Regarding the name of my blog “Chattin’ the Hooch” – A friend remarked that he never much cared for the term “hooch.” I can see his point, as it sometimes has negative connotations such as hootch (a name for whiskey, especially those hand-made batches illegally concocted), hooch (Viet Nam slang for a make-shift hut), hooch (the liquid that rises to the top when making sourdough starter) and even “hoochy coochy (a more seamy reference to carnival tents and scantily clad ladies). But in these parts, the Hooch is an affectionate moniker for our beloved river – a river that seems we are just now beginning to appreciate.
Recently I created, with Richard Bishop’s permission (Uptown Columbus), an annual entourage of silliness on Broad Street to be held each spring at Market Days. I named it “Strut the Hooch.” So with that “hooch” floating about in my geriatric brain I guess it was just a natural progression to “Chattin’ the Hooch” for the name of the blog.
So, even though we call our river the “Hooch,” there is a storied history to be learned and admired. Chattahoochee is said to come from the Muscogee (Muskogee) Indian words for painted rock (chato for rock and huchi for marked) and is thought to refer to the beautiful granite outcroppings seen at various points on the river. My local historian friend Fred Fussell adds that over 10 years ago CSU held a conference and invited representatives of many tribes to comment on Indian names that were still in use locally. The Choctaw speaker remarked that in their language “chata” was red, and hoochee or hatchee implied a running stream of water. So in Choctaw it meant red stream or red river.
Most of us know that the Chattahoochee River starts somewhere in North Georgia. To be specific, it springs from a spring on Coon Den Ridge in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the upper course flows gently through the Chattahoochee National Forest. The Chattahoochee has been inhabited since at least 1,000 BC and has been a vital resource. The river also served as a political boundary between the Cherokee nation to the west and the Creek to the east.
Since the 1800s many improvements were made in terms of navigation and the river was very important as a major means of transportation, for passengers and well as trade (mostly cotton). Columbus lies on the fault line separating the Piedmont from the Coastal Plains and is the northern-most navigable point on the river. The many falls in the area are known as the “Coweta Falls” and proved to be ideal spots for dams to power the mills. Columbus became the second largest textile producer in the nation at one time due to the waterpower available and was often called the “Lowell (Massachusetts) of the South.” Sadly, all the mills are gone now but this has allowed for a new era – returning the our portion of the Chattahoochee to its natural state and a source of pride and recreation for all.
When I first came to Columbus in 1971 you could not even get to the river for all the kudzu, barbed wire, trash, oil-soaked soil, and burned out cars. Now the shoal lilies and the shoal bass are returning and there is a plethora of birds to watch – great blue herons, kingfishers, cormorants and anhingas, golden eagles and bald eagles. There is even a heron rookery in the trees north of Total System. One balmy day I counted 42 great blue herons there.
Sitting on the rocks near the roar of the rapids by the Eagle-Phenix Mill buildings is very therapeutic – nature’s Xanax you could say. So slow down, get down to the River Walk near the River Club and take some time to experience this incredible gift we have right in our backyard.