Falls of the Ohio
Lewis and Clark - Falls of the Ohio
The Falls of the Ohio were long rapids caused by a 24-foot drop of the Ohio River over a 2 mile stretch of limestone ledges. This area became a natural stopping point for people traveling the Ohio River. The south side of the Falls became Louisville, Kentucky. On the north, the Town of Clarksville, Indiana was founded.
William and George Rogers Clark both owned parcels of land at the Clarksville original town site which is now part of the Falls of the Ohio State Park. Clarksville was the first American settlement in the Northwest Territory, established in 1783. George's cabin and the surrounding area of the original town site on the riverbank were used as a base camp during Lewis and Clark's preparations. George Rogers Clark operated a mill along nearby Mill Creek, 150 yards from where the creek entered the Ohio River.
The George Rogers Clark Home Site, historically known as Clark's Point, is where William Clark was living with his older brother, George Rogers Clark, when Meriwether Lewis arrived in October of 1803. George Rogers Clark was a friend of Thomas Jefferson and corresponded with him about their mutual interest in paleontology and archaeology.
At the Falls of the Ohio in the summer of 1803, William Clark received a letter from Meriwether Lewis inviting him to help command an expedition to explore the Louisiana territory and find a water passage to the Pacific Ocean.
"Thus my friend...you have a summary view of the plan, the means and the objects of this expedition. If therefore there is anything under those circumstances, in this enterprise, which would induce you to participate with me in it's fatiegues, it's dangers and it's honors, believe me there is no man on earth with whom I should feel equal pleasure in sharing them with yourself."
On October 14, 1803, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark met at the Falls of the Ohio, forming one of the most famous and successful partnerships in history. Lewis and Clark, no doubt, spent many hours in the cabin planning the journey and getting advice from George Rogers Clark, who was very knowledgeable about the West.
Soon, thereafter, the Corps of Discovery was born. Nine men were inducted into the Army at the Falls of the Ohio. They formed one-third of the expedition's permanent party. They were the foundation for what historians describe as the most famous exploring venture in the history of American exploration.
On October 26, 1803, Lewis and Clark, together with the nucleus of the Corps of Discovery, set off down the Ohio River from Clarksville, Indiana on a journey that would take them to the Pacific Ocean and back. With them went local recruits - handpicked by Clark - and Clark's enslaved African American, York. York became the first African American to cross the United States from coast to coast. These first permanent members of the Corps of Discovery made significant contributions toward the success of the endeavor.
Nearly two hundred years have passed since their departure to the West and return in November 1806. Their journey changed the course of American history. Their world has changed much in the two centuries since they traversed the Falls area. But the legacy of Lewis and Clark and their men is still with us today. It is with us in printed word, in institutional collections, and in landmarks.
It is possible, today, to stand where the captains and the nucleus of the Corps of Discovery stood two hundred years ago; to visit where they visited; and to view expedition letters and artifacts. Explore the Falls of the Ohio and its Lewis and Clark legacy.