- Ohio River
"Ohio River Valley" redirects here. For the American wine region that spans the valley, see Ohio River Valley AVA.
The Ohio River is the largest tributary, by volume, of the Mississippi River. At the confluence, the Ohio is even bigger than the Mississippi (Ohio at Cairo: 281,500 cu ft/s (7,960 m3/s); Mississippi at Thebes: 208,200 cu ft/s (5,897 m3/s)) and, thus, is hydrologically the main stream of the whole river system, including the Allegheny River further upstream. It is approximately 981 miles (1,579 km) long and is located in the Eastern United States.
The river had great significance in the history of the Native Americans, as numerous civilizations formed along its valley. In the five centuries prior to European contact, the Mississippian culture built numerous regional chiefdoms and major earthwork mounds in the Ohio Valley, such as Angel Mounds near Evansville, Indiana, as well as in the Mississippi Valley and the Southeast. For thousands of years, Native Americans, like the European explorers and settlers who followed them, used the river as a major transportation and trading route. Its waters connected communities. The Osage, Omaha, Ponca and Kaw lived in the Ohio Valley, but under pressure from the Iroquois to the northeast, migrated west of the Mississippi River to Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma in the 1600s.
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle led an expedition to the Ohio River in 1669. His French party were the first Europeans to see the river. After European-American settlement, the river served at times as a border between present-day Kentucky and Indian Territories. It was a primary transportation route for pioneers during the westward expansion of the early U.S. The Ohio flows through or along the border of six states, and its drainage basin encompasses 14 states. Through its largest tributary, the Tennessee River, the basin includes many of the states of the southeastern U.S.
During the 19th century, the river was the southern boundary of the Northwest Territory. It is sometimes considered as the western extension of the Mason–Dixon Line that divided Pennsylvania from Maryland, and thus part of the border between free and slave territory, and between the Northern and Southern United States or Upper South. Where the river was narrow, it was the way to freedom for thousands of slaves escaping to the North, many helped by free blacks and whites of the Underground Railroad resistance movement.
The Ohio River is a climatic transition area, as its water runs along the periphery of the humid subtropical and humid continental climate areas. It is inhabited by fauna and flora of both climates. In winter it regularly freezes over at Pittsburgh but rarely so as it travels further south toward Cincinnati and Louisville. At Paducah, Kentucky in the south, near the Ohio’s confluence with the Mississippi, it is ice-free year round. Paducah was founded there because it is the northernmost ice-free reach of the Ohio. In his Notes on the State of Virginia published in 1781–82, Thomas Jefferson stated: "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."
The Allegheny River (left) and Monongahela River (right) join to form the Ohio River at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—the largest metropolitan area on the river.
Wheeling, West Virginia, a major city on the river, was the first city to have a bridge across the river.
Louisville, Kentucky is situated at both the widest and deepest level of the Ohio River.
A barge hauling coal in the Louisville and Portland Canal, the only man-made portion of the Ohio River.
Cincinnati, Ohio is a well-known city along the Ohio River, historically known for its riverboats. The Tall Stacks festival celebrates the Cincinnati riverboats and the Ohio River every three or four years.
Evansville, Indiana, the third-largest city in Indiana and the fourth-largest city on the river.
Geography and hydrography
The Ohio River is formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers at Point State Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From there, it flows northwest through Allegheny and Beaver counties, before making an abrupt turn to the south-southwest at the West Virginia-Ohio-Pennsylvania triple-state line (near East Liverpool, Ohio; Chester, West Virginia; and Midland, Pennsylvania). From there, it forms the border between West Virginia and Ohio, upstream of Wheeling, West Virginia.
The river then follows a roughly southwest and then west-northwest course until Cincinnati, before bending to a west-southwest course for most of its length. Its course forms the northern borders of West Virginia and Kentucky; and the southern borders of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, until it joins the Mississippi River near the city of Cairo, Illinois.
Major tributaries of the river, indicated by the location of the mouths, include:
- Allegheny River – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Monongahela River – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Chartiers Creek – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Beaver River – Rochester, Pennsylvania
- Wheeling Creek – Wheeling, West Virginia
- Little Muskingum River – Ohio
- Duck Creek – Ohio
- Muskingum River – Marietta, Ohio
- Little Kanawha River – Parkersburg, West Virginia
- Hocking River – Hockingport, Ohio
- Kanawha River – Point Pleasant, West Virginia
- Guyandotte River – Huntington, West Virginia
- Big Sandy River – Kentucky-West Virginia border
- Little Sandy River – Greenup, Kentucky
- Kinniconick Creek – Vanceburg, Kentucky
- Scioto River – Portsmouth, Ohio
- Little Scioto River – Sciotoville, Ohio
- Little Miami River – Cincinnati, Ohio
- Licking River – Newport-Covington, Kentucky
- Great Miami River – Ohio-Indiana border
- Salt River – West Point, Kentucky
- Kentucky River – Carrollton, Kentucky
- Green River – Kentucky
- Wabash River – Indiana-Illinois border
- Saline River – Illinois
- Cumberland River – Smithland, Kentucky
- Tennessee River – Paducah, Kentucky
- Cache River – Illinois
- Little Beaver Creek - East Liverpool, Ohio
The Ohio's drainage basin covers 189,422 square miles (490,600 km2), encompassing the easternmost regions of the Mississippi Basin. The Ohio drains parts of 14 states in four regions.
