During the height of the steamboat era, many rivers were once fully navigable, bringing with it passengers and freight to remote settlements that were once all but inaccessible. The advent of the railroad and then the automobile rendered many of the steamboat routes obsolete, and many of the early lock-and-dam systems along these rivers were abandoned. In other cases, the original lock-and-dam systems were replaced by “super dams.”

Kentucky RiverOhio RiverOther


Kentucky River Locks and Dams

The Kentucky River was once fully navigable from the Ohio River at Carrollton to Beattyville. Fourteen locks and dams provided safe passage for passengers and freight alike. Today, only the first four locks to Frankfort are in operation; the remainder have been abandoned or sealed to prevent traffic.

Ohio River Lock No. 34

Ohio River Locks and Dams

There were once 53 wicket dams between the Mississippi River and Pittsburgh that were constructed between 1875 and 1929 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.1 Prior to the erection of the dams, the water levels could reach one to two feet during the summer, making navigation impossible.2 The movable dams maintained a minimum nine foot channel depth. During times of high water, the wickets were lowered and laid flat on the river’s bottom, which allowed boats to travel over the wickets instead of having to enter the locking chamber. A typical dam featured 200 wickets and raising or lowering the wickets could take hours.

Westinghouse Flood Gate

Westinghouse Flood Gate, Pennsylvania

The Westinghouse Flood Gate is located along Turtle Creek near East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a method to prevent catastrophic floods within the Turtle Creek valley.

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  1. United States. Dept. of the Interior. Ohio River Lock and Dam No. 31. Comp. Robert M. Polsgrove. Washington: National Park Service, May 1986. National Park Service. Web. 30 Jan. 2014. Article.
  2. Interpretative signage at Chilo.