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A Short History of the
Falls of the Ohio

The Falls of the Ohio is unique to say the least. Where else (within view of the modern Louisville skyline) can you go back over 375 million years to one of the world's largest exposed Devonian age fossil beds? Beds that started as the floor of a shallow tropical sea when the land that is now Kentucky and Indiana was about twenty degrees south of the equator! A shifting of the earth's continents eventually moved this part of the earth's surface to its current location.

As geologic time passed and the continents continued to move, the climate changed, bringing several ice ages with glaciers stretching from Canada into Indiana. As the glaciers retreated, the resulting meltwater carved out the Ohio River Valley and exposed the fossil beds. These fossil bed ledges formed the Falls of the Ohio.

The Falls has played an important part in the area's cultural history as well. The present-day communities around the Falls, including the city of Louisville, all owe their existence to this natural stopping place.

The first humans to visit the falls were early Native Americans who followed the herds of game such as bison to this area. They stayed and built their villages because of the closeness to water for drinking and transportation and the abundance of fish, game, and raw materials needed for clothing, shelter, and tools.

The Falls has played an important part in the area's cultural history as well. The communities around the Falls including the current city of Louisville all owe their existence to this natural stopping place. George Rogers Clark established the first permanent English-speaking settlement in the Northwest Territory here at Corn Island in 1778. Many other people important to American history visited the area of the Falls. Some of these historical figures were Aaron Burr, William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition), and the famous wildlife artist John James Audubon. The writers Mark Twain and Walt Whitman both visited and wrote about the Falls area as well.

In 1990 the Falls of the Ohio State Park was established to preserve and protect this area and the 16,000 square foot Interpretive Center was constructed to help tell the story of this unique and fascinating natural wonder.

(This Short History of the Falls of the Ohio was adapted from The Falls of the Ohio State Park Map Brochure and from The Falls of the Ohio State Park Educator's Handbook. Our thanks to the creators of these materials for granting their permission for us to use these valuable resources.)

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Watch these fossils change to pictures showing how the animal looked:

- Siphonophrentis (horn coral)
- Trilobite
- Dunkleosteus
- Turbonopsis (turbo snail)

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Last Updated: Monday, 19-Dec-2005 12:15:28 EST