Featured, Local History

The Teays River and Origin of Teays Valley

The original Teays River flowed from present day North Carolina through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois until it reached the Gulf of Mexico which extended inland.

The following article is an updated version of an article published in the May 5, 2005 issue of The Hurricane Breeze.

Early area settlers knew that at one time a river must have flowed through what is now called Teays Valley. The abundance of good well water in certain locales in the valley gave rise to speculation that the Teays River continued to flow in a subterranean channel. This idea was soundly ridiculed by geologists, but full understanding of just what happened to the Teays River was not known until the construction of I-64 and development of the valley during the late 1950’s. The notion that the Teays still flows underground was reported in a Charleston newspaper as late as 1970 and is still held to be true by a handful of old time residents of today.

Geologists have concluded that the Teays River may be the second oldest river on the face of planet Earth. Its origin is believed to have preceded the formation of the Appalachian Mountains. Evidence suggests that the Teays began as a westward flowing stream in what is now the mountains of North Carolina. As the Appalachian chain was elevated from its marine origin, the stream chewed out and cut into the bedrock producing the New River Gorge.

The Teays followed the present day course of the New and Kanawha Rivers until it reached the present location of Scary Creek in Putnam County. The Teays carved out a valley that averaged one and a half to two miles in width from Scary to the approximate location of Huntington where it was thought to join the Ohio River.

Geologists now know that the Ohio formed much later. The Teays River of that early pre-glacial era actually continued northward into what is now the state of Ohio through Chillicothe, Circleville, and Columbus. In the Marion, Ohio area it turned westward and followed the approximate course of what is now the Wabash River across Indiana and then followed a meandering path across Illinois where it turned southward along the course of today’s Mississippi until it reached the Gulf of Mexico which extended inland to the western tip of present day Kentucky.

The building boom which accompanied the construction of I-64 in the late 1950’s revealed a heretofore unknown sediment found only on lake bottoms. Alternating deposits of light and dark sediment, indicating seasonal difference in sedimentation, were discovered. The layers, called varves, are believed to have been formed during the great ice age.

Geologists state that the great continental glacier which covered much of North America, blocked the flow of the Teays in the approximate location of the Chillicothe, Ohio, causing a great lake to form. This lake, Lake Tight (named for a Dennison University professor), covered an estimated 10,000 square miles in western West Virginia, southeastern Ohio, and northwestern Kentucky. It extended from Chillicothe, Ohio, to the New River Gorge in Fayette County, West Virginia. The overflow from the lake carved out the present Ohio Valley west of Ironton. In 2018, geologist James Erjavec created a map of Lake Tight which would have held 268 cubic miles of water, more than twice the volume of Lake Erie. The average depth was estimated to be 140 feet, with pockets as deep as 300 feet.

The lake gradually filled in and the glacier melted leaving present day Teays Valley high and dry. There are 180 feet of lake sediments in the Scott Depot area. The waters which once followed the course of the Teays, flowed northward from the present location of Nitro to form the Kanawha Valley. The runoff from the melting glacier joined the Kanawha and Pt. Pleasant to form the present river system.

When the new Hurricane Post Office was built in 1995, construction delays were encountered because builders hit a deposit of ground water trapped in the gravels of the longa go Teays River. Some oldtimers believed that builders had actually tapped into the still flowing waters of Teays River.

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