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A Brief History of the Muskingum River Valley


The Lower Muskingum River Valley was inhabited by the prehistoric Adena, Hopewell and Middle Mississippian Native American cultures.

Delaware, Wyandot, Shawnee and Iroquois tribes hunted and fished in the Muskingum River Valley. The Delaware had villages in the area and used the Muskingum to travel between Lake Erie and the Ohio River in birch bark canoes.

A group of 48 men led by General Rufus Putnam established Marietta, named in honor of Marie Antoinette, as the first organized settlement in the Northwest Territory after George Washington told the men of the area’s natural beauty. Marietta was also host to the first July 4th celebration in the Northwest Territory.

During this time, a round trip from Marietta to Zanesville took three to five weeks.

On June 2, Judge Gilbert Devol caught a 96-pound pike from the Muskingum River. The fish later fed the entire Waterford Settlement.

A group of about 30 Delaware and Wyandot Indians invaded a settlement at Big Bottom, shooting and tomahawking 14 settlers and taking three captive.

The Muskingum River froze over, with ice nine inches deep. People walked along a snow path on the river to Marietta for almost a month. Although the Muskingum is too warm to freeze solid now, ice skating on the river used to be a popular pastime.

Marietta and Chillicothe were active in political debates for Ohio’s statehood. Chillicothe became the first state capital of Ohio when it was formed in 1803, and Marietta remained the primary crossing point for those migrating to the new frontier.

Community leaders, who themselves were educated and valued education, established Marietta College.

Construction was completed on a system of 11 dams, 12 locks and 5 canals on the Muskingum River, which made way for larger boats, including steamboats, along the various depths of the river.

The Ohio and Erie Canal opened, which connected to the Muskingum to allow easier travel from Marietta to Lake Erie.

The steamboat Buckeye Belle exploded on November 12 at the gates of the Beverly Canal. The explosion is said to have been seen for more than a mile, and killed 24 people. It is rumored that a baby survived the explosion after being blown 30 feet in the air and landing in a haystack.

Oil was first drilled in Marietta. Subsequent oil booms in 1875 and 1910 resulted in great wealth for some residents.

Local militia mounted a cannon on a steamboat to stop Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s Raid into Ohio during the Civil War. The steamboat arrived in Eagleport too late, and decided to fire the cannon to relieve the boat of the heavy scrap iron with which they had loaded the cannon. The firing forcefully propelled the boat backward, forcing the cannon to nearly fall off the boat and the heap of iron to land at the bow.

Ohio gave control of Muskingum River improvements, including those to the locks and dams, to the U.S. Government’s Corps of Engineers.

The flood of 1913 devastated the area. Called the greatest natural disaster in state history, the flood caused 500 deaths and more than $300 million in property damages across the state. Every bridge on the Muskingum from Zanesville to Marietta was washed out.

The Ohio Conservancy Act acknowledged the state’s role in flood control, providing that watershed areas could be divided into conservancy districts. These districts would have the power to manage flood control and conservation projects.

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District was created as a response to the Flood of 1913 and the Ohio Conservancy Act.

President Harry Truman passed the Water Pollution Control Act, which gave states assistance in making laws to control pollution. Later amendments included regulations making dumping untreated sewage in rivers illegal, the creation of a Water Pollution Control Board in the Ohio Department of Health and grants for wastewater treatment plans.

The Muskingum River Parkway was adopted as an Ohio state park.

The commercial harvesting of mussels in the Muskingum River was banned by the Ohio Endangered Species Act after 43 million mussels were killed from 1971-1974 by toxic pollution downstream of Gould Engine Parts and Foil Plant. The plant was later fined $260,000.

Four mussel poachers from Tennessee were arrested when found in possession of 4,529 mussels, including some that were endangered species, along the Muskingum River.

The Muskingum River Parkway and its 160-year-old navigation system were designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Other American landmarks that share this designation include the Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam.



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