- New York: a small area of the southern border along the headwaters of the Allegheny.
- Pennsylvania: a corridor from the southwestern corner to north central border.
- Maryland: a small corridor along the Youghiogheny River on the western border.
- Upper South
- West Virginia: all but the Eastern Panhandle.
- Kentucky: all but a small part in the extreme west drained directly by the Mississippi.
- Tennessee: all but a small part in the extreme west drained directly by the Mississippi, and a very small area in the southeastern corner which is drained by the Conasauga River.
- Virginia: most of southwest Virginia.
- North Carolina: the western quarter.
- Ohio: the southern half.
- Indiana: all but the northern area.
- Illinois: the southeast quarter.
- Deep South
- Georgia: the far northwest corner.
- Alabama: the northern portion.
- Mississippi: the northeast corner.
From a geological standpoint, the Ohio River is young. The river formed on a piecemeal basis beginning between 2.5 and 3 million years ago. The earliest ice ages occurred at this time and dammed portions of north-flowing rivers. The Teays River was the largest of these rivers. The modern Ohio River flows within segments of the ancient Teays. The ancient rivers were rearranged or consumed by glaciers and lakes.
Upper Ohio River
The upper Ohio River formed when one of the glacial lakes overflowed into a south-flowing tributary of the Teays River. Prior to that event, the north-flowing Steubenville River (no longer in existence) ended between New Martinsville and Paden City, West Virginia. Likewise, the south-flowing Marietta River (no longer in existence) ended between the present-day cities. The overflowing lake carved through the separating hill and connected the rivers.
The resulting floodwaters enlarged the small Marietta valley to a size more typical of a large river. The new large river subsequently drained glacial lakes and melting glaciers at the end of several Ice Ages. The valley grew with each major ice age.
Many small rivers were altered or abandoned after the upper Ohio River formed. Valleys of some abandoned rivers can still be seen on satellite and aerial images of the hills of Ohio and West Virginia between Marietta, Ohio, and Huntington, West Virginia. As testimony to the major changes that occurred, such valleys are found on hilltops.[clarification needed]
Middle Ohio River
The middle Ohio River formed in a manner similar to formation of the upper Ohio River. A north-flowing river was temporarily dammed southwest of present-day Louisville, creating a large lake until the dam burst. A new route was carved to the Mississippi. Eventually the upper and middle sections combined to form what is essentially the modern Ohio River.
Pre-Columbian inhabitants of eastern North America considered the Ohio part of a single river continuing on through the lower Mississippi. The river's name comes from the Seneca (Iroquoian) ohiːyo', a proper name derived from ohiːyoːh, meaning "good river". The river is 1,310 miles (2,110 km) long and carries the largest volume of water of any tributary of the Mississippi. The Indians and early explorers and settlers of the region also often considered the Allegheny to be part of the Ohio. The forks (the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers at what is now Pittsburgh) was considered a strategic military location.
In 1669 René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, led an expedition of French traders who became the first Europeans to see the river. He traveled from Canada and entered the headwaters of the Ohio, traveling as far as the Falls of Ohio at present-day Louisville before turning back. He returned to explore the river again in other expeditions. An Italian cartographer traveling with him created the first map of the Ohio River. La Salle claimed the Ohio Valley for France.
French fur traders operated in the area, and France built forts along the Allegheny River.
In 1749, Great Britain established the Ohio Company to settle and trade in the area. Exploration of the territory and trade with the Indians in the region near the Forks by British colonials from Pennsylvania and Virginia - both of which claimed the territory - led to conflict with the French. In 1763, following the Seven Years War, France ceded the area to Britain.
The 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix opened Kentucky to colonial settlement and established the Ohio River as a southern boundary for American Indian territory. In 1774, the Quebec Act restored the land east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River to Quebec, appeasing the French-speaking British subjects, but angering the Thirteen Colonies. They listed it as one of the Intolerable Acts which precipitated the American Revolution.
