After two years of failed beginnings, tomorrow my journey along the Ohio River begins. It begins in Georgetown, PA, of course, like my steamboating ancestors. To get to Georgetown, I drove through Pittsburgh crossing the Fort Pitt Bridge near the point, so I actually started my journey at mile mark zero. I intend to visit the river towns, river museums, historical societies, and book stores down the Ohio River. On a similar journey an early British traveler, Thomas Ashe, wrote in 1808:
The Ohio… has been described as beyond competition the most beautiful river in the universe, whether it be considered for its meandering course through an immense region of forests; for its elegant banks which afford innumerable situations for cities, villages, and improved farms; or for those many other advantages which truly entitle it to the name originally given it by the French, of “La belle riviere.” …it is not too far distant when its whole margin will form one continued series of towns and villages.
As Thomas Ashe predicted, the banks of the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Georgetown, are filled with small towns and industry. Although the steel industry has all but disappeared, there are power stations, oil depots, chemical plants, cement works, sand pits, coal piles, railyards, and other heavy industries. It is the kind of place bombardiers align their sites on in wartime. It is grim by day and grimmer on a rainy day like today.
Nothing marks the Ohio River valley more than its big power plants, atomic and coal, with their high stacks leaching smoke and steam into the sky. Cutting these emissions has largely been left to the honor system by our current elected lawmakers. Somebody (maybe Bill McKibben in “Eaarth”) said that utility companies have shown the same likelihood of changing their ways voluntarily as turnips to sprouting feathers.
I do not know how far I will journey in a week, but the fun begins tomorrow.