Confluential cities

Lyon, France – Source:

For purposes of this post, a “confluential city” is one that is situated at or near the confluence of two or more important rivers and which has had an influential economic, historic, strategic, cultural, political, and/or social impact on the surrounding region or nation as a whole.  Many of these confluential cities were and often remain starting or re-supply points for pioneer settlement and/or national growth patterns.

Due to their strategic confluential locations for waterborne commerce, Fort Wayne (then Miamitown or Kekionga) was a key strategic confluential location for Native Americans, the French, and later the Americans. Similarly, Sunbury, PA (previously Shamokin) was a very important Native American community at the confluence of the two branches of the Susquehanna River.

Montreal was the principal fur trade and supply center for most of French North America, while Albany, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City (Independence), and Omaha  were significant supply and departure points in the westward expansion of the United States.

Even if the rivers were not always navigable, their valleys were often useful routes for as trails or for canals. For example, Albany was the gateway to the Erie Canal, which shadowed the Mohawk River for many miles on its way to Lake Erie; the Mormon Trail followed the Platte River in Nebraska much in the same way that Interstate 80 and the Union Pacific Railroad do today; and Independence, Missouri was the starting point for several important cross-country trails including the Oregon Trail.

The same factor is true for Winnipeg’s role in Canada’s westward expansion. The Assiniboine River was a key western migration route.Part of Winnipeg’s importance lies in its position south of Lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Winnipegosis, all of which hinder more northerly cross-Canadian transportation routes. That also explains why Winnipeg is the most important rail center in Canada, as the primary node for both CP Rail and CN Rail.

To the west, places like Sacramento and Portland served as starting points for those who migrated to the interior after sailing to the West Coast or as endpoints for those who survived the difficult and dangerous crossing the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.

Ironclads off Cairo, IL - Source:

Ironclads off Cairo, IL – Source:

Several of the cities listed below are considerably smaller than the others. I have never quite figured out why Cairo, Illinois never grew to the extent one would expect with its pre-eminent location. During the U.S. Civil War, Cairo was the equivalent of Norfolk or San Diego as a large armada of ironclads were stationed there for battles along major waterways. Visiting Cairo today is particularly  disheartening as the city is mired in an elongated depression. Even the state park at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers was a derelict, trash-strewn, graffiti-filled disappointment place to visit when I was there seven years ago.

Cairo, Illinois - Source: NASA via

Cairo, Illinois – Source: NASA via

Meanwhile, fifty miles or so to the east, Paducah, Kentucky has seen an economic resurrection from its economic malaise as a great and growing artisan center. Kudos to the citizens of that fair confluential city for turning its fortunes around so successfully.

Here is the non-comprehensive list of influential confluential cities.

  • Albany, NY, USA – Mohawk and Hudson Rivers
  • Alton, Illinois – Illinois and Mississippi Rivers
  • Asuncion, Paraguay – Pilcomayo and Paraguay Rivers
  • Belgrade, Serbia – Sava and Danube Rivers
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina – Uruguay and Parana Rivers
  • Cairo, Illinois – Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
  • Chongqing – Jialing and Yangtze Rivers
  • Cincinnati, OH-KY, USA – Licking, Great Miami, Whitewater, and Ohio Rivers
  • Columbia, South Carolina – Broad and Saluda forming the Congaree River
  • Corrientes, Argentina – Paraguay and Parana Rivers
  • Duisburg, Germany – Ruhr and Rhine Rivers
  • Fort Wayne, IN, USA – St. Joseph, St. Mary’s and Maumee Rivers
  • Geneva, Switzerland – Arve and Rhone Rivers
  • Kansas City/Independence, MO-KA, USA – Kansas and Missouri Rivers
  • Khartoum, Sudan – White Nile and Blue Nile Rivers
  • Koblenz, Germany – Mosel and Rhine Rivers
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Gomback and Klang Rivers
  • Lyon, France – Saone and Rhone Rivers
  • Mainz, Germany – Main and Rhine Rivers
  • Manaus, Brazil – Negro and Amazon Rivers
  • Montreal, QB, Canada – Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers
  • Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA – Platte and Missouri Rivers
  • Paducah, KY-IL, USA – Tennessee and Ohio Rivers
  • Parana, Argentina – Parana and Paraguay Rivers
  • Passau, Germany – Ilz, Inn, and Danube Rivers
  • Philadelphia, PA-NJ, USA – Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers
  • Pittsburgh, PA, USA – Allegheny and Monogahela forming the Ohio River
  • Portland, OR-WA, USA – Willamette and Columbia Rivers
  • Prince Albert, SK, Canada – North and South Saskatchewan Rivers
  • Richland/Pasco/Kennewick, WA, USA – Snake and Columbia Rivers
  • Rock Island, Illinois – Rock and Mississippi Rivers
  • Sacramento, CA, USA – American and Sacramento Rivers
  • St. Louis, MO-IL, USA – Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers
  • Santa Fe, Argentina  – Salado and Parana Rivers
  • Santarem, Brazil – Tapajos and Amazon Rivers
  • Winnipeg, MB, Canada – Assiniboine and Red Rivers


