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Cumberland River: Wikis


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Cumberland River
Cumberland River 2005 05 20.jpeg
Canoers on the Cumberland River upstream from Cumberland Falls
Origin Small stream in Letcher County, KY near Flat Gap, VA
Mouth Ohio River
Basin countries United States
Length 687 mi (1,106 km)
Source elevation 1,155 ft (352 m)
Avg. discharge 30,441 ft³/s (862 m3/s
Basin area 18,081 mi² (46,830 km²)
Map of the Cumberland River Watershed
Barge traffic on the Cumberland River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the river for tug-and-barge navigation.

The Cumberland River is an important waterway in the Southern United States. It is 688 miles (1,107 km) long. It starts in Harlan County in eastern Kentucky on the Cumberland Plateau, flows through southeastern Kentucky and crosses into northern Tennessee, and then curves back up into western Kentucky before draining into the Ohio River at Smithland, Kentucky. The Cumberland is one of three major Kentucky rivers with headwaters in Harlan County: the others are the Kentucky River and the Big Sandy River. The city of Nashville, Tennessee sits along the banks of the Cumberland River.



The Cumberland River is a wild river above the headwaters of Lake Cumberland. Cumberland Falls, 68 feet (21 m) high, is one of the largest waterfalls in the eastern United States and is one of the few places in the Western Hemisphere where a moonbow can be seen. Most of the river below Lake Cumberland's Wolf Creek Dam is navigable because of several locks and dams. A 90-mile section of its Big South Fork is protected by the National Park Service as Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Dams at various locations of the Cumberland River have created large reservoirs for recreation such as: Lake Barkley in western Kentucky and Lake Cumberland (the deepest lake in the Tennessee and Cumberland river valleys) in southern Kentucky; Cordell Hull and Old Hickory Lake to the east of Nashville; and Cheatham Lake to the west. Laurel Lake, on the Laurel River in southern Kentucky, the Dale Hollow Reservoir on the Obey River in northeast Middle Tennessee, and Percy Priest Lake on the Stones River in Nashville are each created by dams located just upstream from their respective confluences with the Cumberland River.


Important first as a passage for hunters and settlers, the Cumberland River also supported later riverboat trade which reached to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Villages, towns and cities were located at landing points along its banks. Through the middle of the 19th century, settlers depended on rivers for trading and travel.

In 1748, Dr. Thomas Walker led a party of hunters across the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia. Walker, a Virginian, was an explorer and surveyor of renown. He gave the name "Cumberland" to the lofty range of mountains his party crossed, in honor of Prince William, Duke of Cumberland whose name had become popular in America after the Battle of Culloden in 1746.[1] Walker's party pursued their journey by way of the Cumberland Gap into what is today Kentucky. Finding a beautiful mountain stream flowing across their course they called it the "Cumberland River." Walker's journal entry for April 17, 1750, reads in part: "I went down the creek a-hunting, and found that it went into a river about a mile below our camp. This, which is Flat Creek and some other join'd, I called Cumberland River."

Previous to Walker's trip, the Cumberland River had been called Warioto by Native Americans and Shauvanon by French traders. The river was also known as the Shawnee River (or Shawanoe River) for years after Walker's trip. [2]

Several American Civil War battles occurred near the Cumberland River, including the battle for Fort Donelson. The river's name has been used to name the Union Army of the Cumberland[citation needed], and several U.S. Navy ships have been called USS Cumberland.

Modern use

Not part of Great Loop.



  • Albright, Edward. "Early History of Middle Tennessee". (1908).
  • Stewart, George R. "Names on the Land". (Boston: 1967) (See George R. Stewart)
  • Arthur Benke & Colbert Cushing, "Rivers of North America". Elsevier Academic Press, 2005 ISBN 0-12-088253-1
  • Myers, Fred (2004) Cumberland River CruiseGuide, ISBN 0-9704962-3-0
  • Duthie, Bob & Mavis (2008) What to Expect Cruising the Cumberland River,CD-ROM [1]

Coordinates: 37°8′36″N 88°24′27″W / 37.14333°N 88.4075°W / 37.14333; -88.4075


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CUMBERLAND RIVER, a large southern branch of the Ohio river, U.S.A., rising in the highest part of the Cumberland plateau. in south-east Kentucky, and emptying into the Ohio in Kentucky (near Smithland) after a devious course of 688 m. through that. state and Tennessee. It drains a basin of somewhat more than 18,000 sq. m., and is navigable for light-draught steamers through about 500 m. under favourable conditions - Burnside, Pulaski county, 518 m. from the mouth, is the head of navigation - and through 193 m. - to Nashville - all the year round; for boats drawing not more than 3 ft. the river is navigable to Nashville for 6 to 8 months. At the Great Falls, in Whitley county, Kentucky, it drops precipitously 63 ft. Above the falls it is a mountain stream, of little volume in the dry months. It descends rapidly at its head to the highland bench below the mountains and traverses this to the falls, then flows in rapids (the Great Shoals) for some io m. through a fine gorge with cliffs 300-400 ft. high,. and descends between bluffs of decreasing height and beauty into its lower level. Save in the mountains its gradient is slight, and below the falls, except for a number of small rapids, the: flow of the stream is equable. Timbered ravines lend charm to much of its shores, and in the mountains the scenery is most beautiful. Below Nashville the stream is some 400 to 500 ft. wide, and its high banks are for the most part of alluvium, with rocky bluffs at intervals. At the mouth of the river lies Cumberland Island, in the Ohio. During low water of the latter stream the Cumberland discharges around both ends of the island, but in high water of the Ohio the gradient of the Cumberland is so slight that its waters are held back, forming a deep quiet pool that extends some 20 m. up the river. A system of locks and dams below Nashville was planned in 1846 by a private company, which accomplished practically nothing. Congress appropriated $155,000 in 1832-1838; in the years immediately after 1888 $305,000 was expended, notably for deepening the shoals at the junction of the Cumberland and the Ohio; in 1892 a project was undertaken for 7 locks and dams 52 ft. wide and 280 ft. long below Nashville. Above Nashville $346,000 was expended on the open channel project (of 1871-1872) from Nashville to Cumberland Ford (at Pineville); in 1886 a canalization project was undertaken and 22 locks and dams below Burnside and 6 above Burnside were planned, but by the act of 1907 the project was modified - $2,319,000 had been appropriated up to 1908 for the work of canalization. During the Civil War Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, and Fort Henry near by on the Tennessee were erected by the Confederates, and their capture by Flagofficer A. H. Foote and General Grant (Feb. 1862) was one of the decisive events of the war, opening the rivers as it did for the advance of the Union forces far into Confederate Territory.

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