Winter '07

From the President

By David G. Barber

As I mentioned in the last American Canals, I’ve been reading through some of the histories published by the Corps of Engineers Districts. These have been leading me to locks that are not in our ACS listings and proposals that weren’t built. It’s always interesting to find new sites in areas that would seem to be well documented. I urge everyone to keep looking and documenting.

I’ll use Illinois and Indiana as examples. From information I’ve recently come across, not only was the Wabash and Erie Canal an important artery in Indiana, but the Wabash River on the border between Indiana and Illinois and the tributary While River to Indianapolis were also heavily used by steamboats. This resulted in private and federal efforts to improve those rivers. The greatest obstacle to navigation of the Wabash was the Grand Rapids located just upriver of Mount Carmel, IL and the mouth of the White River. In 1847, the Wabash Navigation Company built a wood crib dam and lock just below the rapids, submerging them. The dam apparently gave way in 1879. In 1885, Congress funded a new stone masonry lock with white oak gates and a wood crib dam built by the Louisville District, Corps of Engineers. The new lock opened in 1894. With help by Bob and Carolyn Schmidt, I found the site of the lock on Google Earth. Guess what? The tree filled lock is still there on the Indiana shore next to a local dirt road. You can see the aerial view on our web site.

In the Twentieth Century, there was a proposal to build the Cross Wabash Waterway. This would have been a locked, barge canal up the Wabash River from the Ohio to a junction in northern Indiana where branches would have run to both Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. Of course, the railroads and the environmentalists were opposed. This never built project sounds like an interesting paper or book.

As part of a long program of improvements on the upper Mississippi River, the Rock Island District made improvements to the river bed at the Rock Island Rapids. Because the channel was on the west side of the river, it was difficult for steamboats to cross the current to Moline, IL on the other bank. So, in December of 1907, the Corps of Engineers’ contractor completed a 325 foot by 80 foot, concrete lock with associated dikes and channels to correct the situation. Concrete was used after the experience gained on the nearby Hennepin Canal. That lock was later made redundant by the nine foot channel Lock and Dam 15 at Rock Island just downstream. But Google Earth shows the lock remains visible at the upstream end of Arsenal Island.

Galena, IL is named for a mineral form of lead that was mined there from early times. At one point, Galena was the busiest port on the upper Mississippi surpassing St. Paul. But, the city and port are seven miles inland from the Mississippi on the Galena River. By the end of the Civil War, the river had become silted. In an act of September 18, 1890, Congress authorized the City of Galena to improve the Galena River from its mouth to a point 800 feet below the Custom House at Galena. Included in the authorization was a dam not more than 12 feet above low water and a lock not less than 280 by 52 feet. The Rock Island District assumed control of the Galena Lock and Dam on March 12, 1894. But, railroads acquired the city’s traffic and the River and Harbor Act of March 3, 1925, directed removal of the dams in the Galena River. Google Earth does not show a lock and I have yet to learn if any walls remain.

My point is that on the edges of one state, Illinois, are three steamboat locks that we have not documented and stories that have not been told. I wonder what can be found elsewhere. There is great opportunity for further research.

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