HISTORY OF THE
CALLAPATSCHINK / YELLOW BREECHES CREEK
PREPARED FOR YELLOW BREECHES WATERSHED ASSOCIATION
By Bob Rowland
The first known occupancy of the Central Pennsylvania area was by the
Susquehannock Indians and predated the arrival of the white man from Europe.
Some evidence has been found on the West Shore area to confirm their presence,
but not enough to confirm specific locations other than burials or their
With the demise of the Susquehannocks in the mid to late 1600s, the Shawnee
Indians began moving from the south and west into Maryland and Pennsylvania.
This was with the permission of the Penn Family and the Delaware Indians. By the
1720s the Shawnees had established a village on the north side of the mouth of
the Yellow Breeches. Little physical evidence has been found but their presence
is well documented in various records.
Other Shawnee Villages along the Susquehanna River were south of the Yellow
Breeches at an undefined location, and on the north side of the mouth of the
Conodoguinet Creek, which was documented in property surveys as late as 1737. It
was also reported that the Shawnee lodges could be seen on the bluffs opposite
John Harris’ place.
The Indians had a burial ground approximately 2 miles up stream along the Yellow
Breeches on Rich Hill at a loop in the Yellow Breeches. Rich Hill no longer
exists due to a quarry operation. The property owner was of the opinion that
there were also lodges there. There have been some undocumented reports of
Indian villages further up stream and in the western portion of Cumberland
County but no specific locations are known.. Other than the obvious use of the
Yellow Breeches for fishing and transportation, there is no known other use by
the Indians. In 1728 the Shawnees departed the local area and headed out to
western Pennsylvania and joined forces with the French to fight against the
In 1732 the three Lancaster Jurists wrote a letter to the Shawnee chief in an
enticement to get the Indians to return, offering them a 7,500 acre manor along
the Susquehanna River in what would later be known as Lowther Manor. Their
description of the boundary included the “Shawna Creek” on the south side, the
name by which the Shawnees knew the Yellow Breeches.
The only Indian that lived near the Yellow Breeches and left his mark in history
was Peter Chartier (1700-1759). He was the son of Martin Chartier, - 1718, a
Frenchman from Canada and a noted Indian trader and interpreter. Martin’s wife,
Peter’s mother, was a Shawnee. Peter Chartier established a trading post about a
mile north of the Yellow Breeches along the Susquehanna River and competed with
John Harris. Chartiers place or Chartiers Landing was located just off the river
between 15th and 16th Streets in New Cumberland. While he departed with the
Shawnees in the late 1720s, he frequently returned and he did obtain a deed to
this property in 1739. As a Shawnee chief he was frequently involved in
negotiations with the Penn government, some of which took place at the mouth of
the Yellow Breeches.
There are many opinions about the source of the name, Yellow Breeches, but no
conclusions. The earliest recorded use of a variation of this name that the
author has found is in the Blunston’s Licenses first issued to David Priest on
May 2 1734 for 200 acres of land on the south side of the “Yellow Britches”
Creek.. It is repeated as “Britches” in nine other licenses issued between 1734
and 1736, according to the transcription by Mrs. Harry Royes and published by
the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. Local historian Robert G. Crist
indicated that it was spelled “Breeches” in the Blunston Licenses. Smout’s
survey of 1736 included the name “Yellow Breeches”. It appears that after 1737,
the name “Yellow Breeches was used exclusively, i.e. Peter Chatier’s 1739 Deed
to his tract in New Cumberland Borough.
One story is that some old “Geezer” in the early days washed his buckskin
breeches in the creek and yellowed the water. Another story is that the name is
a corruption from yellow beeches, from the great number of trees of that species
that grew upon its banks. The presence of beech trees is confirmed in the 1740
survey of Peter Chartier’s tract which started at the mouth of the Yellow
Breeches at the Susquehanna River, “…. beginning at a beech tree on the banks of
the Susquehanna river…”. Or it may have been taken from an old song:
Full of stitches,
Mammy sewed the buttons on:
Daddy kicked me out of bed
For sleeping with the breeches on,” (4)
The Indians used a variety of names including: Callapus-Kinck, Callapus-Sink,
Callapatscink, Shawna and Shawnee Creek. Use of the later names would have been
limited to 30 years or less during the Shawnee occupancy.
