Artifact: ‘Indian Relics of the Lower Susquehanna Valley Preserved for the Public’ brochure

Earlier this month, I shared an article about three Native American-related photos that I located in the Safe Harbor Dam archives a few months ago. I surmised that the images were likely taken by Cadzow or a fellow team member during their 1930-1932 field survey of areas that would be affected by the rising waters due to the Holtwood and Safe Harbor hydroelectric dams.

Cadzow’s survey recorded a fascinating variety of petroglyphs and Native American sites in the Safe Harbor area, many of which are now underwater. His findings are recorded in his Safe Harbor Report No. 1 and Safe Harbor Report No. 2.

On the Facebook post referencing the article, Jim Allen shared several images of a circa 1950s brochure entitled Indian Relics of the Lower Susquehanna Valley Preserved for the Public. Published by the Safe Harbor Water Power Corporation, it included a couple of pictures I had shared earlier, plus several others. I located a copy on eBay and purchased it. Being a firm believer that “information wants to be free,” I have transcribed the document’s text and scanned the images. Both are included below. Please keep in mind that the document is approximately 70 years old, so some of the information and terminology is out-of-date. The document is presented as is. If you would prefer to read the brochure in its original form, click here for the PDF.

Enjoy and happy adventuring!


In cooperation with the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, prior to the flooding of the islands and banks of the Susquehanna River for 10 miles behind the dam of the hydroelectric development at Safe Harbor, Pa., the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company and the Safe Harbor Water Power Corporation assisted in an Indian exploration by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, that has resulted in the preservation for posterity of 28,000 cataloged specimens. Of these, many are in the permanent exhibition in the Pennsylvania State Museum at Harrisburg.

Indian Markings on the Susquehanna Preserved before the Flooding of the Safe Harbor Reservoir.

Later, in 1939, the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company, in cooperation with The Conservation Society of York County, arranged for the preservation and use of the public, the unusual collection of evidences of early civilizations in the region that is contained in the Vandersloot Museum at Indian Steps, located on the Susquehanna River on the York County shore of the lake behind the power development of the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company at Holtwood, Pa.

Susquehannock Indian Pottery. Most of these Relics of Ancient Civilization were Found on the Strickler Farm on the Lancaster County Shore Between Washington Boro and Turkey Hill.

Before building the mile long dam of the hydroelectric development on the Susquehanna River at Safe Harbor, Pa., provision was made for the location and preservation of relics of earlier civilization to be found in the area to be flooded.

The region of the Lower Susquehanna is rich in history.

Indian markings on the rocks in this reach of the river and the presence of other vestiges of Indian life found in the fertile fields near the river’s banks have long interested archaeologists. In planning the Safe Harbor development which would flood ten square miles above the dam, the Safe Harbor Water Power
Corporation and the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company arranged with Dr. Frederic A. Godcharles, Librarian and Director of the State Museum at Harrisburg, Pa., to have the region explored.

This work of preservation took the form of an archaeological exploration to search for evidences of prehistoric people in the Lower Susquehanna between Columbia, Pa., and Safe Harbor, Pa.

Indian Grave, near Shenks Ferry, uncovered for study.

The exploration was conducted by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission with Dr. Donald A. Cadzow as Director of Research. With this work, the Companies cooperated with the State in every way. As a result of this exploration, 28,000 cataloged specimens, or the equivalent of between 50,000 and 75,000 objects, were recovered.

Many of these objects now form a permanent exhibition in Indian Hall of the Pennsylvania State Museum at Harrisburg.

The region was inhabited prehistorically by the Algonkian Indians, who lived in that area perhaps a thousand years ago. They were driven out about 1000 A.D. by the Iroquoian group, that we now know
as the Susquehannocks.


Extracts of an account of the work carried on in 1930-31 written by Dr. Donald A . Cadzow, Director of Research of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, and reprinted through the courtesy of the New York Herald Tribune Magazine.

Ours is the first comprehensive attempt to penetrate the veil of mystery that has surrounded Pennsylvania’s archaeological field for centuries. The story told by a broken piece of pottery, by a pictograph, by a family group in one burial site, by shell beads, stone pipes, and other ornaments and implements found in the graves—these things furnish the first bit of scientific data of these primitive people.

