History of the River

History of the Olentangy

The river’s name has changed through history. Native Americans called it Keenhougheconsepung which meant “sharp more and more tool river”. This name was translated by early settlers to mean whetstone river since both groups of people used the black shale found along the river for whetstones to sharpen tools. In 1833, a legislative attempt to restore original Native American names to Ohio rivers named the river the Olentangy. The word Olentangy literally means “River Of Red Face Paint”. This name actually belonged to Big Darby Creek further to the west, where Wyandotte of the Columbus area got their red face paint. The Olentangy River should have been named the Whetstone River. The Whetstone name was assigned to the Whetstone Creek, which is the largest tributary of the Olentangy River.

Currently, the Olentangy River flows 88.5 miles from its headwaters in the Crawford and Richland Counties through Marion and Morrow counties into Delaware. The river above the Delaware Dam is considered the upper portion and below the dam is considered the lower. The Olentangy ends in the Franklin county at the confluence with the Scioto River in downtown Columbus. In all, the river has a drainage area of 543 square miles.

A Scenic River

The Olentangy River was the third river in Ohio to receive the “scenic” designation by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 1973. The 22-mile designation runs from the Delaware Dam to the old Wilson Bridge Road in Worthington.

Geology of the area

The ancient bedrock of Ohio is sedimentary. These limestone and shale deposits were formed over eons by the deposition of materials in compacted layers. Glaciers covered the area about 16,000 years ago leaving glacial till and end moraines behind.

Prehistoric and natural history

Prairies, wetlands and forests once covered the watershed of the Olentangy River. Prairies covered portions of the western side of the watershed throughout what is now Crawford and Marion County. Most of the watershed within Morrow and Delaware Counties was forested. The Wetland areas were found throughout the watershed. At the end of the ice age the nomadic Paleo-Indians were present in this part of Ohio probably hunting large animals such as mastodon. The Paleo were followed by the Archaic Indians who disappeared by about 1000 BC. The Archaic were replaced by the mound building Indians who had more sophisticated cultures. First the Adena, and then the Hopewell, whom disappeared long before any of the historic Indians arrived in Ohio.

The Olentangy Watershed Alliance, in conjunction with all of our partners and volunteers, may only hope to benefit the future of the river and positively add to its unique history.