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Athens Borough History


A Borough Incorporated in 1837


Athens Borough has a population of 3,367, occupies 1.7 square miles of land and is located on a peninsula where the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers come together. It is located at the point of a 48 square mile triangle, in an area that is referred to as “the Valley.” The Valley consists of Athens Borough, Athens Township, Sayre Borough, and South Waverly Borough. The Valley´s population is approximately 15,000.


Prior to the 1700s, the Valley was a prosperous Cayuga Indian stronghold for more than 100 years. Known as Teaoga Diahoga, it was one of the most strategic locations in the state, and Native American populations flourished here. Its location at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers made it an ideal area for settlement, giving convenient access to a large territory.


The construction of a fort at the point of the peninsula (what would become Athens Borough), provided control over two critical transportation corridors. This opened up 2,947 square miles of territory along the Upper Susquehanna sub-basin and 2,595 square miles along the Chemung sub-basin. These transportation routes enabled transportation of goods to and from the area, and were a key to community development. Lumber and agricultural products were brought to the settlement for shipment even prior to the Borough incorporating in 1837.


Later, bridges were constructed spanning the Chemung and the Susquehanna rivers (1820 and 1841 respectively), further improving transportation between Athens and the surrounding region. The North Branch Extension Canal, constructed in 1856, brought coal from the southern part of the county to feed industrial growth in the borough as well.


Disaster impacts

The September 2011 flood was the result of two weeks of accumulated rain from both Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene. This caused the Susquehanna River to overflow its banks in both New York and Pennsylvania. Flooding damaged approximately 275 structures in Athens Borough, affecting nearly 460 residences and businesses. Most of the historic downtown and its surrounding residential areas were inundated with flood water; some having as much as six feet of inside the main floor. In addition to homes, flood waters damaged the sewage treatment plant that serves Athens and Sayre; filled storm water lines with sediment; eroded roads, and damaged bridges. Water flowing across the community also severely damaged the Chemung River levee, which had been built after the 1972 flood. The Chemung River Levee has since been repaired and plans are underway for a substantial stsbilization of the Susquehanna River embankment.


As residents and business owners came together, the following concerns were expressed:


  • The need to make improvements to the flood protection and flood warning systems;

  • The community is land-locked and the disaster has increased absentee landlords;

  • Potential for future flooding is causing residents to choose to not rebuild; and


True to form, the community pulled together; neighbors helped neighbors to clean-up mud and debris. What came next was a community-wide effort to establish a Long-Term Community Recovery Plan. The Rebuild Athens Steering Committee has led the development of this plan. The purpose is to attract partners; those who share the community vision.

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