The Monongahela River

The Monongahela River, better known as the Mon, stretches 128-miles from north-central West Virginia into southwestern Pennsylvania. The Unami people, from the Lenape Nation, named the river the Monongahela because it means "falling banks", referring to the vulnerability of the riverbanks, (WVExplorer). The Monongahela is formed when the West Fork River and the Tygart Valley River meet in Fairmont, West Virginia. Due to a series of locks and dams, the river is navigable its entire length. The WVExplorer states the Mon has two major tributaries in Pennsylvania: the Cheat River and the Youghiogheny River. Once in Pittsburgh, the Monongahela joins the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River at the Point of Confluence in Point State Park.

The Braddock Expedition, a famous battle from the French and Indian War occurred from May-July 1755 and took place in the Monongahela River Valley. In this battle, the French and their Native American allies defeated 2,000 British and colonist forces as they tried to capture the French Fort Duquesne, (HistoryNet). During Pittsburgh’s industrial era, the Mon was a significant river in the 19th century and many steel plants were established along its banks.

The river also harbors many urban legends such as the tale of Monongy, a half-man, half-fish creature that got its name from the local Native American tribes. Marion County Vistor’s Bureau reports that during the French and Indian War, British soldiers reportedly witnessed strange river monsters in the Monongahela. The police even formed a task force in the 1930s-1950s when Pittsburghers were in a frenzy over the strange animal.

Another tale is that of the Cold War-era B-25 bomber that crashed into the river on January 31st, 1956. As told by the Heinz History Center, six men were flying the bomber to Harrisburg from Nevada to pick up a cargo of airplane parts. Around 4 P.M., the plane began to run out of fuel and had to make an emergency landing on the Monongahela River near the Glenwood Bridge in Hays. All six men survived the crash landing but only four survived treading the icy waters of the Mon. Extensive search efforts ensued to find the aircraft at the bottom of the Mon with sonar scanners and underwater cameras. The U.S Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers searched for fourteen days but never found the fifteen foot-deep bomber in the twenty foot-deep river. More recent search parties have tried looking for the mysterious plane wreckage, only to come up empty-handed, (Heinz History Center).

More recently, the Monongahela is commonly used for recreational sports such as kayaking, white water kayaking, fishing, and boating. In order to improve water quality for these recreational users, RAIN operates sevenwater quality sites on the Mon to keep an eye on the river. Despite all the battles and folklore of the past, the Monongahela River is now just one of Pittsburgh’s beloved iconic three rivers.


Marissa Rollman