The land on the west side of the Susquehanna River was not opened legally for
settlement until the mid-1730s. When the negotiations with the Indians were
approaching completion, the Penn’s authorized the issuance of a temporary
warrant called Blunston’s Licenses. These were issued for four years until
October 1736 when the Penn’s repurchased the west side of the Susquehanna River
from the Chiefs of the Five Nations. The land office then began issuing warrants
for the west side.
The Blunston Licenses were issued by
Lancaster County officials who at that
time had jurisdiction over the new territory on the west side of the
Susquehanna. As mentioned the first license issued along the Yellow Breeches was
for David Priest of Lancaster County. It included 200 acres and was described
“To be bounded on the East with the River, on the North side with Yellow
Britches Creek, to the west with Richard Ashton’s tract” (Ashton’s license was
issued the same day). The 1736 survey of “The Proprietary’s Mannor” (Later named
Lowther Manor) by Edward Smout located the Priest and Ashton cabins on the south
side of the Yellow Breeches. The hills to the south of the Yellow Breeches were
later named the “Priest Hills” in Scull’s 1770 map of Pennsylvania. David Priest
is the first person to get legal title and to settle along the Yellow Breeches.
With the rapid settlement of the west banks of the Susquehanna River, the need
for improved government developed. York County was established in late 1749 and
several months later, in Jan. 1750, Cumberland County was formed, both being
carved out of Lancaster County.
The enabling legislation provided for representatives from the two Counties to
meet and establish the common boundary line. A dispute quickly arose as the
Cumberland County representatives wanted the line to start at a point of the
Susquehanna River opposite the mouth of the Swatara Creek and run along the
ridge of the South Mountain, while the York representatives claimed it should
follow the Yellow Breeches Creek. The issue was settled by an act passed on Feb.
9, 1751 which established that the line shall follow the Yellow Breeches from
its mouth at the Susquehanna River to the mouth of Dogwood Run and thence by a
straight line to the ridge of South Mountain.
The new settlers needed lumber to build homes and mills to grind their grains.
The Yellow Breeches was an obvious source of power for new mills. Since building
permits and stream encroachment permits weren’t required, there are no records
of when the first mills were constructed. Tax assessment list were usually the
first record of each mill. The first such records in Allen Twp, Cumberland
County were for the year 1766.
Five property owners are listed as owning mills:
John Anderson, fulling mill
William Hammersley, saw mill
Hugh Laird, grist mill & saw mill
Robert Rosebury, grist mill & saw mill
Ralph Whiteside, grist mill & saw mill
Legend has it that William Brooks, who came from Ireland in 1740 and squatted on
180 acres along the Yellow Breeches in what is now Lower Allen Township, built a
house and mill between 1745 and 1750 on land that he did not have title to until
1794 Although he had made the improvements, the proprietors compelled him to pay
the improved valuation when it was conveyed to him. This explains why he was not
on the 1766 tax lists.
Further upstream the following were know to have mills about in the 1760’s or
Glen Allen Mill/ Lantz
The earliest known mill information pertains to a corn mill on the Cedar Run
just above its mouth on the Yellow Breeches in what is now called Milltown or
Eberly Mills. Benjamin Chambers, founder of Chambersburg, was granted a “corn
mill and a plantation of 300 acres” by Thomas Penn for providing the leadership
that stopped Cresap and the Marylanders in their intrusion into Pennsylvania. In
one version, Chambers, a millwright, offered to build a corn mill, but since Penn
offered him title to the land and mill, it must have then been existing in 1736.
