A PERSONAL HISTORY
Life-long resident, Reeder 'Skeet' Young, always had a story to tell. They were funny, riveting and always informative. He loved duck and geese hunting and was passionate about his hometown. Reeder was born and raised at 65 Penn Street, which many now know as The Tomato Barn. A salesman and buyer for the Campbell Soup Company, he was instrumental in organizing the Washington Borough Tomato Growers Association in 1931.
Below is his memory of the area
reported by Jean Klinedinst
for the Sunday News.
ONCE A SOURCE OF LIVELIHOOD FOR MANY PEOPLE
In today's society, the Susquehanna River is often taken for granted. To be sure, for some it is a menace that threatens their homes and filled them with fear of flooding during bad storms. And to the fisherman and the boater, the river is a place of recreation.
But, Reeder M. Young, 82, a lifelong resident of Washington Boro, also remembers the river as a source of livelihood for many people. He was there when the shad, salmon, and eels fought their way against the mighty current of the Susquehanna when the bass, the pike, and the muskelunge was plentiful. He was there when thousands of ducks filled the sky and the water, and he can recall stories told to him by his grandfather of the days when rafting was one of the prime means of employment for men around Washington Boro. "My grandfather, Uriah H. Douglas, was a pilot on the rafts," he said. "The rafts were made in New York State by one or two lumber companies. Sailing them down the Susquehanna was a means of getting lumber from New York State to the Chesapeake Bay. When they got there, they were dismantled and the logs were sent to the sawmills."
The rafts, he explained, "were about 300 feet long. They were made up of logs that were about 12 to 14 inches square. There was a steer blade about 18 inches wide and 16 feet long with a handle attached. When the rafts left New York State, the first stop was at Lock Haven. The boys from there brought her to Marietta. My grandfather lived in Washington Boro and his run was from Marietta to Peach Bottom," he continued.
"He had three or four boys working for him. When they'd delivered the raft to Peach Bottom, they'd walk back to Marietta.... there was a path along the river...get another raft and 'drop' (let float) it to Washington Boro. Then they'd leave early in the morning for Peach Bottom. Being a pilot was a favored position on those rafts, and I guess my grandfather was paid well. But," he laughed; "if you'd ask a man to do that today.... walk from Peach Bottom to Marietta... he'd probably shoot you."
No matter how good a pilot was, accidents did happen and Young said, "right below Washington Boro at Turkey Hill was a dangerous point. The river is narrow and there are a lot of rocks. Every once in awhile, they'd 'stove one' (crash) on a rock there. Then they'd get some of the boys from Creswell to get the raft off the rocks and yoke then together as they were in the first place. They'd give them about $100 to do that."
Young said that, as far as he knew, the only purpose of the rafts were to transport lumber from New York State to the Chesapeake Bay, but according to Franklin Ellis and Samuel Evans in their classic book History of Lancaster County, some of the lumber was used in Washington Boro in earlier times.
"Rafting was at its height in the early years of the 1800s and during the prosperous days of rafting, the lumber trade was most active in Washington Boro. There were lumber and coal yards, steam saws and planing mills. Besides the timber and lumber that was brought down by the rafts, boards, lathes, shingles, wheat, oats, coal and pig iron were brought down in arks. During this period Washington Boro was noted as a 'stopping off' place for raftsman, and the river was lined with rafts for 3-4 miles. There were from 12 to 14 hotels there to serve the needs of the raftsman and their helpers." Ellis and Evans also state that "some of the raftsmen took their horses and mules along on the rafts for the purpose of riding back to their homes, but many walked the return route."
Young has many fond memories of the days when the fish, and ducks were plentiful. "My dad used to help me to do some shad fishing." he said, "but I was a little young when the fishing was good. But I know of when they used to catch eels."
"Some of the boys would lay fish pots that they made themselves. They were about 15 feet long and four or five feet wide. They were made of wood and had slats in them. The eels would fall in there and couldn't get out. They took a lot of eels out of that river, and they'd market them."
This type of fishing was against the law and Young recalled that "a couple of boys had four or five fish pots in the river at the end of the Boro. The fish warden got to them and started to break up one of the pots with an axe. One of the fellows that had the pots was sitting up on a hill watching with a rifle. When the warden started to hack at the pot with the axe, he aimed alongside him and shot. Sure scared that fish warden," he laughed.
The fish were marketed throughout the local communities or sold to Henry Wertz, who Young said, "operated the hotel in Washington Boro until they passed the prohibition law. That's the only hotel I can ever remember being there. Wertz used to serve what they called 'plank shad' dishes... I don't know just what it was... but lawyers, doctors, and senators from Lancaster and Strasburg would come down to eat that dish at Henry's Hotel.
His mood changed to a more somber one and he said, "When that dam went in down there at Safe Harbor, it ruined the fishing in this part of the river. The power company made a fishway but it would take a fish with wings to get up over that."
Young said that he'd like to eat just about any kind of fish but was always more of a duck hunter than a fisherman. "I used to use 85 to 90 decoys at one time." he said. "I made a lot of my own but I bought some, too. For years, it was legal to sell wild duck," he said. "At one time, Canada and the United States had a treaty, whereas Canada raised thousands of Canvasbacks, the best wild duck that flies. In later years they passed a law that you couldn't sell wild duck and the treaty went to pieces."
"There used to be a lot of Blue-Bills, Sprigtail, Blue Wing Teal, Green Wing Teal, and Butter-Balls." The latter, he said, "are no bigger'n a pigeon but they sure are good to eat. Now," he lamented, "about all you see are a few mallards. I haven't seen a canvasback in three years."
"Geese go to the Arctic Circle to breed but ducks go to Canada and they tell me that there's an insect that kills their eggs," he said. "But the last year it was legal to sell wild duck, I killed 204.... 101 were canvasbacks and the rest a variety." He recalled that "we sold our ducks to the local hotel and markets around the area. There used to be a couple of doctors in Lancaster that would buy wild ducks, then they'd have a duck banquet at the Hamilton Club."
If you are one of those people who have been victimized by the raging, swollen waters of the Susquehanna, don't think it's never happened before. The river has been flooding since time began. According to Ellis and Evans, "In 1832, a freshet took away Jacob Manning's distillery in Washington Boro. The streets were covered with water sufficiently deep for sailing boats. Another freshet in 1873 came up the streets and caused considerable damage."
Young remembers the freshet of 1904. "I was only about six years old at the time," he smiled. "My dad and uncle were out there in the water catching some stuff that was coming down the river. At that time there was a store on each corner of Route 999. Mom—her name was Mary, but everybody called her 'Mame'—was there with some other women watching. I was hanging onto the porch post and mom told me several times to be careful or I'd fall in the river. Well, I didn't listen and my hand slipped and I fell in the river, but I caught hold of the banister." He laughed, "all the way up here, from the river, she batted me across the ears for not listening. I guess that's why I remember it so well."
Reeder as a young lad
Reeder's father, Benjamin