In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Ohio River Engineering
  • Eira Tansey

While it is not easy to see much of the contemporary engineering of the Ohio River from any of the most popular riverfront sightseeing spots, the significant dam and lock infrastructure that was built up- and downriver from Cincinnati a century ago has dramatically shaped the relationship between the city and its environment, as well as the region’s river-based commerce.

Between the late 1800s and the early 1900s, a series of fifty locks and dams were created along the Ohio River to achieve a consistent depth of nine feet through the entirety of the river. Overseen by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the system was implemented largely to improve the commercial navigation of the river for the transportation of goods. Over much of the twentieth century, half of the tonnage shipped along the Ohio River consisted of coal.1


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Flood at Fernbank, Ohio, January 1937. Collection US-08-04, Archives & Rare Books Library, University of Cincinnati.

As vessels and commerce needs changed, and as the initial locks and dams completed in the 1920s became obsolete, a new system of locks and dams consolidated the earlier structures between the 1950s and 1970s. The two structures that currently bookend the Cincinnati area are the Meldahl Dam (thirty-four miles upriver) and the Markland Dam (sixty miles downriver). [End Page 68]


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Working inside of new bulkhead or steel coffer at Dam 37, September 1935. Collection US-08-04, Archives & Rare Books Library, University of Cincinnati.


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Pass Coffer #2 Looking West, Wickets Being Lowered at Dam 38, November 1923. Collection US-08-04, Archives & Rare Books Library, University of Cincinnati.

Two small collections at the University of Cincinnati’s Archives and Rare Books Library document the construction of the first system of lock and dam structures. The first is the Ohio River Dam Project Records (US-86-14), and the second is the Army Corps of Engineers Ohio River Division Records (Collection [End Page 69] US-08-04). Both contain photographs, correspondence, and other records of engineering projects on the Ohio, Kentucky, Monongahela, and Kanawha Rivers. The material in the two collections is dated between 1919 and 1950, though the bulk of the construction documentation is from the 1920s. The collections also contain some information about the 1937 flood, including photos from around the Sayler Park area of Cincinnati and an extensive report on the flooding around the Kentucky River.


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Aerial View of Dam 39 at Markland, Indiana, September 1925. Collection US-08-04, Archives & Rare Books Library, University of Cincinnati.

The collections include extensive photographic documentation of the construction and repairs made to Dams 37 and 38. Dam 37 was in Fernbank, Ohio in Hamilton County (today part of Cincinnati’s westernmost neighborhood, Sayler Park). When the dam was completed in 1911, it was the largest concrete-and-steel wicket dam in the world.2 Dam 38 was in Maxville, Kentucky, in Boone County (sometimes also known as McVille, but today known as Belleview, not to be confused with Bellevue in Campbell County). The Markland Dam structure, completed in 1964, replaced both dams.3 [End Page 70]


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Dam 38 at Maxville, Kentucky, Undated. Collection US-86-14, Archives & Rare Books Library, University of Cincinnati.

The Archives and Rare Books Library also holds several publications related to the history of the Ohio River, as well as many archival collections documenting the built and natural environment of the Greater Cincinnati region.4

Eira Tansey
Archives and Rare Books Library, University of Cincinnati

Footnotes

1. US Army Corps of Engineers, Ohio River Navigation: Past Present Future (Cincinnati: US Army Corps of Engineers, Ohio River Division, 1979), available online at the USACE Digital Library, https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16021coll4/id/61/.

2. “The Largest Movable Wicket Dam,” Scientific American, Sept. 2, 1911, 204.

3. “Markland Locks and Dam,” US Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District website, accessed Jan. 22, 2021, https://www.lrl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Navigation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2377-0600
Print ISSN
1544-4058
Pages
pp. 68-71
Launched on MUSE
2021-04-15
Open Access
No
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