Mon River Has Seen Changes in Use, Appearance
Morgantown Dominion Post
20 August 2012
“THE RIVER WAS A big item in our lives.”
Thus began an essay by Arthur Paul Jones, who was born in 1874 and
lived near the village of Little Falls, not far from the
Monongahela River in Monongalia County.
His truism applies today. The river runs through our lives in big
ways and small. We drink from it, some fish from it, increasingly
we enjoy wildlife that is attracted to it since the Environmental
Protection Agency mandated way back in the 1970s that the stream
be cleaned up.
Lately, we argue about it and whether another government agency,
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, should close the locks and dams
on it to recreational boating.
This is the current issue. Jones writes about “our” river before
locks and dams.
The 75-acre farm on which his family lived included “fertile river
Trips across the river were accomplished by his uncle Rzin Jones,
who operated a ferry.
“When the river was at low stage, we would ‘ford’ the stream just
above the ferry where the water was shallow on the riffles just
below the mouth of Tom’s Run.”
We can only imagine how the river looked then.
There are pictures of the river at Morgantown during the severe
droughts. People “walked” across the river, jumping from stone to
Jones recalls of the pre-dam days that the Mon was “a beautiful
stream, and in summer it was our pleasure resort.
“We children waded in the clear soft water, gathering colored and
rounded stones, and mussel shells.
“We boys learned to swim without being cumbered by bathing suits.”
Jones’ father, a skilled carpenter, built skiffs for crossing the
In winter, before the heating caused by acid mine drainage, ice
was a constant menace.
Sometimes a channel had to be cut through the ice to enable the
skiff to cross. Sometimes the skiff would be frozen tight in ice
several inches thick “and had to be cut loose in zero weather.”
Timber was cut and transported down the river as rafts, requiring
“considerable skill” in crafting the rafts and in maneuvering
The logs, or “sticks,” “were laid parallel in the water and
fastened together by bows made of hickory and pins made of ash.”
Oars were made of plank, and one or two men at each oar “walked
across the timber” and kept the raft in safe channels.
The timber business “brought in considerable money to the
community and so was welcomed by the people.”
Morgantown poet Oscar DuBois, who lived to 109 before succumbing
in 1989, had a different view of the river when, in 1901, he came
up it on a steamboat to work in a glass factory here.
“At the towns along the river like New Geneva, Monongahela, Bel
Vernon and Pt. Marion, the arrival of the boat was a big thing.
People would come over to the quay and watch what they were
putting on and taking off and then they would go home.”
At night he recalled seeing the fires of coke ovens along the
river because the coal industry was already established and, in
decades to come, would alter the use of the river in profound
One of these is the locks and dams built in large part to
accommodate coal barges.
NORMAN JULIAN is a columnist at large for The Dominion Post. His
column appears Monday. You can contact him at