Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Mighty Ohio

Dear George,
Cincinnati is a quintessential river town.  The earliest settlers arrived at this area by way of the Ohio River, and they staked out their space along the river’s shoreline across from the mouth of the Licking.  Fort Washington was built to protect the local population in 1789, and the village soon grew to nearly 500 people.  Additional settlers continued to arrive by the hundreds, believing they could make their fortunes by providing supplies to soldiers and Ohio River travelers.  By 1792 thirty warehouses existed in the growing city, and it had gained a brewery, a spinning wheel manufacturer, and a chair manufacturer.  Due to the city’s strategic river location, there were nearly a thousand residents by 1803 and nearly ten thousand by 1820.  Steamboats were manufactured in Cincinnati, and farmers throughout the region brought their crops to be shipped down the Ohio and the Mississippi to New Orleans.  The Ohio River remains one of Cincinnati’s most significant geographic features today.  Here are some interesting things to know about the Ohio River, then and now: 

·       The river’s name:  From the Seneca (Iroquoian) Ohiːyo', which means “good river”. 
·       Namesake: The state of Ohio is named after the Ohio River.  
·       Termini: The Ohio begins at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh and ends at Cairo, Illinois, where it empties into the Mississippi.
·       Length: 981 miles.
·       Rank among U.S. rivers: The Ohio is the longest river east of the Mississippi and the 10th longest in the nation.   
·       Maximum width: one mile at the Smithland Dam near Louisville.
·       Average depth: 24 feet.
·       Deepest point: 132 feet (near Louisville).

Ohio River From Eden Park, Cincinnati, O.

·       Age: Relatively young, the river’s formation began 2.5 to 3 million years ago near the beginning of ice ages.  Glacial meltwater probably cut the Ohio’s original channel.   
·       States along the Ohio River: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois.  
·       Drainage basin: 14 states, 204,000 square miles..   
·       Chief tributaries of the Ohio: the Tennessee, Cumberland, Wabash, and Kentucky Rivers. 
·       Early Native American inhabitants: Mississippian and Hopewell cultures, Osage, Omaha, Ponca, and Kaw.
·       First European to see the Ohio: French expedition leader René-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle (1669).  LaSalle named it “La Belle Riviere.”

Ohio River at Cincinnati, U.S.A.

·       Lewis and Clark: Lewis and Clark’s expedition to find a water route to the Pacific began at Pittsburgh on Aug. 31, 1803, with Meriwether Lewis and a crew of eleven men paddling and sailing down the Ohio River.  They reached Cincinnati on Sept. 28 and spent nearly a week  there, during which time Lewis collected 300 mastodon and mammoth bones at Big Bone Lick to send to President Jefferson.
·       Thomas Jefferson’s (1782) appraisal: “The Ohio is the most beautiful river on earth.  Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted.”  (Note: the exception is the Falls of Ohio, a drop of 26 feet over 2 miles near Louisville.) 
·       Ohio River pirates: In the early nineteenth century pirates had their hideouts at Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, where they waylaid river travelers, killed them, stole their goods, and scuttled their boats. 

Along the Levee, Cincinnati, O.

·       Steamboats: The first steamboat successfully navigated the Ohio in 1811, and fifteen steamers were in service  on the river by 1818. 
·       The Lucy Walker: One of the nation’s deadliest steamboat disasters occurred on the Ohio River near New Albany, Indiana, on Oct. 23, 1844.  The Lucy’s Walker’s boilers exploded, killing as many as 100 passengers and crew.  The Lucy Walker had a Native American owner, and her crew consisted of African-American slaves.  
·       North-South border: The Ohio River was the western extension of the Mason-Dixon Line and thus part of the border between free and slave territory.  Slaves who crossed the river via the Underground Railroad called it the “River Jordan”.  More slaves escaped across the Ohio than anywhere else on the Mason-Dixon Line. 

Ohio River By Moonlight

·       The phrase “sold down the river” originated with Kentucky slaves who were split apart from their families and shipped down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and New Orleans.  
·       Current population in the Ohio River basin: 25 million people (nearly 10% of the U.S. population).    
·       Major cities along the Ohio: Pittsburgh, Parkersburg, Wheeling, Huntington, Steubenville, Marietta, Owensboro, Cincinnati, Covington, Louisville, Paducah, Evansville.
·       The 1937 flood: 385 people died, a million were left homeless, and property losses reached $500 million from the Ohio River flood in late January and February 1937.  River gauge levels reached 80 feet in Cincinnati, the highest level in city history.  Twelve square miles of the city were flooded.      
·       Source of drinking water: To over 3 million people. 
·       Dams on the Ohio: 20; power generating facilities: 49.

 Suspension Bridge, Cincinnati, O.

·       Bridges: 118 bridges and other crossings across the Ohio River.  Cincinnati’s bridges are the Cincinnati Southern Bridge, Brent Spence Bridge (I-71/75), C&O Railroad Bridge, Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, Taylor-Southgate Bridge, Newport Southbank Bridge (the Purple People Bridge), Daniel Carter Beard Bridge, and the Combs-Hehl Bridge (I-275).    
·       Annual tonnage of cargo shipped on the Ohio: over 230 million tons — mainly coal, oil, and steel.
·       Number of species of fish found in the Ohio: 164, including Bass, Crappie, Bowfin, Carp, Buffalo, Bullhead, Catfish, Codfish, Darter, Drum, Eel, Garp, Chubs, Shiners, Lamprey, Paddlefish, Perch, Pike, Pickerel, Muskellunge, Sauger, Walleye, Sculpin Shad, Sturgeon, Sunfish, and others
·       Largest fish on record caught in the Ohio: 106-pound Paddlefish (Kentucky, 2004).

With many dog walks over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time along the Ohio River shoreline — at Eden Park, Fernbank Park, and, most recently, Smale Park.  The river’s presence is a great source of pleasure to many people.  

Sources consulted:, “Ohio”;, “Ohio River”; www.ohioriverfacts, “Ohio River Facts”;, “Exploration”;, “Ohio River Facts”;, “List of crossings of the Ohio River”;, “Lucy Walker steamboat disaster”;, “Ohio River”;, “Ohio River flood of 1937”;, “Ohio River”

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