Friday, July 1, 2022

Agnes’ Impact on the Middle Susquehanna River Valley

Summer has begun, and hurricane season is in full swing. As we keep a wary eye on the storms developing over the Atlantic, we continue to look back 50 years ago as tropical storm Agnes made land fall over Pennsylvania. As discussed in prior posts in our Agnes series, destruction of property and lives was intense with tropical storm Agnes in Pennsylvania, leaving homes and businesses in disrepair. Agnes imposed tremendous stress on the federal budget with the passage of the Agnes Recovery Act which allocated nearly two billion dollars for the relief effort to Pennsylvania alone. This led to changes in flood disaster protection measures and the creation of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (Grumbine 2017). Today we are looking at the results of Agnes’ fury in the middle section of the Susquehanna River Valley. 

Map identifying the Middle Susquehanna Valley affected by Agnes discussed below.

June 25, 1972, just two days after the flooded Susquehanna River crested at 34.1 feet in Williamsport, Pennsylvania an industrious doctoral archaeology student set out to survey the region. William H. Turnbaugh, a driven Ph.D. student, watched as the smaller tributaries to the Susquehanna subsided and drained quickly into the river due to the steeply pitched watershed, not allowing the river to recede (Turnbaugh 1977). Attributed to the 1955 levee system built in Williamsport and South Williamsport these cities managed to escape much of the extensive damage towns and cities further down and up the river sustained. Deserted towns full of muddy homes, shops, and churches stood as waters receded and those who fled the surging waters could return (Turnbaugh 1977). Roads were impassable, debris from homes and businesses strewn everywhere, and farms fields and crops were destroyed.  

Flooding in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania along Bull Run due to Tropical Storm Agnes. Image from

Flooding in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania due to Tropical Storm Agnes. Image from Pennsylvania State Archives. 

Once the waters began to recede, Turnbaugh quickly realized the most visible result of the flooding on archaeological sites was erosion. After extensive survey throughout Lycoming County, three main types of erosion were identified as affecting numerous archaeological sites. The first form of erosion Turnbaugh identified is channel erosion, this is where small streams would cut across areas to create shortcuts around their natural loops creating channels through the soil. Sites that Turnbaugh identified as having been channel eroded include Precontact sites 36Ly11, 36Ly45, 36Ly99 and 36Ly146, all of which were nearly destroyed by channel erosion (Turnbaugh 1977).  

The Late Woodland site (450- 1,100 years ago) 36Ly146 had a channel running about 500 feet through it with depth up to three feet deep and a large portion had been washed away. Due to the flood damage and large amounts of deposited sand and stone very little was found on this site. A few Clemson Island pottery sherds, believed to be from a single pot, were the main archeological find at this site after the flooding (Turnbaugh 1972c).

Pottery sherds found at 36Ly146. Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The second type of erosion Turnbaugh identified is pothole erosion, this is where potholes are created in the ground from eddy currents burrowing. The site most significantly affected by this form of erosion the multi-component Precontact site 36Ly74 (450- 10,000 years ago), where a 75 ft x 50ft x 5ft deep pothole was created (Turnbaugh 1977). Artifacts recovered from this site during the 1972 survey included projectile points, net weights, and a trade bead.

A netsinker, trade bead and a bifurcate projectile point recovered from 36Ly74. Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The third form of erosion identified by Turnbaugh is sheet erosion, this is where soils are evenly eroded across a large area. A few of the sites affected by this form of erosion include the Archaic (11500-4850BP), Woodland (450- 2,950 years ago), and historic sites 36Ly83 and 36Ly86. The Cliffside site, 36Ly86 (450- 10,000 years ago), had 90% of the site exposed by the flood, allowing for numerous precontact artifacts such as stone tools and projectile points to be found during a surface collection (Turnbaugh 1977). William Turnbaugh recorded and updated numerous sites in north-central Pennsylvania following the Agnes flooding, but this was just the beginning, as a larger survey sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission continued this work later in the year (Smith 1977).

Artifacts recovered from the Cliffside site, 36Ly86. Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The narrow valleys upriver from Williamsport on the West Branch of the Susquehanna also caused extensive flooding. Sinnemahoning Creek crested at 19.5 feet, flooding this region, and flowing downstream into the Susquehanna. This and other creeks and streams in this narrow valley caused the waters to surge into the river at pinch points flooding the areas that the streams and creeks led to while also causing waters to rise further down river. In Renovo, Pennsylvania the water rose and crested at 26.6 feet and in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, the water crested at 31.3 feet leading to significant flooding in both areas (National Weather Service 2017).  With widespread flooding in this region, erosion occurred leading to additional archaeological finds. Included in these finds are the Martin Whitcomb site (36Cm2), 36Cn49, and the Ramm site (36Cn44).

