Taming the Muskingum

Taming the Muskingum


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781940425832
Publisher: West Virginia University Press
Publication date: 12/01/2015
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 956,152
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Emory L. Kemp, a distinguished engineer in the American Society of Civil Engineers, has been a practicing engineer for more than half a century. He is the founder and director of the Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archaeology at West Virginia University, where he was also chair and a professor of civil engineering and history. He has served as president of the Public Works Historical Society and is a codirector of the Smithsonian Institution/West Virginia University Joint Project for the History of Technology. He is the author of Essays on the History of Transportation and Technology and American Bridge Patents:The First Century (1790-1890), both available from West Virginia University Press.

Read an Excerpt

Taming the Muskingum

By Emory Kemp

West Virginia University Press

Copyright © 2015 West Virginia University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-940425-85-6


A Wilderness Transformed

But the strongest call came from the canal, for the engineers were letting the water in for the first time today. As far as you could see, the big ditch ran, like a hill turned down and inside out. An army of Irishmen had scooped it out, cursing at the boys who threw stones at their clay pipes when they laid them up on the ground. Now they were gone and the ditch lay new and dry. But God help the dog or cat found in it when the water came down today. They were letting it in from the river. Oh, this would be a day to remember. Folks were coming from twenty miles to see boats floating where had been only dry earth before.

The Town, Conrad Richter

At the end of the Ice Age, the great ice sheet covering much of Ohio receded as meltwaters draining toward the south carved out a dentrated drainage system. Through erosion over the millennia, this geological formation produced the landscape known to generations of Native Americans, who arrived in the region some 15,000 years ago.

Fur traders led European settlement as they penetrated the rich and heavily forested region, using the Ohio River and its many tributaries as the easiest means of transportation. Although not verified, the famous French explorer LaSalle may have explored the upper reaches of the Ohio Valley in 1669. Fur traders were increasingly active in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Arnout Viele floated down the Allegheny and the upper reaches of the Ohio in 1692. Earlier in the century, from 1654 to 1664, Abraham Wood explored the tributaries of the Ohio. By the eighteenth century the French had penetrated the Ohio Valley utilizing the only practical means of transportation, rivers and lakes — the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio River itself. To counter the incursions of British traders and to reclaim the entire watershed of "La Belle Rivière" for the French crown, the Celoron expedition was launched in 1749. To secure the claim for the French, Celoron deposited metal plates at various locations along the Ohio River, one being buried at the confluence of Wheeling Creek and the Ohio River, and another at Marietta. It is not surprising that the French erected forts along the Allegheny River and elsewhere to link the Great Lakes with the Ohio Valley. In a countermeasure, Governor Dinwiddie, in an effort to defend claims by the colony of Virginia, built a fort at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, the present site of Pittsburgh, but the French drove out the Virginians and constructed Fort Duquesne.

This vying for territory in the Ohio Valley was a reflection of a larger struggle between Britain and France culminating in the Seven Years' War (a.k.a. the French and Indian War), 1754–1763. With the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the French ceded all of French Canada and claims on the Ohio Valley. Three years after the treaty, an expedition left Pittsburgh with Captain Harry Gordon, chief engineer, and his assistant ensign Thomas Hutchin to map the river for use by the British military command. They were joined by George Morgan and George Croghan as commanders of the expeditionary fleet. The report of Gordon and Hutchin provided the first reliable information on the river. The opening of the American Revolution found Captain Hutchin in London preparing his report and maps for publication that eventually carried the date of 1788. Highly regarded not only by military personnel, but by many other settlers in the area, the maps and reports served for many years as the best information available on the Ohio River.

Following the American Revolution, the military engineer Colonel Rufus Putnam, former chief engineer of the Continental Army, was instrumental in organizing the Ohio Company in 1786. The purpose of the company was to settle demobilized soldiers on public lands. He is celebrated as the founder of Marietta, Ohio, at the mouth of the Muskingum River in 1788. For added security Marietta, the first settlement in the entire Northwest Territory, was located across the Muskingum River from Fort Harmar, which was garrisoned by federal troops. The Ohio Company received 1.5 million acres that extended to the west and southward from the mouth of the Muskingum River. At about the same time as the founding of Marietta, Colonel Putnam began construction of a fortification called Campus Martius to provide protection for the town and to house members of the Ohio Company and their families.

Despite his outstanding service to Britain, Hutchin fled London, where he was working on his report, for France. There he joined the American cause. He served as the geographer of the United States by appointment of the Continental Congress. Following the Treaty of Paris, river traffic increased steadily on the Ohio and its tributaries despite the somewhat treacherous nature of a river strewn with boulders, snags, and shoals. Canoes, bateaux, and flatboats formed the motley array of vessels that made possible the early settlement of the Ohio Valley. Following its founding in 1788, Marietta became an important center for boat building as a result of the availability of ship timbers. The Muskingum River, even at this early stage, saw keelboats bringing agricultural and forest products downriver during favorable river stages.

Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress established the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, which established the means by which territories could become states with all the rights and privileges of each state's citizens. The ordinance forbade slavery, while establishing a method for surveying and selling lands lying north and west of the Ohio River. It was only a year later that Putnam founded Marietta and, in 1803, Ohio became the seventeenth state.

