The Wabash River /ˈwɔːbæʃ/ (French: Ouabache) is a 503-mile-long (810 km) river in Ohio and Indiana, United States, that flows from the headwaters near the middle of Ohio's western border northwest then southwest across northern Indiana turning south along the Illinois border where the southern portion forms the Indiana-Illinois border before flowing into the Ohio River. It is the largest northern tributary of the Ohio River. From the dam near Huntington, Indiana, to its terminus at the Ohio River, the Wabash flows freely for 411 miles (661 km). Its watershed drains most of Indiana. The Tippecanoe River, White River, Embarras River and Little Wabash River are major tributaries. The river's name comes from an Illini Indian word meaning "water over white stones".
The Wabash is the state river of Indiana, and subject of the state song "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" by Paul Dresser. Two counties (in Indiana and Illinois), eight townships in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio; one Illinois precinct, one city, one town, two colleges, one high school, one canal, one former class I railroad, several bridges and avenues are all named for the river itself while four US Navy warships are either named for the river or the numerous battles that took place on or near it.
Map of the Wabash River catchment with the Wabash River highlighted.
|- location||Near Fort Recovery in Mercer County, Ohio|
|Ohio River near Shawneetown, Illinois|
|Length||503 mi (810 km)|
|Basin size||39,950 sq mi (103,500 km2)|
|- average||35,350 cu ft/s (1,001 m3/s) for mouth|
The name "Wabash" is an English spelling of the French name for the river, "Ouabache". French traders named the river after the Miami-Illinois word for the river, waapaahšiiki, meaning "it shines white", "pure white", or "water over white stones". The Miami name reflected the clarity of the river in Huntington County, Indiana where the river bottom is limestone.
As the Laurentide ice sheet began to retreat from present day Northern Indiana and Northwest Ohio between 14,000 and 15,000 years ago, it receded into three distinct lobes. The eastern or Erie Lobe sat atop and behind the Fort Wayne Moraine. Meltwater from the glacier fed into two ice-marginal streams, which became the St. Joseph and St. Marys Rivers. Their combined discharge was probably the primary source of water for the proglacial Wabash River system.
As the Erie Lobe of the glacier continued to retreat its meltwater was temporarily trapped between the ice front to the east and the Fort Wayne Moraine to the west, and formed proglacial Lake Maumee, the ancestor of modern Lake Erie. Around 11,000 years ago the waters of Lake Maumee became deep enough that it breached a "sag" or weak spot in the Fort Wayne Moraine. This caused a catastrophic draining of the lake which in turn scoured a 1 to 2 mi (1.6 to 3.2 km) wide valley known as the Wabash-Erie Channel or "sluiceway". The Little (Wabash) River flows through this channel and U.S. 24 traverses it between Fort Wayne and Huntington. The valley is the largest topographical feature in Allen County, Indiana.
When the ice melted completely from the region, new outlets for Lake Maumee's water opened up at elevations lower than the Wabash-Erie Channel. While the St. Joseph and St. Marys Rivers continued to flow through the channel, Lake Maumee no longer did. Now a low-lying, probably marshy bit of terrain lay in between.
It is not known for certain when, but at some point in the distant past the St. Joseph and St. Marys Rivers jumped their banks and flooded the marshy ground of the Fort Wayne Outlet. The discharge of this unusual flood was enough to cut across the outlet and come into contact with the headwaters of the Maumee River. Once this happened, the flood waters rushed to the east into the Maumee River, and their erosive force was enough that the new channel cut across the Fort Wayne Outlet into the Maumee River since it was at a lower elevation than that of the sluiceway. This meant that when the flood waters receded, the sluiceway was permanently abandoned by the two rivers. As a result of capturing them both, the Maumee was converted from a minor creek to a large river. Once again, river waters flowed through the Fort Wayne Outlet, but now they flowed eastward, toward Lake Erie, instead of westward. Following this event, the branch of the Wabash River that originates along the Wabash Moraine near Bluffton became the system's main course and source.
For part of its course the Wabash follows the path of the pre-glacial Teays River.
The river has shifted course several times along the Indiana and Illinois border, creating cutoffs where parts of the river are entirely in either Indiana or Illinois. However, both states generally regard the middle of the river as the state border.
The Wabash was first mapped by French explorers to the Mississippi in the latter half of the 17th century, including the sections now known as the Ohio River. Although the Wabash is today considered a tributary of the Ohio, the Ohio was considered a tributary of the Wabash until the mid-18th century. This is because the French traders traveled north and south from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico via the Wabash; it served as a vital trade route for North American-French trade.