One of our first moves when we arrived at Safe Harbor was to question the “old settlers” hereabouts, particularly the rivermen. Much to our surprise, we learned that Walnut Island, one of our most fruitful
sources of ancient rock carvings, less than 100 years ago was covered by a virtual forest of large walnut trees. A few years after these had been cut off and the logs rafted down the river to be made into furniture, spring floods had washed away the topsoil of the island and revealed rounded limestone rock decorated with strange, barbaric figures.

Ancient Records Uncovered on Walnut Island.

Contrary to our expectations, these writings did not seem to be the regular type of petroglyph left by the early Indian. They were quite different from any known pictographs on bark, leather or stone—they
were too good. We were in a rather skeptical frame of mind as we set out to explore the entire island. A pick-and-shovel crew was put to work near the spot where the first petroglyphs had been uncovered.
Deep into the “hard-pan” and along the island rocks they ran their trench—with no apparent results.

It was quite discouraging. Everything pointed to the existence of an older culture, yet after days of back-breaking work in the hottest summer weather ever known—at least, in this locality—it seemed that we
must be content with what we had found on or near the surface. If the afternoon’s digging produced nothing, our plan was to abandon the test pits and the trenches and move to another site. Gloomily we ate our lunch in the shelter of the tent.

These views, a part of the Indian Hall in the Pennsylvania Stare Museum at Harrisburg, show some of the relics recovered by the Safe Harbor Exploration made in 1930-1931. By the Pennsylvania Historical Commission in with the Safe Harbor Water Power Corporation and the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company.

Late that afternoon, nature took a hand in the search—rain came down in torrents, driving the men to shelter. For an hour or more, it fell in almost solid sheets. Farther upriver, there was a veritable cloudburst.
Not only did the river rise perceptibly, washing clean the rocks that had been covered with soil and coal dust from the anthracite regions, but the rivulets of water rushed through the trenches with such force that a number of petroglyphs were washed clean of their covering of hard-packed sand—a covering that had lain there undisturbed for centuries. There they were, strange and undecipherable, as we resumed work. Feverishly we began another series, following the rounded contours of the exposed rocks. I was as
overjoyed as the prospector whose burro pawed away the topsoil from a rich vein of silver.

A certain amount of skepticism vanished upon the discovery of these prehistoric writings. But in order to do everything possible toward establishing their age, the head of the Department of Geology at one of our leading universities was consulted. Upon viewing the strata upon Walnut Island and after careful examination of the limestone rocks, he pronounced them, much to my disappointment, comparatively new! But he used a phrase that might mean everything—the rocks were comparatively new “geologically speaking,” and, he explained in answer to my anxious query, from a geologist’s point of view, anything less than 10,000 years of age is in the “comparatively new” class. The hard-packed sand, added the
famous geologist, might easily have covered the rocks for a thousand years or so, only to be suddenly washed away after a flood and replaced by a new layer.

Walnut Island, Where Indian Markings Were Found.

Much encouraged, we set to work to test the island thoroughly. It was, of course, impossible to remove several acres of topsoil, so excavations were confined to completely exposing the rocks already found. As new writings were brought to light, an expert from the Rochester Museum took plaster casts of them.

Thorough tests of the soil and strata at various points on the island revealed a minor occupation by prehistoric Algonkian Indians, in the form of typical pieces of worked stone. However, as these objects were only a few feet beneath the present surface of the island, there is some question as to their antiquity. But far beneath, in the hard-packed sand, were indications of a race that lived in the Susquehanna Valley long before any of the Indian tribes of which we have any record. Who they
were, and to what era they belonged, no one knows.

Some of the markings on the limestone rock showed a marked resemblance to the pictographs of the Chinese. In fact, Chinese students who have seen these carvings even go so far as to interpret some
of them. One early example seems to be a sort of signpost—it is said to depict a cliff with a road leading over it—another is that of a fish.

Does this discovery mean that the first inhabitants of this region came from the Far West? Or is the similarity between the two pictorial languages just one of those strange coincidences that we sometimes
find in archaeology?

The discovery of the Algonkian remains led to a search for their first efforts at graphic art, and large boulders with typical Algonkian carvings were found in the middle of the river. These figures were
easy to identify, as compared with the mysterious—almost Asiatic—petroglyphs of their predecessors.

