Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

A tributary of the Allegheny River, the Clarion River snakes through northwestern Pennsylvania for 110 miles, draining the mountainous region of the Allegheny Plateau of the Ohio River watershed. For much of the nineteenth century, loggers used the river to raft lumber to market. Historians believe that James V. Cassatt piloted the last lumber raft on the river from Clarington, Forest County, to Pittsburgh in December 1921. The cargo included three thousand feet of lumber and a load of doors.

Construction of the Piney Dam on the Clarion River, located six miles below Clarion, began in 1922, closing it to river traffic. The Clarion River Power Company, established in 1912 and headquartered in Foxburg, Clarion County, issued $2.7 million in bonds that year to finance the dam’s construction. Within a year, the project employed more than eight hundred workers and laborers. “Concrete is being poured day and night and three steam shovels have begun excavating the north bank of the river,” reported the Indiana Weekly Messenger on August 2, 1923. The dam was completed in May 1924, and the dedication, held on Monday, August 25, was attended by more than a thousand people. William D. B. Ainey (1864–1932), a former congressman and chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Service Commission (reorganized in 1937 as the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission) gave an address, followed by a luncheon. The hydroelectric power plant initially provided electricity — gauged at “24,000 horsepower” — to twelve counties in western Pennsylvania.

“Everything is what you call lovely here,” wrote Perry, evidently a student at Clarion State Teachers College (renamed Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 1983) to a Miss Eleanor Walker of Shawmut, Elk County, on September 13, 1934. His postcard depicting the breast of the dam was postmarked ten years after the Piney Dam became operational. Damming the river created an eight hundred-acre reservoir, tucked in a narrow valley, which measures sixteen miles long but only 250 yards wide at its widest point. To combat the effects of mine water drainage that seriously impaired the quality of Piney Lake’s water, a series of remediation efforts has been instituted in recent years. Nevertheless, the dam is the centerpiece of a picturesque recreational area very similar to what Perry had discovered three-quarters of a century earlier.

The Piney Hydroelectric Dam, in continuous operation since 1924, is now owned by Reliant Energy, Houston, Texas.