The ragtag flotilla of vessels on the Ohio River greatly increased following the opening of the Northwest Territories to settlement. Behind this seemingly unplanned and disorganized movement of people on land and (especially) rivers was a widely shared notion of internal improvements. The idea became a significant movement in the first century of the new republic. Its origins, however, had roots in the eighteenth-century colonial era. Notable amongst the promoters of canals and turnpikes was George Washington, who championed the Potowmack and James River and Kanawha Canals and other trans-Appalachian improvements. This movement sought to provide a means for exploiting the rich natural resources of the territory beyond the Appalachian Mountains by a system of roads, canals, and later railways connecting the east-coast ports and industrial centers with the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley.

Many credit Albert Gallatin's report to Congress in 1808 as the beginning of the internal improvements movement, as it was an attempt to involve the federal government in the development of transportation in the new country. Despite champions such as Jefferson, Washington, and Gallatin, it was not until the granting of federal lands for railways (and in the case of Ohio, the Ohio and Erie Canal) that Congress became involved in supporting internal improvements. In the canal era it was left to states, municipal authorities, banks, and individuals to provide the wherewithal for building and operating canals.

The lack of federal support for internal improvements, except for the National Road, during the early part of the nineteenth century did not deter the entrepreneurial spirit. Each East Coast city sought a means to connect itself with the heartland of the Midwest. New York led the way with the highly successful Erie Canal, completed in 1825. Not to be outdone, Pennsylvania launched the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, which featured the spectacular railway inclines at Holidaysburg that carried canal boats over the summit of the Alleghenies. Pittsburgh was at last linked to Philadelphia when the canal was completed in 1835, after nine years of struggle. With no direct link to the western waters, Baltimore — in a risky venture — threw its support behind the untried railroad. At the same time, on July 4, 1828, President John Quincy Adams turned the first shovel, marking the beginning of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which was intended (as the name implies) to connect the Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River at Pittsburgh. On the very same day, ceremonies took place in Baltimore marking the beginning of construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which shared the very same objectives. The rivalries between these alternative transportation systems in the Potomac Valley became intense, but the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad reached the Ohio River on Christmas Eve 1852, while the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal languished at Cumberland. Rather than being a main artery to the West, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal became an important regional canal, hauling coal, timber, and other raw materials to the Washington area and sending manufactured goods as far inland as Cumberland.

Not to be outdone by competition from Northern canals, the Commonwealth of Virginia embarked upon the James River and Kanawha Canal. Even a casual view of a map of Virginia indicates the great advantage of a water route to reach the Ohio River well below Pittsburgh. With a more southern climate, such a route would be ice-free for most of the year, especially since the New River, a principal tributary of the Great Kanawha, rises in North Carolina and brings comparatively warm water into the Appalachian Mountains. Work began on the Kanawha in 1820. With the state company reorganized as a private venture, in the next two decades nearly 200 miles of canal were completed to Cowpasture River, not quite halfway on the projected route. The Civil War put an end to the first phase of construction. Following the war, a new vision, which received endorsement from the federal government, was the Central Water Line stretching from the Chesapeake Bay to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. This grand improvement was never built, but even in the twentieth century there were proponents of such a waterway. It would have combined a canal, canalization of both the Great Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, and, farther west, the Missouri River to the foothills of the Rockies.

Even before construction began on the great public works to link the East Coast with the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley, there were men who envisioned connecting Lake Erie with the Ohio River. Amongst the earliest recorded were Jefferson and Washington in 1784, discussing connecting Lake Erie with the Ohio River as part of a much larger scheme to link the Ohio-Mississippi system with the Atlantic Ocean and St. Lawrence River (see fig. 1.1 and fig. 1.2).

In 1807, Senator Thomas Worthington of Ohio offered a resolution in Congress directing Albert Gallatin, secretary of the Treasury, to report on federal aid for canals and roads. The Gallatin Report of 1808 has been heralded as a milestone in the internal-improvement movement, presenting as it does a grand scheme for a national transportation system. It was not implemented on the federal level, and the nation missed an opportunity to develop a rational national transportation system. This left road, canal, and later railway construction to state and local governments as well as private enterprise. Rich in lands but poor in cash, the federal government — later, during the railway mania at midcentury — provided generous land grants to railway companies, most notably the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Companies, to build the first transcontinental railway. While failing to secure federal aid for roads and canals, the Gallatin Report rose above mere commercial considerations and promoted internal improvements as a means of establishing a more perfect union of the various states.

Without federal leadership and aid, the transportation system that developed was highly competitive and uncooperative, resulting in an irrational system with many canals and local railway lines closing after limited operation. The Erie Canal, organized in 1810 under the leadership of DeWitt Clinton, had a profound influence on other canals developed in America. After failing to receive federal aid, the Erie Canal Company sought to strengthen its renewed appeal by asking the state of Ohio to approve a resolution urging federal support for a project of national importance. It would clearly benefit Ohio, as goods and passengers from the East could be brought up the Hudson River, cross the Erie Canal to Lockport on Lake Erie, and then be shipped to the Ohio ports bordering the lake as well as possibly linking to the Ohio River by future canals in the East. There were, however, legal implications: Could the federal government be involved in these great public works, or were they strictly the responsibility of individual states? President Madison thought it was unconstitutional and would not support such initiatives. The War of 1812 effectively ended any chance of federal aid.