The Martin Whitcomb site, 36Cm2 spans from the Archaic through the Woodland (450- 10,000 years ago). After the flooding from Agnes receded artifacts such as projectile points, netsinkers and other stone tools were found. 

Stone tools and projectile points recovered from the Martin Whitcomb site, 36Cm2. Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The Ramm site, 36Cn44 is a Late Woodland site (450- 1100 years ago). Flooding from Agnes led to deep grooves along the rows of planted crops up to several inches deep.  Numerous artifacts were found after the water receded including Clemson Island pottery sherds, triangular and other points (Turnbaugh 1972a).

Artifacts recovered from the Ramm site, 36Cn44. Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The Archaic through Transitional (11500-2800BP) site, 36Cn49, near Lock Haven, Pennsylvania also incurred extensive erosion due to Agnes. This site produced projectile points, steatite artifacts, netsinkers and other stone tools (Turnbaugh 1972b).

Artifacts recovered from 36Cn49. Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Down river from Williamsport, flooding was extensive as smaller tributaries surged from their banks and inundated the towns, cities, and the river. Lewisburg, Harrisburg, and numerous towns between were overwhelmed with flood waters. As in Lycoming County, Northumberland, Union, and Dauphin County archaeological sites were discovered and further explored after the waters receded. Landowners, archaeologists, and amateurs worked together to record and collect on sites. Some of the additional sites found during the year following Agnes include Pre-contact sites 36Nb6, 36Nb8, 36Nb10, 36Nb61, 36Un10, and 36Da30. The Berrier Island site, 36Da30 (450- 2,950 years ago), was severely eroded by Agnes at the northern tip and western edge of the island, with approximately 75 feet of the western edge washed away (Douts 1976).

Flooding of the Governor’s mansion in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania due to Tropical Storm Agnes. Image from Pennsylvania State Archives.  

Along with sites found directly due to flooding and erosion, additional sites were uncovered or updated in the process of flood mitigations. One of these sites includes the Bull Run site, 36Ly119 (450- 10,000 years ago), in Loyalsock Township found during an archaeological survey for the proposed project to utilize the Williamsport Beltway roadbed to double as a levee (North Atlantic Division Corps of Engineers, 1989). After extensive excavations at the Bull Run site, it was found that a fortified village was located there. Due to plowing activities and erosion, all occupation levels from Early Archaic to Late Woodland (450- 10,000 years ago) were in the top 10-12 inches of soil, indicating that only the bottoms of features remained intact (Bressler 1978). The few artifacts found on the site represent small bands of people moving through the area until the Shenk’s Ferry village was erected. Features in the Shenk’s Ferry Village that were discovered included a stockade and trench, pits, hearths, and post molds indicating the location of houses. One feature that is usually indicative of Shenk’s Ferry villages that was not present, are keyhole structures. This is thought to be the result of the missing topsoil from erosion and plowing (Bressler 1978).

Artifacts recovered from the Bull Run Site, 36Ly119. Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Another site that was uncovered due to post flooding mitigations is the West Water Street site, 36Cn175 (200- 16,000 years ago). This site in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, is located upstream from the confluence of the West Branch of the Susquehanna and Bald Eagle Creek causing this area to be prone to flooding (Custer et al. 1994). In 1979 the Army Corps of Engineers established a flood protection plan around Lock Haven, but it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that the plan began to be implemented. At the time archaeological work was done along the site the plan of building a 17.7 foot high, and 100-foot-wide base levee was in place (Custer et al. 1994).

Lock Haven Levee and William Clinger Riverwalk in 2014. 

In the process of preparing for the new levee to be built archaeological surveys were performed, which is how the West Water Street site (36Cn0175) was found. Additional excavations were conducted on the site, resulting in the discovery of artifacts and features spanning from the Paleoindian period (10,000- 16,000 years ago) through the Contact period (about 300-450 years ago). Features such as house patterns, post molds, a stockade, hearths, and storage pits were all found on the site. Numerous forms of projectile points and pottery, clay pipe fragments and stone tools, spanning the long period of time this site had been in use, were all recovered.  

Late Archaic (4850BP - 6850BP) to Middle Woodland (1000BP – 2400BP) projectile points recovered from the West Water Street site, 36Cn175. Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Pottery recovered from the Clemson Island (450- 1100 years ago) living surface at the West Water Street site, 36Cn175. Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Flooding is a continual issue for Pennsylvania and erosion continues to play a serious role in the loss of archaeological resources. Thanks to the landowners, amateur archaeologists, and professional archaeologists alike, our cultural heritage is being recorded and preserved. Numerous sites, beyond what are listed here, have been recorded thanks to these dedicated individuals. Please help us continue to preserve our past for the future by contacting your StateHistoric Preservation Office (SHPO) with any information regarding cultural resources and their locations.   

Our series on Agnes will continue over the coming weeks as we move across the Commonwealth and into the Lower Susquehanna Valley.  If you missed our Learn at Lunch program on the impact of Agnes on cultural resources, you can watch the recorded program


Bressler, James P.

