The Great Miami River
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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Great Miami River

Dallas Bogan on 10 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

The Indians used the Great Miami River waterway long before the white man settled this part of the country. The Indians could use this route to maneuver their canoes up the Great Miami and down the Maumee to Lake Erie. This waterway allowed the first settlers to navigate from the Ohio River to the upper portion of the state.
The first record of a European in this part of the country was that of the Frenchman Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in 1669. LaSalle went by boat from Lake Erie over the carrying place of about eight miles to Lake Chautauqua and thence down the Allegheny and the Ohio to the falls at Louisville where he was deserted by most of his men. Some historians think that he returned to Lake Erie by going up the Great Miami, but there is some uncertainty to this venture.
Next came the explorers for the Albany fur traders. They came to the Ohio Valley in 1692 but soon dispersed.
In 1749, Celeron de Bienville was sent with a large force of soldiers and Indians to take possession of the whole country northwest of the Ohio in the name of the King of France. With twenty-three birch canoes he passed down the Ohio and up the Great Miami. He had shortened the trip by traveling up the latter stream, which the French then called Rock River, to the Miami towns where he remained a week. The water was low at this time of year (autumn) and instead of carrying his canoes over the portage (portions of land situated between water areas), he purchased horses and rode five and one-half days to the Maumee, which in turn he voyaged to Lake Erie.
"The great thorofares between the chief cities of the Miami Valley, Cincinnati and Dayton, from the earliest historic period, passed thru Franklin. Daniel C. Cooper, one of the most conspicuous pioneers of Dayton and one of the original proprietors of Franklin in September 1795, as a preparation for beginning these two towns, marked out a road to the mouth of Mad River. This road was only partially cut thru the woods when in March 1796; three parties left Cincinnati to make the first settlement at Dayton. One of the three parties went by a two horse wagon, another walked carrying their provisions and utensils and the small children on horses, and the third went by boat, going down the Ohio to the mouth of the Great Miami and up that stream to the site of the new town at the mouth of Mad River. The way by water was much the longer, but its passage occupied ten days while the overland journey took two weeks. At the close of each day the voyagers tied their boat to a tree and encamped on shore for the night.
"At this period much freight was carried by boat from Cincinnati down the Ohio and up the Great Miami; the charges in 1795 for the carriage of property from Fort Washington on the Ohio to Fort Hamilton on the Miami being fifty cents per hundred. John Tanner, a Baptist preacher who lived on the Kentucky side of the Ohio, boated provisions up the Great Miami to Fort Hamilton in 1794, making two trips a month. Tanner's boat was drawn by two large oxen, which waded in the shallow water near the shore, dragging the boat. When it became necessary, the oxen would swim the deep water, thus passing from one side of the river to the other as the best way for the boat could be found. In 1794, a Negro assisting Mr. Tanner on his boat was shot and killed by the Indians.
Material by Josiah Morrow - Western Star - August 20, 1908.

"The Great Miami was a natural waterway for trading purposes up the river from Dayton as well as below. The first boats that were used for trade were flat boats and keelboats. The latter was built similar to canal boats but somewhat slighter and sharper.
"The boats were often loaded with produce, taken in exchange for goods, work, or even for lots and houses, because business men, instead of having money to deposit in the bank or to invest, were frequently obliged to send cargoes of articles received in place of cash, south or north for sale. Cherry and walnut logs and lumber were brought down the river by rafts. The flatboat men sold their boats when they arrived at New Orleans, and buying a horse, returned home by land.
"Flatboats were made of green oak plank fastened by wooden pins to a frame of timber, and caulked with tow or any other pliant substance that could be procured, and were enclosed and roofed with boards. They were only used in descending streams, and floated with the current. Long sweeping oars fastened at both ends of the boat, worked by men standing on the deck, were employed to keep it in the channel, and in navigating difficult and dangerous places in the river.
"John Noble Cumming Schenck remained Franklin's postmaster from 1805 until August 7, 1829. In 1800 Mr. Martin Baum of Cincinnati set him up in business in Franklin. His store at 310 S. Front Street became one of the most important trading posts between Dayton and Hamilton. In 1812 Schenck moved his home and trading post to north of the bridge, 119 S. Front Street where a pier was erected at the rear of the building to the river's edge so flatboats could dock. Free rooms and abundant food were available for travelers. Schenck retired a wealthy man after 35 years with his store. He had twelve children, seven of whom were living when he died at the age of 93 in 1867."
Material taken from Franklin in the Miami Valley. P. 73.

"Before 1804 the river at Franklin had to be forded. But in that year Mr. William P. Barkalow started the first ferry-boat service in this area."
Material taken from Franklin in the Great Miami Valley, P 45

"Many farmers who live on or near this large stream are in the practice of building a flat bottom boat every autumn of several hundred barrel tonnage and loading it with the produce of their farms, consisting of the various articles of the orchard and the field. If their own farms do not furnish a full load they purchase the balance from their neighbors. Themselves and sons, or one or two hired hands generally man these boats. They leave home with the autumnal freshet if the can get ready, if not in the February following when the Ohio is almost always in a navigable state. The load is either sold in bulk at Cincinnati or Louisville, or retailed out along the Ohio or Mississippi rivers to the planters and inhabitants of the small towns. The return is usually made with cash or such groceries as are needed for their own use or that of their neighbors."
Material taken from The History of Washington County, Ohio.

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This page created 10 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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