Monday, January 13, 2014

Get to Know A River Part 1: The Mill Creek

There are four main rivers in and around Southwest Ohio that provided the main reason for the rapid growth and settlement of the region. This was the old highway system used by Native Americans, early explorers and settlers long before canals, railroads or paved highways. The Great Miami and Little Miami flank Cincinnati respectively to the West and East while the Mill Creek basically runs down the middle. These are all tributaries of the Ohio River. That's over 1200 miles of waterways in total which is the equivalent of going from Cincinnati OH to Denver CO.
In the 18th century the land between the two Miamis was a dangerous area for settlers and known as the Miami Bloodbath due to constant Indian skirmishes and battles. Dotted along the banks of all these rivers from 1788 to 1795, over 40 stations and forts were built as protected settlements for Americans rushing in to claim land after the victory in the American Revolution.

Now let's get to know a river...or a large creek in this case.

a non urban portion of The Mill Creek
The Mill Creek runs North to South for 29 miles from Butler County OH to the Ohio River just West of downtown Cincinnati.
Now technically it's not named a "river" but there really is no official distinction between rivers and creeks. A loose definition is that a creek is a smaller tributary of a river. However, the Mill Creek is part of the same watershed as the Little Miami River that also flows into the Ohio River. Basically it got called called a creek by John Cleves Symmes and the name stuck.More on that in a bit

The average depth of this waterway is only about 3' in most places and averages about 60' wide in the Cincinnati area making it 1/4 the size of the Little Miami, in length, width and depth. Flood stage is at 12' . Much of the urban portion of the Mill Creek has fortified concrete banks and is what most folks see as they speed down I-75 aka The Mill Creek Expressway. Yes, sadly it looks like a big cement ditch in those places which happens to also be a graffiti canvas for vandals.

Mill Creek Barrier Dam Pumping Station 
The 1937 Flood left thousands homeless in Cincinnati because of water from the Ohio River backing up into the Mill Creek. The Mill Creek Barrier Dam Pumping Station project was completed in 1948 as a result of the '37 flood. When the Ohio River is flooding, the gates of the Mill Creek Barrier Dam Pumping Station and Dam close preventing the Ohio River from backing up into the populated Mill Creek valley aka Cincinnati. The water in the Mill Creek is then pumped back into the Ohio. Despite this safety measure there was still flooding in '59 that left 50,000 homeless.


Before settlers came, the Shawnee called the Mill Creek "Maketeewah" which meant “it is black” because of the dark rich soil that made up the bed of the creek that at the time was rich in wildlife.
city life for the Mill Creek
The name "Mill Creek" was coined in the the 18th century by John Cleves Symmes as a marketing move to attract land buyers and millers to the area at a time when it was very dangerous to live in the area. Symmes needed to sell land so the river needed a name that wasn't so ethnic as well. Folks didn't want to think they were going to be killed by Indians. It did indeed attract much industry and growth but this once lush body of water was quickly transformed into an open sewer from all of the waste being continually emptied into it and eventually became known as "the most endangered urban river in North America".
Today, the Mill Creek, after 100 years of neglect has seen a revitalization due to efforts by several organizations such as the Mill Creek Watershed Council. People even canoe on the Mill Creek! As far as the name goes I'd like to see the boring Mill Creek name revert to the more poetic Makateewah, but you know me...

Approximate course of the Mill Creek

View Mill Creek in a larger map

For more about the Mill Creek history and it's ecology I highly recommend the book The Mill Creek: An Unnatural History of an Urban Stream

1 comment:

  1. This once polluted sewer for the Nation could become a vital highway for the community by hosting a bike path along this flat ground and having green space along it's banks when possible. This would help in the revitalizations of Vine St. and the Central River Valley by offering safe transportation options into and out of the City.
    Great people working with The Mill Creek, thank you.

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