Mill Creek History Article


The History and Importance of the Mill Creek

Article by Michael Wojtkiewicz (taken from blog post: click here to read )

In a small community called Reading, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio, there lays an organization known as the Mill Creek Watershed Council of Communities (MCWCC). Their job: to protect and serve the Mill Creek and the communities that rely on its water source. It became easy to overlook small streams in urban areas, and in 1998, due to years of neglect, the stream that was once used for transportation, flowing water to homes and businesses, and essential to the development of the city of Cincinnati, the Mill Creek was named “the most endangered urban river in North America.”[1] Before this, however, the Ohio EPA and other Cincinnati officials began their new vision for the Mill Creek, which was an attempt to stop the overflow points from dumping raw sewage and storm water into the waterway. From this plan, the MCWCC was born and has since implemented projects to restore the stream, build new wetlands, and manage the storm water runoff.

There are many ways that you, as a resident of an urban watershed, can become active in the development and restoration of these waterways, but first, we should look into the history of the Mill Creek, and Cincinnati, to understand why you should be concerned about your local watershed.

The History of Cincinnati in Relation to the Mill Creek Valley

Cincinnati was founded at the end of 1788, and is often referred by many historians as the “first purely American city,” because of its inception after the Revolutionary War. In 1803, Ohio became an official state, but at that time, very few means of transportation existed. The introduction of steam navigation in 1811 allowed Cincinnati to connect to the east coast cities via the Ohio River. However, moving cargo to and from Cincinnati became difficult due to the geographical separation of the Appalachian Mountains. Thus, the Miami and Erie Canal was built in 1845, which connects Lake Erie to the Ohio River, and Cincinnati became known as a “boomtown.” In 1850, 115,000 reported residents called Cincinnati their home, and more industry was created or moved to the area. Let’s explore some of these industries...

Local Cincinnatians, William Proctor and James Gamble, started their company referred to as P&G in 1837 as a soap manufacturing company. By the 1860’s, sales reached $1 million, and thus began new a new marketing ploy called Ivory Soap, which was “light enough to float on water”. After a fire that destroyed their first factory, they relocated along the Mill Creek. Other kinds of manufacturing factories sprang up in this area as well. In fact, around 115 populated the area of Cincinnati and Northside by 1880.

In 1810, a man by the name of Richard Fosdick had a vision. The industry of pork slaughtering and manufacturing was mainly kept in Baltimore, Maryland, and many pessimists claimed that beef and pork could not be satisfactorily cured in the Cincinnati climate. However, Fosdick perfected a method to keep meat from spoiling by using rock salt, and opened up what would become a vast industry. In fact, it grew so rapidly that between the months of November 1826 to February 1827, forty thousand pigs were slaughtered and sold.[2] For many years the pig industry in Cincinnati was secluded to the Deer Creek River, and in consequence, the waters were terribly polluted. Since then, the Deer Creek River was turned into a sewer system, and is covered up mostly by roadways. The pork industry was moved along the Mill Creek, and for years, was dumping its waste into the water. 


These industries, which also include breweries and other factories, were indeed the cause of tremendous growth in Cincinnati, not only by wealth, but also by bringing work to its residents, which in turn saw a growth to the population. However, these industries were also the cause of severe pollution to an important waterway.

The Mill Creek flows from Liberty Township and travels 28 miles south to the Ohio River just west of downtown Cincinnati, and while it allowed the City of Cincinnati and southwestern Ohio to grow into an important city in American History, it has been abused for more than 200 years and causes toxins to flow into the Ohio River. In 1972, Congress enacted the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, more commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act, which introduced the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System to regulate point sources (industrial facilities, government facilities, agricultural facilities, etc.) for pollution.[3] And while this act regulated these point sources from discharging pollutants into waters without permits, many companies along the Mill Creek decided that paying the fine was less expensive than properly disposing of waste. 


Why is Urban Stream Development Important?

Most waterways in the world connect with each other. The aforementioned Deer Creek River was once used as a means of travel and commerce, however, due to constant toxic waste being dumped into the water, the creek was turned into a sewer system and a roadway to prevent the toxins from reaching the Little Miami River, the Great Miami, the Ohio, and the Mississippi before reaching its final resting place in the Gulf of Mexico. Having polluted water ceases life from growing in its surroundings. If we look into history and study the geography of major cities, we find that they mostly lay on some body of water, and this tells us that civilizations thrive near water. If we continue to pollute our water systems, and ignore the wildlife that surrounds them, our civilizations will not be able to continue to thrive. Enter the Mill Creek Watershed Council of Communities.

Since 1995, the MCWCC has been successful in promoting the welfare of the Mill Creek, and furthermore, reporting continued abuse to the water. They have continued to develop restoration projects that include wetlands for sewer runoff, storm water retention ponds, planting native plants along the riverbanks, a two-stage channel for better storm water management, and rebuilding vegetation to halt erosion caused by the flow of storm water. With these projects, the MCWCC strives to assist with less sedimentation, less maintenance for the City of Cincinnati, and an improved habitat for wildlife.

Watershed improvement organizations have improved the quality of waterways since the inception of the Clean Water Act, and without these organizations we would see an increase in pollution around the globe. There are 2,267 watersheds across the country, including Hawaii and Alaska, and all are just as important to the sovereignty of our waters as the MCWCC. If you know of a watershed improvement organization in your area, you might be interested to hear what they have to say about your local drinking water. Furthermore, you may want to get involved to assist in keeping our waters clean. Most of these organizations are non-profit and work hard each day to ensure that we are protected from pollutants in our drinking water, but they also assist in the growth of wildlife. Thus, we must not ignore urban streams because we think they are “too far gone.” Instead, we should reach out to our communities, and see what we can do to help protect our water.


[1] “Historical Timeline,” Mill Creek Watershed, accessed August 6, 2014.

[2] Charles Frederic Goss, Cincinnati, the Queen City, 1788 – 1912, Volume 2 (Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912), 334 – 336.

[3] “NPDES Home,” Environmental Protection Agency, accessed August 6, 2014.