Louisville was founded at the only major natural navigational barrier on the river, the Falls of the Ohio. The Falls were a series of rapids where the river dropped 26 feet (7.9 m) in a stretch of about 2 miles (3.2 km). In this area, the river flowed over hard, fossil-rich beds of limestone. The first locks on the river were built in 1825 at Louisville to circumnavigate the falls. Today it is the site of McAlpine Locks and Dam.
Because the Ohio River flowed westwardly, it became a convenient means of westward movement by pioneers traveling from western Pennsylvania. After reaching the mouth of the Ohio, settlers would travel north on the Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri. There, some continued on up the Missouri River, some up the Mississippi, and some further west over land routes. In the early 19th century, pirates such as Samuel Mason, operating out of Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, waylaid travelers on their way down the river. They killed travelers, stealing their goods and scuttling their boats. The folktales about Mike Fink recall the keelboats used for commerce in the early days of European settlement. The Ohio River boatmen were the inspiration for performer Dan Emmett, who in 1843 wrote the song "The Boatman's Dance".
Trading boats and ships traveled south on the Mississippi to New Orleans, and sometimes beyond to the Gulf of Mexico and other ports in the Americas and Europe. This provided a much-needed export route for goods from the west, since the trek east over the Appalachian Mountains was long and arduous. The need for access to the port of New Orleans by settlers in the Ohio Valley led to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Because the river is the southern border of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, it was part of the border between free states and slave states in the years before the American Civil War. The expression "sold down the river" originated as a lament of Upper South slaves, especially from Kentucky, who were shipped via the Ohio and Mississippi to cotton and sugar plantations in the Deep South. Before and during the Civil War, the Ohio River was called the "River Jordan" by slaves crossing it to escape to freedom in the North via the Underground Railroad. More escaping slaves, estimated in the thousands, made their perilous journey north to freedom across the Ohio River than anywhere else across the north-south frontier. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, the bestselling novel that fueled abolitionist work, was the best known of the anti-slavery novels that portrayed such escapes across the Ohio. The times have been expressed by 20th-century novelists as well, such as the Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison, whose novel Beloved was adapted as a film of the same name. She also composed the libretto for the opera Margaret Garner (2005), based on the life and trial of an enslaved woman who escaped with her family across the river.
The Ohio River is considered to separate Midwestern Great Lakes states from the Upper South states, which were historically border states in the Civil War.
The colonial charter for Virginia defined its territory as extending to the north shore of the Ohio, so that the riverbed was "owned" by Virginia. Where the river serves as a boundary between states today, Congress designated the entire river to belong to the states on the east and south, i.e., West Virginia and Kentucky at the time of admission to the Union, that were divided from Virginia. Thus Wheeling Island, the largest inhabited island in the Ohio River, belongs to West Virginia, although it is closer to the Ohio shore than to the West Virginia shore. Kentucky brought suit against Indiana in the early 1980s because of the building of the Marble Hill nuclear power plant in Indiana, which would have discharged its waste water into the river.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that Kentucky's jurisdiction (and, implicitly, that of West Virginia) extended only to the low-water mark of 1793 (important because the river has been extensively dammed for navigation, so that the present river bank is north of the old low-water mark.) Similarly, in the 1990s, Kentucky challenged Illinois' right to collect taxes on a riverboat casino docked in Metropolis, citing its own control of the entire river. A private casino riverboat that docked in Evansville, Indiana, on the Ohio River opened about the same time. Although such boats cruised on the Ohio River in an oval pattern up and down, the state of Kentucky soon protested. Other states had to limit their cruises to going forwards, then reversing and going backwards on the Indiana shore only. Since 2002, Indiana has allowed its riverboat casinos to be permanently docked.
In the early 1980s, the Falls of the Ohio National Wildlife Conservation Area was established at Clarksville, Indiana.
The confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers is at Cairo, Illinois.
Carl D. Perkins Bridge in Portsmouth, Ohio with Ohio River and Scioto River tributary on right.
Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia which collapsed into the Ohio River on December 15, 1967, killing 46 persons.
The Ohio River is a naturally shallow river that was artificially deepened by a series of dams. The natural depth of the river varied from about 3 to 40 feet (0.91 to 12 m). The dams raise the water level and have turned the river largely into a series of reservoirs, eliminating shallow stretches and allowing for commercial navigation. From its origin to Cincinnati, the average depth is approximately 27 feet (8 m). The maximum depth is below the McAlpine Locks and Dam at the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville, Kentucky, where flood stage is reached when the water reaches 55 feet (17 m) on the lower gauge. From Louisville, the river loses depth very gradually until its confluence with the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois, where it has an approximate depth of 20 feet (6 m).
Water levels for the Ohio River from Smithland Lock and Dam upstream to Pittsburgh are predicted daily by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Ohio River Forecast Center. The water levels for the Ohio River from Smithland Lock and Dam to Cairo, Illinois, are predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center. The water depth predictions are relative to each local flood plain based upon predicted rainfall in the Ohio River basin in five reports as follows:
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Hannibal Dam, Ohio (including the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers) (click to see report)
- Willow Island Dam, Ohio, to Greenup Dam, Kentucky (including the Kanawha River) (click to see report)
- Portsmouth, Ohio, to Markland Locks and Dam, Kentucky (click to see report)
- McAlpine Locks and Dam, Kentucky, to Cannelton Locks and Dam, Indiana (click to see report)
- Newburgh Dam, Indiana, to Golconda, Illinois (click to see report)
Cities and towns along the river
Metro Area Population Pittsburgh 2.4 million Cincinnati 2.2 million Louisville 1.4 million Evansville 350,000 Huntington-Ashland 290,000 Parkersburg 160,000 Wheeling 145,000 Weirton-Steubenville 132,008 Owensboro 112,000 New Albany 37,296 Jeffersonville 30,479 Henderson 27,952
Cities along the Ohio include:
- West Virginia
The world record for the largest blue catfish 104 pounds (47.2 kg) taken in the line class was set on the Ohio River in 1999. The river also holds records for the following species for the state of Kentucky:
- Channel catfish, 32 pounds (14.5 kg)
- Longnose gar, 40 pounds (18.1 kg)
- Paddlefish, 106 pounds (48.1 kg)
- Silver carp, 9.2 pounds (4.2 kg)
- Skipjack herring, 3.1 pounds (1.4 kg)
- Saugeye, 6.58 pounds (3.0 kg)
The Ohio River from Cairo, Illinois, to Smithland, Kentucky, comprises a significant portion of the Great Loop, the circumnavigation of Eastern North America by water for recreational purposes.
- Geography of the United States
- Islands of the Midwest
- List of crossings of the Ohio River
- List of islands of West Virginia (including islands on Ohio River)
- List of locks and dams of the Ohio River
- List of rivers of Pennsylvania
- List of variant names of the Ohio River
- Ohio and Erie Canal
- Ohio River Bridges Project
- Ohio River flood of 1937
- Watersheds of Illinois
- List of longest rivers of the United States (by main stem)
- ^ Leeden, Frits van der; Fred L. Troise, David Keith Todd (1990). The Water Encyclopedia (2nd ed.). Chelsea, Mich.: Lewis Publishers. p. 126. ISBN 0-87371-120-3.
- ^ Frits van der Leeden, Fred L. Troise, David Keith Todd: The Water Encyclopedia, 2nd edition, p 126, Chelsea, Mich. (Lewis Publishers), 1990, ISBN 0-87371-120-3 (long term mean discharge)
- ^ USGS stream gage 07022000 Mississippi River at Thebes, IL (long term mean discharge)
- ^ Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. Notes on the State of Virginia; the single instance refers to the former rapids near Louisville.
- ^ Bright, William (2004). Native American placenames of the United States. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 344. ISBN 9780806135984. http://books.google.com/books?id=5XfxzCm1qa4C&pg=PA344. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
- ^ *Taylor, Alan (2006). The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 44, see map on 39. ISBN 0-679-45471-3.
- ^ KET's Underground Railroad - Behind the Scenes - Guy Mendes
- ^ "Put in Master's Pocket: Interstate Slave Trading and the Black Appalachian Diaspora"
- ^ KET's Underground Railroad - Community Research
- ^ River Watch - Ohio River Basin
- ^ "Kentucky State Record Fish List". Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. 2006-04-17. http://fw.ky.gov/recordfish.asp. Retrieved 2007-02-17.
- Hay, Jerry (2010). Ohio River Guidebook, 1st Edition
- U.S. Geological Survey: PA stream gauging stations
- Image at the confluence with the Mississippi River
- Watershed information
- Ohio River Forecast Center, which issues official river forecasts for the Ohio River and its tributaries from Smithland Lock and Dam upstream
- Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, which issues official river forecasts for the Ohio River and its tributaries downstream of Smithland Lock and Dam
- Ohio River
- Tributaries of the Mississippi River
- Rivers of Illinois
- Rivers of Indiana
- Rivers of Southwestern Indiana
- Rivers of Kentucky
- Rivers of Ohio
- Rivers of Pennsylvania
- Rivers of West Virginia
- Borders of Illinois
- Borders of Kentucky
- Borders of Indiana
- Borders of Ohio
- Borders of West Virginia
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