1978       Excavation of the Bull Run Site in Loyalsock Township, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. Report submitted to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Montoursville, Pennsylvania.


Custer, Jay F., Scott C. Watson, and Daniel N Bailey

1994       Data Recovery Investigations of the West Water Street Site 36Cn175 Lock Haven, Clinton County, Pennsylvania. Prepared for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District. On file at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology.


Douts, C.

1976 36Da30: Berrier Island Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey Form. PA-Share,


Grumbine, Frank

2017      Inundation of the Heartland Tropical Storm Agnes and the Landscape of the Susquehanna Valley. Electronic document,, accessed June 3, 2022.

National Weather Service

2017       Hurricane Agnes: The 45th Anniversary. Electronic document,, accessed June 23, 2022.


North Atlantic Division Corps of Engineers,

1989      1989 Water Resources Development in Pennsylvania. Report on file at the University of Virginia Law Library.


Smith, Ira F.

1977       The Susquehanna River Valley Archaeological Survey. Pennsylvania Archaeology 47(4):27-29.


Turnbaugh, William H.

1972a    36Cn44: Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey Form. PA-Share,

Turnbaugh, William H.

1972b    36Cn49: Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey Form. PA-Share,


Turnbaugh, William H.

1972c     36Ly146: Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey Form. PA-Share,


Turnbaugh, William H.

1977       Man, Land And Time: The Cultural Prehistory and Demographic Patterns of North-Central Pennsylvania. The Lycoming County Historical Society. UNIGRAPHIC, INC., Evansville, Indiana.


For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Tropical Storm Agnes - Focus on the Forks of the Delaware

We are continuing our series examining the impact of Tropical Storm Agnes as it blanketed regions of Pennsylvania with heavy rainfall in June of 1972. This week’s blog focuses on the area of eastern Pennsylvania sometimes referred to as the Forks of the Delaware. From grade school days we all hopefully remember that the Delaware River is what gives the distinctive shape to Pennsylvania’s eastern border with neighboring New Jersey. Flowing from the northwest, the Lehigh and Schuylkill rivers are the main tributaries, or “forks”, of the Delaware River. The Lackawaxen River, flowing through Wayne and Pike counties could conceivably be considered a third (and northernmost) major fork of the Delaware. 

Delaware River Basin– Image credit USACOE website

In George Donehoo’s book, A History of the Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennsylvania, he notes that the name Lehigh is an English corruption of a German abbreviation (Lecha) of the Delaware word Lechauwekink, meaning “at the forks” or “where there are forks” (pg. 89).

The headwaters of the Lehigh River originate in the Glaciated Pocono Plateau Section of the Appalachian Plateaus Physiographic Province. This area roughly corresponds with what early maps identify as the “Great Swamp”. Today we recognize this area as one of Pennsylvania’s outdoor vacation hotspots, the Poconos. Much like the Schuylkill does just above Hamburg, the Leigh works its way from the north through the Kittatinny Ridge below the town of Palmerton.

Great Swamp – detail of map from Wallace’s Indian Paths of Pennsylvania

From the Lehigh Gap south, the river serves as the boundary between Lehigh and Northampton Counties until the borough of Catasauqua. Also similar to the Schuylkill, the Lehigh’s course shifts from south to east when its waters encounter the South Mountain, a topographic feature that corresponds with Reading Prong Section of the New England Physiographic Province. From the county seat Allentown, the Lehigh flows east through Bethlehem and empties into the Delaware at Easton.

The Francis E. Walter Dam, near White Haven, was built in 1961 by the US Army Corps of Engineers and works in conjunction with the later constructed Beltzville Dam as multi-tiered flood control system for the Lehigh River. According to the Army Corps’ website, it is accredited with preventing 233 million dollars’ worth of flood damage, presumably the lion’s share of that estimate made up from property downstream that was spared the wrath of Agnes. The success of the dam in mitigating severe flooding further downstream is also evident in the historical crest data available on NOAA’s website. As measured at Bethlehem, the top three floods occurred in 1902, 1942 and 1955, respectively, and at #4 (and more than 3 feet lower than #3) the 1972 Agnes event.

Constructed prior to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the F.E. Walter Dam and reservoir did not initially benefit from a systematic archaeological survey. Later modifications to the dam did however trigger archaeological surveys in the 1980s. At last count nearly two dozen prehistoric sites have been identified around the F.E. Walter Dam project area representing all time periods from Paleo through the Late Woodland. Nearly four dozen historic sites were also identified, many relating to the lumber industry that was prevalent in the area during the mid-19th century.

