"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
ZEBULON PIKE LOCK AND DAM
In 1929 Congress authorized the construction of locks and dams on the Upper MISSISSIPPI RIVER. The purpose was to maintain a nine-foot deep channel enabling barges and other river craft to use the river through the season of open water. (1) In 1933 a survey indicated that a dam with locks could be constructed less than a mile above Specht's Ferry. (2) An Army Corps of Engineers report, however, found that the river bedrock was not suitable. A second survey indicated that Dubuque would be a good alternative. In addition, the project would provide jobs for many unemployed people. (3) In late 1933 a precise location for the construction was chosen upstream from the EAGLE POINT BRIDGE.
Work on the lock and dam, named for famed explorer Zebulon Montgomery PIKE, began in 1933 with the construction of the locks. Workers earned thirty-five to fifty cents per hour with skilled labor making $1.25. A cofferdam was first constructed around the site of the lock and the area was inside pumped dry for the workmen.
Construction of the dam was started on September 30, 1935. Steel plates were driven up to forty-five feet below the river bed and sixteen chain operated roller and "Tainter" gates were erected to hold back the water. The finished lock measured 600 by 110 feet. The dam was 1,276 feet long in addition to the levee that extended the rest of the way to the Wisconsin shore. (6)
The facility was first put into operation on September 13, 1937 when W. A. Turner, the resident engineer and lock master of the dam, pressed a button closing the last of the thirteen tainter gates. The day was chosen because no tow boats operated by Inland Waterways Corporation were due. It was expected that the locks would be fully functional three days after the gates were lowered. Small pleasure boats were not stopped. A small spot on the Wisconsin side of the dam was left open for their passage. The water there was three feet deep.
The lock and dam were dedicated on August 21, 1938. (8) Miss Hazel Skemp, the centennial queen, broke a bottle containing water from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans over a concrete wall christening the structure. (9) Speeches made from the deck of the steamer "Ellen" belonging to the Army Corps of Engineers were broadcast from speakers on shore and in EAGLE POINT PARK. A regatta, with many replicas of pioneer craft, was organized by Richard BISSELL. In the evening the last performance of "Under Five Flags," the history of the Upper Mississippi, was performed. (10)
In 1940 the J. T. McCarthy Company of Davenport entered the lowest bid of $136,239.70 for the construction of a 700-foot extension of the locks upstream. This guide wall was designed to cut down on the swift cross-currents above the dam which made locking of boats dangerous. Prior to construction of the wall, pilots had to enter the locks at an angle, then flank to align their tows with the lock. If not carried out properly, the maneuver could lead to a tow carried out of control and slamming into the dam. (11)
On June 21, 1993 Lock and Dam 11 was shut down for the first time in eighteen years. (12) Exceptionally high water caused transportation disruption along the entire river.
An estimated 291,000 people visited the lock and dam in 1996 to view the operation. With years of interest in the site, a visitor center in 1997 was completed at the lock and dam along with an additional 25 parking spaces and an area for easy turning around. (13) On September 2, 2001 a DUBUQUE RACING ASSOCIATION grant of $1,300 allowed the local Audubon Society to purchase a 20 power telescope for viewing birds from the visitor center. (14) Nine days later, however, following terrorist attacks in New York, the entire area was closed to the public. (15) It was later reopened.
After decades of use, Lock and Dam 11 made the Army Corps of Engineers list for repair projects in 1996. (16) In 2006 a $26.9 million rehabilitation project began to replace the structure's electrical system, resurface the lock chamber, repair concrete on the upper and lower guide walls, and replace the lock machinery. (17)
Workers replaced mitre gates which control the water level in the lock on May 2, 2018. Cracks had been discovered during a routine inspection. These were considered temporary repairs. That work was in addition to the scheduled closings for mitre gate replacements on May 8th and 10th. (18) On May 4, 2018 perhaps the greatest threat to the lock and dam occurred. In the afternoon, a group of twelve barges broke apart from the towboat and struck the dam. One of the barges went over the dam on Saturday morning while two others filled with corn and beans sank above the dam. Damage to the dam was not known four days later. The announcement was made that efforts to raise the sunken barges would not be made until the water level dropped. (19)
1. "Forty Years of Service: That's Some 'Boondoggle'" Telegraph Herald, July 24, 1977, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=UNFBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OKoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3721,2874769&dq=zebulon+pike+lock+and+dam+dubuque&hl=en
2. "Lock and Dam Will be Built at Eagle Point," Telegraph Herald, October 11, 1933, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=8f9BAAAAIBAJ&sjid=U6oMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4301,1324218&dq=lock+and+dam+dubuque&hl=en
3. Kruse, Len. My Old Dubuque, Dubuque, Iowa: Center for Dubuque History, Loras College, 2000, p. 68
4. "Forty Years of Service...."
5. "Clear Island to Make Way for Dam Here," Telegraph Herald, September 29, 1935, p. 25
6. "Dubuque Area About All Set," Telegraph Herald, May 5, 1939, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=S95BAAAAIBAJ&sjid=AaoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2796,1953161&dq=lock+and+dam+dubuque&hl=en
8. "Dubuque Dam Dedication is Set for August 21st," Telegraph-Herald, August 7, 1938, p. 20. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=sNtBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=3akMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6870,4631540&dq=zebulon+pike+lock+and+dam+dubuque&hl=en
11. "Davenport Firm is Low Bidder," Telegraph Herald, May 29, 1940, p. 7
12. Hanson, Lyn. "Dubuque Gridlock Halts Barges, Boats," Telegraph Herald, July 10, 1993, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=X2VFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NrwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5676,1972166&dq=lock+and+dam+dubuque&hl=en
13. "Visitor Center to be Finished This Fall at Lock and Dam 11," Telegraph Herald, March 26, 1987, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=M5VSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=8ssMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3838,4554899&dq=lock+and+dam+dubuque&hl=en
14. Reber, Craig. "Telescope Is for the Birds; But It's Up Close and Personal," Telegraph Herald, September 2, 2001, p. 14. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=f4xdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=f1wNAAAAIBAJ&pg=6372,213922&dq=lock+and+dam+dubuque&hl=en
15. "Lock and Dam Closed to Public," Telegraph Herald, September 15, 2001, p. 3A
16. Krapfl, Mike. "Corps Talks Repairs for Lock & Dam 11," Telegraph Herald, October 16, 1996, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=HVZFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1rsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5440,2591517&dq=lock+and+dam+dubuque&hl=en
17. Reber, Craig. "Lock Undergoing Rehabilitation," Telegraph Herald, February 23, 2006, p. 3A. Online: http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=DQ&p_theme=dq&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=10FF873FAB12A838&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM
18. "Lock and Dam Closed for Work," Telegraph Herald, May 2, 2018, p. 5A
19. "2 Sunken Barges Remain After Pileup at Lock and Dam No. 11," Telegraph Herald, May 8, 2018, p. 3A
Special thanks to Joe Schallan.