Keyword Exclusive - Kentucky’s Ohio River towns
Supplement to “Rollin’ Down the River”
For more than 650 miles, from Catlettsburg in the east to Wickliffe in the west, the Ohio River forms the northern border of Kentucky. Towns began to develop along the river in the 1790s, each contributing to the growth of Kentucky and the movement west. In the present day, filmmaker Cory Lash found 88 towns on the Kentucky side of the river alone.
Lash made a documentary called Kentucky’s Ohio River Towns, which KET is encoring for Kentucky Living readers again in April. Lash says his film looks at the history of why these river towns were formed and how.
“Many of them settled because of tributaries feeding into Ohio River,” he says. “A tributary, such as the Cumberland River or Kentucky River, made it easy to transport goods to the Ohio for shipment south. People would also pick up their supplies and take them back to the inner part of Kentucky. Soon towns began springing up along these points.
“When the flat boats got south to New Orleans (where they were called ‘Kentucky boats’), the boaters would sell the materials they had brought as well as their boat. The boats would be broken up for lumber, which was used in the New Orleans area. Then they would return north, build a new flat boat, collect more goods, and start the process again.”
Lash also discovered some historical tidbits that seem funny in retrospect.
“One thing I found interesting is when they were charting the Ohio River, at one point the Mississippi was thought to be a tributary for the Ohio,” Lash says. “Around Wickliffe, Kentucky, and Cairo, Illinois, the Ohio is much larger than the Mississippi.”
Much of the history of the towns is associated with the history of agriculture, according to Lash. Depending on the area, Lash found some areas transporting coal, while others sold wheat, corn, or other agricultural products.
Following are some interesting facts and history about present-day towns along the Ohio River in or near Kentucky collected from Lash and also interesting notes from the online site Wikipedia. The list is not exhaustive.
Aberdeen is connected to Maysville, Kentucky, by the Simon Kenton Memorial Bridge to downtown Maysville and the William H. Harsha Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge completed in 2000 and opened to traffic in 2001.
George Clooney lived in Augusta and graduated from Augusta High School. Former Miss America Heather French was born in Augusta. Rosemary Clooney, of Maysville, purchased a “get away” home in Augusta on the river in 1980.
Bellevue is becoming the bedroom community of the Northern Kentucky population boom while its neighboring cities—Covington and Newport—become the business and entertainment centers.
The town’s post office is popular around Christmas with those wanting to have a Bethlehem postmark on Christmas letters and cards.
Brandenburg was devastated by an F5 tornado during the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974; 31 were killed in the city. During the American Civil War, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan crossed at Brandenburg to start his raid into Indiana in July 1863.
Brookport is located on the north bank of the Ohio River, opposite Paducah, Kentucky.
Cairo is located at the confluence of the Mississippi River and the Ohio River and is the southernmost town in the state of Illinois. Cairo is one of the few towns in Illinois protected by a levee. The rivers converge at what is the southernmost point in Illinois at Fort Defiance State Park, an American Civil War fort that was commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant. The town has a number of fine examples of prosperous 19-century and early 20-century architecture, including Magnolia Manor and Riverlore Mansion. Much of the city, even in some areas of decay, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cannelton Cotton Mill, built in 1849, was once the largest mill in the United States west of the Allegheny Mountains. It is now a National Historic Landmark. Cannelton Lock and Dam provides a 114-mile stretch of calm recreational water on the Ohio River between Cannelton and Louisville, Kentucky.
Popular culture recalls the river pirate history of Cave-in Rock in scenes from Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, and the MGM classic How the West Was Won. Both were filmed at the cave as well as Battery Rock. The History Channel show In Search of History also filmed at the site for an episode entitled “River Pirates.”
Clarksville has the largest exposed fossil beds from the Devonian period and the state has built an education center and declared the area, alongside the Ohio River and bordering Kentucky, known as the Falls of the Ohio State Park. These fossils include plant and marine life from a prehistoric coral reef that are 386 million years old.
Clarksville is home to the second-largest clock in the world at the Colgate Plant near the Ohio River. Currently its future is in question as the company shut down the plant in 2007.
