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Kanawha River Facts

The Kanawha River is West Virginia’s largest inland waterway. Most history books refer to it as the "Great Kanawha". The Great Kanawha flows for 43 miles in Kanawha county. The Kanawha flows in an approximate southeast to northwest director. The Kanawha enters the Ohio river at Point Pleasant in Mason county, 99.5 miles west of the confluence of the New River. Mountain river drainage from North Carolina fills the New River, to the Gauley River than to the mouth of the Kanawha at Kanawha Falls. The Kanawha River was very important to the early settlement and commerce of Kanawha County.

Tributaries of the Kanawha River are:
  • The Elk River. The Elk River is the main tributary of the Kanawha River. The Elk flows for 180 miles from its headwaters in Pocahontas County to its mouth in Charleston. The Elk River has been called many names, such as, "Tiskelwah", an Indian name, which means river of fat elk, Miami Indians called it the "Pequonicepe", the Delaware Indians called it "Toquemincepe" which means Walnut River. The Elk River was used for transportation of timber by the timber companies. Timber products were sent down river from the north to the Charleston mills. In the 1930’s houseboats were common on the Elk.
  • Another large tributary of the Kanawha River is the Coal River. The Coal River flows north from its headwaters in Boone County to its mouth at St Albans, a distance of 59 miles, 28 of these miles are in Kanawha County.
  • Pocatalico River, Pocatalico is an Indian name that means "the river of the fat doe"
  • Campbells Creek
  • Kelly's Creek
  • Paint Creek, originally called Moscooscepe and Ottowecepe by the Indians which means Deer Creek
  • Kanawha Two Mile
  • Cabin Creek
  • Hughes Creek
  • Smithers Creek

By the early 1800s the Kanawha was navigable from its mouth at Point Pleasant to Kanawha Falls. But those traveling the Kanawha were at the mercy of fluctuating water levels and obstacles in the river at low water. Boulders and snags were removed from the river and by 1840 river traffic could now handle flatboats of coal, salt, and timber. In 1875 the first locks and dams were built. This made the depth of the Kanawha constant and the fluctuating water problem was solved. More locks and dams were built in future years to control the waters of the Kanawha which often flooded low lying communities.

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