A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: Licking River helps define us, has historic meaning on northern journey to Ohio

The Old Licking River, circa 2 million years ago. SOURCE: Stanley Hedeen, Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology. Lexington, Ky.: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008, p. 3.

The Old Licking River, circa 2 million years ago. SOURCE: Stanley Hedeen, Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology. Lexington, Ky.: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008, p. 3.

Join Paul Tenkotte, Andy Mead, and Kyle Lake live as they talk about the Licking River and a forthcoming Licking River KET documentary on Cincinnati Edition, WVXU, 91.7 FM, Monday, October 26, 1-2 pm.

Part 1 of a three-part series on the history of the Licking River.

by Paul A. Tenkotte
Special to NKyTribune

It would be hard to imagine Cincinnati, Covington and Newport without the rivers that gave birth to them and sustained them for more than two centuries. The Ohio River, the younger brother of the Licking, tends to steal most of the spotlight.

A forthcoming Licking River documentary on KET, produced by Prosper Media in cooperation with the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism, hopes to correct that inequity a bit. KYCPSJ is publisher of the NKyTribune.

When driving south on I-75/71 through Northern Kentucky, you may not realize it, but you’re located on a spine-like hill geologists and geographers refer to as the Dry Ridge. The Dry Ridge separates the drainage patterns of Northern Kentucky. Streams to its east generally flow into the Licking River, and those to its west to the Kentucky River.

Buffalo, American Indians, and early Anglo settlers traveled along the Dry Ridge Trace, a rough path running along the crest of the ridge. Later, the Covington and Lexington Turnpike put down a macadamized road across the path, and eventually, the concrete Dixie Highway followed by the 1920s. And by the early 1960s, I-75 threaded its way along the Dry Ridge.

The Licking River -- from a drone-video, thanks to Prosper Media

The Licking River — from a drone-video, thanks to Prosper Media

The Licking River rises in Magoffin County, Kentucky and meanders 320 miles to its confluence with the Ohio River at the Point, long an historic gathering place for buffalo, American Indians, early settlers, and American Revolutionary War expeditions. See Our Rich History article about the Point.

Geologists have three names for the different sequences of the Licking River: Old Licking; Deep Stage Licking; and modern Licking. Over a million years ago, the Old Licking River flowed northward to about where Hamilton, Ohio is now located. Then, the Pre-Illinoian Glacier blocked the path of the Old Licking, shifting its path westward, and forming the present channel of the Licking through our area, in what was called the Deep Stage Licking.

If you’ve ever traveled north on I-75 through Cincinnati, along the Milk Creek Valley, you may have wondered how such a little stream as the Mill Creek could have carved such a great big valley. Actually, it was the Deep Stage Licking that did all of the work. The Deep Stage Licking flowed north to what is now St. Bernard, Ohio, where it joined the Deep Stage Ohio River.

About 200,000-250,000 years ago, a new glacier—the Illinoian—blocked the Deep Stage Ohio River. The Illinoian glacier forced the Ohio River south, forming the current channel of the modern Ohio River from what is now Lunken Airport to present-day Lawrenceburg, Indiana. The modern Licking River then flowed into the modern Ohio River.

Wow, that’s a lot of prehistory—over a million years’ worth! We’ll pick up the story next week with the historic time period.

Paul A. Tenkotte (tenkottep@nku.edu) is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Public History at NKU. With other well-known regional historians, James C. Claypool and David E. Schroeder, he is a co-editor of the new 450-page Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015, now available at your local booksellers, the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington and online sellers.

For KYCPSJ’s complete seven-part series on the Licking River, from which the KET program was written, follow this link.

Related Posts

One Comment

  1. Shelly Whitehead says:

    Fascinating information about a lot of local history and geography about this local treasure from another local treasure — Dr. Tenkotte.

Leave a Comment