The United States has fought five colonial and frontier-era battles on or near the river: the Battle of Vincennes (1779), St. Clair's Defeat (1791), the Attack on Fort Recovery (1794), the Battle of Tippecanoe (1811), and the Siege of Fort Harrison (1812). Different conflicts have been referred to as the "Battle of the Wabash". A 329-acre (133 ha) remnant of the old-growth forests that once bordered the Wabash can be found at Beall Woods State Park, near Mount Carmel, Illinois. In the mid-19th century, the Wabash and Erie Canal, one of the longest canals in the world, was built along much the river. Portions are still accessible in modern times, but most of the abandoned canal no longer exists.
The Wabash River between Terre Haute and the Ohio River was navigable by large ships during much of the 19th century, and was a regular stop for steamships. By the late 19th century, erosion due to farming and runoff made the Wabash impassable to such ships. Dredging could have resolved the problem, but was not undertaken because railroads had become the preferred form of transport. The 200 mile stretch south of Terre Haute includes several inoperable swing bridges.
The Wabash River rises 4 miles south of Fort Recovery, Ohio very near the Darke-Mercer County line about 1.5 miles east of the Indiana-Ohio border. The water source is farmland drainage. A half mile downstream (i.e. east), at a roadside park on Ohio 49 at the Mercer County line, is a historical marker announcing the river's start. This land is also the portage for headwaters of the Mississinewa River, Stillwater River and West Fork of the White River which lie just a few miles away.
Between the start of the river and Fort Recovery the current is swift and the water remains very shallow and follows a poorly defined channel. The depth and low bridge clearances make the section nearly impassable by boat except in the most ideal conditions. At mile seven and mile nine, two tributaries give the river a significant boost in volume and at mile eleven the river flows past Fort Recovery. Two more tributaries add to the river's volume between Fort Recovery and Macedon at mile eighteen, making the river navigable for the remainder of its course. The river continues to flow northward passing the community of Wabash at mile twenty-three and then cutting sharply west, crossing into Indiana at mile twenty-eight.
Upon entering Indiana, there are many sharp turns in the river that frequently lead to log jams that can block the river. Because of the many turns in the river, the state created several separate canal channels to shorten the journey between the state line and Fort Wayne as part of the Wabash and Erie Canal project during the 1830s. The subsequent abandonment of the canals allowed the river to shift courses several times resulting in the formation of many cut-offs and coves with no outlet, giving the river a maze-like quality in the first seventeen-mile (27 km) stretch as it enters Indiana.
At mile forty-five, the river becomes straighter with few sharp bends. An additional seventeen tributaries raise the depth of the river considerably making it navigable for larger vessels. At mile fifty-nine, the river passes through Ouabache State Park where it begins to widen and become more shallow. The white limestone river bottom can sometimes be seen in the area, whereas it is not visible due to pollution elsewhere downstream. As the river exits the park and flows towards the city of Bluffton near mile sixty-six, it widens further, becoming more shallow; only a narrow channel is navigable by larger vessels. The river remains shallow and somewhat rocky with minor rapids until mile seventy-one near the community of Murray. There the river becomes calm and deeper until mile eighty-one due to the dam and levee at the town of Markle. The lock that was formerly at the site is abandoned and a narrow washout is the only means to bypass the dam. In the rocky washout the river level drops four feet, making it one of the most dangerous points on the river. Boaters are advised to exit the river and reembark on the other side of the dam rather than traverse the washout.
At mile eighty-nine, the large Huntington Dam blocks the river. Built by the Army Corps of Engineers to make a reservoir, the dam creates the J. Edward Roush Lake. The lake is surrounded by park land and recreation areas and is about five miles (8 km) in length and a mile wide at its widest point. The mile-long stretch after the Huntington Dam is rarely navigable. No lock connects the two sections of the river, and the water is often very shallow. A second smaller dam at mile ninety-one presents a dangerous hazard, leading the section between it and the Huntington Dam to be closed to boaters.
