Delaware Diary: Episodes in the Life of a River

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9780813522821: Delaware Diary: Episodes in the Life of a River

Everyone knows that Washington crossed the Delaware and turned the "times that try men's souls" into a triumphal victory. And today residents of and visitor to New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania enjoy canoeing and tubing, shad fishing and bed and breakfasting along the Delaware. Have you ever wondered about the life of the river in the two centuries in between? The Delaware was the scene of important events after the Revolution, too- an early and tragic experiment in steam propulsion, a notoriously lethal prison camp in the Civil War, memorable floods, hurricanes, ice storms, and even a furious battle with the U.S. army.

Frank Dale, who has lived near the Delaware all of his life, has burrowed into old newspaper files and archives and traced down eyewitnesses o the life of the Delaware. Rivers were the highways of choice in early America, and the Delaware presented much greater challenges than the nearby Hudson. Filled with rapid, falls, and inconvenient rocks, the river refused to accommodate itself easily to the needs of commerce. The rivermen who ventured down the Delaware on massive timber rafts or Durham boats filled with iron ore earned a deserved reputation for pure ornery courage. Later entrepreneurs tried steamboats, canals, and bridges to attempt to harness and exploit this most unexploitable river, with decidedly mixed results. In recent times, the Tocks Island Dam was defeated by a community that had come to admire the river's stubborn resistance to being conquered and harnesses to human ends. Canoeists and waterside strollers can now appreciate its unspoiled beauties.

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About the Author:

Dale is a freelance writer and local historian.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A diverting collection of Delaware River lore, from freelance writer and local historian Dale. The Delaware River never was one of the nation's great commercial waterways: too many rapids, too little water for that. Its claim to fame rests largely with George Washington's crossing on that blizzardy Christmas night in 1776, headed for Trenton and an engagement with a few hundred besotted Hessians. But Dale knows there is more to the river's history, and he serves it up in linear, storybook fashion. He starts as far back as the Lenni-Lenape natives and their disastrous relations with the gathering swarms of Dutch, Swedish, and English settlers. From that sorry piece of the past, Dale moves to another: clear-cutting the riverbank's pine woods to feed the British admiralty's insatiable demand for timber. Great rafts of logs, the size of football fields, were floated downriver, and soon the riverine landscape was as denuded as the English hillsides. Dale goes into great detail describing the Revolutionary War battles waged along the Delaware; the development of various rivercraft, from the ore-bearing Durham boats (Washington's craft of choice), to Fitch's steam packetboat (predating Robert Fulton's by decades); and a nasty little Civil War prison located on Pea Patch Island, a Union rival to the grotesqueries of Andersonville. For latter years, Dale concentrates on the river's strange, cruel weather--the horrific floods (called ``freshets'' in these parts) of 1841 and 1903, the sprawling devastation of Hurricane Diane in 1955, brutal ice storms. There is lots more: snippets, asides, vignettes, rumors, quick biographical sketches. And the river's cleaning up its act; Dale, in a measure of true devotion, even drinks from its waters. Homey history, like something your grandfather might have recited before the living room fire, a history in which the narrator has a stake. (56 b&w illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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