Green River (Kentucky)

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This article is about the river in Kentucky. For other uses, see Green River.
Green River
Green River Kentucky Mammoth Cave02.jpg
Green River Watershed
Country United States
Basin features
Main source Lincoln and Casey counties in Kentucky
205 m (673 ft)
River mouth Ohio River
110 m (360 ft)
Basin size 25,400 km2 (9,800 sq mi)[1]
Physical characteristics
Length 384 mi (618 km)
  • Average rate:
    5,260 cu ft/s (149 m3/s)

The Green River is a 384-mile-long (618 km)[2] tributary of the Ohio River that rises in Lincoln County in south-central Kentucky. Tributaries of the Green River include the Barren River, the Nolin River, the Pond River and the Rough River. The river was named after Nathanael Greene, a general of the American Revolutionary War.[3]


Following the Revolutionary War, many veterans staked claims along the Green River as payment for their military service. The river valley also attracted a number of vagrants, earning it the dubious nickname Rogue's Harbor.[1]

In 1842, the Green River was canalized, with a series of locks and dams being built to create a navigable channel as far inland as Bowling Green, Kentucky. Four locks and dams were constructed on the Green River, and one lock and dam was built on the Barren River, a tributary that passed through Bowling Green.

During the American Civil War, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan conducted daring raids through the Green River country, from which he reached into southern Indiana and Ohio.[4]

In 1901, two additional locks and dams were opened on the Green River, which allowed river traffic to Mammoth Cave. In 1941, Mammoth Cave National Park was established, and the two upper locks and dams closed in 1950. In 1965, Lock and Dam #4 at Woodbury failed;[5] this was the dam that locked both the Green and Barren rivers.

In 1969, the United States Army Corps of Engineers impounded a section of the river, forming 8,200-acre (33 km2) Green River Lake. The lake is now the primary feature of Green River Lake State Park.[6]

There is still one Native American tribe living on the Green River: the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky. In 1893 Governor John Y. Brown (1835–1904) recognized the Southern Cherokee Nation as an Indian tribe.


The Green River flows through Mammoth Cave National Park, located along river miles 190 to 205. The river drains the cave and controls the master base level of the Mammoth Cave system: the construction of a 9-foot (2.7 m) dam at Brownsville in 1906 has raised the water level in some parts of the cave system by as much as 6 feet (1.8 m) above its natural value.

The 384-mile-long (618 km) Green River, an important transportation artery for the coal industry, is open to traffic up to the closed Lock and Dam #3 (known as the Rochester Dam) at mile 108.5. Muhlenberg County, once the largest coal-producing county in the nation, benefits greatly from access to the river, as does the aluminum industry in Henderson County. In 2002, more than 10 million short tons were shipped on the river, primarily sub-bituminous coal, petroleum coke, and aluminum ore.


The Green River is home to more than 150 fish species and more than 70 mussel species.[7] This includes some of Kentucky's largest fish[8] and some of the world's rarest species of mussels.[9]


Endangered species:

Threatened species:

In popular culture[edit]

From 1939 to 1952 A. B. Cunningham wrote a series of 22 detective stories, all but one of which are set in a county through which the Green River flows and which feature Jess Roden, the local sheriff.

In 1969 the Everly Brothers co-wrote and recorded the song 'Green River' released in 1972 as an album track on 'Stories We Could Tell'

In 1971, the Green River was mentioned in the song "Paradise" by John Prine.

In 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival released the album "Green River".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kleber, John E., ed. (1992). "Green River". The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Associate editors: Thomas D. Clark, Lowell H. Harrison, and James C. Klotter. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1772-0. 
  2. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map Archived 2012-04-05 at WebCite, accessed June 13, 2011
  3. ^ Benke, Arthur C.; Cushing, Colbert E. (2005). Rivers of North America. Academic Press. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-12-088253-3. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  4. ^ Gorin-Smith, Betty Jane (2006). Morgan Is Coming: Confederate Raiders in the Heartland of Kentucky. Louisville, Kentucky: Harmony House Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56469-134-7. 
  5. ^ The Kentucky Encyclopedia: Butler County
  6. ^ The Kentucky Encyclopedia: Lakes
  7. ^ "Pioneering Effort to Restore Green River is Extended" The Nature Conservancy Press Release 2009
  8. ^ "Kentucky State Record Fish List". Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. 2006-04-17. Archived from the original on 2007-02-10. Retrieved 2007-02-17. 
  9. ^ "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species". Archived from the original on 2014-06-27. Retrieved 2012-05-25. 

Further reading[edit]

  • The Ohio River - In American History and Voyaging on Today's River, with a section on the Green River; Heron Island Guides, 2007, ISBN 978-0-9665866-3-3

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°54′9″N 87°29′59″W / 37.90250°N 87.49972°W / 37.90250; -87.49972