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.
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.
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