Projectile points from the Tobyhanna Flats site (36Cr37)

Artifacts collected from the Tobyhanna Flats site, 36Cr37, located at the confluence of the Tobyhanna Creek and Lehigh River, are typical of many of the sites that were identified during the project to make modifications to the F.E. Walter Dam. Relatively low densities of lithic debitage comingled with historic architectural debris and mid-19th through the early 20th century domestic ceramics, iron spikes and other miscellaneous hardware fragments were found to be common occurrences. Some objects of note from 36Cr37 include the projectile points seen above, indicative of the Archaic and Woodland time periods. With a patent date of 1911 legible on the reverse, this mid-20th century brass Boy Scout insignia pin (also recovered from 36Cr37) consists of a familiar eagle with a stars and stripes shield or crest, flanked by two stars imposed over a fleur-de-li symbol, and is associated with a scout achieving the rank of Tenderfoot.

Boy Scout Insignia pin from Tobyhanna Flats site (36Cr37)

Shifting our focus slightly to the west, the tributaries of the Schuylkill begin their journey towards the Delaware Bay in the Upland Anthracite Section of the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province that encompasses the central portion (roughly half) of Schuylkill County. The eastern boundary of the Schuylkill watershed includes tributaries draining portions of western Lehigh and Bucks counties, while the western edge of the Schuylkill watershed, extending into the eastern corner of Lebanon County, represents the boundary between water flowing west into the Susquehanna and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay, and water making its way east draining into the Delaware Bay.

Flowing south through the Kittatinny Ridge, or Blue Mountain as it is alternately referred, the Schuylkill tracts southeast at the Berks County seat of Reading. Continuing along its course, the Schuylkill serves partly as the boundary between Chester and Montgomery Counties as it meanders past towns like Pottstown, Phoenixville, and Conshohocken. PA route 422 roughly parallels the Schuylkill from Reading to King of Prussia, and the Schuylkill then finally meets the Delaware River in a heavily industrialized south Philadelphia, between the international airport and the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

For the Schuylkill, the Agnes flood is still considered the worst natural disaster in Berks County. NOAA’s flood records as measured at Reading corroborate these sentiments with the 1972 crest holding the top spot at 31.3 feet, with the second highest crest a distant 7.5 feet lower. The reader is directed to the website Berk’s County Nostalgia, which has done an excellent job of compiling contemporary newspaper clippings and photographs that capture the magnitude of the flooding in Reading and the surrounding area.

Unfortunately, work to build a dam across the Tulpehocken, the Schuylkill’s westernmost tributary, that would impound the waters to become Blue Marsh Lake, would not begin until 1974. However, a systematic archaeological survey was able to be conducted in 1976, with over two dozen sites being identified through controlled surface collection and shovel testing, six of which were recommended as being eligible for inclusion to the National Register of Historic Places for their potential to yield new and important information about the prehistory of the region.

 A short article written by Ron Devlin in 2013 for the Reading Eagle entitled The Land down under at Blue Marsh Lake focuses on the impact on the residents who were displaced from their farmsteads and homes to make way for the new lake. Much history was lost, but the preservation minded community was successful in having the Gruber Wagon Works building moved to higher ground. A National Historic Landmark, now restored and with guided tours available, this late 19th – early 20th century wagon workshop today sits on the grounds of the Berks County Heritage Center. This unique structure is also featured in The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s gallery of Anthropology and Archaeology.

Gruber Wagon Works exhibit panel, State Museum of Pennsylvania Anthropology and Archaeology gallery

We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief overview of the Schuylkill and Lehigh Rivers, the impacts of Agnes, and preservation efforts connected to major flood control projects for these tributaries of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. Be sure to catch the next blog as we look at flooding in the central region of the Susquehanna River valley.  Please join us on June 24th, 2022 for  Learn at Lunchtime with Curator, Janet Johnson as she discusses the impact of Agnes on the cultural resources of the Commonwealth and highlights some of the archaeological sites explored in this blog series. 



Donehoo, George P.

A History of Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennyslvania

Wennawoods Publishing Lewisburg, PA (1999)


Kinsey III, W. Fred

Archaeological Survey and Evaluation of Blue Marsh Lake, Pennsylvania

North Museum Publication No. 3, Franklin and Marshall College (1976)


Wallace, Paul A. W.

Indian Paths of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg (1971 second printing)


Army Corps of Engineers websites:

Berks County Heritage Center website:

Berks Nostalgia website:

NOAA flood data websites:



For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Sunday, May 29, 2022

From Sayre to Sunbury: The Agnes Flood and its Impact on Cultural Resources

The 1972 Agnes flood affected the lives of thousands of people in the Upper Susquehanna Valley. People perished, personal, commercial, and municipal properties destroyed or otherwise altering the local economies resulted in billions of dollars in lost revenue and cost reconstruction. As well, the removal and redeposition of soils from Agnes’ wrath was destructive to archaeological and historical resources from Sayre to Sunbury and beyond.