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7 Responses to Confluential cities

  1. Tom Roy Smith says:

    I was unfamliar with the term Confluential cities but the concept was undersood. I teach and champion that – instruction of a place is half done if only past history is irstructed; I mean, if it is not taught with lesson giving understing to the place in terms of lay of land-topography, too. Interior settlement of Pennsylvania (European first permanent settlement) awaited a settlement at a water stream means, by which an interior push was made enable possible. It is amang that places such as Jamowntown and Plymouth are familiar, but the beachhead of Tinicum at the mouth of Darby Creek has small claim in recognition as a beachhead. Darby Creek was the region’s first interior means for pentrating interior-ward. Some who ventured upstream on Darby Creek proper veered east and off the proper stream channel and trekked upon (and beside) largest branch Cobbs. A share who veered spilled over to the east bank,of Cobbs, which took them onto boundary ground later developed into Philadelphia. Truth in settlement has been compremised by a city front section styled “Penn’s Landing.” Both tourist and residents harbor the notion that settlemented started at Front Street, Philadelphia. In point of (too little understood) fact, William Penn made landfall at an established Delaware River port seat situated – known as Opland, which place was renamed Chester. Opland / Chester and Marcus Hook were earlier settled than Philadelphia. Note: Tinicum while also river seat hugger, in the manner of Opland and Marcus Hook, (Tinicum) was never intended to be just a river seat. It was site chosen with a mind to use the rar slung creek to venture interior-ward. Note: An ancient Indian trail that coursed it was a very attractive pull to the place. The vanguard Swedes who settled wished to seam-hem a trade with trail trekker Native Americans for animal furs. — Sometime in the future the important beachhead of Tinicum shall be known more popularly; I mean, known to have been an important beachhead for Pennsylvani European settlement. — Contact


  2. When you spoke of the “elongated depression” Cairo, Illinois is in, did you mean the economy or the topography? I haven’t been near there for decades, but have read about the high levees and walls intended to protect it from floods; seems to me most of the city should be returned to nature and the people left there relocated to higher ground and better economies.


    • Rick Brown says:

      I was referring to the state of its economy.


      • The closest I’ve been to Cairo IL is on the IC RR from Chicago to Florida. From what I’ve read, Cairo is basically at the bottom of a bathtub “protected” by high levees. That wetland topography, and the great size of the barges which use the Ohio and Upper Mississippi Rivers, are pretty much why its economy is in a low point.


  3. Scott Dixon says:

    Thank you for compiling this! I would suggest adding the Missouri River to the list of major river confluences next to Alton, Illinois, which makes Alton perhaps the most important Confluential Cities in the world, at least when measured by collective world recognition of the 3 rivers next to the city. Back in the 1800’s when the rivers were relatively untamed, the Mississippi/Missouri confluence was just at the SE edge of the city, but in modern times the confluence is 9 miles from Alton. The Illinois River confluence is 15 miles from Alton. Both the Miss/IL and Miss/MO confluences are very close to Alton, but the Miss/MO confluence is the closer, and better known, of the two.

    Liked by 1 person

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