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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Zebulon Pike Lock and Dam (#11)
ZEBULON PIKE LOCK AND DAM. Major navigational improvement on the Upper MISSISSIPPI RIVER.
Construction of the locks ranks was one of the major construction projects ever attempted. Photo Courtesy: Bob Reding

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 at a dam with locks could be constructed less than a mile above Specht's Ferry. 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 people unemployed. (2) 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. That work was completed on July 21, 1935. Construction of the dam was started on September 30, 1935. 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 closed because no tow boats operated by Inland Waterways Corporation were due to pass at the locks. 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 eleventh of, at the time, twenty-six LOCKS and dams between St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and St. Louis, Missouri, the locks cost $1,470,000 to construct. The dam, at 4,818 feet was one of the largest on the river. The lift section of the dam measured 1,278 feet. The gates were 30 feet high and 55 feet long.

Workers are hardly visible within the soon-to-be-completed lock. Photo Courtesy: Bob Reding
The total cost of the project came to $7,443,000 including land acquisition and site preparation. As many as 1,000 workers were employed at the site at one time. Although it was announced that as many as four deaths could be expected on a project of this size, only two workers were killed. Harold Arendt fell to his death; Ardenal Thompson was fatally struck on the head by a stern-operated clam shovel. (Photo Courtesy: Daniel Callahan)

The lock and dam were dedicated on August 21, 1938. (1) A bottle containing water from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was broken over a concrete wall christening the structure its full title "Lieutenant Zebulon Pike Lock and Dam." 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 regetta, with many boats replicas of pioneer craft, organized by Richard BISSELL was staged and in the evening the last performance of "Under Five Flags," the history of the Upper Mississippi, was performed. (2)

This cottage belonging to CHRISTOPHER CAPRETZ was constructed on an island in the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. The construction of the dam submerged the island and home. Photo courtesy: Paul Lembke



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

1. "Dubuque Dam Dedication is Set for August 21st," 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

2. Ibid.

"Eagle Point Locks, Gates Are Closed, " Telegraph-Herald. Sept. 14, 1937, p. 1 and 9

Special thanks to Joe Schallan.