CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Despite its name, none of the Ohio River is actually owned by Ohio, and it’s been quite the topic of debate since the 1700s.
Most rivers’ boundaries are split down the middle, with each state getting partial ownership, but not Ohio.
In 1783, the Ohio River was fully within the commonwealth of Virginia, which contained the land as far west as what is now Illinois and as far north as Wisconsin, including all of modern-day Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. But during the Confederation Congress in 1784, Virginia ceded its territory that was “to the northwest of the river Ohio” but not any of the river itself, according to the Indiana Magazine of History, making the state boundary the low-water mark on the western bank of the Ohio River.
Even though this border was made under the Articles of Confederation, it carried over under the Constitution. When Ohio became a state in 1803, it tried to take ownership of the Ohio River by claiming that the state boundary should be in the middle of the river, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the original owners.
When West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1863, the ownership of the Ohio River transferred to the new state. Similarly, when the Kentucky District of Virginia became the state of Kentucky, it assumed ownership of the Ohio River.
Despite several legal battles, Ohio has not been able to claim any of the Ohio River along its border, from the northern tip of West Virginia to the Indiana border near Cincinnati.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio tried to gain ownership of the Ohio River as recently as the 1980s. In a 1966 case, the state claimed that the Ohio River in Kentucky had moved north into Ohio and said that the state line should be moved to the other side of the river, or at least to the midpoint, but the Supreme Court ruled in Kentucky’s favor. Ohio Lost another similar case in 1980.
Even now, those who are fishing in the Ohio River even from the Ohio side must follow West Virginia fishing regulations.
(Photo Courtesy: Legomine via Wikimedia Commons)