At mile ninety-three the river is joined by its first major tributary, the Little River. The city of Huntington sits at the confluence of the two rivers. The tributary dramatically increases the volume of water in the Wabash at this point, and because of the dams on the Wabash, it often carries more water than the Wabash. Additional minor tributaries raise the water level between Huntington and the city of Wabash. As the river passes Wabash and moved towards Peru, it splits creating a series of islands; sandbars are common in the stretch. The river joins back into a single channel at Peru, and flows through one of its most gentle stretches until reaching Logansport where the river again splits into multiple channels with islands dividing them. Some of the channels are narrow and rocky, while the larger channels are navigable.
Between Logansport and Delphi, at mile 176, is one of the few remaining stretches of the Wabash and Erie canal. It can be accessed at Delphi. Just past Delphi, the Wabash's second major tributary, the Tippecanoe River, joins the river. The confluence of the two rivers is part of Prophetstown State Park, the site of the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. The joining of the Tippecanoe raises the level of the Wabash dramatically. At this point, most large power boats can easily navigate the river at cruising speed.
The river passes the city of Lafayette at mile 210 and gradually begins to end its westward flow, beginning a wide turn to the south. At mile 241, at the city of Covington, the river begins flowing due south. The river is deep at this point, but there are several gravel bars between Covington and Terre Haute. Terre Haute, beginning at mile 300, is among the largest cities in Indiana. Although navigable by large ships in the past, the remainder of the river becomes shallow in places due to erosion and silt. The river gradually widens moving south. It borders Illinois beginning at mile 316, and serves as a state boundary line with Indiana for the remainder of its course.
At Darwin, a farmer's cooperative operates the Wabash's only ferry service. It is used to take heavy farm equipment across the river. South of Darwin, beginning at mile 410 a large bluff gradually rises, eventually towering two-hundred feet over the river. The area is one of the most remote through with the river, and it generally open land. The area becomes populous again as it nears the city of Vincennes at mile 441. Founded by the French about 1720, Vincennes is the oldest settlement in Indiana, and among the oldest in the American Midwest. The city is sited on a strategic bend in the river which allowed it to control river traffic. Four miles west, as the river turns southward, another major tributary, the Embarras River joins.
Past Vincennes, the Wabash is joined by its largest tributary, the White River at Mount Carmel, Illinois, significantly increasing its size, to over 750 feet wide. Roughly a mile downstream, near the Gibson Generating Station, another large tributary, the Patoka River also joins. During low water, there are rapids at the confluence, caused by an old canal lock that was abandoned after flooding. Further downstream, the river zig-zags, creating the "tail" of Gibson County, a panhandle between the river and Posey County. From the tail southward there are several cut-offs from the river, resulting in several natural exclaves between Indiana and Illinois, the largest of which is at Grayville. A flood caused the river to change course, disconnecting a two-mile (3 km) long stretch of the river and creating a lake entirely on the Illinois side. Between these exclaves is the historic town of New Harmony, a settlement created by utopians during the 1810s. where it is joined by the Black River on the Indiana side.
At mile 460, the river again splits into several channels. The area features sandy beaches and the largest islands in the river, some a mile in length. The Little Wabash River, another major tributary, joins at mile 482 on the Illinois side, near New Haven, Illinois. At mile 491 the Wabash drains into the Ohio River near Hovey Lake.
The Wabash is the 24th largest by discharge volume and 38th longest river in the United States.
The major tributaries of the Wabash River include:
The Wabash River supports an abundant and diverse wildlife population. At least 150 species of birds have been sighted around the river. The waterfowl are most dependent on the river. Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned night heron, and merlin inhabit the area. Several species of shorebirds build nest on or near the banks of the river. The river is home to many species of fish including species of bass, sunfish, crappie, catfish, carp, and others. Aquatic reptiles including snakes and turtles also occur in the river. A number of amphibians occur throughout the river's watershed including the American bullfrog and the eastern newt. Crayfish are also common throughout the river.
The 1909 Wabash River earthquake occurred at 04:45 local time on September 27 with a maximum Mercalli intensity of VII (Very strong). It measured 5.1 on a seismic scale that is based on an isoseismal map or the event's felt area. With moderate damage in the Wabash River Valley, it is currently the strongest earthquake recorded in the U.S. state of Indiana. The earthquake occurred somewhere along a fault within the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone.Battle of the Wabash
The term Battle of the Wabash has been used to refer to significant battles on or near the Wabash River. History records several known battles along the river.
Battle of Vincennes (1779)
Harmar's Defeat (1790)
St. Clair's Defeat (1791) is alternately referred to as the Battle of the Wabash.
The Attack on Fort Recovery (1794) occurred on the same location as St. Clair's Defeat.
