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  SUSQUEHANNA RIVER ARKS                                            HISTORY HOME

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Cut From an Five dollar 1832 Susquehanna Bridge and Bank company Note
The Susquehanna Covered Bridge is in the background as is a Robert Fulton's Steam ship, two River Arks and a schooner is being loaded.
 

History of the Susquehanna River Ark
by Richard G. Sherer Steuben County New York Historian

Commonly known a "Suqsuehanna Ark"

First River Ark circa 1796
The melting snows and rising waters of nearly 200 years ago, ushered into existence one of the earliest enterprises undertaken in the just created Steuben County New York. Conversely, a small river village in the mouth of the Susquehanna River, at the head of the Chesapeake Bay would be born, Port Deposit Maryland. The relationship between the “Up River” entrepreneurs and Port Deposit would generate untold wealth and prosperity for many of their citizens in the years to come and would greatly contribute to the early development of the United States as a nation.

River Outlets for Surplus Goods
Destined for many years to be the only outlet for surplus produce of the new settlements were Steuben's Counties Rivers, the Canisteo, Conhocton and Chemung. Upon these streams floated mighty arks, 75 feet long and 16 feet wide. Although a precarious means of transportation and at best of only short duration each year, there was no alternative. Roads did not exist and the cost of transporting goods by pack animal was prohibitive. The profits made apparently exceeded the risks. Ark navigation in Steuben County began in March 1800, on the Conhocton River when Messrs. Swing and Patterson left White's sawmill, 5 miles below Bath, with a cargo of 2,000 bushels of wheat. That same spring, Jacob Bartles and a man named Harvey, navigated an Ark down Mud Creek to the Conhocton and onto the Susquehanna River down to Creswell’s Ferry, Smiths Falls in present day Port Deposit, Maryland.

Town Names
In the winter of 1800, Gen. McClure built four arks at Arkport and ran them to Port Deposit the following spring with 4,000 bushels of wheat and 200 barrels of pork. Reminiscent of this early commerce is the name of Arkport village. Port Deposit’s town seal contains an image of a Susquehanna River Ark and was named because it was a “port of deposit”.

Located near the headwaters of the Canisteo River and at that time the head of ark navigation, its name originated solely from the traffic, which resulted through the use of arks. Ark Street in Bath New York received its name for the same reason -- at the point where the street meets the river -- arks were constructed. New ark construction would start soon after the crew returned from their down river journey.


Susquehanna Ark drawing

What goods were on the Arks
During winter months, from Dansville and other distant towns as well as the adjacent countryside, by pack animal and sleigh came all manner of surplus produce. Spring found several thousand bushels of wheat and several hundred barrels of pork as well as venison, flour, maple sugar, black salts, pot and pearl ash and many other products of the forest awaiting the spring freshets and transportation down the river. When the freshet (the mass melting of snow in the river) finally happened, the river ark crew must be ready to leave on short notice or else they might lose the higher tide and increased current needed to move the ark past certain points in the river.


Ringbolts to hold Arks

8 Days Down and 6 Days Back
The trip from Bath to Baltimore could be made in 8 days. Upon arrival in Port Deposit, the produce would be sold, the ark dismantled and the lumber sold. The crew of men would walk back home. Walking back would only take a short 6 days, due to a straighter land route other than the river. In the following years, it is estimated that 50 or 60 arks from Steuben County alone traveled the river each year to Port Deposit. In 1812, Creswell’s Ferry soon to be Port Deposit Maryland (in 1813) records that the market value of all commerce generated by Susquehanna River arks exceeded $13,000,000.00.

End of the River Ark Era
The surge of the river ark commerce lasted for nearly 60 years. Peaking sometime around the time of the Civil War. During and after the war there were concentrated effort to build railways systems closer to the growers and suppliers. This made the dangers of River Arks less practical and cost effective. The last of river arks arrived in Port Deposit was somewhere in the mid 1890’s.



Map of Susquehanna
 Arkport and Port Deposit marked


Car Travel versus the River Ark
Traveling today from Main Street Arkport, New York to Main Street Port Deposit, Maryland takes 6 hours 58 minutes drive time (360.0 miles).
Driving from Bath New York is 333.7 miles or 6 hours 26 minutes drive time
The same river journey took a mere 8 days on a 75-foot long Ark.



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