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Title: Wabash begins its storied course in drainage ditch near a chicken barn
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FORT RECOVERY, Ohio-The Wabash River gurgles to life in an overgrown drainage ditch a short walk from the barn where a poulty farmer John Will keeps watch over his 120,000 squawking chickens.

Two concrete pipes linked to an underground labrynth of field tiles drain off rainwater and winter snowmelt, taking a downstream a soupy mix of agricultural chemicals, livestock waste and precidious topsoil.

"That's the start of it, I guess," says Will, 44, a father of six who's owned the 150 acres around the headwaters since 1980.

Not exactly an idyllic starting point for a river of fame and lore, but this lowly drainage ditch receives its fair share of attention from people eager for a look-see.

Usually, it's the history-minded types who stop by to take photos and wander around. But a few times a year a busload of Indiana schoolchildren pull up, and Will leads them out to the spot where their state's official river begins.

"I get quite a few people from the Western parts of Indiana. They'll walk down here, then walk back from it and say they can't believe it's the same river," he says.
As an Ohio resident, Will doesn't think much about having the headwaters of Indiana's famous river on his property. He doesn't brag about it to friends or even bother to look at it except when heavy rains swell it with muddy waters.

To him, it's just a ditch.

While the Wabash's headwaters don't rise mysteriously from a bubbling spring or converge from tiny rivulets dripping from the side of a sylvan mountain, this particular ditch isn't without its charms.

Though it's overgrown by weeds and difficult to descend into without being snagged by thorny bushes or sinking into its steep, mucky sides, it's filled with a lilting chorus of songbirds.

In early June, wild gooseberry shrubs loaded with green, prickly fruits hang over the small concrete basin that the drainage pipes spil into. And, as the basin fills, the water flows over a little spillway beginning its 510-mile journey to the Ohio River, and beyond.

The fledgling river flows on past Will's barnfull of noisy "layers" and toward a rural intersection a mile away where its banks are neatly mown and a marker erected by the State of Ohio in 1950 proclaims the river's official start.

From there, the Wabash gradually picks up size and speed from its large network of tributaries, which feed into it like tiny blood vessels and larger veins flowing into an artery.

Entering Indiana near New Corydon in Jay County, the Wabash flows over gravely limestone bed taht inspired the Miami Indians to give it its name- Wah-Bah-Shik-Ki, variously interpreted as "water over white stones,""white stone river" or simply "pure white."

On its course toward the Ohio River, the Wabash stops only once, about 60 miles into Indiana at Huntington Dam, where its waters are held back to form Huntington Reservoir.

From that point on, there is no pause. In fact, that section of the Wabash ranks as the longest freeflowing river east of the Mississippi River-411 miles from Huntington to its confluence with the Ohio just southwest of Mount Vernon, Ind.

Its course changes drastically along the way, taking on the appearance of three different rivers. From Fort Recovery to Huntington dam, the Wabash is little more than a creek aspiring to become a large stream and snaking across flat farm fields and isolated prairie tracts.

But after its stopping point at Huntington, the Wabash flows down a proper river valley. That valley was carved during the end fo the last ice age by epic flooding spawned by melting glaciers-floodwaters that in spots during dug its course down to expose ancient, fossil-filled bedrock.

Below Covington, the Wabash shifts from its southwesterly flow to a decidedly wriggly, southerly course as it races toward Ohio. Below Terre Haute, Indiana and Illinois share the Wabash, which forms the state line, m ore or less down the center of the river.

Throughout its course, the Wabash is generally languid. Its upper reaches are steepest though not enough to create whitewater. And its lower reacnes descend only about 8 inches per mile.

It's in no hurry; it knows where it's going.

In his simply titled poem, Wabash River, early 20th century poet Hugh Malcolm McCormick wrote of that:
"Listen to the Wabash/
Crooning to the moon/
Rippling by the sandbar/
Whispering a tune;/
Shining in the sun,/
Flowing to the far sea-/
Where the rivers run."

Date: 2/22/1999
Origin: Journal and Courier
Author: Rick Callahan
Record ID: 00002397
Type: Periodical
Source Archive: Warren County Historical Society
Date Entered: 8/10/2001
Collection: Court House
Entered By: Amber M Knipe

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