Figure 1. Upper Susquehanna Valley affected by Agnes

In early July, only weeks after the 1972 flood, a Native American Indian site was discovered by amateur archaeologists on the Sheshequin Flats located down river from the Sayre/Athens area. The Sheshequin location forms part of a series of sites previously identified in the early 20th century by river expeditions.  Historic documents identify the Sheshequin Path which ran from the Lycoming Valley to Towanda Creek as an important foot path developed by the tribes of this region and later utilized by settlers. Historic accounts of the Moravian Mission (1769-1772) located at present-day Ulster, Bradford County recorded evacuation of the village for a few days due to flooding in 1771. The Moravians left the village in 1772 and led a group of followers west to the Allegheny River. Among them were the two sons and a nephew of Teedyuscung, an important Delaware leader and negotiator.  The rich cultural heritage of this area was exposed as the result of Agnes’s destruction.

Over a three-week period, the archaeologists uncovered pottery and clay pipe fragments, stone arrow points and other prehistoric objects of the Late Woodland period (AD. 900 – AD. 1500). The artifacts lay on the surface of the flood scoured area adjacent to the active channel of the Susquehanna River. Concurrently, archaeological remains were also found by local artifact collectors on Queen Esther’s Flats and on the broad floodplain formed by Tioga Point at the juncture of the Chemung River and North Branch Susquehanna River. Diagnostic artifacts from these other sources were representative of the Late Archaic/Transitional (4000 BCE – 2000 BCE) through the Late Woodland AD. 900 – AD. 1500) periods.

Figure 2. Susquehannock pot fragment (photo: Smithsonian Institution)

Figure 3. Artifacts recovered from the Sheshequin, Queen Esther's Flats, and Tioga Point.
Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

The broad floodplain from Pittston to Nanticoke, Pennsylvania geographically known as the Wyoming Valley, suffered massive inundation and destruction by the flood waters of Agnes. The damage was so severe at the river town of Forty Fort, Luzerne County, that the earthen dike gave way, destroying a cemetery containing many graves. The stone monument erected in memory of the deceased reads:

“On the afternoon of Friday June 23, 1972, the Susquehanna River swollen by the flood waters of unprecedented height broke through the dike at a point 120 yards south of this site. The swirling water gouged a four-acre chasm out of the heart of the cemetery displacing approximately 2500 burials. This park is dedicated by the Forty Fort Cemetery Association to the memory of those whose gravesites vanished in that singular catastrophe”

Wilkes Barre was hit hard by the Agnes flood where the river rose above the 42-foot mark - the impact was devastating. The Archaeology Laboratory and the artifact storage areas at Kings College were completely submerged. Water damage to the facility was significant with the irreparable loss of artifacts and field/lab records from Kings College’s early archaeological investigations at the Kennedy (36BR0043) and Friedenshutten sites in Bradford County. Friedenshutten was founded in 1752 as a Delaware settlement and by 1763, David Zeisberger a Moravian missionary had constructed a church within the village. The site was home to the Delaware and Shawnee tribes until it was abandoned in 1772 during removal of the tribes to Ohio.  

Several other archaeological sites previously spared by floods located near the town of Plains were wiped out leaving no traces of their presence.  After the flood the artifacts housed at the Kings College repository were transferred to Bradford County where they are now under curation at the Wyalusing Valley Museum Association.

Figure 4. Wilkes/King's College during the Agnes flood of 1972 (photo:

Figure 5. Before and after images of the King's College archaeology laboratory due to flooding caused by Agnes.
Image credit: D. Leonard Corgan Library

The archaeological sites impacted by the Agnes Flood south of the Wyoming Valley on the floodplain of the North Branch are not well documented beyond the information derived from first - hand accounts of surface collectors.  Numerous archaeological sites near Northumberland, Pennsylvania were also inundated. The Central Builders site(36NB0117) located a short distance south from Danville, Pennsylvania was one of the sites frequently hunted by artifact collectors. There, stone projectile points affiliated with the Early Archaic (9000 BCE) through Late Woodland (AD. 900 – AD. 1500) period were recovered. Years after the Agnes flood ripped through the valley, investigations conducted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission uncovered a deeply stratified multicomponent archaeological deposit at the Central Builders site demonstrating the importance of such sites containing very old Native American occupations.

Figure 6. Riverbank cut at Central Builder's site showing stratigraphic deposits from flooding.

Figure 7. Early Archaic Kirk projectile point found in situ at the Central Builder's site(36NB0117).
Images from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Figure 8. Kirk point from image above after cleaning and cataloging

Downstream from the Central Builders site, flood waters scoured and reshaped the river islands between Berwick and Danville. Significant damage caused by flooding at the north end of Packers Island exposed the remains of a Late Woodland site where surface hunters found the remains of pit features, sherds of pottery and stone projectile points.

Figure 9. Ceramic and lithic artifacts from Packer's Island(36NB0075)
Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Flooding at the confluence of the Susquehanna’s West Branch and North branches created a pooling effect raising the flood stage to a record of 35.80 feet, a record for the Susquehanna River Valley.