Following the War of 1812, DeWitt Clinton again sought aid from Ohio. In response to the initiatives of Governor Worthington, the Ohio General Assembly passed a resolution in 1816 supporting the Erie Canal — but struck the pledge of financial aid from the bill. In the same year Ethan Allen Brown, later governor of Ohio, wrote to DeWitt Clinton on the possibility of a canal linking Lake Erie with the Ohio River. In his inaugural address of December 14, 1818, Brown stated:

To increase industry and develop our resources, internal communications must be improved to provide for the surplus produce of our state a cheaper way to market.

The governor strongly urged the case for a canal and that it should be built by the state of Ohio and not by private enterprise. Various bills were presented to the general assembly and debated over the next several years, but no action was taken. It was not until January 1822 — after reports, bills, and lobbying of the legislature, that the assembly finally passed the bill authorizing the government to appoint a commission and employ an engineer. The total amount was a paltry $6,000, but at least the project was underway. David S. Bates was appointed the chief engineer together with three commissioners. The report took three years to complete, with five routes examined. These were: 1) Mahoning and Grand River route, 2) Cuyahoga and Muskingum (Tuscarawas Branch), 3) Black and Muskingum (Killbuck Branch), 4) Scioto and Sandusky, 5) Maumee and Great Miami. The commissioners submitted their report in January 1825, urging that a canal be built. Although the project would run on borrowed money, they were confident that the investment would be repaid from revenues by no later than 1837.

By February 4, the general assembly of Ohio had passed an act that outlined the construction of not one but two canals: the Ohio and Erie Canal from Cleveland on Lake Erie to Portsmouth on the Ohio River, and the Miami and Erie running from Toledo on Lake Erie to Cincinnati on the Ohio River. Funds would be raised by borrowing, at six percent, $400,000 in 1825 and an amount not to exceed $600,000 per annum in subsequent years. Appropriation by the general assembly was meant to defray interest charges after any profits were deducted. The vision was to have a canal running diagonally across the state from Cleveland to Cincinnati. From an engineering point of view, crossing the watershed at Portage near Akron posed little difficulty in providing water at the summit. This was not the case in crossing from the Scioto River watershed to that of the Miami River. In fact, the single-canal concept had to be abandoned since the divide was notably higher than the sources of either river, necessitating consideration of alternate routes. Beginning in the west, the Miami and Erie Rivers link the Great Miami River below the divide of the Ohio-Mississippi drainage basin and the Great Lakes watershed with the Maumee River above the divide. Such a route would connect Cincinnati and Toledo. The possible central route would follow the Scioto from Portsmouth to Columbus in the middle of the state, intending to cross the divide, with the northern portion utilizing the Sandusky River to carry the canal to Sandusky-on-the-Lake. The eastern of these three routes crosses a large part of the Muskingum watershed. It would begin in Cleveland and follow the Cuyahoga River from the lake to the summit near Akron, then cross the divide and follow the Tuscarawas branch of the Muskingum as far as Coshocton. In order to stimulate development in the south-central portion of the state, the canal would swing southwest using the Licking River, a tributary of the Muskingum, below Newark and thence follow Walnut Creek into the watershed of the Scioto. The Scioto Valley provided the route to Portsmouth. In an effort to stimulate economic development in the central part of the state, which would garner popular support for this great public work, the canal used the valley of the Scioto rather than following the Muskingum River to Marietta on the Ohio River, which would have been shorter and a better economic solution.

Construction was officially begun on July 4, 1825, three years before the July 4 beginning of the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad. To show the link with the Erie Canal and Ohio's earlier support of the great public works under DeWitt Clinton's administration, ground was broken by Clinton himself at Newark on the Ohio and Erie Canal; then the ceremony was repeated farther west for the Miami Canal at Middletown, not far from the Indiana border. The earlier Act of 1822 for a survey of the canal on a statewide basis was headed by Micajah Williams from Cincinnati and Alfred Kelley of Cleveland. They enjoyed the sobriquet of "The Fathers of the Ohio canal system" in recognition of the pivotal role they played in building the two principal trans-Ohio canals.

Drawing on the experience gained on the highly successful Erie Canal, three experienced engineers from "Clinton's ditch" (James Geddes, David S. Bates, and William Price) undertook the survey that served as the basis of the 1825 Act. This act established the line of the Ohio (i.e., Ohio and Erie Canal) along the so-called Muskingum and Scioto route.


Excerpted from Taming the Muskingum by Emory Kemp. Copyright © 2015 West Virginia University Press. Excerpted by permission of West Virginia University Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Preface ix

1 A Wilderness Transformed 1

2 Slackwater Navigation on the Muskingum 25

3 The Politics of Flood Control 49

4 Built of Earth and Concrete 64

5 Modern Mound Builders 80

Appendix 135

About the Author 141

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