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
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
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.