Edward Cooch has strong feelings about the Christina River. That's understandable considering that he grew up literally on its banks, fished it, swam in it and rode his pony around it.

While it is not hard to find people whose childhood memories bring about nostalgic attachment to a variety of geographic features, Cooch is out of the ordinary in that his are only the latest in a series of memories which go back more than 250 years. Col. Thomas Cooch, his wife and two children settled along the river in Pencader Hundred in 1746.

Edward Cooch is the seventh generation in direct descendancy from Thomas Cooch. His entire line has lived in the sane house, the oldest part of which Thomas built in 1760. A small but significant

Revolutionary War battle -- the only battle ever on Delaware soil -- was fought alongside a wooden bridge, the ancestor of the present span over the Christina just a few feet from Cooch's driveway.

That would seem to qualify Cooch to claim that his familial association with the Christina may be the longest of any in this nation. However, he will not boast of such a distinction even with regard to the local stream. "I've never researched that. Just say we're one of the oldest families," he said.

One would expect a man with that pedigree, who happens to be 82 years

Still bearing a resemblance downstream to the industrial artery it once was, the Christina becomes idyllic as it meanders through New Castle County upstream of Newport.

old, to content himself with enthralling young'uns with tales of times gone by -- perhaps in the role of a latter day Mark Twain whose affinity for a much larger river produced masterpieces in American literature.

Edward Cooch is not a man given to such leisure. He is still active with the Cooch & Taylor law firm and can be found in his Wilmington office most days. He similarly spurns passivity when it comes to his favorite river. He has been president of the Christina Conservancy for 22 years.

He describes the mission of that organization as "to preserve, protect and urge wise usage" of the river and to support a vision for its future.

The conservancy is one of the sponsors of the annual Christina Cleanup, the 12th edition of which will take place on Mar. 29 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. There will be ancillary cleanups on Naamans Creek in Brandywine Hundred and at Fox Point State Park.

Cooch said participation each year ranges between 600 and 1,200 volunteers of all ages, from primary school through senior citizens, depending on the weather.

"Last year, we took out 165 tons of trash. I expect to do about the same this year," he said. Worn tires comprise the largest category of rubbish, but there is no limit to the variety of items tossed into the river or discarded along its banks. "People terribly. They throw away an enormous amount of trash," he explained.

The cleanup is important as a tangible demonstration of renewed interest in the Christina, which author C.A. Westlogger dubbed 'the forgotten river' and residents today tend to regard as 'the other river' a distant second in prominence to the Brandywine.

That is despite the fact that the original Swedish and Finnish settlers stepped first into the New World on rocks several hundred yards upstream from the Delaware and decided to name their waterway after their monarch, Queen Christina, Cooch explained. The river's name was later corrupted to Christiana, but has been restored to the original form, although the village and the retail mall nearby retain the corruption.

Colonists used the river, then navigable to the mouth of White Clay Creek,  upstream of what is now Newport, as an avenue of trade with the Indians. In later years, heavy industry -- the Dravo and Pusey & Jones shipyards and Harlan & Hollingsworth, to name a few -- located on its banks.

Those establishments are gone now, but in their place is emerging a recreation and retail area, with activities ranging from sports to art, and in the relatively near future, a wildlife conservation area to be named for former Governor Russell Peterson.

Cooch isn't one to further a rivalry between the rivers, noting that both are area assets which should be reclaimed as needed and preserved for another seven generations or more. But he can't resist a last word on behalf of the one associated with his family.

"Remember, the Brandywine is really a tributary of the Christina," he said.

Posted on March 24, 2003

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See related article: THE WAY IT WAS -- the Christina Riverfront
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