Youghiogheny River History
An address to the “Synia Mariners Club”
By DSO/IA J.A. Donaldson, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
The only river in the United States that flows two ways. Begins above Friendsville, Maryland and flows southerly into a branch of the Potomac River and flow westerly approximately 100 miles to the Monongahela River at McKeesport. It pics up the flow from the Casselman River at Confluence, Jacobs Creek and many lesser streams which drain hundreds of square miles.
Originally the Yough Valley was the home of the Alena or Mound Builder Indians, the Paleo, Archaic, Woodland, Monongahela, Adena, Iriquois, Huron, Seneca, and Shawnee tribes. The Yough valley is still rich in Indian relics.
A branch of the Nemacolin Trail crossed the Yough River between Springtown and Robins Station.
In the late 1750’swhite settlers moved into the Yough Valley attracted by the clean waters which abounded with fish and fresh water oysters and the rich concentration of deer and other wildlife.
The first industry on the Yough River was a salt mine at Boston. This However never succeeded as it was then coal was discovered along the river. For many years barges were constructed from timber cut along the river and loaded with coal which high water was floated down the river where the coal was sold, and the barges torn apart and the logs were sold for lumber. One of there barges sank at Buena Vista and is still visible in low water.
Many fords for wagons were constructed along the river and later aerial cable cars were constructed to take places across the river as Boston, Greenock, Duncan, Buena Vista, Scott Haven and Douglass.
In the early 1850’s a private company began operating steamboats between West Newton and McKeesport. For these boasts to operate two dams were built. Dam #1 was built at Alpville and Dam #2 at Buena Vista. These dams were crudly constructed of stone in a V shape which raised the water as much as 14 feet. These dams were destroyed by ice and high water in 1886 and were never rebuilt. Parts of these dams are still visible.
In 1861 the Pgh. & Connellsville Railroad was constructed (Now the B&O) and in 1883 the Pgh. McKeesport and Yough R.R. was put into operation. This ended the river transportation of lumber and coal. However, river transportation continued in the lower Yough river. Passenger boats came up the river and tied up to the old Boston Bridge where they would remain overnight playing their steam calliope to entertain passengers and residents of Boston and Versailles.
For many years tug boats serviced the U.S. Steel Galvanizing Plant at Versailles, the U.S. Steel Plant at Christy Park and the McKeesport Tim Plate at Fort Vue. During this time the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river to allow these tugs to operate. With the passing of the Galvanizing Plant and the Tin Mill no dredging is new being done and the river is now impassible to other than small pleasure craft.
In the early 1900’s when the river was frozen the West Penn Railways ran street cars from McKeesport to Boston Bridge for skating parties. The Company would have their employees sweep the snow from the ice. Many local merchants cut ice from the river and stored it for refrigeration in the summer.
Due to the mines and lumber industry the population increased vary rapidly and new towns developed all along the river. With no laws to control, the mines and lumber mills just ran their waste water into the river. Towns piped their raw sewerage to the river and in the few years the Yough River was just an open sewer, the water was so laden with mine acids it would not freeze hard enough for skating, etc., and the fish life had completely disappeared.
During the late 1920’s people become of their great loss of clean, pure water and the loss of recreation. Organizations were formed, and much pressure was exerted on State Officials. The first results were the sealing of old mines on the Casselman River. During this time many of the old coal mines along the river were worked out and the lumber mills had also ceased operation.
In 1940 the Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Yough flood Control Reservoir at Confluence. This became the major starting point in the recovery of the Yough River. This not only serves as flood control, but most importantly, water is discharged from this dam during dry spells which maintains the normal flow of water and dilutes mine acids, etc.
The Clean Streams Act also helped as it has been instrumental in the construction of millions of dollars of sewerage treatment plants.
Now let’s look at the results. In 1980 the Yough River probably produced as much fish as any other river in the state. The creation of the Yough Reservoir, in a depressed area, has generated untold strength to the economy in generating revenue to restaurant, bait and tackle dealers, boat and motor dealers, gasoline stations, motels etc. All along the river these various dealers are enjoying this success.
With the great shortage of water in the eastern U. S. this becomes very important, As the Yough River produces a much becomes very important. As the Yough River produces a much better quality of water it naturally benefits the receiving river. Industry requires great amounts of clean water and this is one of the requirements when any industry considers moving into a district. New Jersey, New York, Delaware, eastern Pennsylvania and other eastern states are having a critical was shortage now.
The Penna. Fish Commission, in cooperation with the Elizabeth Township Board of Commissioners, recently, constructed a lighted boat ramp and fishing dock at Boston. Many other boat launching ramps are located along the river. Residents along the river are cutting grass and weeds on the banks making it more attractive. The City of McKeesport is now constructing a park along the river.
Some of the points of interest along the Yough River are the Yough. Reservoir, the Falls and park of Ohiopyle, the white-water trips down the rapids, and canoe and boat trips down the river. There is a dam at Connellsville and boaters must portage around it.
Much has been accomplished, but there is still more to do. Most of the riverbed is sandstone and this disintegrates and the sand washed and fills up the riverbed causing the river to spread out. To most people these settlements seems like mud, but if taken from the water and left to dry it becomes sand. Some uses have been found for this material and it is hoped in the future other uses will be found to make is economically possible to dredge the river to make it more useful, at least for pleasure boats.
I have given you the facts, inclosing I want to give you a fable. The question is always asked where the river got its name. When the white settlers came to the valley they did a great deal of hunting. The Indians resented this and would follow the hunters and just when they were going to shoot would make a loud noise called “Yocking” to scare the game away. One such hunter become annoyed at this as he went down among the river and went and Indian raised up from the brush to “Yock” he shot him. Looking across the river the hunter muttered “Yock again Ye”. the other hunters promptly named the river “Youghiogheny”.