The town was once known as “Joesville,” named after its founder, Joe Houston. Although some Lincoln historians dispute the route through Cloverport, two of Jacob Weatherholts’ descendants reported that in 1816, Cloverport ferryman Jacob Weatherholt piloted the family of Abraham Lincoln, then 7, along with his parents, Thomas and Nancy, across the Ohio River as the family left Kentucky to move to a newly acquired farm in Spencer County, Indiana. In the 18th century, the Victoria Coal Mines produced the world’s first coal oil, which was later used to light Buckingham Palace.
Coal Grove, Ohio
It borders the city of Ironton and lies across the Ohio River from Ashland, Kentucky. It is linked to Ashland by the Ben Williamson Memorial Bridge and Simeon Willis Memorial Bridge.
Settled in 1812, the city is situated on a gentle horseshoe bend on the Ohio River and is often referred to as “River City.” One of the most popular attractions in the region is Casino Aztar, the first riverboat casino in the state of Indiana. Evansville is also home to both the University of Evansville and the University of Southern Indiana.
Fort Thomas, Kentucky
Custom has it that a large cake is prepared after a state championship victory for the Highlands High School football team. This custom has lent itself to the people of Fort Thomas becoming known colloquially as cake eaters, and the city of Ft. Thomas as cake town. Though positive in origin, these terms are often used derogatorily by people outside of Ft. Thomas in the spirit of Marie Antoinette’s legendary, “Let them eat cake,”—alluding to the slightly higher per capita incomes of Ft. Thomas residents over the surrounding areas.
Franklin Furnace, Ohio
Franklin Furnace was the name of an early iron ore furnace built in eastern Scioto County in 1826. The community that grew in that area is named after the furnace.
The city lays claims to many notable citizens, including Bob Evans, Bob Evans Restaurants founder; Samuel Finley Vinton, former U.S. Congressman and secretary of the Interior; Brereton Jones, former Kentucky Governor; Frank Cremeans, former U.S. Congressman; O. O. McIntyre, syndicated columnist; Mike Bartrum, former NFL Pro Bowl long snapper; Geoffrey D. Miller, retired U.S. major general; Lionel Cartwright, country music singer; Robert M. Switzer, former U.S. Congressman; and Dave Roberts, former Major League Baseball pitcher.
Glenview has the second-highest per capita income of any place in Kentucky. The city is known for its old estate homes on high bluffs overlooking the Ohio River. In the late 1800s, wealthy families from Louisville began moving east to build summer homes and eventually became full-time residents. Early residents of Glenview cooperated with other communities to open the Louisville, Harrods Creek, and Westport Railroad in 1877, a commuter rail line, which would be in use until it was abandoned in the 1950s. Some of Louisville’s most influential families, such as the Binghams, the Ballards, and the Belknaps, moved into the area after the opening of the railroad. Louisville attempted to annex Glenview in 1983, which led to residents incorporating as a sixth-class city. Many of the houses are part of the Glenview Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The town received its name because of the “grand view” of the Ohio River.
Fictional bartender at Cheers, Woody Boyd, was born and raised in Hanover. The actor who portrayed Woody Boyd in the sitcom Cheers was in fact Woody Harrelson, who attended Hanover College as a student.
The city was called home by ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audubon, as well as blues legend W.C. Handy. Audubon spent several years in Henderson in the 1810s. He is honored in the downtown with nine cast-bronze sculptures based on paintings from Audubon’s “Birds of America” series, and at the John James Audubon State Park and Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of John James Audubon memorabilia and one of the most extensive collections of his work in the world.
Famous sons and daughters of Ironton include Lander McCoy “Coy” Bacon, a former professional American football defensive lineman in the NFL who was selected to three Pro Bowls during his 14-year career; Bobby Bare, who is now a country and western musician; and Emily Folger, wife of Henry Clay Folger, president of Standard Oil of New York, is also from Ironton. She directed the building of Folger Museum in the District of Columbia, and was a Shakespeare scholar and collector. In addition, there is Colonel William C. Lambert, a World War I flying ace; George McAfee, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; and John Rankin, famous abolitionist who helped found the Free Presbyterian Church of America. He also helped more than 2,000 runaway slaves flee the South.
