Monday, September 26, 2011

Secrets of the James - Where does the James River Begin?

by Judith Warrington, JRA's Communications Coordinator

Jackson River near Hidden Valley

One of the most frequently asked questions about the James is: Where does the river begin? Many of America’s great rivers can trace their origin to mountain ranges where they are fed by snowmelt or upland streams. The James also begins in the mountains where it claims the heritage of two other beautiful rivers. 

This mountain topography plays a major role in all rivers and in Virginia the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Front determine the direction in which its upland rivers flow. For the past 2 million years, the James River has been carrying bits of those mountains downriver, eastward to the Chesapeake Bay.

It is near the small Botetourt County town of Iron Gate, on the farm where brothers Charles and Clyde Gibson’s family has lived for generations that the James River begins, with the confluence of the Jackson and the Cowpasture Rivers. In his book, James River Reflections, author Will Daniel describes the birth of the James as seen from the air this way: “the Cowpasture River has a pure greenish color that contrasts sharply to the brown, muddy appearance of the Jackson River. Where they combine to form the James, the colors remain separated, green to the north side and muddy brown on the south side, for a mile or so downriver until they eventually merge,” Everyone should have such colorful relatives!

From its beginning in Botetourt County to Hampton Roads where it flows into the Chesapeake Bay, the James is a ribbon of history. It is called American’s Founding River because our nation began on its banks at the Jamestown settlement, but it is truly Virginia’s river, because the entire river, from its source to its mouth, is located within the state.

In 2009, Richmond Times Dispatch reporter, Rex Springston, wrote a profile of Botetourt County. You can read his article and see a photo essay of the source of the James River here.

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