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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

More On 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

An interesting story has come to my attention concerning a flat boat. Diane Wilkerson Jordan of Waynesville has allowed me to use this story. She says: "I have to tell about John Wilkerson's amazing birth [born August 19, 1787-died December 24, 1868]. James [his father] emigrated westward in 1787. As the party was floating down the Ohio River on a flat boat, John Wilkerson, James' second son was born. Daniel Boone's wife was the attending mid-wife."
A lady told of her first residence at Cincinnati which was a log cabin, the furniture of which consisted of one bedstead, one table, one chair and several wood- en stools, the flooring was of boat plank which was better than that of most of her neighbors who had for floors logs split in two and laid flatside uppermost.
Up the river at Limestone (Maysville, Kentucky), there were so many flatboats that their value was worthless. Many of these flatboats were set adrift to make room for more pioneers and their accessories.
A report shows that when the first church was built in Cincinnati (the First Presbyterian) its floor and seats were made of boat plank.
At one time 47 boats were bought at Maysville, the pay being from 50 cents to $1 apiece. These were sold at Cincinnati for the purpose of building houses and making tables and benches. Common carpenters received $1.25 per day for their labors.
The Dayton Repertory for May 24, 1809, contains the first notice of a Dayton flatboat published here. It says:
"A flat-bottomed boat, owned by Mr. John Compton, of this place, descended the Miami yesterday. She was loaded with pork, flour, bacon, and whisky, and destined for Fort Adams."
The boat safely made the trip to the Ohio but not without some difficulty. With low water and the changes in the channel in the Hamilton area, navigation was dangerous. However, the trip was safely made.

