Washington - The Potomac And The Alleghenies
( Originally Published 1900 )
The Potomac is one of the chief among the many rivers draining the Allegheny Mountains. It originates in two branches, rising in West Virginia and uniting northwest of Cumberland; is nearly four hundred miles long; has remarkably picturesque scenery in the magnificent gorges and reaches of its upper waters; breaks through range after range of the Alleghenies, and after reaching the lowlands be-comes a tidal estuary for a hundred miles of its final course, broadening to six and eight and ultimately sixteen miles wide at its mouth in the Chesapeake. Washington is near the head of tidewater, one hundred and twenty-five miles from the bay; and for almost its entire course the Potomac is an interstate boundary, between Maryland and West Virginia and Virginia. Its name is Indian, referring to its use in their primitive navigation, the original word " Petomok " meaning "they are coming by water "—" they draw near in canoes." The Alleghenies, where this noted river originates, are a remarkable geological formation. The Atlantic Coast of the United States has a general trend from the northeast to the southwest, with bordering sand beaches, and back of them a broad band of pines. Then, towards the north-west, the land gradually rises, being formed in successive ridges, with intervening valleys, until it reaches the Alleghenies. The great ranges of this mountain chain, which is geologically known as the Appalachian System, run almost parallel to the coast for over a thousand miles, from the White Mountains of New Hampshire down to Alabama. They are noted mountains, not very high, but of remarkable construction, and are said to be much older in geological formation than the Alps or the Andes. They are composed of series of parallel ridges, one beyond the other, and all following the same general course, like the successive waves of the ocean. For long distances these ridges run in perfectly straight lines, and then, as one may curve around into a new direction, all the others curve with it. The intervening valleys are as remarkable in their parallelism as the ridges enclosing them. From the seaboard to the mountains the ranges of hills are of the same general character, but with less elevation, gentler slopes, and in most cases narrower and much more fertile valleys.
The South Mountain, an irregular and in some parts broken-down ridge, is the outpost of the Alleghenies, while the great Blue Ridge is their eastern buttress. The latter is about twenty miles northwest of the South Mountain, and is the famous Kittatinny range, named by the Indians, and in their figurative language meaning "the endless chain of hills." It stretches from the Catskills in New York southwest to Alabama, a distance of eight hundred miles, a veritable backbone for the Atlantic seaboard, its rounded ridgy peaks rising sometimes twenty-five hundred feet north of the Carolinas, and much higher in those States. It stands up like a great blue wall against the northwestern horizon, deeply notched where the rivers flow out, and is the eastern border for the mountain chain of numerous parallel ridges of varying heights and characteristics that stretch in rows behind it, covering a width of a hundred miles or more. Within this chain is the vast store of minerals that has done so much to create American wealth—the coal and iron, the ores and metals, that are in exhaustless supply, and upon the surface grew the forests of timber that were used in building the seaboard cities, but are now nearly all cut off. The great Atlantic Coast rivers rise among these mountain ridges, break through the Kittatinny and flow down to the ocean, while the streams on their western slopes drain into the Mississippi Valley. The Hudson breaks through the Kittatinny outcrop at the West Point Highlands, the Delaware forces a passage at the Water Gap, the Lehigh at the Lehigh Gap, below Mauch Chunk ; the Schuylkill at Port Clinton, the Susquehanna at Dauphin, above Harris-burg, and the Potomac at Harper's Ferry. All these rivers either rise among or force their winding pas-sages through the various ranges behind the great Blue Ridge, and also through the South Mountain and the successive parallel ranges of lower hills that are met on their way to the coast, so that all in their courses display most picturesque valleys.