This has been the third installment of TWIPA’s blog on the Agnes flood and archaeological sites in Pennsylvania. Please join us next time for more on Agnes and its impact on archaeological sites and the discovery of sites from flood management projects implemented after Agnes.  The series will continue through the month of June and the anniversary of this event. A Learn at Lunchtime with Curator, Janet Johnson will discuss the impact of Agnes on the cultural resources of the Commonwealth and highlight archaeological sites explored in this blog series. 


Delaney, Leslie L., Jr.

1973    Search for Friedenshutten 1772-1972, A Bicentennial Archaeological and Historical Project Report for Northeastern Pennsylvania, Cro Woods Publishing, Wyoming, PA

 Donehoo, George P.

1928         A History of the Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg.

 n.d.   The Historical Marker Database, Forty Fort Cemetery Lost Graves Memorial.     

n.d.  Native History of the Wyoming Valley, Christianity and Colonization, Friedenshutten Mission

 Wallace, Paul A.W.

1965       Indian Paths of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.


For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Monday, May 16, 2022

Agnes’s Impact on the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania

Recent weather conditions in the South-Central Region of Pennsylvania were reminiscent of the seemingly endless rain of Tropical Storm Agnes, but Agnes was a steady deluge that swelled streams and rivers over their banks. The difference is obvious in that we experienced approximately 4 inches of rain this past weekend as opposed to 12, 14 and upwards of 19 inches from Agnes.  As we continue our series of blogs focused on the impact on cultural resources due to flooding from the storm, our area of focus this week is North Central PA and the Southern tier of New York around Chemung and Elmira, NY. 

Major River Basins, Tioga River Valley circled

Tioga County is in the Glaciated High Plateau, Glaciated Low Plateau and Deep Valleys Sections of the Appalachian Plateau Province. These physiographic landforms are characterized by eroded hills and generally narrow, steep sided valleys.  The major streams are the Cowanesque and Tioga Rivers that form the major waterways of the Chemung and the Susquehanna’s North Branch drainage. Pennsylvanian, Mississippian, and Devonian rocks constitute the geological makeup of Tioga County and originally these rocks were a part of the vast sea sediments that formed some 290-405 million years ago. 

The Cowanesque River is a major west-east drainage in northern Tioga County. It is a tributary of the Tioga River, which flows north to join the Chemung in New York state. The Chemung then curves to flow south to join the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. The Cowanesque River basin lies in both Pennsylvania and New York, draining an area of 772 km^ (298 mi^). The headwaters of the Cowanesque River are in the Allegheny High Plateau section located west of Tioga County, in north central Potter County. From there, the river flows approximately 61 km (38 mi) east to join the north-flowing Tioga River at Lawrenceville.

This environment creates an ideal setting for flood waters to inundate the small streams and tributaries that feed these larger waterways, leading to major flooding in the region during increased precipitation. Spring ice jams, snow thaws and heavy thunderstorms had contributed to previous catastrophic storms in 1889, 1935 and 1946 to name a few. The Army Corp of Engineers authorized the construction of a flood control project to in July 1958 to alleviate flooding. However, construction did not begin until after Agnes struck her heavy blow.  

 Location of Project Area (Goodwin 1990)

In preparation for construction, several surveys were initiated by the National Park Service and the Army Corp. to review the potential impact on cultural resources.  The project involved the construction of two dams, the Tioga-Hammond Lake, and the Cowanesque Dam- see map above. Archaeological surveys by Dr. Jacob Gruber of Temple University recorded new sites and revisited sites previously surveyed by John Witthoft of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (now the PHMC). Impact areas were identified and plans for recovery or preservation of these resources were developed. The small village of Nelson, including the Presbyterian Church and cemetery, was moved to higher ground above the Cowanesque Flood plain.  Prior to the move, local residents were surveyed for their opinion on relocating and their oral histories documented. Today, the village is perched on a hillside overlooking the dam. 

Beecher's Island Presbyterian Church, Nelson. PA-SHPO, PHMC, PA-SHARE

Archaeological sites recorded through these efforts were scant. In fact, Gruber reported that the flooding in 1946 had obliterated any evidence of precontact human occupation in the Tioga River Valley or in the adjacent Crooked Creek Valley. “I must conclude, therefore, that these areas were not subject to prehistoric settlement.”  Although John Witthoft had recorded a site (36TI0001) at the confluence of the Tioga River and Crooked Cree. Local collectors were also aware of the site and shared their collections with Dr. Gruber. Gruber noted the presence of soapstone (steatite), bannerstone, and many points (projectile points), but did not consider this as significant information.  

