By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
The first, and most important, thing to note about this journey along the Ohio River is that the cruising is done on land, in a motorhome. Otherwise, the female half of this partnership would be nauseated just writing about it.
The Ohio River stretches nearly 1,000 miles from its beginning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, following the borders of West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, until it empties into the Mississippi River. We’ll cover only a 215-mile stretch from Marietta, Ohio, to Manchester, Ohio. It’s wonderful country.
1. Covered Bridges
At one time Ohio’s Washington County, where Marietta is situated, had more than 50 covered bridges. Nine of them remain today, but not all are fully restored and open to traffic. One source noted, “Covered bridges were called “˜kissing bridges’ long ago. A young couple could ride along in the height of decorum, drive their horse and buggy into the bridge and …” Visitors are welcome to visit the bridges, to take photographs, and to picnic nearby.
In 1770, George Washington was contracted to survey large tracts of land lying west of Virginia. Seven years later, after the land was designated as the Northwest Territory, a group of 48 men organized the first settlement and named it Marietta. Now, more than 200 years later, Marietta preserves its history in two museums. The Ohio River Museum features exhibits that trace the origins of the area and the natural history of the Ohio River, especially during the steamboat era. The Campus Martius Museum tells the story of migration in Ohio’s history, and is on the site of a pioneer fort.
Just 12 miles south of Marietta on State Route 7, you’ll come to Belpre (pronounced “BEL-pree”), the second permanent settlement in the territory. Towering trees line the streets, making a perfect setting for the vintage houses. Belpre is also the site of the Lee Middleton Original Dolls factory. From Belpre, drive eight miles southwest to State Route 124 where you’ll find …
4. Little Hocking
Don’t blink or you might miss this small village that was established in 1789 and is steeped in history. Herb Roush, author, historian, and retired minister, explored that history and wrote a book about it titled The Unknown Settlement. The house built by the first settler, now the Sawyer-Curtis House, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Several other historic buildings remain, such as the Old Hotel, the T.C. Collins original homestead, and the Porter House (now a bed-and-breakfast). Continue on State Route 124 for 11 miles, and you’ll come to …
5. Belleville Locks and Dam
Although this area lies along the Lewis and Clark route, it’s not a 200-year-old-dam. We’ve included it as a nice place to relax and daydream. For recreational opportunities it offers boating, fishing, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. What’s more, dogs are allowed, giving the whole family a chance to stretch their legs.
6. Forked Run State Park
Located on State Route 124, this park includes a campground situated on a forested ridge overlooking the valley of the Forked Run Lake. It has approximately 80 electric and 100 non-electric sites. The campground also includes showers, sites specifically for pet owners, and a dump station. The park offers boating, fishing, and swimming in the lake, and three hiking trails. This is a good example of the hilly southern Ohio landscape, which was never flattened by the glacial ice sheets that once covered the northern and central part of the state.
7. George Washington encampment
This would make a nice side trip from your campsite at Forked Run State Park, since it’s only five miles away on State Route 124. George Washington did indeed camp here when he surveyed the area in 1770. There’s a marker to prove it. Nearby is Buffington Island, one of Ohio’s two Civil War battlefields. Now visitors can view a monument to the battle or climb a prehistoric Indian mound. (Open year-round, dawn to dusk.) From the George Washington marker, continue for seven miles on State Route 124. Then either follow the road on to Pomeroy, or take the meandering ride along the river via State Route 338.
Floriculture is “big business” in the Pomeroy area, with four dozen commercial greenhouse operations supplying bedding plants for Wal-Mart and Kmart stores in 10 states. It should be a spectacular sight as you drive. The Pomeroy courthouse is worth a look, too. Set into the side of a cliff, the three-story structure offers a ground-level entrance on all three floors. History and genealogy buffs should check out the local museum and historical society. This part of the country has records dating back many generations. After you’ve seen it all, drive 22 miles south on State Route 7 to reach a town settled by French folks.
Pronounced “GAL-a-police,” the town was settled by French royalists fleeing the guillotine. Stroll down the town’s tree-lined streets past brick homes and you’ll see how much energy has been put into preserving the town’s history. In the early 19th century, the Our House State Memorial served as a river inn. Its most notable guest was General Lafayette. And a note to fellow birders: check out the Elizabeth L. Evans Waterfowl and Bird Sanctuary.
10. Wayne National Forest
Ohio has a lot of trees, but only one national forest. The countryside is mostly covered with hardwoods, pine, and cedar trees, along with several lakes, rivers, and streams. Lake Vesuvius is the recreation center, a 143-acre lake encircled by 25 miles of hiking trails. Hikers should keep a sharp eye out for the many species of wildlife there. Camping, picnicking, and fishing are also available.
State Route 7 eventually turns into U.S. 52 just west of Huntington, West Virginia, and winds past the mining town of Ironton to Wheelersburg, and then on to Portsmouth. Here, in one of the larger communities on our route, you can take a walk along the floodwall and see the many murals depicting the history of Portsmouth. Stroll through the Boneyfiddle Historic District, Portsmouth’s original downtown, and you’ll find more than two dozen shops featuring everything from antiques to china figurines, as well as a vintage bookstore. What’s more, for those old enough to remember the movie stars of the 1940s and 1950s, this is where cowboy star Roy Rogers grew up.
In 1790 a young surveyor named Nathaniel Massie set out to form a settlement on the north side of the Ohio River. He offered the first 25 people to join him a lot in town and 100 acres in the vicinity. By March 1791 the fourth permanent settlement in Ohio was established. Massie named the town Manchester after his hometown in England. Today’s visitor sees the area surrounded by vineyards, wildflowers, and herbs.
When the weather turns warm, it’s festival time along the Ohio River. Marietta has its Ohio River Sternwheel Festival in September. Belpre has Founders Day in April, Homecoming in August, the Apple Butter Stir-Off in October, and the Holiday Lights Festival in December. During the second weekend in June, Pomeroy celebrates its Heritage Days “” complete with outhouse races and an antiques show. Gallipolis’ River Recreation Festival is held over the Fourth of July weekend. Portsmouth’s five-day River Days begins the Thursday before Labor Day.