The Battle of Tippecanoe (1811) has been referred to as the Battle of the Wabash.
Siege of Fort Harrison (1812)
Siege of Fort Wayne (1812)Beall Woods State Park
Beall Woods State Park is an Illinois state park on 635 acres (257 ha) bordering the Wabash River and Keensburg in Wabash County, Illinois in the United States. 329 acres (133 ha) of the state park is an old-growth forest designated as a Natural Area by the state of Illinois. The trees within the forest consist overwhelmingly of hardwoods of the former Eastern Woodlands ecosystem. Portions of Beall Woods State Park have been designated a National Natural Landmark as the Forest of the Wabash. The state park was created in 1966. The nearest towns with any sizable commercial infrastructure, including hotels and grocery stores, are Grayville and Mount Carmel. The park does host a small primitive campground and maintains a visitor center which opened in April 2001. The park maintains 6 1⁄4 miles (10.1 km) of hiking trails, primarily through the Forest of the Wabash portion of the park.Eel River (Wabash River tributary)
The Eel River is a 94-mile-long (151 km) tributary of the Wabash River in northern Indiana in the United States. Via the Wabash and Ohio rivers, its waters flow to the Mississippi River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. The Eel River rises southeast of Huntertown in Allen County and flows southwest through Allen, Whitley, Kosciusko, Wabash, Miami, and Cass counties to join the Wabash at Logansport. The river was called Kineepikwameekwa Siipiiwi - "river of the snake fish" by the Miami people, who inhabited the area at the time of European contact, the English rendered it as Ke-na-po-co-mo-co.Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival
The Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival was a rock festival held on the Labor Day weekend of 1972 near Griffin, Indiana on Bull Island, a strip of land in Illinois but on the Indiana side of the Wabash River. A crowd estimated at 200,000 to 300,000 attended the concert, four times what the promoters estimated. Food and water were in short supply, and the gathering descended into relative anarchy. After the show was finished, remnants of the crowd members burned the main stage.Lafayette, Indiana
Lafayette ( LAH-fee-ET, LAF-ee-ET) is a city in and the county seat of Tippecanoe County, Indiana, United States, located 63 miles (101 km) northwest of Indianapolis and 105 miles (169 km) southeast of Chicago. West Lafayette, on the other side of the Wabash River, is home to Purdue University, which contributes significantly to both communities. Together, Lafayette and West Lafayette form the core of the Lafayette, Indiana Metropolitan Statistical Area.
According to the 2010 United States Census, the population of Lafayette was 67,140, roughly a 19% increase from 56,397 in 2000. Meanwhile, the 2010 U.S. Census pegged the year-round (excluding Purdue University students) population of West Lafayette at 29,596 and the Tippecanoe County population at 172,780.Lafayette was founded in 1825 on the south/east bank of the Wabash River near where the river becomes impassable for riverboats upstream, though a French fort and trading post had existed since 1717 on the opposite bank and three miles downstream. It was named for the French general Marquis de Lafayette, a revolutionary war hero.List of rivers of Indiana
This is a list of rivers in Indiana (U.S. state).Little Wabash River
Note: The Little River of northeastern Indiana is also sometimes known as the Little Wabash River.The Little Wabash River is a 240-mile-long (390 km) tributary of the Wabash River in east-central and southeastern Illinois in the United States. Via the Wabash and Ohio rivers, it is part of the watershed of the Mississippi River. It is the third largest tributary after the White River and the Embarras River.Middle Fork Vermilion River
The Middle Fork of the Vermilion River is a tributary of the Vermilion River (Wabash River) in Illinois. The Middle Fork rises in Ford County and flows southeast to join the Vermilion near Danville.In its natural state, the Middle Fork drained a large upland marsh in what is now Ford County. The Middle Fork has been extended into the marsh by drainage ditches. Including the ditches, the Middle Fork is about 77 miles (124 km) long.Portland Arch Nature Preserve
Portland Arch Nature Preserve is a 435-acre (1.76 km2) nature preserve near the Wabash River in Fountain County, Indiana, USA, and is a National Natural Landmark. The preserve encompasses the wooded valleys, ravines and rocky cliffs around the lowest section of Bear Creek, which flows northwest toward the Wabash River. Its name comes from the nearby town of Fountain, which was originally named Portland, and from a natural sandstone bridge carved by a small tributary of Bear Creek.
