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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.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Mississippi River Channel

CHANNEL. The navigable portion of a river. Concern about the ability to move commerce along the MISSISSIPPI RIVER began as early as 1819. Congress then authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make studies of the Upper Mississippi. Federal appropriations for the first clearing of the river were made based on the recommendations of Stephen H. Long, director of the first study.

The first dredging of a channel on the Upper Mississippi was authorized by Congress in 1878. The completed channel was to have a depth of 4.5 feet from St. Paul, Minnesota, southward to St. Louis, Missouri.

Competition became fierce between the RAILROADS and river boatmen by the end of the nineteenth century. The relatively shallow channel allowed only small boats to use the river. To enable larger boats capable of carrying more cargo to use the river, Congress authorized deepening the channel to six feet in 1907. This improvement proved almost immediately insufficient.

On August 1, 1933 the Public Works Administration made an immediate allotment of $11.5 million f9r a nine-foot channel on the upper Mississippi. The allocation was principally to carry on until August 1, 1934 work which had already been started. It was estimated that the project could be completed for $116 million including the amount paid on August 1. (1)

To prevent periods of low water from spoiling the new channel, twenty-eight navigation LOCKS and dams were constructed along the length of the river north of St. Louis. This system, including the construction of the ZEBULON PIKE LOCK AND DAM at Dubuque, was completed in 1940. See: LESURE LUMBER COMPANY. (Photo Courtesy: http://www.dubuquepostcards.com)

See: John CUNNINGHAM (Judge)

George Benjamin BURCH



1. "9-Foot Channel Given O.K. by Public Works," Telegraph-Herald, August 1, 1933, p. 1