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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"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.


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Zebulon Pike Lock and Dam (#11)
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 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 people unemployed. (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 inside pumped dry for the workmen. Residents of KIMBALL'S PARK meanwhile began plans for evacuation. (4)

To create the pool that would exist behind the dam, workmen labored through the winter sawing and removing trees from nine acres of bottom land. It was feared that the dead trees would finally collapse and fall into the water. Floating downstream, they could obstruct the machinery operating the locks. Much of the timber was burned. (5)

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)

It is not generally remembered that President Franklin Roosevelt was being severely criticized at this time. River traffic had been declining, and critics believed such projects as the lock and dam were a waste of money. (7)

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.

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.

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 regetta, with many boats 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)

On June 21, 1993 Lock and Dam 11 was shut down for the first time in eighteen years. (11) Exceptionally high water caused transportation disruption along the entire river.

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
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. (12) 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 viewing birds from the visitor center. (13) Nine days later, however, following terrorist attacks in New York, the entire area was closed to the public. (14) It was later reopened.

After decades of use, Lock and Dam 11 made the Army Corps of Engineers list for repair projects in 1996. (15) 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 guidewalls, and replace the lock machinery. (16)



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. "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

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. "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

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. 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

12. "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

13. 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

14. "Lock and Dam Closed to Public," Telegraph Herald, September 15, 2001, p. 3A

15. 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

16. 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

Special thanks to Joe Schallan.