The Muskingum River derived its name from a Delaware Indian word believed to translate as “Eye of the Elk”. The River is approximately 111 miles long meandering from its beginning at Coshocton, Ohio and joins the Ohio River at Marietta, Ohio and is part of Mississippi River watershed.
We first began boating on this river in 2004 and quickly learned to love the area, the river, and all the wonderful people we’ve met there. The first trip we took on the river was on the Labor Day weekend. We wanted to travel the full length of the river, which frightened me, since all of my previous boating was on lakes. I envisioned all types of perils and worried since we were strangers to the area what would happen should the boat have mechanical problems. My husband reminded me that this was 2004 not 1804, that the boat was brand new and we had our cell phones. I really had no idea what to expect, I envisioned fast currents and all types of hazards. Fast beating heart in my throat, we launched the boat, got the dog aboard and off we go. Our boat is equipped for camping on board with a canvas enclosure that zips into place providing privacy at night and protection in rainy weather. I felt almost like I had stepped back in history to the time of Mark Twain.
The 11 hand operated locks on this river were designed by Major Samuel Curtis to connect the Muskingum River to the Ohio River and the Erie Canal at Dresden, Ohio. The locks began operation in 1841 and provided a waterway for commerce from Marietta, Ohio to Lake Erie. Observing the construction of these locks makes you wonder how they accomplished this feat with the tools and equipment they had to work with at that time. As I said before it’s like taking a step back in time and is well worth the trip. The locks were in full operation until the 1920’s, when the railways and truck freight operations began to diminish their usage for moving freight.
The locks slowly fell into disrepair, until 1960 when the locks were repaired to allow pleasure craft to travel the full navigable length of the river. The Muskingum is one of the few remaining waterway in this country to use this type of hand operated locks. This navigation system has been designated a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. In 2006 the river was designated as an “Ohio Water Trail” which provides increased access for canoe trips on the river. The river is now currently under the Ohio State Park System, the lockmasters are employed by them. The lockmasters are friendly, well trained individuals, who are very helpful and make going through the locks an enjoyable experience. The locks are operated from May through October on the weekends, during daylight hours.
The Muskingum River was a major route on Underground Railway from 1812 to 1861 used by fugitive slaves escaping from the South to Lake Erie and Canada. If you ever have the opportunity to boat on this river, I highly recommend it. There are several public launch ramps for easy access to the river scattered the length of the waterway. Fuel, food, and ice are available at several locations on the river, if required. This river cruise is pleasurable as well as educational.