Morley Ford as it looks today
As I write this we have been experiencing a lot of rain the past few days. The section of the Rocky River that I drive along to and from my office has risen to the top of its banks and is a muddy brown, full of swirling eddies and rushing water as it makes its way to Lake Erie. I have the choice of several bridges on which I can travel as I cross from one side of the river to the other on the Valley Parkway and local roads. But some crossing spots provide a ford instead of a bridge. When the river runs wild like this the rangers often have to close the road for safety reasons.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the noun ford as “a shallow part of a river, stream, etc., that may be crossed by walking or driving across it.” This definition refers to a natural feature, but humans often aid the process by creating a structure to facilitate traffic at these places. That is exactly what the engineers charged with creating the new Cleveland Metropolitan Park System did in the 1920s.
Autos cross an unidentified ford in the 1920s
For obvious reasons, fords are less expensive than bridges, both in terms of labor and construction materials. They also can be built in a shorter period of time. Park engineers were faced with several thousand acres of new park lands and little to no infrastructure, so constructing fords made sense. Rocky River, in particular, needed several fords as the Valley Parkway through the Rocky River Reservation took shape.
Fords aren't just for cars. Horses and riders on the "Big Ride" in 1953
A few fords still exist in the park, but most of the original fords are long gone. Because, while there are advantages to building fords, as opposed to bridges, there are also obvious drawbacks. The major obstacle is the river itself. In dry weather, when the river is low fords are kind of a fun way to cross the water, keeping you close to the action, so to speak. But when the ice melts and the spring rains come the fords disappear under whirling water and the fording the river becomes a dangerous enterprise. Heavy snowfall in the winter can also make a ford hard or impossible to cross. By the 1960s most of the fords had been replaced with bridges, and the fords that remain were reconstructed and modernized so that they resemble low bridges more than traditional fords. According to John Kilgore in our engineering department one big difference was that “the original form of the ford was to have ALL the flow going over the riverbed. Active fords now have the dry weather flow going under the driving surface.”
Scenic Park Bridge replaced the ford in 1959
One of the best spots to see the remains of an old ford is the Morley Ford on the Valley Parkway in Rocky River Reservation. This ford is just south of Tyler Barn and field, on the east side of the road. It’s also a popular fishing spot. The Morley Ford Loop Trail is a short trail at the ford that takes you through the flood plain forest and along the river for some great views of the cliffs. Check it out next time you’re in the area.
Up close and personal at Morley Ford after a couple of weeks of dry weather
The old stone retaining wall contrasted with the modern, concrete bridge.