October 2: Safe Harbor celebrates 90 years of electric generation with Fish & Fun event

Join me on October 2, 2021, at Safe Harbor Dam for a morning of family fun that includes a fishing derby, food, rescue boat displays, and educational activities. Uncharted Lancaster will be on-site, so come say hi and pick up a free bumper sticker.

I will be happy to answer any of your “dam” questions and be sure to bring your camera because there will be plenty of opportunities to take some “dam” pictures. 😉

Safe Harbor Mini-Adventure

After saying hi, pick up a scavenger hunt paper (or download one here to get a head start) because I’ll have an exclusive one-day-only adventure that will have you exploring the grounds for prizes ranging from Conestoga wagon wooden nickels to Native American replica arrowheads.

If you want to get a jump start on Saturday’s Safe Harbor mini-adventure, click here!

Explore various locations near Safe Harbor Dam as you learn the area’s rich history. Click here to start this mini-adventure.

In addition, I will have photographs of the nearby petroglyphs of Safe Harbor on display, an updated “Walking Guide to the historic Safe Harbor Village” pamphlet, and some reprinted maps of the area from the 1800s.

Don’t miss it! I hope to see you there!

The Conestoga River: A History

Local historian and Conestoga River expert Donald Kautz will be sharing the Uncharted Lancaster booth with me. He will have copies of his new book, The Conestoga River: A History, for sale. Purchased an autographed copy for only $21.99 plus tax.

The book relates the history surrounding the Conestoga River in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in chronological order beginning with the first inhabitants up to the twenty-first century. The book is richly illustrated with my own photography and a few older images from the archives of the Lancaster Historical Society.

The Conestoga River meanders for sixty miles through the fertile farmlands of Lancaster County. From early Native American inhabitants to the European settlers who made the Conestoga Valley their home, the river has provided sustenance and transportation for generations. Victorian-era resorts and hotels were built along the river, providing new recreational activities as steam power drove innovative forms of transportation. As the region developed and the population grew, the river paid a heavy price in increased pollution from sewage runoff and industry. Conservation efforts toward the end of the twentieth century through the present day have restored the river’s beauty and recreational reputation.

Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County Architectural Tour Books

On behalf of the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County, I will also have three local architectural tour books, including the 2004 Historic Conestoga Township Architectural Tour, 2010 Lancaster City Architecture by C. Emlen Urban, and the 2019 Columbia Architectural Tour booklets on sale for only $15 each.

Keep scrolling for more details of the day’s events and a brief history of Safe Harbor Dam.

Safe Harbor Fish and Fun Event with prizes and educational and safety activities
Saturday, October 2, 2021, from 9 am to 1 pm at 1 Powerhouse Road, Conestoga, PA 17516
Hosted by Brookfield Renewable and community partners.
Click here to register for free online.

Safe Harbor hosting Family Fishing Derby on October 2

Grab your reels and join Brookfield Renewable for a day of family, fishing, and fun on October 2 at Safe Harbor. In recognition of the Safe Harbor Dam’s 90th anniversary, Brookfield is pleased to host a family fishing derby from 9 am to 1 pm. 

Fishing derby prizes will be provided by Susquehanna Fishing Tackle for ages ten and under, 11 to 15, and 16 and older. Prize winners will be determined by the largest fish caught based on weight. All Pennsylvania State Fishing Rules and Regulations apply, and one pole in the water is permitted for each registrant. 

Other activities include raffle prizes, rescue boat displays, tours of the Safe Harbor Dam, and educational booths. Food and concession items for cash purchase will also be available during the event. Parking will be provided at Safe Harbor Park.    

Click here for more information and to register online for free.

Where to Go

Displays and food can be found at 1 Powerhouse Road Conestoga, PA, near the dam. Free parking is available just a short walk away in Safe Harbor Park. There will be plenty of signs and staff on-site to help direct traffic.

