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Avoiding Sour Beer’s Eddy on a Perilous Voyage from Wrightsville to Peach Bottom

Lumber Rafts on the Lower Susquehanna River

Engraving Entitled “Lumbering on the Susquehanna—A Raft Descending The River” (1880 Magazine Illustration, Collections of S. H. Smith)
Engraving Entitled “Lumbering on the Susquehanna—A Raft Descending The River” (1880 Magazine Illustration, Collections of S. H. Smith)

The origins of this post stem from looking through the newspaper microfilms at the York County Heritage Trust and coming across the following article in the April 30, 1883, issue of the York Daily:


On Saturday, four young men, students of the Collegiate Institute, made a trip from Wrightsville to Peach Bottom on a lumber raft.  Six hours were consumed in making the trip.  Beyond striking a rock or two, nothing of incident occurred.  They speak in high praise of the courtesy of the raftsmen.  We congratulate our young friends upon the happy termination of their perilous voyage.

The 1880 engraving likely depicts the type of perilous voyage the York Collegiate students encountered when they hitched a ride on a lumber raft in 1883.  I purchased the 1880 Magazine Engraving entitled “Lumbering on the Susquehanna—A Raft Descending The River” to use as an illustration in the eventual hardcover Railcar Gold.  Lumber rafts show up several times in my historical novel about Billmeyer & Small; installments which appear, in YorksPast, every Thursday.  Here are two examples:

Within RAILCAR GOLD Chapter 13 . . PeachBottom . . Part 2, I quote an 1872 York Daily article describing Billmeyer & Small’s business.  Part of that article notes the following:

This firm has also extensive lumber yards and saw mills at Wrightsville.  The mills at that place have a capacity of from seven to ten million of feet per year, and the amount of lumber used may be inferred, when it is remembered that they are the largest buyers of rafts along the Susquehanna River.

Within RAILCAR GOLD Chapter 17 . . Production . . Part 1, a clipping from the June 9, 1882 issue of the York Daily is utilized:

Seven Thousand Dollars for Three Rafts of Timber.

John H. Small, Esq., yesterday purchased at Marietta, from Ramadell and Duffy, three immense timber rafts for the Billmeyer & Small Company.  The timber is of remarkably fine quality and is acknowledged to be the best that ever came down the river.  The rafts contain about 27,000 cubic feet of white pine, for which the handsome sum of $7,000 was paid.

I searched for additional details about lumber rafts on the Lower Susquehanna River and found an 1888 source.  On page 13 of the 1888 publication Development of Transportation Systems in the United States, John L. Ringwalt writes about rafting lumber and timber on the Lower Susquehanna River:

The rafts floating on the Susquehanna in 1885 were usually 29 feet wide, 300 feet long, and composed of 120 logs or “sticks.”  The logs are 30 to 40 feet long, and the entire structure contains 11,000 cubic feet of lumber.

From the limber regions, pilots floated rafts to Marietta for $75 to $80 each; Marietta to Peach Bottom, 28 miles, $40 to $45 per raft; Peach Bottom to Port Deposit, 16 miles, $22.50 per raft.  The pilot paid his hands $3.50 and steersmen $5 per trip from Marietta to Peach Bottom; Peach Bottom to Port Deposit hands get $2.25 and steersmen $2.75.  When the river is in good condition the run from Marietta to Port Deposit could be made in eight hours.

Almost every rock and projection along the Susquehanna, from Marietta to Port Deposit, has a name familiar to the raftsmen.  In many instances these points received their titles from the fact that rafts were once stove on them.  Here are a few of the odd names:

  • “Spinning Wheel”
  • “Sour Beer’s Eddy”
  • “Blue Rock”
  • “Turkey Hill”
  • “Brothers”
  • “Old Cow”
  • “Hangman’s Rocks”
  • “Horse Gap”
  • “Ram’s Horn”
  • “Slow and Easy”
  • “Hollow Rock”
  • “Hog Hole”
  • “Sisters”
  • “Old Port Bridge”

The lumber raft that the four students of the Collegiate Institute hitched a ride on, struck a rock or two.  Maybe they hit a rock or two on this list; hopefully they did not tangle with “Sour Beer’s Eddy.”

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