The American Civil War increased the importance of Jeffersonville. Jeffersonville was one of the principal gateways to the South during the Civil War, due to its being directly across from Louisville. It was served by railroads from the north and the south and had the waterway of the Ohio River. Naturally, this influenced its selection as one of the principal bases for supplies and troops for the Union Army. In 1819 the first shipbuilding took place in Jeffersonville, and steamboats would become key to Jeffersonville’s economy. The history of shipbuilding in Jeffersonville is the focus of the Howard Steamboat Museum.
Kenova, West Virginia
The city is near the location of the Southern Airways Flight 932 aviation disaster. In 1970, a plane carrying the Marshall University football team crashed on a hillside on approach to the Tri-State Airport, killing all on board. A movie about the tragedy, We Are Marshall, was released in 2006. Kenova is also the hometown of contemporary Christian music superstar and Grammy Award winner Michael W. Smith.
Lewisport’s main claim to fame is that Abraham Lincoln won his first law case—defending himself—in the Squire Pate House, which at the time was the site of the circuit court.
Madison has a powerboat racing tradition since at least 1911 and in 1929 began holding an annual race, later called the Madison Regatta, beginning in 1948. In 1950 the race became affiliated with the American Power Boat Association and since 1954 holds high points Unlimited Hydroplane races annually in early July. Though Madison has a population of only 12,000, the regatta maintains its place in Unlimited Hydroplane racing, whose other races are in Detroit, Seattle, San Diego, Evansville, and Tri-Cities, Washington. The Madison Regatta draws about 60,000-70,000 people annually.
Maysville was historically important in the settlement of the Kentucky bluegrass region. Frontiersmen Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone were among its founders. Later Maysville was an important port for the northeastern section of the state, exporting the region’s production of hemp and tobacco. It was once a center of wrought-iron manufacture, sending fancy ironwork down the Ohio to decorate the buildings of New Orleans, Louisiana. Manufacturing remains an important part of the modern economy. For most of the 20th century, Maysville was home to one of the largest tobacco auction warehouse systems in the world.
Maysville was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, as the free state of Ohio was just across the river. Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the area in 1833 and witnessed a slave auction in front of the county court house in Washington. Stowe included the scene in her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852.
On January 21, 1972, DC Comics declared Metropolis “Hometown of Superman.” On June 9, 1972, the Illinois State Legislature passed Resolution 572 that declared Metropolis the “Hometown of Superman,” the comic book superhero who is based in the fictional city of Metropolis. Among the ways it celebrates the character are a large Superman statue in the city, a small Super Museum, and an annual Superman each summer. Also, it has a local newspaper, known as The Metropolis Planet, a name inspired by the newspaper in fictional Metropolis, The Daily Planet.
Milton was founded in 1789, three years before Kentucky became a state, and is one of the oldest towns in Kentucky. It was seen in the 1958 film Some Came Running.
New Albany, Indiana
New Albany’s Main Street features a large collection of late 19th-century mansions from the city’s heyday as a shipbuilding center. The centerpiece is the Culbertson Mansion, a three-story French Second Empire Style structure, which is today an Indiana state memorial.
New Amsterdam, Indiana
Although the U.S. Census claims a population of one, local wisdom has it that there are as many as 16 people living within the town currently. The town has a general store that is frequented by the locals, a Baptist church, a Methodist church, a Town Hall, and a large cemetery.
New Richmond, Ohio
As the main part of the village lies along the Ohio River, New Richmond was devastated in March of 1997 by flooding, the worst Ohio River flood since the Great Flood of 1937. Houses were covered in nine feet or more of brown water,
They seem to grow athletes in this small town. Notables include Jamey Carroll, Major League Baseball player, and Michael Rosenbaum, an actor on Smallville, who each attended Castle High School, and native Bryce Hunt, Olympic swimmer.
North Bend, Ohio
U.S. President Benjamin Harrison was born in North Bend. His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, is buried in the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial Park in North Bend. John Scott Harrison is the only man in U.S. history to be the son of a president and the father of a president. He is buried in his father’s vault in North Bend.
Owensboro considers itself the BBQ Capital of the World. It holds its International BBQ Festival and competition every second weekend in May. Attractions in Kentucky’s third-largest city include the International Bluegrass Music Museum, Western Kentucky Botanical Gardens, and the largest sassafras tree.
