Winnie Johnson, who lived in the Waterford area, used to write for the Marietta A.M. when we all started our connection with the newspaper business, and she would send a column that dealt with the area in which she resided. She really knew here local history, and I learned a lot from her about the Beverly/Waterford area. She also knew a great deal about the Marietta area, and I recently came across a booklet she had printed, which gives a lot about her thoughts on local history.
Writing about where it all began" she said early pioneers used flatboats to transport their produce down the Muskingum to the Ohio and on to New Orleans by way of the Mississippi River. The flatboats were then sold and the men made their way overland back home. Actually, one reason for selling the flatboats was the wood, already cut into usable pieces could then be used to build houses. It gave them a small amount of cash to go home.
Winnie stated the Muskingum River was very much alive with fish in the early times, a it was written that on June 2, 1990, Judge Gilbert Devol caught a pike in the Muskingum that weighed 96 pounds. It was cooked during a later celebration for all of those who lived in the Waterford Settlement, and it was enjoyed by Gen. Harmar and many of his men who were visiting from Marietta.
She also stated a black cat fish, also weighing 96 pounds, was caught by James Patterson, and many cat fish caught at that time weighed around 56 pounds.
In 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 during those years in the Beverly-Waterford area, and also in Marietta. During recent years the Ohio Power Plant warms the river to the extent the river never freezes solid.
Winne stated prior to the improvements to the river, steamboats could only travel up the Muskingum during high water, and had to run the risk of getting stuck in the mud somewhere by a sudden drop in the water level.
In January 1824 Capt. John Green found the Muskingum high enough, by reason of a storm and melting snow, to permit his going up the river in 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 beyond its accommodations.
The Rufus Putnam, built in 1822-23 in Marietta for the Ohio River trade, left Marietta in January 1824. The current of the river was very strong and the progress of the boat was very slow. She arrived in Waterford between 8 and 9 p.m.. Several more persons joined the Marietta party. At Luke Chute, the current was so strong the Putnam was obliged to lay by for the rest of the night, but she finally got through.
There was no fuel carried on board so 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 10 p.m. Saturday. 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 reason for its appearance, gathered in uncertainty as to what to expect.
Those on the boat were 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 have a ride on the boat. That evening passengers and other guests were entertained by Jude Buckingham of Putnam. Tuesday the boat began the return trip to Marietta.
The current of the river was so strong the boat descended to Marietta in about eight hours. The 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 that navigated the Muskingum after the completion of the locks and dams was made by the Tuscarawas. She arrived in Marietta Sept. 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 trough trade. The Hubbell, Sonoma, Lorena, Annie Laurie and the Buckeye Belle have been mentioned regularly in local history.
The last commercial enterprise on the Muskingum was tried by Capt. 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. However, it was not successful.
Many of the early steamboats used in the Muskingum trade were built at the Knox Boatyard in Marietta.
River history was not without its tragedies. A near tragedy occurred before 1800. The story mentions a 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 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 was an ancestor of the Devol family, and the situation turned out to be a fortunate one.
The most tragic event on the river was the explosion of the Buckeye Belle. This took place Nov. 12, 1852, when the steamboat was leaving the upper gates of the Beverly Canal. It seems the boilers overheated and as the boat listed slightly going through the canal, it hit cold water, which caused the explosion.
Fire from the explosion could be seen for over a mile and a name plate was blown into the air and across the river. It was found later on a farm on the Waterford side of the Muskingum. It was also stated a baby was blown 30 feet into the air, landing on a hay stack, but surviving the accident to live 60 years more.
Thirteen unidentified people were killed in he explosion, along with the captain, and all are buried in the Beverly Cemetery.
Joan Pritchard is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel. Contact her at email@example.com.