Where exactly is the Susquehanna River’s Holtwood Dam?

dam
The Holtwood Dam on the Susquehanna.

A story on some rehab work planned for Holtwood Dam in the Susquehanna River sparked discussion in our afternoon news meeting Monday.
Where exactly is Holtwood Dam (and Safe Harbor, York Haven and other dams) in relation to the other impoundments holding back water between York and Lancaster counties? Well, this isn’t exact, but it’s a couple of miles north of the Norman Wood Bridge and a couple of miles downstream from the former McCall’s Ferry crossing.
Someone once told me an easy way to remember the dams… .


Start at Conowingo, the southernmost dam, and work deeper into the alphabet as you go north. So, it’s Conowingo, Holtwood, Safe Harbor and York Haven.
The first river dam – an impoundment for the canal system built in 1840 – spanned the Susquehanna between Wrightsville and Columbia. I’ve never heard a name for this low-head dam. But if it was called the “Wrightsville Dam,” then it would also fit into this alphabetical scheme. Information from “Never to be Forgotten” on the 1840 dam follows:
1840: Wrightsville
Dam hinders shad migration

A 10-foot-high dam across the Susquehanna River creates a slackwater pool to enable boats to travel between canals on each side of the river. But this obstruction spells the end of the annual migration of shad returning to the Susquehanna to spawn. “The free-flowing Susquehanna was free no more,” one author wrote. Fish passageways built into the dam do not help shad migration, and additional dams to generate hydroelectric power were built in the early 20th century. The annual migration is expected to return after 2000 with the completion of fish ladders near the York Haven power plant. The river again will be open to shad fishing. The Wrightsville impoundment and later dams also disturb the spawning cycle of eels, another gamefish. It is said that many households have eel spears next to their family rifle to hook their prey in area creeks. People eat eels, but many use their skins for shoelaces, bookbindings, whips, and as a remedy for illness and disease. “Eels were dried, pulverized and sewn into eel skin sacks for shipment to China where they were valued as an aphrodisiac,” one history states.

Also of interest:
Mermaid spotted in Susquehanna in 1800s: ‘Her hair was platted behind … cut short in front.
About York County’s former YMCA camp: ‘They treasure memories of their Minqua experience’.
Wildflowers at Shenk’s Ferry glen sprouting despite centuries of encroaching civilization.
Norman Wood Bridge painters slowed: ‘Everybody’s looking for the eagles … nobody has seen any’

Who was Norman Wood (of bridge fame)?
Placid canal harmed Susquehanna River.

*Photo courtesy of Don McClure

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.

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