Chemung River

From Academic Kids

The Chemung River (shuh-MUHNG) is a tributary of the Susquehanna River, approximately 45 mi (72 km) long, in south central New York and northern Pennsylvania in the United States. It drains a mountainous region of the northern Allegheny Plateau in the Southern Tier of New York. The valley of the river has long been an important manufacturing center in the region but has suffered a decline in the late 20th century.



It is formed near Painted Post in Steuben County, just west of Corning by the confluence of the Tioga River and Cohocton rivers. It flows generally ESE through Corning, Big Flats, Elmira, and Waverly. It crosses briefly into northern Pennsylvania before joining the Susquehanna approximately 2 mi (3.2 km) south of Sayre.

The name of the river comes from an Iroquois language word meaning "big horn" or "horn-in-the-water", possibly dating from the discovery of large mammoth tusks in the river bed. The Lenape called the river cononogue, which had a similar meaning.

Most of the valley is cut into Devonian age shale, sandstone, and limestone. The hilltops are rounded by glaciation. The tributaries, particularly the Cohocton River, have captured some of the former Genesee River drainage, due to terminal moraines that filled some valley areas and diverted streams.


In the colonial times the river valley was a major trade route through the hill country of western New York, first for the Iroquois and other Native Americans, and later for the European settlers.

In 1779 during the American Revolutionary War, Americans troops of the Sullivan Expedition defeated a combined force of Iroquois, their allies, Tories and British at the Battle of Newtown along the river southeast of Elmira. The victory opened the way for Sullivan to systematically destroy the Native American homeland of central and western New York.

The construction of the Chemung Canal in 1833 between the Chemung and the southern end of Seneca Lake allowed the shipment Pennsylvania anthracite coal, lumber and agricultural products to Erie Canal system, leading the growth of Elmira as a regional center of manufacturing. The canals were rendered obsolete by the coming of the railroads in the late 1840s and 1850s. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, an early supermarket chain that has since been mostly disbanded, was later founded in Elmira. The community of Corning is renowned as the site of the Corning Glass Works.

In the later 20th century the valley, along with the rest of the Rust Belt, suffered economic decline with decline of manufacturing. Although the river is no longer used for transportation, it has become a popular destination for recreational canoeing and fly fishing, in particular for smallmouth and largemouth bass, trout, rock bass, sunfish, bluegill, and carp.

New York State Highway 17 follows the valley of the river for much of its course.

The river has been subjected to periodic heavy flooding throughout its recorded history. In June 1972 the remnants of Hurricane Agnes stalled over the New York-Pennsylvania border, dropping up to 20 inches (50 cm) of rain into the Chemung Valley, which was among the worst hit areas by the resultant flooding. The flooding left widespread areas of the communities of Corning, Big Flats, and Elmira under water and destroyed many bridges. Elmira lost all four downtown bridges. The crisis was alleviated by a quick installment of a temporary bridge by the Army Corps of Engineers.

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