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History of the Yellow Breeches Watershed Association

Lower Allen Township, recognizing the need for a Yellow Breeches watershed group, applied for and received a Growing Greener Grant to assist in the formation of the Yellow Breeches Watershed Association. The 219 square mile watershed includes Adams, Cumberland, and York Counties with 21 municipalities and approximately 368 stream miles. An initial stakeholders meeting was held on January 10, 2001 and people interested in serving on the initial Steering Committee volunteered. The first public meeting was held on February 21, 2001. The formation of an initial Board of Directors followed a few months later. Articles of incorporation were prepared and filed with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Internal Revenue Service.


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 activities. 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 English.

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:

“Yellow Breeches,
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 earlier:

Glen Allen Mill/ Lantz
Roger Cook
Michael Ege

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:

Grist 13Furnace 1

Saw 10Plaster 1

Forge 3Chopping 1

Oil 4Iron Works 1

Fulling 3Unknown 20 (Probably Grist & Saw)

Clover 3Forge 3

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:

Permit 21-007
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.

Permit 21-022
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 waslocated immediately downstream from an old crib dam built by Etter & Shanklin in the late 1800s. No longer in use.

Permit 21-021
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.

Permit 21-004
Boyer or Miller Dam, 10’ high concrete dam built in 1908 for water supply. Constructed for Mechanicsburg Gas and Water Co. Still in use.

Permit 21-070
Lisburn, dam built about 1904 for power for flour, grist, cider and saw mills. Probably rebuilt for Jacob and James Kunkel.

Permit 21-077
Rosegarden dam provided power for grist mill and electric lights. McCormick was the 1919 owner.

Permit 21-083
Williams Grove, a 2’ high dam was built in 1919 for improvements of the spring.

Permit 21-086
Brandtville, an old rubble stone dam for generating electricity.

Permit 21-002
Boiling Springs, rebuilt in 1950 for electric generator.

Permit 21-089
Monroe Mill Dam #1, rubble masonry dam for flour and grist mill. Owner Leising.

Permit 21-003
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.

Permit 21-029
1 mile north of Mt. Holly Springs, rubble dam used for flour mill of J.E.Martin.

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).

Town, County, Year

New Cumberland, Cumberland, 1814

New Market, York

Lisburn, Cumberland, 1765

Bowmansdale, Cumberland

Grantham, Cumberland

Williams Grove, Cumberland

Boiling Springs, Cumberland, 1845

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 eThe 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.rected 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 are:

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 inventoried.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 farm land.

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