The earliest pioneers were used to a life of luxury in their eastern homes, but now hardships were upon them. Their newly built homes were equipped with nothing more than what a common wigwam would hold. The roofs of the houses were made of clapboards, chimneys of sticks plastered over with mud, tables and benches of boat plank, brooms of hickory limbs, the fire-shovel was clapboard and the tongs a forked stick. Many articles were made from the wood of the Buckeye tree, among these the tray for the johnny-cake, the trencher for the meat, the huge white family bowl for the mush and milk.
One of the early innovators had brought over the mountains a very small amount of furniture. With his axe, he cut down a large sweet buckeye tree and splitting a part of the trunk in two he made for her two large trays, one of which she used for a wash tub, and also for holding the clothes when they were dry; and the other for her cold edibles when she had any.
Packhorses were used for hauling because they were quicker. They carried approximately two hundred pounds and consisted of perhaps a dozen horses tied together in single file, the leader wearing a bell signifying their presence. The river and the Great Miami Trail definitely left its mark on Franklin.
Cincinnati was the trade center in the early pioneer days. These early settlers purchased many of their goods from the town along the Ohio River. They would spend about a week on horseback or ten days if the route was by boat simply on a return trip to Dayton.
Transportation charges for the freight from Cincinnati to Dayton was two dollars and fifty cents per hundredweight. Flour was nine dollars a barrel; it cost five dollars to bring a barrel to Dayton. Corn was one dollar per bushel.
Bartering was significant in the early trade. Money, being scarce, set up a monetary value only in name. Some items had a money value such as; a muskrat skin brought twenty-five cents; buckskin, one-dollar (origination of the name, "buck"), a doeskin, one dollar and fifty cents; a bearskin, from three to five dollars. A trade value was substituted for some of these items, which was; a pair of cotton stockings was equal to buckskin and a yard of calico cost two musk- rat skins.
During the years from 1809 thru 1813, complaints were registered concerning the brush obstructions and the fish baskets along the Miami, Mad and Stillwater Rivers. A petition was presented to the Legislature that Mad River be declared a public highway and that the Great Miami so far as the mouth of Stony Creek, be declared a state road, using a part of the three per- cent fund set aside by the Government for the improvement of highways. The Stillwater was also included in an effort to make it a public highway.
Fish baskets were considered a bottleneck. A fish basket was put at a dam on the riffles where the water was channeled to the center of the river. A box constructed of wooden slats was placed at a level lower than the dam. An opening allowed the fish to enter but they were unable to leave.
"The wealth and increased population of the waters of the Great Miami demand immediate attention to the navigation of that stream, without which the country loses half of its value. Will the people tamely submit to suffer a few men so essentially to injure the country? The obstructions in the river must be removed. All are interested in an object so important, and it is hoped the settlers on the waters of the Great Miami will immediately turn their attention to improving its navigation." (5)
The Great Miami was now considered a public highway, but without a policing method, the mill-owners and the fish basket installers were almost free to do as they pleased.
A navigation board met in Franklin on the fourth Monday of May 1816 for the purpose of river congestion versus river traffic. This board consisted of William C. Schenck and William Sayre, of Warren County, along with persons from Montgomery, Greene, Champaign and Miami counties.
With the obstructions still in place, the early spring rains were the only solution to part-time river traffic. Traffic was limited to times of high water because of the mill dams. The flat boats and keelboats were generally loaded and ready for the water surge. Passage over the mill dams was performed with ease.
During the last week of March 1819, eight flatboats and one keelboat was loaded at Dayton and passed down the Great Miami thru Franklin and on to the Ohio River. Several of the flat boats were loaded with flour, pork and whiskey.
In May of the same year, there passed thru Franklin a large keelboat, its dimensions being upward of seventy feet in length with a load of twelve tons of merchandise, from Cincinnati. This was the only keel- boat that had ascended the Miami from Cincinnati to Dayton in years because of the river obstructions! The first part of April 1821, the Great Miami ran high because of heavy rains. A large number of boats carrying cargo down the river were successful because of the fast current of the river.
In 1822, the Dayton paper, The Watchman, expressed for the first time its doubts about the navigational procedures of the Miami. It says:
"On the 16th of March 1822, a combination of seven flat-bottom boats and one keel-boat left for New Orleans. The safety of this fleet was in doubt. The low water of the river was the concern. Some of the boats did not arrive safely."
On March 26th and 27th, 1825, a fleet of thirty or more boats were waiting for the river to rise because of a rain that had occurred a few days before. The people of Dayton were anxiously awaiting, shouting and hurrahing the gentle rise of the river. On the 26th, Saturday, many wagons were nervously being unloaded to the waiting boats. Flour, pork, whiskey, etc., was being loaded for the eventual trip to New Orleans. An estimate of the worth of the goods was set at approximately one hundred thousand dollars. On Sunday, the 27th, the water slowly began to fall and the boats got underway. Most of them finished their journey.
With the Miami Canal being completed the river traffic was to be an extinct episode in the building of the Miami Valley. In February 1828, the last boat, loaded with produce for New Orleans, passed through Franklin. This ended an era in which the pioneers of the Miami Valley, through much strife and turmoil, succeeded in making a way to carry on a tradition that was inherited from their fathers and forefathers which has been expressed in deed, toil and exuberant labor.
The term "hydraulics" comes from two Greek words that mean water pipe. Franklin, through the efforts of Wm. Van Horne, built a hydraulic in 1870. In 1850 Van Horne organized a hydraulic company. In 1869, the company failed, but the following year he built the hydraulic, put in a pole dam and secured to Franklin waterpower with a head of seventeen feet. His dam was built about two miles north of town, just south of the old Vanderveer dam. The embankments were built so that the river could not possibility cover them. These are still in tact. At the completion of the hydraulic, Mr. Van Horne and John H. Schenck constructed a building, which was used as a planing-mill, the power being achieved from the wastewater.
Sometime later Mr. Van Horne found it necessary to construct a tailrace. There was a natural depression, which gave evidence of being an old bed of the river. Mr. Van Horne scooped off a little of the surface soil, and having constructed gates by which to control it, turned the water of the hydraulic into this hollow, letting it follow the hollow to the river. In about a week, washing by day only, he had a tailrace extending from the river almost to the mills. Here an obstacle was met with in the shape of a stone dam or dyke. It was noticed by the workmen who were taking out the stone, that they were disposed in regular layers, and that about every ten feet a new layer was discovered. Mr. Van Horne, finding this out drove a stake where he thought the stones would cease, and at the very spot they disappeared. Prof. Orton visited this and thought this the work of water, but the fact that in several places boulders were found standing in a position which could not have been regularly taken in nature and embedded in a very fine clay, seemed to point out as a work of man. The dam, if a section could have been made, would have shown that it was the shape of a pyramid. Above this, and also at the river, were found what appeared to be ovens, having at the bottom a layer of charcoal and above this calcined muscle shells.

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