Driving east out of Kenton on State Route 309, I find myself almost immediately back in farm country. County Road 144 veers off to the southeast and pretty much follows the course of the Scioto River. One unique aspect of the river at this part of its course is that it flows so close to the sub-continental divide – a ridge that divides the waters that flow south into the Ohio River from those that flow north into Lake Erie. This results in no permanent tributaries entering the Scioto from the north, but several adding their waters from the south. Wolf Creek, Jim Creek, Panther Creek and Wild Cat Run all flow north into to the Scioto over the course of the next several miles.
The river widens gradually to a stream of some substance. The banks here are far more natural than they are west of Kenton. Trees shade the water and their roots secure the soil on the banks. This is better habitat for a diverse number of species. Farm fields still drain into the stream but the riparian corridor (the land immediately next to the river) is wider in many places here than it has been upstream.
I cross the river and follow Township Road 146, aptly named the River Road since it closely follows the course of the river. I pass several Amish farms, evidenced by the lack of electric and telephone lines. Signs at the end of driveways indicate eggs for sale. Laundry is flapping in the breeze and chickens, goats and cows appear more numerous than people. Signs along this road warn of “High Water Area” and I wonder how often this road is actually impassable. It is fine today, though, and I am enjoying this auto tour of a pastoral landscape far more than my trip through the heavily channelized Scioto Marsh.
Pfeiffer Station was one of places Mark suggested I visit, so I cross the river again and go the short mile north to the Pfeiffer Station General Store. Stepping through the doorway of the wood frame building, I feel like I am stepping back in time. Amish baked goods, penny candy in glass jars, spices and bulk items line the wooden shelves. The clerk asks me where I am from and when I tell her she says, “Oh, a city slicker!” I never thought of myself that way, but I guess it is all in your point of view.
The general store is right across from the Wheeler Tavern, built in 1836 by Portius Wheeler to accommodate travelers on the Old Sandusky Trail that ran from Cincinnati to Sandusky. Wheeler had aspirations of a town on the site complete with a post office and train depot. When the railroad ended up going through Hepburn instead, his dreams were dashed. But Wheeler Tavern had its place in local history. Henry Clay, General William Henry Harrison, and Stephen Douglas are among its famous visitors. Tradition holds that it was a stop on the Underground Railroad, a network of places that helped escaped slaves to reach the free north.
Following the river again, I come upon an historic marker that indicates the location of a Shawnee ford across the Scioto. The road we call County Road 265 follows an old Indian trail that connected Wyandot villages at Upper Sandusky with Shawnee Mac-o-chee towns to the southwest. Soldiers during the War of 1812 used this trail, as did the stagecoach riders who came later.
According to a book written in 1883 on the history of the township, the north bank of the river near this ford was the spot of one of the last encampments of a band of Wyandots in 1843 just before their removal to the west. Joshua Cope, a pioneer of Dudley Township, was acquainted with William Walker, the Wyandot chief, who gave a “very touching and affecting speech” on this occasion about how reduced their numbers were and how scattered and intermingled with other tribes they had become. Mr. Cope recalled the pathos of this Indian chief's address as “a powerful portrayal of his memory of their joys and sorrows.” The book’s author went on to note, “Whatever may be said of the rights of the white settler, or the great advantages in the advance of civilization attending our race, there is something melancholy in the fate of the Indian, notwithstanding his rudeness of life and character, which awaken our heartfelt sympathy, for they possessed many excellent and strong points of character which made them abiding and true friends to all who were kind to them, and they were long remembered with a sympathizing kindness by many of our noble pioneers who had reason to know them beat” (1883, The History of Dudley Township). This passage illustrates how our perceptions change over time. What to one generation was the “rights of the white race” and the “great advantages of the advance of civilization attending our race” is to another the great tragedy of ignorance, intolerance and racism.
The topographic maps of this area note another boundary related to the river. North of the Scioto is labeled “Congress lands” while south of the river is labeled “Virginia Military Lands.” Virginia claimed the land south of the Scioto as part of the Northwest Territory under a grant from the King of England and did not cede this land to the United States until 1788. Virginia granted the land to soldiers, sailors and marines of Virginia who enlisted in the Continental Army. As a result, it was the land to the north of the river that was settled first, since even in the 1800’s it was difficult to get clear title to land located in the Virginia Military Lands.
As enjoyable as my auto tour has been today, I would like to explore this river from the water. My next trip will be by canoe from the town of LaRue to Green Camp, provided the water levels remain high enough.
Tracing rivers to their fountains makes the most charming of travels. As the life blood of the landscapes, the best of the wilderness comes to their banks, and not one dull passage is found in all their eventful histories.
– John Muir
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