My life on the Nimishillen, or why I am not Richard Bissell

A tall wooden stockade fence surrounds my parents’ back yard, which slopes slightly toward the back border. In heavy rains, the border of our yard and the neighbors’ flooded with water that flowed to a storm sewer grate at the northeast corner of the yard. A storm sewer grate by the road, at the southeast corner of the property, feeds water from the road to the northeast grate.
When I was a child, the northeast grate and pipe were installed to replace a small creek that began at that corner. Our house was the first on our side of the street in two blocks, and I liked to follow the creek east through the field, where Queen Anne’s lace and milkweed grew among the tall grasses, to a slightly larger creek that flowed from the north under Applegrove Road then east to a pond on Bob O’Link Golf Course. I spent many hours at the pond, sometimes engaged in a few desultory attempts at fishing, which mostly bored me, but mainly just enjoying proximity to water. I never ventured beyond the pond, but later I came to know the course of the creek, which is a tributary of the West Branch of Nimishillen Creek.
West Branch rises along Wagner Road south of Lake Center Street in Lake Township, almost within sight of the headwaters of the Tuscarawas River, which in its infancy flows west through Uniontown. West Branch flows through the east and south side of North Canton. It flows underneath East Maple Street near Marquardt Avenue, 55th Street near south Main Street and South Main near Everhard Road. It flows along I-77 for a while and through Canton’s Stadium Park to its junction with its companions.
Middle Branch rises east of Route 44 between Beeson and Alberta Beach streets in Marlboro Township and flows through the town of Middlebranch, along the avenue that took its name from the stream and through the east side of Canton, where it is joined by East Branch.
East Branch rises by Oakhill Avenue just south of Maximo and flows southwest through Nimishillen Township, Louisville and Canton, often flooding downtown Louisville businesses, and joins Middle Branch in Cook Park. The combined stream joins West Branch south of the junction of I-77 and U.S. Route 30, and Nimishillen Creek flows south along route 800, entering Sandy Creek, which flows east from Magnolia and points east and enters the Tuscarawas just above Bolivar. The Tuscarawas and Walhonding form the Muskingum at Coshocton — American Indians considered the Tuscarawas the Muskingum and the Walhonding a tributary — the Muskingum enters the Ohio at Marietta, the Ohio enters the Mississippi at Cairo, Ill., and the Mississippi enters the Gulf of Mexico, which sends its warm waters north in the immense Mississippi-dwarfing Gulf Stream along the East Coast and across the Atlantic, where it warms northern Europe and allows palm trees to grow in southwest England. As I walk along Middle Branch, I think about the water flowing generally south and how it will one day warm the coast of the British Isle, bringing rain and fog.
I live within sight of Middle Branch in Plain Township, and I enjoy walks along the creek in Alpine Park. Lately I’ve watched its brown rushing waters race through the park, a result of the frequent heavy rains. (Many people assume I live in Alliance because I work for The Review, but I’m like Capt. Kirk on Star Trek, who said he is from Earth and only works in space.) One year during a heavy rain I saw a wooden bench floating down Middle Branch as I walked the park after heavy rains. Another year, my nephew Andy and I tried to canoe the creek along the park, but the creek, except in times of spate, provides too little water to float a canoe, and our trip was partly paddling and partly a water hike.
I’ve followed Nimishillen Creek, Sandy Creek and the Tuscarawas River scores of times over the years, on foot, in canoes and in cars, studying river topography and Indian, frontier and canal history. My experiences can’t compare to those of Richard Bissell, a 20th-century river pilot and writer who wrote “My Life on the Mississippi, or Why I Am Not Mark Twain,” but they’re rich memories all the same.

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