The Land Office later denied Chamber’s claim to the land. This mill was located
in Lowther Manor which was not legally opened for settlement until 1767.
Another confirmation of early mills in Milltown was contained in John
Armstrong’s survey of Lowther Manor in 1765. The plan notes “Mill seate” on
proposed lot #11, which contains Cedar Run and its mouth on the Yellow
Breeches. Surveyors record the facts observed on their field surveys and do not
speculate about future land use.
In the book Callapatscink by John R. Miller, first read before the Cumberland
County Historical Society in Nov 1909, there are identifications of 60 mills
that existed at various times along the Yellow Breeches and detailed chain of
ownership and type of mill for many of them. This includes mills in York and
Cumberland Counties. Some of these mill buildings still exist and are used today as warehouses, residences, and the Brooks mill is used by the Mechanicsburg
Water Co. as a water filtration facility.
The mills are identified by Miller for the following uses:
||Iron Works 1
||Unknown 20 (Probably Grist & Saw)
Locating mills by a given name is very difficult because they frequently changed
names as the property was sold or the owner died. Many of these mills had dams
along the Yellow Breeches or its tributaries to improve the flow through the
mill. These initially were wooden or log dams using rock cribs, until concrete
was introduced in the late 1800s. The Department of Environmental Protection,
Dam Safety unit lists 12 dams under open permits along the Yellow Breeches. There
are other permitted dams on the tributaries.
Those on the Yellow Breeches are as follows:
New Cumberland, 6’ high concrete gravity dam built in 1911 for the West
Shore water supply and power for pumping. Constructed
for Riverton Water Co. It was located immediately downstream from an
old mill dam. Still in use.
Green Lane Farms, 9’ high concrete dam built in 1915 to run the grist mill
on the north bank Constructed for Yellow Breeches Milling Inc. It was
located immediately downstream from an old crib dam built by Etter &
Shanklin in the late 1800s. No longer in use.
Brook’s or Spangler’s Mill, 8’ high gated concrete dam rebuilt in 1911,
for power for grist and saw mill. Constructed for Spangler Flour Mills Inc.
Replaced crib dam. No longer in use.
Boyer or Miller Dam, 10’ high concrete dam built in 1908 for water supply.
Constructed for Mechanicsburg Gas and Water Co.
Still in use.
Lisburn, dam built about 1904 for power for flour, grist, cider and saw mills.
Probably rebuilt for Jacob and James Kunkel.
Rosegarden dam provided power for grist mill and electric lights.
McCormick was the 1919 0wner.
Williams Grove, a 2’ high dam was built in 1919 for improvements of the spring.
Brandtville, an old rubble stone dam for generating electricity.
Boiling Springs, rebuilt in 1950 for electric generator.
Monroe Mill Dam #1, rubble masonry dam for flour and grist mill.
Bucher Estate, rubble dam, formerly owned by Boiling Springs Light and Power.
Used to divert water into Children’s Lake. In 1998 dam was reported as
“Breached” and in disrepair. S. Middleton Twp. Considered rebuilding dam for
wetland and bird sanctuary in 1997.
1 mile north of Mt. Holly Springs, rubble dam used for flour mill of J.E.Martin.
At a number of places along the Yellow Breeches Creek the flow splits and then
later rejoins creating islands of various sizes. About a mile and a half
upstream from Boiling Springs one of the islands is known locally as Island
Grove, being a little downstream from Craigshead. This island had a very dense
undergrowth affording great shelter for escaped slaves and was used by those in
sympathy with their cause as one of the important depots of the underground
railroad. The slaves were harbored here until opportunity was afforded to move
them on northward. From there they were taken across Sterrett’s Gap where they
could continue their trek. One of the houses in nearby Boiling Springs was also
used as part of the underground railroad.
As the population increased, towns and villages began to develop along the Yellow
Breeches. Working upstream, they are identified as follows( with the year of
beginning, when known).
