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Clarion professor publishes pictorial on Allegheny River
By AMANDA WITHERELL   - 06/24/2006

The Derrick

When traveling down the Allegheny River, one may find the landscape surrounding the river pleasing to the eye. And, one might wonder what the landscape looked like a century ago.

Someone did wonder, and he was able to capture the images through a number of postcards that date back to the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Charles E. Williams, a professor of ecology at Clarion University, recently published his first pictorial book in conjunction with the Postcard History Series by Arcadia Publishing (publishers of local and regional history in the United States).

The book, "Along the Allegheny River: The Northern Watershed," includes pictures of more than 200 vintage postcards. The images showcase years of history from the river, its landscape and its people, including the timber and oil booms of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The postcards also depict the scenic path the Allegheny River takes, winding between the landscapes from north central Pennsylvania to the Clarion River.

Williams' book covers this vast area by breaking it up into eight different sections. Each section covers a different watershed that joins with the Allegheny - the Upper Allegheny, Conewango, Brokenstraw, Oil Creek, French Creek, Tionesta Creek, Clarion River and Middle Allegheny River valleys.

Originating in Potter County, the Allegheny River spans about 320 miles, flowing northwest through New York's southern panel and descending through western Pennsylvania. Proceeding south the river then joins the Monongahela in Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River.

Williams' passion for the Allegheny River developed as a result of other interests.

His love of landscapes started 14 years ago while he was living in Virginia.

"I used to live...near the Blue Ridge Mountains and I really got a feel for the landscapes," Williams said. "Then I moved here and the landscape is a little more subtle, but there's something special about it."

Williams found that "special something" in the landscape while on a drive through Forest County.

"I was driving along Route 62 from Tidioute to Tionesta and looked out across the valley and thought, this is it," Williams said.

Williams' interest in the Allegheny and how it flows through a region rich in natural resources and human history began five years ago. He obtained a sabbatical from Clarion University, and he explored the ecological history of the Allegheny River valley. He also researched how human land use affected the landscapes of the valley.

In order to complete his research, Williams "hiked the Northern Allegheny's banks, kayaked its waters, biked its railroad beds, and drove its winding back roads." It was after this extensive time spent along the river that he developed a passion for the history of the land and its many uses.

From his recent studies of the land, Williams became interested in how the land looked decades ago. He began to acquire postcards from various places depicting how the land looked for one living in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Through his large collection of vintage postcards, which he has acquired from various stops over the years, Williams caught a glimpse back in time and saw how the land was used then. The postcards picture lumber mills, oil derricks, refineries and towns that are now long gone, as well as people traveling down dirt roads that have now been paved over and turned into major roadways. The images also depict an industrial based uprising along the Allegheny River.

"It's interesting to see how extensively the landscape was used in the late 1800s," Williams said. "And to see the big footprint humans had in the watershed and how it recovered from that human impact, but that's not to say that it's fully recovered."

The postcards capture well-known figures, historical landmarks, monuments and everyday living at that time, as well as the Allegheny winding around its riverbeds.

"Along the Allegheny River: The Northern Watershed" is available at local bookstores, independent retailers, online retailers and through Arcadia Publishing.

Williams is completing the second book in the series entitled "Along the Allegheny River: The Southern Watershed."

That book is also comprised of more than 200 vintage postcards picking up where the first one left off. "The Southern Watershed" begins where the Clarion River joins the Allegheny in Parker and ends in Pittsburgh where the Allegheny joins the Monongahela.

"The Southern Watershed" is expected to hit bookshelves in August.

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