The Lower Susquehanna before the dams


My friend and contributing writer here at Uncharted Lancaster, Ben Webber, has been interested in accessing the Safe Harbor Water Power Corp archives. One of his passions is the Conestoga River history, and he’s been searching for an ancient map of the winding river that is rumored to exist in their archives.

Safe Harbor Dam

As it turned out, I have a contact there, and after a few months of discussions, we were granted access. In addition to helping Ben look for these old river maps, I had the goal of scanning as many of their images, maps, and blueprints that might be of interest and eventually make them available to the public. We spent four hours going through several boxes containing hundreds of photos during our initial visit. Here are two that caught my attention.

Before & After: Lake Aldred

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I have often wondered what the Lower Susquehanna looked like before the dams at Holtwood (1905) and Safe Harbor (1930) were built. Specifically, I was curious what the section of the river where the petroglyphs of Big Indian Rock and Little Indian Rock might have looked like to the Native Americans who carved them 1,000 years ago.

The following three image gallery shows Little Indian Rock before Holtwood was built (far right) and how it appears today (far left) from the front and back.

Little Indian Rock before Holtwood Dam.

I think the following August 22, 1930 photograph does a good job of helping us travel back in time to before the building of the Holtwood Dam. The picture was taken from the filter plant located at the end of Observation Road, close to today’s power substation.

Image 560: View from Filter Plant. August 22, 1930

The Google Map pin below marks the likely location of where the photo was taken.


For comparison, here’s a photo that was taken in January 2022 from nearly the same location as the August 22, 1930 image. Water levels are higher, with far fewer rocks visible.

The view from the power substation at the end of Observation Road in January 2022.

Another picture in the Safe Harbor archives was this February 27, 1930 photo captured from atop a water tank close to where the two previously mentioned images were taken. Interestingly enough, this is two days before construction on the Safe Harbor Dam officially began on April 1, 1930. The Susquehanna appears to be frozen while the Conestoga is not. It also demonstrates the effects of the Holtwood Dam on that portion of the river.

The full panoramic photograph can be found further below.

Image #132: View from Water Tank, February 27, 1930 (edited)

I learned a couple of interesting things while scanning archive photos. The hill in the center of the image below where the trestle ends is called Shober Hill. Also, the creek to the left of Shober hill that follows the train tracks back to the quarry is called Edge Creek. At the bottom of the image, you can also see the work camp living quarters.

Panoramic Photo of Safe Harbor

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Safe Harbor Water Power Corp. owned by Brookfield Renewable U.S. for allowing me access to their archives.

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Learn More

A Brief History of Safe Harbor. Click here to learn more about the building of Safe Harbor Dam.

1931 postcard of Safe Habor Hydroelectric Dam

Where did Lake Aldred get its name? Click here to read more about where Lake Aldred (the body of water between Holtwood and Safe Harbor) takes its name.

Visiting Safe Harbor’s petroglyphs during a low water event. Click here to read about my voyage out to the Safe Harbor petroglyphs during a low water event.


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