The need for drinking water and later sewage disposal
to support these communities was provided by the
Yellow Breeches. At the present time there are two dams with water intakes for
domestic purpose along the Creek. The Boyer Mill Building and dam (10’ high
concrete structure) are utilized by the Mechanicsburg Water Company. A modern
filter plant is located within the old mill building, which is located in
Fairview Township. Further downstream is a 6” high masonry structure which
impounds water for the Riverton Operation of the American Water Company. The
plant is also on the south side of the Creek in Fairview Township.
As the quality of life improved there was increasing need for bridges to end the
fording of streams. Some small bridges were erected in the 1700s by Townships,
such as the Huntsdale Bridge in what is now Penn Township. During the Bell vs. Drawbaugh hearings in 1883, there was testimony about a foot bridge at Etters
Mill being washed out in the spring floods of 1875. There were probably many
foot bridges across the Yellow Breeches for the convenience of the local
inhabitants which had short duration.
The first recorded bridge over the Yellow Breeches was a wooden bridge
connecting New Cumberland with York County. The records are not clear whether
the bridge was build in 1792 or was already in existence at that time. Gilbert W. Beckley,
the New Cumberland historian, was of the opinion that this first bridge was
located close to the present railroad bridge. By 1815 this bridge was replaced.
The county in 1795 for the first time began utilizing county funds for building
bridges which initially were of the stone arch type. The first county bridge to
be built on the Yellow Breeches was a five arch stone bridge aligning with
Market Street in New Cumberland in 1815. This bridge had a much longer life than
the first wood bridge, being washed out in 1889. Since that time there has been
a third (iron) and the present (fourth) bridge.
Three other stone arch bridges were built on the Yellow Breeches by the county
during the nineteenth century. All three are still in use at this time. They
Boyer Mill Bridge, four arches 1859
Bryson Bridge, four arches 1857
Boiling Springs Bridge, three arches 1854
After the New Cumberland Bridge, the next four erected on the Yellow Breeches
were wooden covered bridges, during the period of 1828 to 1850. During the 1850s
several uncovered wooden bridges were erected. Several wood covered bridges were
erected on the Yellow Breeches during the 1860s before the County Commissioners
took a interest in iron bridges. All of the early iron bridges had to be
replaced in their first decade except for the Givlers Bridge on the Yellow
Breeches. The next wave of iron bridges were more successful with some of them
still in use today ( Etters, Bishops, and Gilberts).
Attached to this report is a listing of known bridge sites utilizing the map and
identification prepared by Dick Meads in 1935. This basically covers county-built bridges and does not include Commonwealth built bridges on the
Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Interstates, and numerous state legislative routes,
nor private bridges. Railroad bridges, of which there are several, have not been
On the banks of the Yellow Breeches on the Hempt property was an early vacation
complex. There were 12 cottages in a line along the stream that were built by
people from Harrisburg. Two of these cottages would become year-round homes.
They would lease the site from the Hempt’s and build their own cottage. A little
removed from the line of cottages was another cottage called the Steelton Club,
which was used by the young men of Steelton. Next to the Steelton cottage was
the ball field which was used by the Church of God team. The ball games were
considered a popular local events and drew large crowds. The park had a wooden
chute that had water running down it, and the kids would ride sleds down the
chute into the Yellow Breeches. There was a swimming area and diving board, a
picnic area, a dance pavilion with a nickelodeon for music, but no bands. There
was also a dressing and shower building and a refreshment stand.
The author's former secretary told about taking the street car with her girl
friend from Harrisburg to the White Hill stop on Hummel Ave. From there they would
then walk down 18th St. and Creek Road to the Hempt property to spend a weekend.
The area at the end of the loop in the stream was also a popular camping site.
One of the cottages was relocated from the stream to Lisburn Road opposite the
Cedar Road School and still exists, though expanded. Expansion of the business
and the Second World War brought an end to the recreational use of the site.