Onondaga chert points (36TI0001). The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Late Woodland Pottery (36TI0001). The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Dr. Gruber’s survey identified potential sites in the Cowanesque Valley, the Antonio site(36TI0030) received preliminary salvage archaeology during the summers of 1966 and 1967 by Temple students as reported by Daniel Crozier. The site was assigned to the Early Woodland to Late Woodland culture periods based on ceramics, stone tools and projectile points recovered. Storage pits were identified, a hearth feature and an undetermined activity area. Crozier recommended the Army Corp. purchase the site in 1973 to allow for extensive archaeology, unfortunately no additional archaeology was undertaken at this site.  

Stone Tools - net sinker, bipitted processing stones(36TI0001). The State Museum of Pennsylvania

The construction of the dams and subsequent expansion of the capacity of the Cowanesque Dam led to the discovery of additional sites and an opportunity to expand our knowledge of the region.  Of the six sites recorded, three of the buried floodplain sites (36Ti33, 36Ti34, and 36Ti37), appeared capable of documenting the transition from the hunting-gathering late Middle Woodland to the horticultural early Late Woodland and were identified for further investigation. 
Archaeological reports for north central Pennsylvania report precontact traditions as evolutionary and typologically comparable to the Archaic and Woodland cultural periods. The periods represented by the components at these sites, which date ca. A.D. 160 (second prehistoric component at 36Ti34) to ca. A.D. 1200 (36Ti37), span a time of important cultural change in eastern North America corresponding to the appearance of maize horticulture in the Northeast. The shift from a somewhat mobile, hunting-gathering oriented late Middle Woodland peoples to maize using, more sedentary early Late Woodland peoples is a major culture change and an interesting research topic for archaeologists. Data from these floodplain sites were thought to be relevant to questions about the development of horticulture as an activity associated with spring fishing camps, thus suggesting an explanation for why maize horticulture spread so quickly among otherwise non-horticultural, forest dwelling peoples. 

Archaeologists recovered ceramics, tree-nut remains and a fragment of a maize cob. Nuts identified included hickory, oak acorn, and hazelnut.  Seeds identified were chenopodium, seed of tick-clover {Desmodium spp.), a wild legume (Fabaceae) cotyledon fragment, a possible ash samara kernel, a hawthorn {Crataegus spp.) nutlet fragment. Among these, it is possible that only the hawthorn nutlet represents a food remain. Unfortunately, poor preservation of bone limited the recovery of dietary remains to those recovered through floatation. Calcined bone fragments were too small to identify. Plowing activities had disturbed features and mixed the artifacts associated with them across the landscape (Goodwin 1990). 

Excavations at 36Ti34 also exposed the remains of a burned log cabin, dated between A.D. 1790 to 1830. The historic component was represented by the charred, virtually intact floor of the cabin, several pit and trough features, and by a large and varied array of historic artifacts. 

The impact of Tropical Storm Agnes on communities in the Cowanesque and Tioga River Valley was catastrophic, but the damage there paled in comparison to the havoc incurred when the waters of the Tioga River merged with the Chemung near Corning, New York.  We will continue our series on Agnes in a few weeks when we trace the impact of the Chemung River as it flows back into Pennsylvania in Bradford County. 

The Army Corp of Engineers estimates that these flood control projects, the Cowanesque and Tioga-Hammond Lakes, the potential for downstream flooding and related damages will be significantly reduced.  It is estimated that, the two projects would have prevented an estimated $360 million in damage during Tropical Storm Agnes. Of this total, Cowanesque Lake alone would have prevented about $142.8 million in damage along the Cowanesque, Tioga, Chemung, and Susquehanna Rivers between Lawrenceville and Sunbury (all values given in 1972 dollars and for 1972 conditions).

The impact of flooding and soil erosion continues to harm archaeological sites and identifying their location and providing protection to these cultural resources is important in preserving our past for future generations. Please support these efforts and record known archaeological sites in the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commissions reporting system, PA-SHARE.  


Crozier, Daniel A.
1972   Preliminary Archaeological Salvage Operations in a Portion of the Cowanesque Dam Flood Control Project: The Antonio Site 36Ti30. Report submitted to U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, Northeast Region.

Gruber, J.W.
1965     An Archaeological Survey of Some Dam Areas in Berks, Carbon, Tioga, and Centre Counties, Pennsylvania. Report submitted to the U.S. Department of interior, National Park Service, Northeast Region.

Gruber, J.W.
1966     An Archaeological Survey at Certain Reservoir Areas in Pennsylvania. Report  submitted to the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, Northeast Region.

Hay, C.A., C. Stevenson
1984    Phase III Archeological Data Recovery From 36Ti33, 36Ti34, And 36Ti37,   Cowanesque Lake Reformulation Project, Tioga County, Pennsylvania.
Baltimore: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District.

