Bicentennial Ark (1796 - 1996)

by Richard G. Sherer, County Historian

The melting snows and rising waters of nearly 200 years ago, ushered into existence one of the earliest enterprises undertaken in the just created Steuben County. Destined for many years to be the only outlet for surplus produce of the new settlements were Steuben's rivers, the Canisteo, Conhocton and Chemung. Upon these streams floated mighty arks, 75 feet long and 16 feet wide. Although a precarious means of transportation and at best of only short duration each year, there was no alternative. Roads did not exist and the cost of transporting goods by pack animal was prohibitive. The profits made apparently exceeded the risks. Ark navigation in Steuben County began in March 1800, on the Conhocton River when Messrs. Swing and Patterson left White's sawmill, 5 miles below Bath, with a cargo of 2,000 bushels of wheat. That same spring, Jacob Bartles and a man named Harvey, navigated an Ark down Mud Creek to the Conhocton and down to Baltimore, Maryland. In the winter of 1800, Gen. McClure built four arks at Arkport and ran them to Baltimore the following spring with 4,000 bushels of wheat and 200 barrels of pork. Reminiscent of this early commerce is the name of Arkport village. Located near the headwaters of the Canisteo River and at that time the head of ark navigation, its name originated solely from the traffic which resulted through the use of arks. Ark Street in Bath received its name for the same reason -- at the point where the street meets the river -- arks were constructed. During winter months, from Dansville and other distant towns as well as the adjacent countryside, by pack animal and sleigh came all manner of surplus produce. Spring found several thousand bushels of wheat and several hundred barrels of pork as well as venison, flour, maple sugar, black salts, pot and pearl ash and many other products of the forest awaiting the spring freshets and transportation down the river. The trip from Bath to Baltimore could be made in 8 days. Upon arrival, the produce would be sold, the ark dismantled and the lumber sold. The crew of men would walk back home. In the following years, it is estimated that 50 or 60 arks from Steuben County traveled the river each year to Baltimore. This ark travel lasted for nearly 40 years. The Steuben County Bicentennial Ark is a 1/3 scale, 1995 version of what an Ark may have looked like. It has been constructed by many volunteers with nearly 1000 hours of labor.

 
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