The Yellow Breeches Creek in the last century
(and presumably always) has been
noted for its water quality and aquatic life. The fish are only part of the
system of fauna that includes 150 kinds of birds, reptiles, amphibians and
mammals. Numerous favorable factors in addition to the fauna contributed to the
Yellow Breeches Creek being designated in 1993 as part of Pennsylvania Scenic
Rivers System. The reach of 5 ½ miles from Spanglers Mill to the Susquehanna
River is classified as “recreational area” and the upstream portion is
classified as “pastoral” meaning that the views from the banks are primarily
Beckley, Gilbert W. 1973 New Cumberland Frontiers
1975 The Sampler from seventy six
Crist, Robert Grant 1957 The Land in Cumberland called Lowther
1969 Manor on the Market
1993 Lower Allen township
DEP Dam Safety Unit Dam Permit Files
Egle, W.H. 1883 History of Dauphin Co.
Flower, Lenore Embick 1961 Blunston Licaneses And Their Background
Gill, Paul E. 1992 “…Drive the Road and Bridge the Ford…” Published by
Cumberland County Historical Society
Kent, Barry C. 1984 Susquehanna’s Indians
Miller, John R. 1909 Callapatscink, The Yellow Breeches Creek
Royes, Mrs. Harry 1932 Blunston’s Licenses, Published in Genealogical Society of
Pa. Vol. XI, 1932
Rupp, I Daniel 1846 History and Topography of Dauphin, Cumberland…..
Thomas, Evelyn H. 1981 Tracking the Crossings of the Yellow Breeches Creek
Wing, Rev. Conway P. 1879 History of Cumberland County
U.S. Circuit Court 1886 American Bell Telephone Co. vs. Peoples
I romp’d on the banks in my boyhood
I bathed in thy pure silv’ry stream
Where the birch bark canoes of the red man,
Once flash’d, in the bright rosy beam,
Of the sun, on the swift flowing waters.
While the wild deer would come there to drink;
Yes,-I’ve dream’d on the banks of the maidens
Who were wooed on the Callapatscink.
Here the brave of the past had his wigwam,
Here he sleeps his last sleep on the hill,
With his bow and his stone-pointed arrows,
His wampum and beads with him still,
Yet the waters on which he disported,
In search of the deer on the brink,
Roll on-singing dirges of sorrow
For the braves of the Callapatscink.
On the hill ‘neath the boughs of the thorn-bush
The bones of the red men were laid,
Yet the spirit moans out on the night wind
A response to the sighs of the maid
That he loved, wooed and won by the camp-fire-
As her cheek flushed the tints of the pink.
They are gone! and the places that knew them
Are here,-on the Callapatscink
Yes, the red man has gone, and thy waters
Still laughingly rush to the seas,
And the that he gave thee- forgotten,
With the lithe dusty maidens, and trees
That shaded the banks, when they roved here,
And gathered bright flowers on the brink,
Now the white man has harness’d thy waters
No longer the Callapatscink
The white man enslav’d the swift rapids
And has forced them to work in the mill-
But thy braves were not conquered,- but broken-
And their dust is at rest on the hill;-
While their spirits-reposing in cloud-land-
Gazing sadly down over the brink
Of the storm clouds that hover above thee,
Wave adieu to the Callapscink.
Now, the sons of the whites who enslav’d thee,
Are searching thy shores for a trace
Of the homes ,-and the deeds,-of a nation
That here was the dominant race;
But the story is sunk in tradition,
We find here and there a short link
Of truth,-mong the many last fragments
Of the tale of the Calapascink
We find here a stone pointed arrow,
A thorn-bush that marks a lone grave,
A cave in the rock with crude tracings,
And the stone ax of some warlike brave;
The wigwam’s long fallen in ruins,
On its site we can ponder,-and think
Of the squaws and the braves, and the children,
Who once lived on the Callapatscink.
By Dr. W.B. Bigler
Of Dallastown, Pa.
Yellow Breeches Watershed Association
PO Box 5
Grantham, PA 17027