Falls of the Ohio/Old Clarksville Site

Drawing of the river rapids with instructions on how to get around them.
This 1793 map by John Filson gave instructions for navigating the Falls of the Ohio.

John Filson, "A Map of Kentucky" (London: J. Stockade, 1793).

Quick Facts
201 W Riverside Dr, Clarksville, IN 47129
At the Falls of the Ohio, where William Clark’s family had settled on the north and south sides of the river, Meriwether Lewis and his initial crew met up with Clark and York, the man that Clark enslaved. They recruited more men in the area before heading downstream and on their journey.
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

Beach/Water Access, Boat Ramp, Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Information - Ranger/Staff Member Present, Parking - Auto, Picnic Table, Restroom, Restroom - Accessible, Toilet - Flush, Trailhead, Trash/Litter Receptacles, Wheelchair Accessible

Lewis and Clark NHT Visitor Centers and Museums

Visitor Centers (shown in orange), High Potential Historic Sites (shown in black), and Pivotal Places (shown in green) along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

In the early 1800s, the Ohio River was relatively easy to navigate, with one major exception.  

Near modern-day Louisville, the limestone bedrock is exposed for one short section. The river falls twenty-six feet in 2.5 miles, enough to make a canoe descent tumultuous at high water and impossible at low water.106 In 1805, Josiah Espy described the falls viewed from Clarksville as a “zigzag channel which is only navigable at high water.” 

People who regularly traveled the busy Ohio River—whether French, American, Shawnee, Haudenosaunee, or Delaware—knew how to get around these rapids. They knew when the water was high enough to take a boat or canoe over them and when they needed to carry their vessels around the waterfalls (known as a portage).  

William Clark’s family had settled near these falls. Here he met up with Meriwether Lewis here to begin their transcontinental journey.

The falls no longer look like they once did. Private interests constructed a canal and locks south of the falls starting in 1825, to improve navigation on the river. The federal government later enlarged the canal and added additional dams, so that by 1964, dams made the river no longer navigable at this point: all traffic had to go through the canal.

About this article: This article is part of a series called “Pivotal Places: Stories from the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.”

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Last updated: December 13, 2023