History of the Raccoon Creek Watershed
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According to local legend, Raccoon Creek was named for a Native American village located at the fork of its two branches at New Plymouth. The Wyandotte tribe called this village “Etcha-Petcha,” which translated means “Raccoon Town.”
The first evidence of human presence in the Raccoon Creek Watershed comes from relics of the Adena Indians, who dominated the Ohio River Valley from about 1,000 B.C. to 100 A.D. They were known for their artistic skill, creating hundreds of burial mounds and ceremonial earthworks throughout southern Ohio. The Adenas are credited with being the first in this region to cultivate vegetables, even though they were primarily hunters and gatherers (Roseboom and Weisenburger 1986).
The Hopewell Indians followed the Adenas, living in the Ohio River Valley from approximately 150 B.C. to 500 A.D. The Hopewells established a well-organized community by hunting, gathering, fishing and trading. Their mounds often contained materials imported from great distances, such as fresh water pearls, fossil shark teeth, obsidian, conch shells and hammered copper and gold (Woodward and McDonald 1986).
The Shawnee and Delaware Indians were the next to inhabit this area. The Shawnee Indians had reached the region by 1720, trying to escape enemies. The two united with other tribes to resist the encroaching white settlement; however, in 1795 the Delaware signed the Treaty of Greenville, which obliged the Indians to give up their land in Ohio (Roseboom and Weisenburger 1986).
In 1748, a British company in Virginia formed the Ohio Company to extend the settlements of Virginia westward into the Ohio Valley. Meanwhile, the French also were organizing to move south from Canada into the Ohio Valley. The French acted first, and in 1749 Celeron de Blainville claimed the land for France. But the British conquered the French through the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and forced them to concede all their North American settlements.
Shortly thereafter, the American Revolution broke out. After nine years of fighting, the Treaty of Paris of 1783 was written and the Americans were granted independence from England. They now owned the Ohio Valley.
In 1787 the Northwest Territory was officially established. The ordinance creating the territory also organized a formal government and outlined the process by which land could be sold to settlers. The Ohio Company of Associates, a group of veterans who were interested in land speculation, purchased 1.5 million acres of land in southeast Ohio (Ferguson 1987). A contract was later signed which gave the Ohio Company the right to obtain land between the Ohio and Scioto rivers. Together these purchases include most of the Raccoon Creek watershed.
In 1803, Ohio was admitted as the 17th state of the United States of America. Shortly thereafter, on April 30, 1803, Gallia County was formed from Washington County and the new county’s first settlement, known as Gallipolis, was created. This colony succeeded in being the third permanent settlement in Ohio.
On March 1, 1805, Athens became the second county formed in the Raccoon Creek watershed, also created from Washington County. The first settlers were New Englanders from the Ohio Company who selected Athens County to house the first university in the Northwest Territory—originally Northwestern University, but now known as Ohio University.
Jackson County, known for its abundance of minerals, was organized in March 1816. When Ohio was admitted as a state, Congress had set aside six square miles in what would become Jackson County to be used solely for producing salt (Collins and Webb 1966).
Ross, Athens and Fairfield counties split to create Hocking County on March 1, 1818. Fishing was excellent in the Hocking River, and it provided a lush habitat for bears, deer and beavers. Impressive landforms, including Ash Cave, Rock House, Old Man’s Cave and Cedar Falls also are found in the area.
A year later, parts of Athens and Gallia counties combined to establish Meigs County. Settlers found clayey soils and countless deposits of coal in this region. Salt was also an important mineral in the county, and the first salt well opened in Pomeroy in 1850.
Vinton County, the last county formed in the Raccoon Creek watershed, was not created until March 23, 1850, though people had settled there 50 years earlier. Burrstone had been discovered in the region, and a quarry was built to mine it; several others built subsequent mills and quarries. Coal and iron deposits were found later, which led to furnaces and other development. The area became so prosperous that the inhabitants wanted to establish their own county, so portions of Gallia, Athens, Hocking, Jackson and Ross counties were taken to create Vinton County. The iron ore industry continued to grow, with towns forming around the mines.
Clay, salt, timber, iron ore, and coal were all abundant in the Raccoon Creek watershed. But before the area could begin to thrive, transportation was needed to get the resources to a market.
The Ohio River provided the earliest solution to distributing the area’s resources. As early as 1806, mines in Meigs County shipped coal down the river on log rafts (Crowell 1995). In 1825, the Ohio legislature passed the Canal Law to finance the construction of the Miami Canal and the Ohio Canal. Smaller canals, such as the Hocking Canal, also continued to open across the state. But problems soon arose. In addition to the canals needing frequent repairs, areas along the Ohio Canal frequently flooded and caused the canal to intermittently close. In July 1855, newspapers said the canal was in a “deplorable” state, and by 1860 the railroad had put the canal almost entirely out of business. When the Ohio Canal finally reached its destination in Portsmouth in 1887, only one boat had passed through (Collins and Webb 1966).
Beginning in the 1840s, railways spread across Ohio, replacing water travel as the primary mode of transportation. The first railway to reach the Raccoon Creek watershed was the Scioto and Hocking Valley Railroad, which began in 1849. In 1854, during the height of iron furnace operations, the rail line arrived at Hamden and connected with a branch of the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad. In 1856 the main line of the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad was completed, which ran from Cincinnati to Athens (Wright 1953). As a result, Zaleski began to expand, establishing itself as a railroad town by the mid 1860s. Large shops were built that supported the town long after its coal and iron industries failed.
The Hocking Valley Mineral Railroad reached Athens County in 1869 and was the first line to reach Hocking County. The Hocking Valley and Baltimore and Ohio Railroad arrived in McArthur on August 17, 1880. Soon afterward, Hamden and McArthur began to prosper and eventually surpassed Zaleski, where population began to plummet by 1900.
The Scioto and Hocking Valley Railroad became the Ohio and West Virginia Railroad during the late 1870s. The completion had an immediate effect on the already thriving town of McArthur. During its first year, more than 12 million pounds of coal and iron ore were shipped through the town (Collins and Webb 1966).
In 1881, the Ohio and West Virginia Railroad consolidated with the Columbus and Toledo Railroad and Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad to become the Columbus, Hocking Valley and Toledo Railroad. This new rail ran from Columbus through Lancaster and Athens to Parkersburg. In 1883 the Columbus, Hocking Valley and Toledo Railroad boasted the largest net profit per mile in the state, carrying more than 1 million tons of coal annually—easily exceeding the total amount by boat on the Hocking Canal from 1840 to 1860 (Crowell 1995).
Railroads continued to be the primary way to ship coal until trucks began to dominate in 1975. As early as the 1930s, trucks began to play a role in the distribution of Ohio’s coal (Crowell 1995). The significance of the role of shipping by trucks slowly increased as interstate highways developed throughout the state.
Discover more about the History of Restoration Efforts in Raccoon Creek!