A Brief History of Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Dam

In the late 1920s, strangers appeared in the area of Safe Harbor with offers to buy large chunks of property.  Rumors quickly spread. Soon newspaper announced that another massive hydroelectric dam was to be built in the area. Safe Harbor was to be the last of three Great Depression-era public electrification hydroelectric dams on the Susquehanna.

Safe Harbor Dam

At 464 miles long, the Susquehanna is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States that empties into the Atlantic Ocean traveling from Cooperstown, New York to Havre De Grace, Maryland. It drains more than 27,000 square miles (including roughly half of the state of Pennsylvania) and is the single largest source of fresh water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, the broad, shallow waters make the Susquehanna the longest, non-commercially navigable river in the country. But the 1,180-foot elevation change between its headwaters in Cooperstown and the Chesapeake Bay make it ideal for hydroelectricity.

The oldest of the still operational lower Susquehanna dams is the Holtwood Dam, constructed between 1905 and 1910. Originally called McCalls Ferry Dam, it was later renamed in honor of two Pennsylvania Water & Power Company executives.

Holtwood Dam

The second is the Conowingo Dam, near Conowingo, Maryland, built between 1926 and 1928. It is one of the largest non-federal hydroelectric dams in the U.S.

Conowingo Dam

Planning for the construction of the Safe Harbor Dam started in November 1929, with construction beginning on April 1, 1930. It was a concrete gravity dam with a total length of 5,000 feet going shore to shore. The project cost $30 million (or $445,968,421 in today’s money), with nearly $10 million paid as wages to local laborers. The massive construction project benefited 4,000 workers who all needed jobs amid the Great Depression. Most of the men lived in temporary shelters in the ravines surrounding Safe Harbor.

Not everyone appreciated the population influx from this well-paying employment opportunity. Residents of Safe Harbor sent a petition to the district attorney charging, “bootleg whiskey is being sold openly and freely, and that gambling is rampant.”

The irony of the petition was probably lost on the local residents when just 79 years earlier, in 1851, Safe Harbor was known as one of the “booziest” towns anywhere in the county with its five taverns, three liquor stores, and six beer halls.

Part of the crusher plant located adjacent to the quarry provided the stone for the dam’s cement.

Being a concrete structure, the project was going to need a lot of crushed gravel. Luckily, the required raw materials were found just one mile east of the construction site. Several nearby hillsides were gouged of rock, and a crusher plant was built adjacent to the quarry to process the stone. Some 2.3 million cubic yards of rock were excavated for the project. The support structures for the old rock crusher are still visible today.

Stone crusher supports

A short line railroad system ran next to the stream at the bottom of the ravine from the rock crusher to transport the stone to the worksite. Short sections of the railway are also still visible today.

Support structures for old rock crushers used to make cement.

The dam was completed and closed its gates for the first time on September 29, 1931. Power generation began shortly after, on December 7, 1931. With the completion of Safe Harbor, it could output 265,000 horsepower and, when combined with Holtwood’s 180,000, constituted one of the most significant hydroelectric developments on this continent at the time. Today Safe Harbor generates 422.5 megawatts, 230 MW at Holtwood, and 548 MW at Conowingo. As a point of reference, the Hoover dam can produce over 2,000 megawatts of capacity.

2 thoughts on “October 2: Safe Harbor celebrates 90 years of electric generation with Fish & Fun event

  1. I am trying to put a date on a photo I have from my family collection. In the photo is a team working on the lower tracks below the trestle at Safe Harbor. In the photo are both of my G. Grandfathers. One is Alonzo R. Walker of Havre de Grace, Md. He was a carpenter first for the Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington Railroad and later the PRR. My other G Grandfather was Herman N. Schweers, originally from Lancaster, Pa. He moved to Havre de Grace in 1924 to help work on the Conowingo Dam. With the money he made, he bought Wood Island just below the dam and built his house on the island. A few years later, he bought land next to the Jersey Toll House at Rock Run Maryland which later became known as “Schweers Landing” (1924 to 1963) Not sure if I can post the photo here or not if you are interested in seeing it.

    Bill Schweers

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