A River Runs Through It: The Hocking Rerouting

Hello everyone, and welcome back to BrickBlog. This week we’re discussing the mighty Hocking River that flows just beyond the athletic complex on campus. The Hocking begins flowing just south of Franklin County (home to Columbus) before it joins the Ohio River at the Athens County and West Virginia border. Did you know, however, that the current banks of the Hocking aren’t in their original positions? But before we discuss the river’s reroute, let’s look a bit more into its history.

Wi’the…Wi’tha…my Shawnee is rusty…

The Hocking takes its name from Shawnee Native American tribes that lived on its banks: Wi’thakakkwathiipi. The name’s rough translation is “bottle-shaped” or “gourd-shaped,” as the river widened and narrowed in many different places. The Hocking has also been known by many other names, including “Big Hock-hocking River,” “Hockhocking River,” “Hakhakkien River,” and my personal favorite the “Hocking Hocking River.” Eventually, the redundant “Hocking” was dropped, and the river has been called the Hocking for well over a century. But it was during that century the residents of Athens discovered a major problem: flooding.

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head

The Hocking soon became notorious for yearly floods, rising far above its banks nearly every year. In 1907, the flooding was so bad twenty houses were destroyed by its waters, and seven people were killed. After that, many Athens residents began moving their homes to higher ground, leaving the low lying water shed empty. That is, until rapid growth of Ohio University caused the school to look to the unoccupied land for new dorms. So South Green was built below the flood plain, leading to the 1968 flooding. The floods made national news as students jumped from their rooms into the waters below, parts of Peden Stadium ended up underwater, and over $750,000 in damage was done to OU property. It led to both the catwalks and rasied dorms now seen on South Green today, as well as a rerouting of the river by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Rolling On The (New) River

Started in 1969, the rerouting project was seen as the only way to prevent a repeat of the catastrophic damage dealt by the 1968 floods as well as ensuring student safety. The estimated cost was around $11 million, a price Ohio University continued to pay off for twenty-two years. As part of the project, Richland Bridge was built to connect the now separated parts of Athens. The bridge now flows over the river, while old Richland Bridge stretches over the river’s original banks. The old river would have flowed directly through the second floor (yes, second) of new Baker Center, if it were still in its old banks. The reroute has saved an estimated $48 million in damages, as well as allowed Ohio University to expand its campus considerably.

So there you have it. Ohio University, AKA The Harvard on the Hocking, would look drastically different today without the flood of 1968 and the Army Corps of Engineers reroute project. Besides, no matter how nice Baker Center is I doubt its escalators would work underwater.

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