Gil. "We're repairing it for the fall run. As the eels come downstream, we stand at the points where you see those wooden racks and pitchfork them by the hundreds into our boats." Concrete Walls Baffle Spawning Shad We learned that the young eels come from the sea after being spawned to live in fresh water. Able to slither along on the ground, they manage to get around the five dams in the lower Susquehanna. The shad, another migrating species, does not fare so well. Its runs, described by old timers as so heavy that a man could walk across the river on snowshoes, were stopped cold by the building of Holtwood Dam in 1910. Spawning instinct guides a few shad to the base of Conowingo Dam, where they circle dumbly before the mystery of concrete. Except for slicing through mountains at Shickshinny and Catawissa, the river flows to Northumberland through a rich, narrow valley. Berwick, Bloomsburg, and Danville are the valley's prosperous centers. Danville rolled some of America's first T rails, and Berwick built some of the earliest all-steel passenger coaches to be used in public service, for New York City's first subway. Bloomsburg makes carpets. We remembered it for the vines and flowers growing high in lamppost pots on the main street. Nescopeck Falls, under the bridge at Ber wick, spills a great volume of white water through a tortuous, flumelike channel that gave our canoeing ability a real test. It was easy to see why the overloaded boilers of the Susquehanna and Baltimore exploded as the steamer tried to surmount these rapids in 1826. Men soon gave up trying to navigate the rocky, shallow, flood-ridden Susquehanna and built canals along its banks. A Smoke Signal! Five miles from Danville we spotted a plume of white rising from a ledge 200 feet above the river. A smoke signal! Boy Scouts were telling the Danville crowd we had been sighted. As we rounded the bend, an elderly pole boatman (page 94) guided us through the rocks and reefs to the landing. Amplifiers on shore blared "Cruising Down the River." While several hundred people looked on (page 95), we landed and were whisked through town for luncheon at the George F. Geisinger Memorial Hospital. Dr. Harold L. Foss, surgeon in chief, showed us through his well-run and expanding institution and pointed out the large clinic under construction. Townspeople said, "Give Dr. Foss time and he'll make Geisinger the Mayo of the East." Northumberland geographically is Athens all over again, with the West Branch taking the place of the Chemung. The junction of the two great branches of the Susquehanna (page 110)-called "Shamokin" by the In dians-was bound to be a meeting place of peoples as well as of waters. The Six Nations stationed their wise and respected viceroy, Shikellamy, there to watch over the subject Delawares and to maintain contact with the advancing whites. At Shamo kin the settlers built Fort Augusta (page 96) in 1756, and Sunbury grew up around it. From Sunbury we made a side trip by station wagon and canoes into the West Branch country, which a century ago was a lumber center of the United States (page 105). It still affords magnificent vistas of timbered mountains (page 106). But in Lock * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Coal: Prodigious Worker for Man," May, 1944; "Steel: Master of Them All," April, 1947, both by Albert W. Atwood; "Industrial Titan of America," May, 1919; "Penn's Land of Modern Miracles," July, 1935, both by John Oliver La Gorce.