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What is Crowley's Ridge?

Crowley's Ridge is the most distinctive feature of the landscape of southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas.

This unique ride is essentially an upland in the middle of an ocean of land. It is all that remains of once vast uplands that were as high as the Ozarks to the West. During the last glacial period there were enormous meltwaters that scoured this region. Crowley's Ridge, for a variety of reasons, survived this massive erosion, and remains today as testimony that something major happened here.
In that ancient time the great trough of the Mississippi was west of the ridge, the Ohio on the east. Eventually the waters of the Mississippi cut through and joined the Ohio, the two rivers becoming one, and they moved east of the ridge.

The scoured troughs on either side of the ridge absorbed the water that came from the watersheds of the north, forming the greatest swamp or wetland in North America when this region was settled by Europeans. Since that time Crowley's Ridge, named for Benjamin Crowley, one of the first European residents of the ridge, has been the highway through, and focal point of the historic and cultural life of the region.
Crowley's Ridge begins just below Cape Girardeau and extends south to Helena, Arkansas. Although it averages only three to twelve miles across, its height, up to 300 feet above the flat lowland, makes it the most prominent feature of the landscape of the Mississippi Valley from Cape Girardeau to the Gulf of Mexico. Today it is the home of small farms, extensive pasture lands, orchards, county seats, sand and gravel quarries -- the source of much of the kitty litter produced in America. The isolation of the ridge made it the refuge of a number of plants that are now identified as endangered.

The ridge continues to play a vital role in the region. And, that role is diverse. For some it is important for the peaches it produces. For others it is important as a transportation route. For all, it is a source of history and culture.
Center for Regional History
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Last modified   07/18/2009

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