Neumann, Thomas W. , Neal H. Lopinot, Leslie D. McFaden, R. Christopher Goodwin, and Jennifer Cohen
1990    PHASE III Archeological Data Recovery From 36Ti33, 36Ti34, And 36Ti37,    Cowanesque Lake Reformulation Project, Tioga County, Pennsylvania. 
Baltimore: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Monday, May 2, 2022

Hurricane - Tropical Storm - The Destructive Path of Agnes

Fifty years ago, during the summer of 1972 a natural disaster, struck the eastern United States that would leave a lasting impact on communities, disaster reporting systems, and flood control projects from Florida to Maine.  This week we are launching a series of blogs on the path of destruction from Hurricane Agnes as it was known when it made landfall in Florida on June 19th and its downgrade to a Tropical Depression as it moved slowly up the eastern seaboard.  The storm intensified off the coast of Virginia and was close to hurricane magnitude when it moved north, dumping rainfall between 10-19 inches across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York from June 21st through June 23rd.  The highest recorded rainfall occurred in Western Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (19 in.).  Agnes released a deluge which quickly inundated streams and rivers, bringing with them flooding beyond imagination.  The National Weather Service reported a record $3.5 billion of property damage and 118 people died in Agnes’s path.  

This image depicts the storm track and rainfall for Agnes. Source: Hydrometeorological Prediction Center/ NOAA

Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams were already swollen from heavy rains the previous week and the saturated ground couldn’t absorb the impact of this constant rainfall. The Susquehanna River Basin and Schuylkill River Basin, located within the Delaware River Basin on this map, were significantly impacted by flooding.  In the Susquehanna River Basin, the Tioga River flows north into New York where it enters the Chemung River, the Chemung flows southeast back into Pennsylvania through Bradford County where it joins the Susquehanna River.  This entire region was heavily impacted by the flooding which required assistance from the National Guard to evacuate homes and maintain security. 

Map of Pennsylvania’s Major River Basins, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Note the red ovals indicating the Tioga, Susquehanna, and Schuylkill Rivers headwaters. 

During the days that followed, scenes of destruction left Pennsylvania residents in disbelief. Nature had shown its force as tons of earth and debris were rearranged by a foot or more of rainfall deposited by Agnes; No part of the state was left untouched by its effects. The worst urban flooding occurred in Elmira, New York and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  A dike in Wilkes-Barre was breached and the town was nearly eradicated. Harrisburg in the lower Susquehanna River valley was inundated by high water, the river crested at 33.27 feet, more than 16 feet above flood stage, a record that remains fifty years later.

As the floodwaters moved across the landscape, it pushed soils, trees, cars and building debris, uncovering remains of the past which were previously preserved.  In some cases, coffins were dislodged by flood waters and headstones were displaced.  Historic structures were damaged or destroyed leading to new initiatives for recording these resources and implementing flood control projects. 

 As a result of Agnes’s destruction, several archaeological surveys were conducted after the storm. These surveys helped to identify and record archaeological sites and document the landscape changes wrought by one of the costliest natural disasters in Pennsylvania history. This is the first of several blogs that details the impact of Agnes on Pennsylvania’s cultural resources and examined the surveys that took place in the years following the storm, beginning with the work of archaeologist William Turnbaugh. 

Only two days after the waters crested, Turnbaugh began a survey of the area along the Susquehanna River’s West Branch to observe and document cultural resources exposed by the storm. The counties of Lycoming and Clinton in the north-central region of the state were in the initial survey area.  Residents here shared the destruction of their property with surprising ease and allowed him to wander their fields in search of exposed archaeological remains. His findings showed that archaeological sites on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River had been severely impacted by Agnes. This effort would be incorporated into a larger survey of Pennsylvania’s archaeological sites begun later that year and sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (Smith 1977). Turnbaugh’ s dissertation, Man, Land and Time, published in 1977 provided background information on previous surveys, results of his survey, descriptions of ecological settings throughout time, and a chronology for the settlement of precontact people in Pennsylvania.

We hope you will continue to check in with us as we trace the impact of Agnes on the archaeological and historical resources of Pennsylvania.  Take some time to research the impact of this storm on your community as the anniversary date of this event approaches. Many communities are still experiencing flooding episodes, especially flash flood events. These events underscore the importance of emergency preparedness. For information on how you can be ready, check out FEMA’s guide, How to Prepare for a Hurricane. 

For more information, searchour collections, check out, or visit the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .



National Weather Service

n.d.        Flood of June 1972 – Hurricane Agnes. Binghamton, NY Weather Forecast Office. Available at: (Accessed April 26, 2022)

 Hurricane Science, the National Science Foundation

n.d.   Hurricanes: Science and Society, University of Rhode Island, 1972 Hurricane Agnes

 Smith, Ira F.

1977         The Susquehanna River Valley Archaeological Survey. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 47(4):27-29.

Turnbaugh, William H.

1977       Man, Land, and Time: The Cultural Prehistory and Demographic Patterns of North-Central Pennsylvania. The Lycoming County Historical Society. UNIGRAPHIC, INC. Evansville, Indiana.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .