River History


The following passage is from the book "That's Where It All Began" authored by Winnie Smith Johnson. See citation below.

    The Muskingum River has played a large part in the history of the Beverly-Waterford area. It has provided transportation by canoe, flatboat, paddlewheel, steam and barge.

    Muskingum (Mooskingom) meaning Elk's Eye River so called by Indians extends from Marietta, where the river enters the Ohio to its furthest point in Columbiana County.

    The first pioneers traveled by pirogue and canoe up the river from Marietta in 1789. River traffic expanded further when the dams and canals were built beginning in the spring of 1837 and being completed in 1841.

    To the right is a "Louisana Pirogue" graphic graciously provided by the Mariners' Museum, in Newport News, Virginia..

    Early pioneers used flatboats to transport their product down the Muskingum to he Ohio and on to New Orleans by way of the Mississippi River. The flatboats were then sold and the men made their way back home.

A depiction of a flatboat like those used in pioneer days.

    The Muskingum River was alive with fish in the early times. It is recorded that Judge Gilbert Devol took a pike from the river which weighed ninety-six pounds on June 2, 1790. It was cooked for all the inhabitants of the Waterford Settlement in a later celebration attended by General Harmar and many of his men from Marietta.

    A black cat fish was caught by James Patterson which weighed ninety six pounds. Many have been caught that weighted in at the fifty-sixty pound mark.

    In the year 1796, the Muskingum froze to a depth of nine inches. A snow path on the ice was made to Marietta and was used for nearly a month. Ice skating was a popular pastime over the years in the Beverly-Waterford area. However, in recent years the Ohio Power plant has warmed the river so that it never freezes solid in the area.

    Prior to the improvements to the river, steamboats could only go up the Muskingum in high water and had to run the risk of getting fast in the mud somewhere by a sudden fall in the water level.

    In January, 1824 Captain John Green found the Muskingum high enough, by reason of a storm and melting snow, to permit his going up with his boat. He gave notice to the citizens of Marietta of his intentions to make the trip and in a short time his boat was crowded with passengers quite beyond her accommodations.

    The Rufus Putnam, built in 1822-23 in Marietta the Ohio River trade, left Marietta in January 1824. The current of the river was very strong and progress of the boat very slow. She arrived at Waterford in the evening between eight and nine o'clock. Several more persons joined the Marietta party. At Luke Chute, the current was so strong that she was obliged to lay by for the rest of the night, but she finally got through.

    There was no fuel carried on board so Captain Green had to depend on purchasing wood along the route. The boat passed McConnelsville about the middle of the day on Saturday and reached Zanesville about ten o'clock on Saturday night. The banks of the river were lined with people who, having seen the lights of a steamboat at a distance and not being aware of any cause for the singular appearance, had assembled in uncertainty as to what to expect.

    The company on the boat was hospitably received and many were entertained in private homes in Zanesville and Putnam.

    On Monday, the boat made two excursion trips to Duncan Falls and back to gratify the desires of the people of Zanesville and Putnam to see and ride upon the boat. That evening an entertainment was given for the passengers and others by Judge Buckingham of Putnam. Tuesday, the boat started a return trip to Marietta. The current of the river was so strong that she descended to Marietta in about eight hours. This account of the trip of the Rufus Putnam was made by A.T. Nye, Esq., one of the passengers from Marietta who made the trip.

    The first steamer which navigated the Muskingum after the completion of the locks and dams was made by the Tuscarawas. She arrived in Marietta September 18, 1841, from Zanesville and returned the same day.

    Among the early boats on the Muskingum were the Zanesville, Dresden, Belle Zane, May Queen, Muskingum Valley, Dan Converse, and Julia Dean.

    In later years, the Lizzie Cassell and the General H.F. Devol were running from Marietta to Zanesville with through trade. The Hubbell, Sonoma, Lorena, Annie Laurie, and the Buckeye Belle have been mentioned regularly in local history.

A photo of the Lorena as she appears today.

    The last commercial enterprise on the Muskingum was tried by Captain Nelson Brown of Marietta. Using his tow boat "The Dolly Belle", he pushed barges of logs up the river to the new Interlake Steel Plant. It was not successful, however.

    Many of the early steams boats used in the Muskingum trade were built at Knox Boatyard in Marietta.

    River history was not without its tragedies. A near tragedy occurred before 1800. The story is told of the kidnapping of Ruby (Rubia) Sprague, a small child, whose family lived in a log cabin near the Muskingum across from Coal Run. She was playing along the river bank when three Indians paddled along the bank and enticed her into their canoe. They had traveled a considerable distance up the river when two hunters saw them and recognized the child. Using their firearms to threaten the Indians, the child was rescued when they brought the canoe ashore. Ruby Sprague is and ancestor of the present Devol family. Luckily this event turned out well for all concerned.

    The most tragic event of all was the explosion of the Buckeye Belle. This took place November 12, 1852, when the steamboat was leaving the upper gates of the Beverly Canal. The cause was thought to be that the boilers became overheated and as the boat listed slightly coming through the canal, it dipped cold water producing a terrible explosion, heard for miles around.

    The fire, reflected by the sky, could be seen for over a mile. A name plate was blown high in the air and across the river. It was found later on the Nixon farm on the Waterford side of the Muskingum. It is also told that a baby was blown thirty feet in the air and landed on a hay stack, surviving the accident to live some sixty years.

    A rough red granite stone with a simple bronze plaque on it marks the common grave of the thirteen unidentified persons who were killed in the explosion. The boat's captain, Harry Stull, was among those killed. All are buried in the Beverly Cemetary.


Johnson, Winnie Smith. That's Where It All Began. Marietta: River Press, 1988.