Charming Marietta, Ohio
In 1783, by means of the Treaty of Paris, the young United States acquired the Northwest Territory, a broad swath of Midwestern North America lying north and west of the Ohio River. That Northwest Territory was to eventually be subdivided into all or portions of six different Midwestern States, beginning with the admission to the Union of the State of Ohio in 1803.
Colonial settlers had begun increasingly migrating into the Northwest Territory after the 1787 enactment of the Northwest Ordinance, which set rules for administration and settlement of the newly acquired territory. Many Revolutionary War veterans struck out westward to settle so-called ‘waste and vacant’ lands.
The million and a half acres of land upon which the city of Marietta, Ohio was eventually to rise were originally acquired in 1797 by the Ohio Company of Associates. This band of Revolutionary War soldiers and officers had been paid for their war service by the cash-strapped fledgling government of the United States in land warrants that could be redeemed for frontier plots. On April 7, 1788, General Rufus Putnam arrived with an initial band of 48 settlers to establish a new town at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers, just across from the military outpost of Fort Harmar.
Marietta — named in honor of Marie Antoinette, in gratitude for her nation’s assistance in the Revolutionary War effort — represented the founding of the first American civil government west of the thirteen original colonies. Putnam had chosen a landing site on the eastern bank of the Muskingum River, just a few hundred yards from its mouth at the Ohio River. That site, known as Campus Martius, now holds an Ohio River Museum and is flanked by several examples of vintage river craft. The city itself spreads broadly east from that original landing site, with Marietta College marking the easterly edge of the city core.
Marietta is the county seat of Washington County. Today, its population stands at around 14,000, and the city is joined by several of its neighbors in the Parkersburg-Marietta-Vienna Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city is home to the Conus, or Great Mound, erected by Native American mound builders prior to colonial settlement. The Conus is preserved within Marietta’s Mound Cemetery, which is also home to the greatest number of interred Revolutionary War officers.
One of the first educational institutions of the early American ‘west’ was the Muskingum Academy, founded in Marietta in 1797. It was followed by a local reverend’s Institute of Education in 1830. Within the next several years, a committee of local citizens convened to charter the Marietta Collegiate Institute and Western Teachers’ Seminary. Formally opening as Marietta College in 1835, the new school and its faculty of five offered a full and diverse university education. From its earliest years, Marietta College developed a very strong program in petroleum engineering, which continues to this day. The private co-educational liberal arts College’s 1,400 full-time students also pursue degrees in Athletic Training, Physician Assistantship, and Leadership, among the 44 available majors.
A central unifying feature of the College’s campus is the Marietta College Mall, a quiet tree-lined bricked pedestrian way dedicated to a 1965 Marietta High School graduate lost when his reconnaissance aircraft was shot down over Phnom Penh, Cambodia during the height of the Vietnam War.
Throughout the city’s 224-year history, a total of five different bridge spans have been erected at the same Putnam Bridge crossing of the Muskingum River. Both the first and third of those bridges were swept away by river flooding, while the second and fourth spans gave way to newer designs to meet the demands of heavier traffic loads. The current Putnam Bridge faithfully replicates the visual elements of the 1914 span.
The Ohio and Muskingum Rivers flood at Marietta roughly every 3 years, due to the massive 8,000+ square mile watershed feeding them — the largest in Ohio. A significant flood record of 18 feet above typical annual fluctuations was set by the flood of 1884, but less than 3 decades later, the 1913 flood exceeded even that amount by nearly another 6 feet, and wiped out every river bridge in the process.
In attempts to tame the mighty Muskingum, a series of 11 locks and dams were completed along the river by 1841, at a cost then of more than $1.6 million. The Muskingum originates 112 winding miles north of Marietta, at the confluence of the Tuscarawas and Walhonding Rivers at Coshocton, Ohio.
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