A new book exploring the history of the Ohio River’s last two wicket dams is available from the Louisville Engineer District.
“Last of the Old Wicket Dams: A History of Ohio River Locks and Dams 52 and 53: 1928-2018” was printed last month and is available at no cost on a first-come, first served basis. About 200 copies are available to the public.
Copies of the book may be requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and providing the requester’s name and mailing address.
As limited copies are available, a full electronic version of the book may be accessed at https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getfile/collection/p16021coll4/id/440.
The 347-page hard-back book was written by Nicolai Kryloff of Historical Research Associates Inc., who contracted with the Corps for the project. Jared Barrett, archaeologist for the Louisville Engineer District, was the technical point of contact with the contractor and reviewed all aspects of it. From start to finish, the project took two years.
“I feel like the personal stories captured through the oral histories really make the history come alive,” he said.
The Corps gathered histories from 40 different people who lived, worked or were otherwise connected with Dam 52 in Brookport, Ill., and Dam 53 near Olmsted, Ill., he said. The dams were replaced by Olmsted Locks and Dam, which opened in September 2018.
The book also contains hundreds of photographs from the district’s archive, other institutions, including the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, and from former employees, Barrett said. Chapters include the transformation of the Ohio River from 1824 to 1910, building the locks and dams from 1910 to 1929, operating the locks and dams, changes on the river, planning for the Olmsted Locks and Dam and the new dam’s construction and eventual opening. Along the way it also examines unique developments such as the history of the dams’ baseball team and diving program, and delves into how the wickets were operated, Barrett said.
Barrett said he was impressed by the stories of those who kept the locks and dams working long past the end of their design life.
“These things were designed only for 50 years, and we had them for almost 100, so the amazing ability to keep things going over the years, and the people who did it” stood out to him, he said.
The book serves as the official history of Locks and Dams 52 and 53, telling the story of transformation along the Ohio River from a wild and variable body of water to a series of steady pools that provide reliable year-round navigation, according to a short description of the book provided by the Louisville District.
“Along this journey lie compelling stories about the early debates and decision to canalize the river, the construction of the locks and dams, the challenges of operating and maintaining these structures, life on the project reservations and how changes in river commerce ultimately drove the need for new modern structures to replace the original low-lift wicket dams,” according to the description. “As conditions deteriorated at Dams 52 and 53 in the late 1900s, Louisville District employees worked tirelessly to develop innovative solutions to prolong the life of these structures as the construction of the new Olmsted Locks and Dam project progressed. Their efforts were simply heroic. This newly published Louisville District history book seeks to pay tribute to those Louisville District employees.”
Retaining that history is all the more important, given that Locks and Dams 52 and 53 are being demolished so as not to obstruct navigation.
A June 16 navigation notice sent out from the Corps of Engineers notified the public that demolition at the Locks and Dam 52 site, at Ohio River Mile 938.9, is now complete down to an elevation of 284.0 feet (Ohio River Datum) across the width of the river, returning the river to open navigation. The official navigation channel will remain on the Illinois side of the river at the “channel span” of the Interstate 24 and Irvin Cobb bridges. Mariners may choose to navigate on the Kentucky side of the river at the “high water span” at their discretion.
The 42-acre site at Locks and Dam 52, including a remaining pole barn, will be turned over to the Metropolis-Massac Port Authority, as authorized in a provision of the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2020. The conveyance is expected to be finalized in the first half of 2024, according to the Louisville district.
Demolition continues on the land-side wall of the old 1,200-foot lock at the former Locks and Dam 53 site near Olmsted. Final grading is being performed in the area of the beartraps, according to Katelyn Newton, chief of public affairs for the Louisville District. Demolition of the navigable pass and weir section of the wicket dam are completed, as well as the demolition of the fixed weir.