What’s in a Name: The history of Luke Chute

WATERFORD TWP. – Truth may be stranger than fiction, but sometimes fiction tells a more exciting story.

Take Luke Chute, the name of a small community that developed along the Muskingum River in Waterford Township and a lock and dam on the river.

Williams’ “History of Washington County,” published in 1881, says local tradition attributed the origin of the name to a tale of a father and his young son hunting in the early days of the community.

The boy, named Luke, was carrying the gun. Suddenly, the pair saw a bear walking toward them, upright.

“Luke took steady aim but hesitated to fire,” Williams’ “History” recounts. “The father trembled for a moment and then screamed in impatient fright: ‘Luke shoot or give up the gun!’ Luke shot, and the bear dropped dead.”

“It’s colorful. It’s a great story,” said Ernie Thode, with the Washington County Local history and Genealogy Library. “It’s the sort of thing that you would like to be true.”

But the actual origin of the name is a bit more mundane.

According to a collection of articles from the Washington County Historical Society’s “Tallow Light” publication, sometime around 1815, Samuel White and Luke Emerson – that’s right, Luke – built a mill in Windsor Township on the Morgan County side of the river. To power it, they constructed a partial dam over the river.

A historical marker at the lock says this “created a rapid between the shore and the end of the dam, the chute.” According to a brochure for the Muskingum River Water Trail, this made it difficult for local rivermen to push their boats through and they christened the site “Luke Chute” out of spite.

Although the authenticity of this story isn’t really questioned, the one about the boy and the bear still gets told.

Bill Beardsley, 42, of Beverly, said his grandfather, Gerald Beardsley, set him straight on the origin of the name years ago.

“He always would laugh and he’d say, ‘Yeah that’s what people say,’ but it had nothing to do with it,” Beardsley said.

Today there are a couple dozen houses along Luke Chute Road, most of them in the Need’s Green Acres development. Beardsley lived in the area for about five years, on land he bought from his grandfather’s estate.

Beardsley still owns land at Luke Chute, including the large former lockmaster’s house. He said his great-grandmother used to operate it as a boarding house when his grandfather’s stepfather, Lucius L. Robinson, was lockmaster at Luke Chute.

With the revenue from the boarders and Robinson’s salary from a secure government job, he bought up parcels of land around the area during the Great Depression, knowing he wanted to retire there some day, Beardsley said.

In 1958, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned the locks and dams on the Muskingum over to the state of Ohio. Gerald Beardsley came into possession of the lock house in a property trade to give the state access to its new asset and space to build a park. The lock is part of the Muskingum River State Park, and there’s a boat ramp and camping area there today.

Beardsley inherited a lot of photographs from his grandfather’s youth growing up and working on the river. He also has some of the lockmaster records that remained in the old lock house.

Although a history major at Ohio University, Beardsley said he didn’t become interested in local history until more recently. Looking back, he wishes he’d written down more of the stories and history of Luke Chute his grandfather shared with him. He plans to go through the records and artifacts he has and try to get more about the area down on paper.

It’s something Phillip Crane, with the Lower Muskingum Historical Society, said is needed.

“The history doesn’t appear to have ever been written,” he said. “It was a thriving little community at one time, with the steamboat traffic and a post office and the (general) store.”