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Cumberland River

cumberland river, cumberland river pedestrian bridge
The Cumberland River is a major waterway of the Southern United States The 688-mile-long 1,107 km river drains almost 18,000 square miles 47,000 km2 of southern Kentucky and north-central Tennessee The river flows generally west from a source in the Appalachian Mountains to its confluence with the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky, and the mouth of the Tennessee River Major tributaries include the Obey, Caney Fork, Stones, and Red rivers

Although the Cumberland River basin is predominantly rural, there are also some large cities on the river, including Nashville and Clarksville, both in Tennessee In addition, the river system has been extensively developed for flood control, with major dams impounding both the main stem and many of its important tributaries


  • 1 Geography
  • 2 History
  • 3 See also
  • 4 Notes
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links


Its headwaters are three separate forks that begin in Kentucky and converge in its Harlan County Martin's Fork starts in Hensley Settlement on Brush Mountain in Bell County and snakes its way north through the mountains to Baxter Clover Fork starts on Black Mountain in Holmes Mill, near the Virginia border, and flows west in parallel with Kentucky Route 38 until it reaches Harlan Clover Fork once flowed through downtown Harlan and merged with Martin's Fork at the intersection of Kentucky Route 38 and US Route 421, until a flood control project in 1992 diverted it through a tunnel under Little Black Mountain, from which it emerges in Baxter and converges with Martin's Fork Poor Fork begins as a small stream on Pine Mountain in Letcher County near Flat Gap, Virginia It flows southwest in parallel with Pine Mountain until it merges with the other two forks in Baxter

From there, the wider river continues flowing west through the mountains of Kentucky and then turns northward toward Cumberland Falls The 68-foot 21 m falls is one of the largest waterfalls in the southeastern United States and is one of the few places in the Western Hemisphere where a moonbow can be seen

Beyond Cumberland Falls, the river turns abruptly west once again and continues to grow as it converges with other creeks and streams It receives the Laurel and Rockcastle Rivers from the northeast and then the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River from the south From here it flows into the man-made Lake Cumberland, formed by Wolf Creek Dam The more than 100-mile 160 km reservoir is one of the largest artificial lakes in the eastern US

Near Celina, the river crosses south into Tennessee, where it is joined by the Obey River and Caney Fork Northeast of Nashville, the river is dammed twice more, forming Cordell Hull Lake and Old Hickory Lake After flowing through Nashville and picking up the Stones River, the river is dammed to form Cheatham Lake The river turns northwest toward Clarksville, where it is joined by the Red River, and then flows back into Kentucky at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a section of land nestled between Lake Barkley, which is fed by the Cumberland River, and Kentucky Lake Finally, the river flows north and merges with the Ohio River at Smithland, northeast of Paducah


Barge traffic on the Cumberland River The US Army Corps of Engineers maintains the river for tug-and-barge navigation

The explorer Thomas Walker of Virginia in 1758 named the river, but whether for the Duke of Cumberland or the English county of Cumberland is not known

The Cumberland River was called Wasioto by the Shawnee Native Americans, who lived in this area French traders called it the Riviere des Chaouanons, or "river of the Shawnee" for this association The river was also known as the Shawnee River or Shawanoe River for years after Walker's trip

Important first as a passage for hunters and settlers, the Cumberland River also supported later riverboat trade, which traveled 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 as the primary transportation routes for trading and travel

In more recent history, a number of severe floods have struck various regions that the river flows through In April 1977, Harlan, Kentucky, and many surrounding communities were inundated with floodwaters, destroying most of the homes and businesses within the flood plain of the river This event led to the building of the Martins Fork Dam for flood control and the diversion of the Clover Fork around the city of Harlan In addition, the river was diverted through a mountain cut in Loyall, Kentucky

In late April and early May 2010, due to extensive rains, the river overflowed its banks and flooded Nashville and Clarksville, Tennessee The downtown area was ordered to evacuate

See also

  • Quadrula tuberosa — Cumberland River endemic 'Rough rockshell' freshwater mussel
  • List of longest rivers of the United States by main stem
  • List of rivers of Kentucky
  • List of rivers of Tennessee


  1. ^ a b c "Cumberland River" Geographic Names Information System United States Geological Survey 1979-09-20 Retrieved 2013-11-09 
  2. ^ a b US Geological Survey National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data The National Map Archived 2012-04-05 at WebCite, accessed June 8, 2011
  3. ^ "Boundary Descriptions and Names of Regions, Subregions, Accounting Units and Cataloging Units" United States Geological Survey Retrieved 2013-11-09 
  4. ^ "USGS Gage #03438220 on the Cumberland River near Grand Rivers, KY" National Water Information System US Geological Survey 1965–1997 Retrieved 2013-11-09 
  5. ^ Cumberland Falls Moonbow Retrieved on 2010-05-29
  6. ^ The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 1 Kentucky State Historical Society 1903 p 35 
  7. ^ "At least 3 dead in Ky, hundreds of roads flooded" Retrieved 2010-05-03 


  • 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
  • Hay, Jerry 2010 Cumberland River Guidebook, ISBN 978-1-4507-2458-6
  • Kohrs, Randy 2009 'Cumberland', Album, 'Quicksand' ASIN: B002N1AEI2
  • US Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Cumberland River

External links

  •  "Cumberland River" The American Cyclopædia 1879 

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