York Town Square

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Mermaid spotted in Susquehanna in 1800s: ‘Her hair was platted behind … cut short in front’

York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News photographer Jason Plotkin captures workers as they recently put up metal poles to hold a new plywood extension atop Holtwood Dam spanning the Susquehanna River. The work is designed to increase the hydropower capacity at the dam, one of four across the Susquehanna in and around York County. Rocks often covered with water (see photo below) are exposed as part of the work on the dam linking York and Lancaster counties. Also of interest: Who was Norman Wood (of bridge fame)? and Holtwood Dam thrust into the news once again and Where exactly is the Susquehanna River’s Holtwood Dam?.

The Susquehanna River has been in the news for years for a variety of serious reasons.

The Continental Congress sweated a raiding party of British horsemen so seriously that they measured the river’s depth along its length in an attempt to figure where any attack would come from. That was during the Revolutionary War when the river separated York County-based delegates from the redcoats in Philadelphia. In the Civil War, the Union army burned the bridge between Wrightsville and Columbia to keep the invading Confederates from crossing.

Rafts of logs tied together swept down the river during high water on their way to market in the Chesapeake Bay.

High water swept away bridges and low water made steamboat navigation difficult.
A canal was dug to make the river valley navigable, but the dams needed to feed water to the ditch stopped shad migration.
All that is serious and place the river as a key part of regional history.
But the fun stuff is just as interesting, however improbable.
Two examples:

During high water, the Holtwood hydroelectric dam attracts people to its observation deck.
– Eighty-two-year-old Catherine A. Love is billed as York County’s oldest fisherwoman. A newspaper article from the 1920s said the Shenk’s Ferry resident catches many fine bass and river salmon, enjoys good health and never has suffered from a headache. “The secret of good health in old age lies in the eating of very plain foods, sleeping in good fresh air and doing plenty of hard work,” the octogenarian told a newspaper. That part sounds right.
But she was also credited with completing 17 quilts over a winter. That sounds a little fishy.
– It seems a fisherman plying his craft in the Susquehanna at 3 a.m. one day near Brushy Island in the 1800s hears a sound. Turning, he sees “something that had the form of a woman … with the upper part of her body exposed to his gaze.” The fisherman looks at the woman for five minutes before she dives underwater. “Two years ago, a Marietta man named Loucks saw her,” a newspaper reported. “At this time she wore bangs; when seen on Tuesday her hair was platted behind and cut short in front.”
Sounds like operating a boat while intoxicated was also a problem decades ago.

Sources: “Never to be Forgotten,” “Nine Months in York Town”