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Oxbow on Clinton River

March 9, 2013

An oxbow on a river is a horseshoe shaped section of the river
where it curves back onto itself. Most natural rivers have twists
and turns in them, very long straight sections are quite rare.

~~~~ click to enlarge ~~~~~~~

GIS Mapping Red Run

GIS Mapping Red Run

A river continually picks up and drops solid particles from its river bed.
Where the river flow is fast, more particles are picked up.
Conversely, where the river flow is slow, more particles are dropped.
Areas where more particles are dropped are called flood plains.

Deposition of sediment occurs on the inner edge as the river
sweeps and rolls sand, rocks and other submerged objects across
the bed of the river towards the inside radius of the river bend,
creating a slip-off slope called a point bar.

The meanders extend the watercourse of the river; creating a
reduction of the overall flowing speed in this part of the river.
As a result, there is a gradual tapering off the
centrifugal force until it diminishes altogether.
The curvature radius eventually stops growing.

~~~ click to enlarge ~~~~~~

OxBow of Clinton River

Donald W. Green of the Macomb County Historical Commission
wrote about the importance of the OxBow in the Clinton River:

The land area near the present Moravian Bridge is known as the Clinton River Oxbow.
It is here where the Middle Branch and the North Branch join with the South Branch
of the Clinton River. The formation of these three branches along with the water
that flows from many other small upstream branches have all combined to create
the Clinton River Valley.

From the union of all these branches, the now larger Clinton River then flows
several more miles downstream and empties into Lake St. Clair.
This ultimately gives access to the Great Lakes and finally the Atlantic Ocean.
This geographic fact cannot to be overstated because it is this route that was
followed by many successions of Native Americans, European explorers, and then
settlers to this part of the old Northwest that became Michigan.

This was the water highway system for transportation in Michigan
for hundreds of years. It predated the dirt trails, the plank toll roads,
the canals, the railroads and the concrete highways.

Because of several important topographical features: namely a high sandy
loam bluff, fresh spring water and the three river branches meeting in such close
proximity, the area near the present day Moravian Bridge was a desirable location
and became “THE PLACE” for several early settlements.

This location, in a major oxbow of the Clinton River, is arguably the most
important historical spot in Macomb County and without question one of the
most important in the State of Michigan.

Evidence of Native American activity in the period of early post glacial
history has been found. Most notable was the recent discovery of a stone ax
that was identified by trained archeologists to be from the time period
of 7,000 to 9,000 years ago.
This is shortly after the retreat of the last glacier. It was this glacier
that created the Clinton River Valley and the glacier moraines that give rise
to the land around Mount Clemens and the high ground of Moravian Road.

It is especially remarkable that this stone ax was found by members of
the Clinton Township Historical Commission in an area less than 100 yards
from the present Moravian Bridge. There have been several documented evidences
of settlements by a Native American people generally referred to as the
Woodland Period, 250 to 500 years ago.

There is evidence of these people living in the area of Moxon Drive and
Moravian Road and not more than a quarter to one half mile from the
Moravian Bridge.
Many artifacts have been found in areas around the former Moravian
(Hillcrest) Golf Course. In addition, there are many people living in the
Moravian Road area and near the Clinton River who have found Native American
artifacts throughout all the decades of new development of this area,
right up to recent times.
Historians suspect that there are still many important artifacts to be found
and much of this might be in the area of the Moravian Bridge.

THE SETTLEMENT OF NEW GNADENHUTTEN
In 1782, a group of religious settlers under the leadership of Pastor
David Zeisberger, came to this area seeking safety from Colonial soldiers,
renegade Indians, and British soldiers. These people were a peaceful religious
sect call Unitis Brethern, or more commonly referred to as the Moravians.
When the Revolutionary War had caught up with them in their settlements around
New Philadelphia, Ohio, they were the victims of some terrible massacres in
which over 100 of their group had been slaughtered.

They sought protection from the British at Fort Detroit and were granted a
relocation site on the high bluffs along the Huron (now called Clinton)
The British commander, Major Arent DePeyster, promised them a peaceful
settlement and gave the Moravians transportation, food and supplies to
this remote area.
It should be noted that this organized settlement, named New Gnadenhutten
(or Tents of Grace), was the first civilian, non-military, inland
(not on the Great Lakes waterways) settlement in the territory of Michigan.