Due to its extremely hilly topography, Pomeroy may be the only city that is mentioned twice in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! One mention is of the three-story Meigs County Courthouse in downtown Pomeroy, which is the only one in America that has a ground-level entrance on every floor. Pomeroy is also recognized for being the only city in the country that does not have a single four-way intersection.
Rabbit Hash, Kentucky
The name Rabbit Hash may derive from the historic use of the local rabbit population as food. The hamlet’s most notable building, Rabbit Hash General Store, is regarded as the best known and best preserved country store in Kentucky. Rabbit Hash is unincorporated and therefore without fixed boundaries, which makes its exact population a matter of opinion, but the population is generally regarded as between four and 40 depending on how the boundaries are drawn. In 1998 a dog was elected mayor in an unofficial “election,” an event covered in the documentary Rabbit Hash (The Center of the Universe), and in 2004 a dog was elected mayor once again.
Among the notable citizens of the area is Steven M. Newman, “the worldwalker,” the first (and only) man to walk around the world.
Lincoln Pioneer Village, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is located in Rockport City Park. Designed by noted Hoosier sculptor George Honig, the first phase of the village was completed in 1935, with an addition completed in 1937. Historically accurate replicas of a number of Spencer County cabins and businesses from Abraham Lincoln’s time are the main attraction of the village, giving visitors the opportunity to see what it was like to live in Indiana during Lincoln’s formative years. The village was so well-known throughout the United States in its early years that it was chosen as the setting for portions of the 1955 Burt Lancaster film The Kentuckian.
South Shore, Kentucky
Don Gullett was a former Major League Baseball player with the Cincinnati Reds from 1970-1976 and with the New York Yankees from 1976-1978, who grew up near South Shore, in Lynn. He was a pitching coach for the Reds from 1993 until mid-season of 2005.
Tell City, Indiana
Originally called Helvetia, it was soon renamed Tell City, a name easier to pronounce and remember for English-speaking people. It was named for the legendary Swiss hero and liberator, William Tell. Tell City’s wide streets are also named for great persons of the arts, letters, and science: Washington, Gutenberg, Pestalozzi, Humboldt, Fulton, Schiller, Tell, Mozart, Watt, and others.
West Point, Kentucky
West Point sits at the confluence of the Ohio and Salt rivers, a strategic position that led Union forces to construct a fort here during the Civil War to protect their supply routes. Fort Duffield is the state’s oldest, largest, and best-preserved earthen fortification from the period. West Point also retains many of its other historic resources, and a large portion of the community is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district.
Also along the full length of the Ohio River:
Beech Bottom, West Virginia
Belmont, West Virginia
Ben Avon, Pennsylvania
Benwood, West Virginia
Boaz, West Virginia
Ceredo, West Virginia
Chester, West Virginia
Crescent Township, Pennsylvania
Crown City, Ohio
East Liverpool, Ohio
East Rochester, Pennsylvania
Follansbee, West Virginia
Fort Knox, Kentucky
Friendly, West Virginia
Glen Dale, West Virginia
Hanging Rock, Ohio
Hartford, West Virginia
Henderson, West Virginia
Huntington, West Virginia
Indian Hills, Kentucky
Little Hocking, Ohio
Long Bottom, Ohio
Martins Ferry, Ohio
Mason, West Virginia
McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania
McMechen, West Virginia
Mingo Junction, Ohio
Moon Township, Pennsylvania
Mound City, Illinois
Moundsville, West Virginia
Mount Vernon, Indiana
New Boston, Ohio
New Cumberland, West Virginia
New Haven, West Virginia
New Martinsville, West Virginia
New Matamoras, Ohio
Newell, West Virginia
Paden City, West Virginia
Parkersburg, West Virginia
Point Pleasant, Ohio
Point Pleasant, West Virginia
Powhatan Point, Ohio
Ravenswood, West Virginia
Rising Sun, Indiana
Rocky Point, Indiana
St. Marys, West Virginia
Silver Grove, Kentucky
Sistersville, West Virginia
South Heights, Pennsylvania
South Point, Ohio
South Shore, KY
Vienna, West Virginia
Villa Hills, Kentucky
Washington, West Virginia
Weirton, West Virginia
Wellsburg, West Virginia
Wheeling, West Virginia
Williamstown, West Virginia
To read the Kentucky Living April 2008 feature that goes along with this supplement, go to Rollin’ Down the River.