Monday, June 2, 2014

When is a theory not a theory? – Part II

Continuing with the Theory that the Great Lakes area is the Land of Promise and the question, if Lehi landed in that area, how did he get there? In the last post, we showed once again that the St. Lawrence and Mississippi rivers were not the avenue Lehi could have taken with his deep-sea vessel that Nephi built as some Theorists claim. In this post, we will look at the possibility of sailing along the inland waterway system of the Eastern U.S. as other Great Lake Theorists claim. 
    There are a few major river possibilities that Theorists suggest Lehi could have used, including the largest eastern river, the Susquehanna. This river, as it nears its headwaters, splits into two branches at Sunbury/Northumberland—the North Branch, which is not navigable except by rafts and canoes, and the West Branch, which is not commercially navigable, flows past Williamsport to Lock Haven and then northwest to Renovo, where it turns more to the southwest.
The confluence of the Susquehanna River’s West Branch (left) and North Branch (center). The borough of Northumberland center left and city of Sunbury far right. At this point it is 249 miles overland to Lake Erie
    The West Branch, which runs closer to Lake Erie, averages six feet in depth at Northumberland with depths from 3 feet to 8 feet. The North Branch drops from 7 feet to 2 feet within a short distance. Creeks that branch off the Susquehanna West Branch that are nearer to the Great Lakes are 1) Pine Creek, which has a maximum depth of 4.6 feet and an average depth of 2.4 feet; 2) Loyalslock Creek, has a maximum depth of 3.8 feet and an average depth of 2.8 feet; and 3) Lycoming Creek, that has a maximum depth of 4 feet and an average depth of 3 feet.
West Branch of the Susquehanna River at Williamsport, 32 miles past Northumberland. Note the shallows and obstructions in the narrow river at this point, which is 231 miles from Lake Erie
    The Susquehanna at Millersburg, 32 miles south of Northumberland, was so shallow that a flat-bottomed ferry could be poled across the river by hand until 1873. At that time, a dam of rock piles was laid across the mile-wide river to increase the depth so a steam-powered side-paddle wheel ferry could cross. The dam is still used today for the stern-mounted, gasoline-powered, wooden double paddle wheelers can be used. In all, the depth is so shallow one could walk across the river and obviously, no deep-sea ocean vessel could possibly sail up this river.
Top: The Susquehanna River at Millersburg, where it is quite obvious no ocean going vessel could ever have passed, what with the islands blocking passage for anything more than small paddle boats, flat-bottom boats, canoes, and kayaks; Bottom Left: Note the rocky bottom at this point; Bottom Right; Note the white water caused by shallows blocked by rocks and ledges
    Fifty-five miles below Northumberland, the river at Harrisburg, just 84 miles upriver from its mouth into the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, and 120 miles upriver from Baltimore, is a mile wide, though is as shallow as 3.7 feet—so shallow that most boats that move on it are pontoon, and though the river at this point is very wide, its depth in places averages about five feet. In fact 14- to 16-long flat-bottomed boats are very popular on the river, as are canoes. A little south of there, the river is now dammed and deep, but before that, the rock hazards made boating there very dangerous.
The Dauphin Narrows is a shallow two-mile long stretch of the Susquehanna with depths as low as 3.2 feet, with rock ledges, islands, and rapids, making the river impassable except for kayaks
    Just beyond Harrisburg is the Dauphin Narrows, a two-mile long section of both large and small islands, creating edges and back eddies, with grass beds strewn among numerous gravel bars causing extreme shallows and rapids as the river drops 8 feet, and its depth varies between 3 and 4.6 feet. Obviously, nothing other than sturdy canoes and kayaks can pass this part of the Susquehanna River where it is 259 miles from Lake Erie.
    It should be kept in mind that though the Susquehanna River is one of the largest rivers on the eastern coast of the U.S., and is 444 miles long, it is considered by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, as non-navigable. In fact, it is listed as the 16th largest river in the U.S., the largest river lying entirely in the U.S. that drains into the Atlantic, and the largest commercially non-navigable river in North America. What commerce over time existed on it was due to both dredging and dams, with logs and lumber from the forests and sawmills of northcentral Pennsylvania “floated” down the river to market.
    The historical movement of people, products and coal over the Susquehanna was done by canal systems because of the shallowness and impassable areas of the river itself. In fact, to ship coal from Sunbury to Baltimore, a railroad was built by Northern Central Railroad (now Pennsylvania Railroad) along the Susquehanna since the river itself because of its shallow depth could not be used to transport the coal, though river shipping is far cheaper than rail.
    So now we come to the heart of the matter—the furthest upriver Lehi’s ship could have possibly sailed on the Susquehanna River from the Atlantic Ocean through the 200-mile-long Chesapeake Bay would have been about ten miles, barely above the mouth of the river.
Top: The Conowingo Dam now built across the Susquehanna River; Bottom: The hydroelectric generation plant on the north side of the river. Note the rocks and islands downriver from the dam where they have always existed, making it impassable for any sizeable boat or ship traffic
    In 1608 Sir John Smith, explorer and leader of the Virginia Colony (Jamestown), sailed up the Chesapeake Bay to the mouth of the Susquehanna River, then turned up river as far as an area of huge boulders strewn across the river that blocked his path. He called this area Smyth Fale (Smith’s Falls), near present day Port Deposit, Maryland, where he persuaded a group of sixty Susquehannock warriors to come down from their upriver settlement to meet him. Today the Conowingo Dam and hydroelectric generation plant are built at this spot.
Left: John Smith’s 1612 map (north is toward the bottom)—Green Arrow: Chesapeake Bay; White Arrow: Susquehanna River; Yellow Arrow: Smith’s Falls, which he located with an “x” on his map; Right: Modern map (north at top)—Red Arrow: Location of Smith’s Falls south of the Maryland border with Pennsylvania
    The area named Smith’s Falls on the above map, is now known as Conowingo on the Susquehanna River about ten miles from the river mouth at the Chesapeake Bay (45 miles from Baltimore). Dammed since 1929 to create the 105-foot deep Conowingo Reservoir for hydroelectric power generation, the river in 1612 was impassable.
    Beyond Smith’s Falls between Dauphin, Lancaster, and York Counties are two fields of literally thousands of potholes. The first is just downstream of Three Mile Island, and is known as the Conewago Falls near Falmouth. The second, just above the Mason-Dixon line is the Holtwood Gorge. In both, the Susquehanna has drilled through solid rock to make some really odd shapes, with much of these boulders stretching to and across the river.
Left: Conewago Falls on the Susquehanna River just above Smith’s Falls. Note the Susquehanna full of rocks, boulders, and other obstructional debris; Right: The United States Geographical Survey (USGS) Middletown Quad Topographical Map of Conewago Falls
    To sum it all up, the inability for ocean going vessels to move up the Susquehanna was pointed out in a 1902 political debate. In that year, U.S. Representative M. E. Olmsted directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to investigate the navigability of the Susquehanna River. His rival in that year’s election was promising to make the river navigable for ocean-going vessels from the Chesapeake to Northumberland. The Corps reported that it could be done, but prohibitively expensive at $1 million per mile and said it was simply not worth the effort.
    The fact is, despite all the theorizing, Lehi could not have sailed up the Susquehanna, the only eastern river that could be considered a route from the Atlantic to near the Great Lakes.

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