Portland Arch Nature Preserve is managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.Tippecanoe River
The Tippecanoe River ( TIP-ee-kə-NOO) is a gentle, 182-mile-long (293 km) river in northern Indiana that flows from Big Lake in Noble County to the Wabash River near what is now Battle Ground, about 12 miles (19 km) northeast of Lafayette. The name "Tippecanoe" was derived from a Miami-Illinois word for buffalo fish, reconstructed as */kiteepihkwana/ or as kiteepihkwana siipiiwi.The Tippecanoe River is fed by 88 natural lakes and has a drainage area of 1,250,000 acres (5,100 km2), spanning 14 counties. It supports more numerous imperiled species and overall species diversity than most streams of the upper Midwest. The Nature Conservancy has identified it as one of the top ten rivers in the United States to preserve due to its ecological diversity and the high proportion of endangered species found in it.Tributary
A tributary or affluent is a stream or river that flows into a larger stream or main stem (or parent) river or a lake. A tributary does not flow directly into a sea or ocean. Tributaries and the main stem river drain the surrounding drainage basin of its surface water and groundwater, leading the water out into an ocean.
A confluence, where two or more bodies of water meet together, usually refers to the joining of tributaries.
The opposite to a tributary is a distributary, a river or stream that branches off from and flows away from the main stream. Distributaries are most often found in river deltas.Vermilion River (Wabash River)
The Vermilion River is a tributary of the Wabash River in the states of Illinois and Indiana, United States.There are two "Vermilion Rivers" in Illinois. The Wabash tributary flows south, while the other Vermilion River flows north to the Illinois River. There are also two Little Vermilion rivers, one flowing into the Wabash River and one into the Illinois.
The north-flowing Vermilion River and the south-flowing Middle Fork Vermilion River lie along a straight line connecting Oglesby and Danville. The two rivers drain what was once an upland marsh near Roberts. The two rivers have been extended by drainage ditches so that they nearly connect at their headwaters. The rivers may share a common name because early settlers regarded them as a single river that flowed two directions. The rivers may have served as a canoe route between the Illinois River and Wabash River, with a portage through the marshes near Roberts.Vincennes, Indiana
Vincennes is a city in and the county seat of Knox County, Indiana, United States. It is located on the lower Wabash River in the southwestern part of the state, nearly halfway between Evansville and Terre Haute. Founded in 1732 by French fur traders, notably, François-Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes for whom the Fort was named, Vincennes is the oldest continually-inhabited European settlement in Indiana and one of the oldest settlements west of the Appalachians.
According to the 2010 census, its population was 18,423, a decrease of 1.5% from 18,701 in 2000. Vincennes is the principal city of the Vincennes, IN Micropolitan Statistical Area, which comprises all of Knox County and had an estimated 2017 population of 38,440.Wabash River Conference
The Wabash River Conference is an eight-member Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA)-sanctioned conference located within Fountain, Parke, Vermillion, and Warren Counties in West Central Indiana. All of the participating schools are either 1A, 2A, or 3A (South Vermillion) institutions in rural counties. The conference began in 1964 with nine schools who had outgrown their county conferences or had them fold, and has had that number stay relatively consistent since.Wabash Valley
The Wabash Valley is a region with parts in both Illinois and Indiana. It is named for the Wabash River and spans the middle to the middle-lower portion of the river and is centered at Terre Haute, Indiana. The term Wabash Valley is frequently used in local media in Clinton, Lafayette, Mount Carmel, Princeton, Terre Haute, and Vincennes all of which are either on or near the Lower Wabash River.Wabash and Erie Canal
The Wabash and Erie Canal was a shipping canal that linked the Great Lakes to the Ohio River via an artificial waterway. The canal provided traders with access from the Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Over 460 miles long, it was the longest canal ever built in North America.
The canal known as the Wabash & Erie in the 1850s and thereafter, was actually a combination of four canals: the Miami and Erie Canal from the Maumee River near Toledo, Ohio to Junction, Ohio, the original Wabash and Erie Canal from Junction to Terre Haute, Indiana, the Cross Cut Canal from Terre Haute, Indiana to Worthington, Indiana (Point Commerce), and the Central Canal from Worthington to Evansville, Indiana.White River (Indiana)
The White River is an American two-forked river that flows through central and southern Indiana and is the main tributary to the Wabash River. Via the west fork, considered to be the main stem of the river by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the White River is 362 miles (583 km) long. Indiana's capital, Indianapolis, is located on the river.