Kinniconick is a creek in Kentucky. A reverie is a pleasant memory. This blog is a collection of good memories and a history of the stream.
TIME AND A KENTUCKY CREEK
“There will always be the great rivers flowing.”
Those poetic words were written by Thomas Wolfe in his best-selling novel, “Of Time and the River”. He could not foresee, back in 1935, that earth’s population would more than triple and water resources would run low. Human need and global warming have taken their toll, and in one century, after eons of creation, many of our great rivers cease to flow. In the single span of a centenarian’s lifetime, the work of two billion years has been laid waste by man. This paradox, eternity versus a nanosecond of time, is beyond our ability to comprehend.
French explorers discovered the Ohio River about three hundred and fifty years ago. (The Ohio is a “young” river, but it had to wait two million years to be “discovered”.) About seventy five years passed before the French mapped the beautiful river, setting bronze markers at the mouths of its tributaries. As they floated their canoes down the Ohio, they probably placed one just downstream of present day Portsmouth, where a deep stream entered the broad river from the south. On their maps it appeared as Connoconoque, a name based on a Shawnee Indian word for a kind of tobacco, a mixture of aromatic leaves and bark. As settlers followed and opened up the West, the creek became known as Kinniconick.
Watercolor by Winslow Homer
Watercolor by Winslow Homer
Thomas Jefferson floated on the Ohio and called it “the most beautiful river on earth”. If he had ventured up the Kinniconick, he would have thought it to be the most beautiful creek on earth. From the earliest days, this stream was a “creek” because its headwaters were only ninety miles upstream and someone had decided that a river must be at least one hundred miles long. While no one would have questioned the creek’s beauty, who would have believed that the little stream was at least twice as old as the river?
About five million years ago, a mighty river originated in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina and flowed northward, across Ohio, then westward to Illinois. It is called the Teays River, and one of its tributaries was the ancient bed of Kinniconick. For three million years, this river system carved the Appalachian Mountains, until the Ice Age sent glaciers and the Teays was dammed. From this altered landscape and enormous flood, the Ohio River emerged in its present channel and Kinniconick settled into its original bed.
During the life of the Teays, Appalachian plants from North Carolina took root in the Kinniconick valley as the flood carried their seeds northward. Glacial events in more recent eras transported fish species from the far north to the south, notably the muskellunge, and the exotic character of Kinniconick was created.
The first French canoe turned into the mouth of this stream in about 1725. Those explorers found deep pools of clear water lined with sandstone boulders, gravel and sand. Virgin hemlock trees grew on the creek’s banks. Oaks, tulip poplar, river birch and white pine flourished on the mountain sides. Water lilies, blue bells and trillium were in bloom, along with laurel and rhododendron. The creek was different than all the rest.
Kinniconick has survived into the twenty-first century. We can only pray that it will always flow. My memories go back more than seventy five years and I remember the tales of my father and grandfather before me, so I have stories to tell.