Over the next four years New Gnadenhutten grew to 28 buildings and over
130 people. These people carved out and developed the very first inland
road in Michigan which went from their village to Conners Creek near
Fort Detroit.
Today this is called Moravian Road, and is honored by the State of Michigan
with a historical plaque at the northeast corner of Moravian and Metropolitan.
Once again, this religious settlement was forced to move.
The Revolutionary War ended in 1786 and the British at Fort Detroit said the
group would have to leave.
The Moravians, still under Pastor Zeisberger, eventually settled in Canada
near Thamesville. Today this settlement is located at the First Delaware Nation,
Moraviantown. These direct decedents of New Gnadenhutten often visit
Clinton Township and pay their respects to their ancestors.

There have many articles written about this early settlement group of Moravians
and we have maps showing the location of their home site of New Gnadenhutten.
The settlement was right in the area of the Moravian bridge; and the bridge
occupies a location right over part of the land they used for their gardens.

The Clinton Township Historical Commission has done considerable digging and
research in this general area. All this area is an extremely important historical
site and needs further exploration. It is recognized by the State of Michigan
and several national historical organizations.

THE VILLAGE OF FREDERICK
There was a small village called Frederick in the time frame of 1820 to 1860 and
it was located exactly where the present day Moravian Bridge is located.
The village consisted of several businesses: a cooperage, two mills, tavern,
general store, blacksmith, and a hotel. There were a number of residents and
it was a commercial rival to Mount Clemens some 3 miles away.

When the Clinton and Kalamazoo Canal was under construction, the major
construction of the canal took place at Frederick.
The guard lock into the river was near the present day Moravian Bridge with
special dockage for the two mills located adjacent to the canal.
Frederick was heavily promoted by Judge Horace Stevens and his brother
Frederick who lived in the village and who were active land developers.
They envisioned railroads, churches, several new streets, more bridges
and hundreds of lots for sale. They advertised and promoted the sale of
these lots in various newspapers in the eastern U.S.A.
We have a copy of the map that illustrated the proposed land development.

When the Grand Trunk Railroad was built close to Mount Clemens, the people
and most of the commercial growth switched to that community and Frederick
just died away. Evidence and artifacts of Frederick are being found even today.
Much of it is located in areas very close to the Moravian Bridge.
This deserves to be archeologically surveyed.

CLINTON AND KALAMAZOO CANAL
The construction of the Clinton and Kalamazoo Canal began in 1838 in the
Village of Frederick in an area just a few feet from the present location
of the Moravian Bridge. A section of Moravian Road actually crosses over
the old canal bed about 300 feet before the bridge.

On the canal engineering prints, the previous old Moravian Bridge is located
further to the north of the present Moravian Bridge. It appears that when the
canal was abandoned in the 1850’s, a new Moravian Bridge was built at the
present site and the canal was filled in for the roadway.

We also suspect that the previously mentioned guard lock at the entrance of
the canal from the Clinton River was just a stone throw away from the present
Moravian Bridge. Members of the Clinton Historical Commission have been trying
to locate the exact area of this lock.

The Clinton and Kalamazoo Canal was part of the interior improvements for the
new state of Michigan in 1837. It was to be the jewel of the ambitious
transportation plans for the brand new state. There was tremendous interest
in this canal and much has been written about it over the years.
We would expect that any work around the Moravian Bridge might expose some of
the canal construction. From a historical and archeological view this would be
extremely important. Many questions regarding the canal might be answered.

SUMMARY
The concentration of noteworthy historical sites surrounding and abutting
the location of the Moravian Bridge arguably presents some of the most
challenging historical locations in all Macomb County.
Here is a treasure trove of information about how this area developed
over the past centuries. Every effort should be made prior to the demolition
and construction of the replacement bridge to insure that these unique
artifacts, construction sites and archeological information are not lost.

Donald W. Green of the Macomb County Historical Commission
wrote about the importance of the OxBow in the Clinton River:

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