Ancient Algonkian Warrior found near Shenks Ferry.

Large birds chipped into the rock undoubtedly represented the “thunderbird,” which, according to Indian
mythology, carried a lake on its back. When it flapped its wings, the water was disturbed and dropped over the “shore” as rain. Lightning was caused by the flash of the thunderbird’s eyes. There also were
turkey tracks of various sizes and deer, elk, and buffalo tracks. For it must be remembered that in those days, Pennsylvania was the home of literally millions of elk and buffalo.

Among other carvings, we found the typical lizard, fish, and the horned head of “Lox.” Lox, it seems, was a strange creature who appeared, under different names, among all tribes of American Indians. He was a mischievous spirit, sometimes appearing in the flesh, who delighted in playing pranks on the mortal Red Man. On other occasions, he was known to render aid and to perform other virtuous acts. Altogether, he resembled closely the Norse god Loki, and, in the case of the Algonkians, the names are quite similar.
To date, no hermeneutic, or interpretative, key applicable to American pictographs has been discovered. Nor has any such key been found to reveal the meaning of other petroglyphs, although types and tendencies can be classified.

Susquehannock Indian Pottery in the Ground near Washington Boro.

Encouraged by the finding of many Algonkian petroglyphs, we looked around on the left bank of the Susquehanna for archaeological sites that might throw some light on the rock carvings. The results
of this search have been amazing, even to an archaeologist. On the mainland, near the little town of Washington Boro, we located a burial site. Greatly to our surprise, however, our shovels uncovered
not Algonkian skeletons, but those of the Indians who drove them out of the region—the Susquehannocks so graphically described by that doughty mariner and explorer, Captain John Smith, of Jamestown.

Indian Pottery.


Managed by The Conservation Society of York County, to which it was made available by the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company

In 1912 the late John Edward Vandersloot of York, Pa., erected on the York County shore of the Susquehanna River at Indian Steps, a substantial and unique building to house his collection of Indian relics of the region. The property fronts on the lake behind the dam of the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company and adjoins other lands acquired by the Company for its power development at Holtwood, Pa.,
four miles downstream. Upon the death of Mr. Vandersloot the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company purchased the Indian Steps property from the Vandersloot estate.

The unique building and its valuable collection of vestiges of the earlier inhabitants of the lower Susquehanna Valley have for years attracted the interest of those engaged in archaeological
study of the region. To make the building and its contents available to the public, the Company placed the collection and the management of the building in the hands of The Conservation Society of York County.

Indian Steps, the Indian museum containing the collection of the late John Edward Vandersloot, which is being preserved in cooperation with The Conservation Society of York County.

Permanently embedded in the walls of the building are many Indian axes, arrow points, and agricultural implements. The large room with its windows in which Indian scenes are depicted in stained glass, contains a massive bench made from stone from one of the locks of the canal, which was formerly operated along the river.

Near Indian Steps cabin grows one of the largest holly trees to be found in this latitude. The tree
for many years has been protected and marked by the Company in cooperation with The Conservation
Society of York County.

Indian Relics of the Lower Susquehanna Valley Preserved for the Public

Click here for a full-size PDF of the brochure.

Adventure Awaits!

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Learn More

The Lower Susquehanna that was! Enjoy this 1951 Visitor’s Guide to Safe Harbor & Holtwood, plus an annotated map marking areas of historical interest in the Lower Susquehanna. Click here to read more.

1951 brochure for the Lower Susquehanna.

The Lower Susquehanna before the dams. 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. Click here to read more.


Art: Occupation of Wrightsville by Lee’s Army, June 28, 1863. The curious document we uncovered was this print by Donald Ewin Cooke “from an authentic Civil War wood engraving” made by Albert Berghaus. Scroll down to read more about Cooke and Berghaus. I’m not sure how this print came to reside in the Safe Harbor archives, but it was a great find, as neither Ben nor I had seen it before. Click here to read more.

From an authentic Civil War wood engraving. Original sketch by Albert Berghaus.

Visiting Safe Harbor’s petroglyphs during a low water event.

Big Indian Rock with the mouth of the Conestoga in the distance.

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


Here’s your chance to purchase a beautiful reproduction map of Conestoga and Manor Townships from 1864 through 1899.


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