The Susquehanna Trail: Greatest highway in Eastern America

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In this York Daily Record/Sunday News file photo, a York Water Company official has just inspected a water main break along the Susquehanna Trail near Loganville. This stretch of the trail is still a favorite of those taking Sunday afternoon drives. (See additional York Daily Record/Sunday News photos below). Background posts: Whatever happened to York County’s Hungerford? and War memorials stand proudly in towns throughout York County and Trees commemorate World War I vets.

Mention of the Susquehanna Trail often brings to mind images of South George Street extended between York and the Maryland line.
They think of it as a Sunday afternoon ride to Brown’s, with maybe a side trip to Nixon Park to the west or even the Hex murder house to the east or other such excursions.
But the Susquehanna Trail stretches north of York, too.
To Harrisburg. And to Niagara Falls.
And south of the Maryland Line, too.
To Baltimore. And to Washington, D.C.
Or at least at one time, it sprawled from Niagara Falls to D.C.
The York Daily Record published a fascinating story in 1997 (11/13) explaining all of this:


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This face carved from a tree trunk greets motorists along the Susquehanna Trail in Manchester Township.

Susquehanna Trail, for as long as most who use it can remember, has been the name of a 15-mile, two-lane road between the Maryland state line and York.
The name was handed down from Native Americans. That’s obvious, isn’t it? Obvious -but not correct.
A history lesson shows why.
Joppa, a port town in Maryland, came before Baltimore. Joppa is on the Gunpowder River, in what is now Harford County. Baltimore was established in 1729, on the Patapsco River. The town didn’t replace Joppa as a commercial center until the Gunpowder filled with silt.
About 10 years later, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly created Shrewsbury Township. Good soil, Alvin Newcomer said in a local history, attracted its English and Scotch-Irish settlers.
“A further attraction was the Potocas Trail,” he said, “running north-south, providing access for the movement of goods and crops in and out of the area.” He didn’t elaborate, except to say that the trail evolved into the Joppa road: “the primary transportation route between York and the Chesapeake Bay ports of Joppa and Potapsco,” presumably Baltimore.
In 1739, according to Georg R. Sheets’ local history, “Made in York,” settlers between the Susquehanna River and the Codorus Creek proposed an east-west road. The road, which eventually would link Wrightsville with York, Spring Grove and Hanover, was surveyed in 1740; York was laid out the next year.
The road followed a path established by the Susquehanna, an Iroquois tribe, long before Europeans arrived in Pennsylania. The path connected three rivers: the Susquehanna, the Monocacy, and the Potomac. Here, settlers called the path the Monocacy.
Marylanders called it the Susquehanna, according to “Historic Indian Paths of Pennsylvania” a pamphlet by Paul A.W. Wallace. Route 462 from Wrightsville to west of York and Route 116 through Spring Grove to Hanover follow the same route today. By other names, it continues on to Frederick, Md., and to Harpers Ferry, W.Va. So commerce was available to the east and west.
Goods still needed to be moved to the Chesapeake. York’s north-south artery, George Street, “fell in line with the existing road,” according to Sheets. That probably was the Joppa road, which -70 years later -would be adapted again.
The Maryland Line Turnpike, also known as the York-Baltimore Turnpike, opened in 1810. By then, Shrewsbury was becoming a commercial center. It was dominated by Germans who called their village “Strassburg,” meaning “town by the road.” The name reverted to Shrewsbury in 1830, when the English regained their influence.
In 1918, the owners of four turnpikes sold their roads to the county and state. The York and Maryland Line company’s price was $11,800.
Next, Williamsport’s Chamber of Commerce promoted the road by yet another name. It did so in a booklet, “The Susquehanna Trail,” published in 1930 and in previous years. Williamsport was promoting its hotels as ideal stopping places between Washington, D.C., and Niagara Falls, N.Y.
One city had “historic shrines” and was 209 miles to the south; the other was “the world’s greatest natural wonder” and 225 miles to the north. Both places -and Williamsport -were on the Susquehanna Trail.
For nearly half its length, as defined by the chamber, the trail was a single route. It split at Harrisburg. The first leg, Route 15, connected Frederick, Md., to “the celebrated Gettysburg battlefield” and to Harrisburg. Williamsport hardly promoted the second route, except to draw a line on a map. It went through Baltimore, Shrewsbury and York.
Regardless, the chamber said, the trail was “a fine concrete ribbon” and “the greatest highway in eastern America.” Hyperbole would become history within three decades. The reason: construction of the Harrisburg-Baltimore Expressway, which began in 1950.
Maryland opened the last section of the expressway, now Interstate 83, south of Shrewsbury in 1959.
Nearly 30 years later, remnants of the old roads remain. York Road goes from Jacobus to the edge of Lake Redman, which was built in 1966; Old Baltimore Pike passes by the South Hill Hebrew Cemetery, south of York.
A 1-mile segment of the Joppa road survives at Leader Heights and Apple Hill. It leaves the Susquehanna Trail just north of Lake Redman, recrosses the trail, then becomes Grantley Road.
York Township officials considered renaming Joppa Road in 1960, according to stories in the Gazette and Daily (now the Daily Record). A local historian persuaded them to keep the old name.

 

Also of interest:
Check out Yorkblogger’s Stephen H. Smith’s post on Good Roads, of which the Susquehanna Trail was one!
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Susquehanna Trail has scenic patches north of York, too.

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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