Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pennsylvania Place Names: Penn's Rivers

The Susquehanna River, Marysville
Place names fascinate me. The origins of the names of towns and natural features within Pennsylvania’s borders have always been of interest. Who is the Delaware River named after? What is the origin of the name Allegheny? What about the Susquehanna? And the Delaware? Let’s take a look at some of these Pennsylvania waterways and how they came to be named. Please note: these are not all of the rivers within the state. We'll be exploring those other rivers in the future.

Delaware River: The headwaters of the Delaware River are in the Catskills of New York state. The West Branch begins near the town of Jefferson and forms the northeastern border of Pennsylvania. The East Branch of the Delaware begins near the town of Roxbury, New York and joins with the West Branch south of Hancock, New York. The waters form the entire length of the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey before emptying into the Delaware Bay.

The Delaware River is named in honor of Sir Thomas West, an English nobleman and the first royal governor of the colony of Virginia. Sir West was the Third Baron De La Ware. The river was named in his honor in 1609 because the English believed that he had “discovered” it, though there is no evidence he actually visited it. The Lenape called it the Lenapi Wihituck which means “the rapid stream of the Lenape.” The Dutch who settled in the area referred to the river as South River until the English took control of the land.

Susquehanna River: The Susquehanna, like the Delaware has two major branches. The North Branch of the Susquehanna starts near Cooperstown, New York. The Susquehanna dips into Pennsylvania passing through Susquehanna Depot and Great Bend before returning back into New York State. The River returns to Pennsylvania near the town of Sayre.

The West Branch of the Susquehanna starts near the community of Carrolltown in Cambria County. The two branches of the Susquehanna join near the community of Northumberland. The combined Susquehanna flows southward into Maryland before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.

The river is named in honor of the Susquehannock Indians who once lived in the region. The word Susquehanna comes from the Algonquin meaning “muddy waters," but local legends state the name translates to “mile wide, foot deep,” referring to the river’s dimensions of being wide, but shallow.

Ohio River: The Ohio River is formed by the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers where they join in Pittsburgh. It flows westward exiting the state near East Liverpool, Ohio coming to Cairo, Illinois where it empties into the Mississippi Rivers. The river’s name is derived from the Iroquis word ohiiyo. Ohii means “river” and yo means “good, or fine.” The Ohio River literally translates to “Good River River.”

The headwaters of the Allegheny River, Coudersport
Allegheny River: The headwaters of the Allegheny River are located northeast of Coudersport on the western slope of Cobb Hill. Cobb Hill has the distinction of having it waters going to three different waterways. Waters from the northern slope of Cobb Hill flow into the Gennesse River and the St. Lawrence River, while waters from the southern slope are part of the Susquehanna watershed.

There are three possibilities for the origin of the Allegheny River. The first possible origin comes from the Delaware language, translating to “Good River.” When the Delaware were forced westward, they translated the Iroquis word into the Algonquin language, which is oolik-henne. Oolik means “best” and henne translates to “stream.” The word meaning “most beautiful stream” was anglicized into Allegheny. The second possible origin of the name comes from the Delaware word eleuwi-guneu, which means “endless.” A third possibility is the name being derived from the tribal name Allegewi (also referred to as the Talligewi) which means “people of the cave country.”

Monongahela River: The Monongahela River begins in Fairmont, West Virginia where the West Fork River joins with the Tygart Valley River. The river flows northward entering the state near Point Marion, where it joins with the Cheat River. Moravian Missionary David Zeisberger states that the name Menawngihella translates to “high bank.” The Lenni Lenapi referred to the river as Menaonkihela, meaning “where banks cave in or erode.”

Ohiopyle Falls on the Youghiogheny River, Ohiopyle State Park
Youghiogheny River:  Starting near Silver Lake, West Virginia, the Youghiogheny jumps over the West Virginia and Maryland state line until it enters the state southwest of Addison, Pennsylvania. The river crosses the border as a art of the Youghiogheny River Lake. The river empties into the Monongahela at McKeesport. The name comes from the Algonquin word meaning “a contrary stream.” An interesting fact about the Youghiogheny is that it is the only river that flows northward through Maryland – all the other rivers in Maryland flow southward.

Juniata River: The Juniata River has its start near the town of Alexandria in Huntingdon County where the Little Juniata (forms near Altoona) and the Frankstown Branch (it forms near Claysburg in Blair County) unite. A third branch of the Juniata known as the Raystown Branch (it forms in Somerset County east of the community of Berlin) joins near the community of Ardenheim just east of the town of Huntingdon.

The origin of the river’s name is believed to be a corruption of the Iroquois word Onayutta which translates to “Standing Stone.” Onayutta was an Iroquois village that existed where the town of Huntingdon is located.

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