The story of a forgotten America.

Ohio River Locks & Dams

The Ohio River once had a network of 53 wicket-style dams and locks, which were progressively replaced by larger, more modern structures.

The Ohio River was once home to a network of 53 wicket-style locks, constructed from 1875 to 1929, spanning from the Mississippi River to the Allegheny River. 1 These structures ensured a consistent channel depth of at least nine feet. 4 During high water levels, the wickets could be collapsed to lie flat against the riverbed, enabling boats to pass over them directly. This provided a quicker route as vessels did not need to navigate through the lock chambers.

OhioNo. 31 (Kirkville)191719641964
OhioNo. 32 (Vanceburg)192219641964
OhioNo. 34 (Chilo)192519641964
This is a list of locks and dams along the Ohio River.

Ohio River Lock No. 31

Lock No. 31, built from 1915 to 1917, included a one-story Classical Revival style powerhouse topped with a 60-foot smokestack. 1 Accompanying the powerhouse were two 1½-story bungalows, a seven-bay garage, a blacksmith shop, and a steel water tank. In the 1930s, three additional two-story brick homes were constructed on the site.

The facility became redundant with the completion of the Captain Meldahl Lock and Dam downstream in December 1964. 1 2 Following the opening of the new dam, the old lock chamber and wicket dam at Lock and Dam No. 31 were demolished.

Ohio River Lock No. 32

Lock No. 32, constructed between 1919 and 1922, was established using a box cofferdam and supported by wooden piles that were driven into the ground until they could not be driven any further. 3 Dravo’s Engineering Works Division, based in Pittsburgh, designed, created, and set up thirteen pneumatic steel caissons that were transported 372 miles to the site of the dam.

This lock and dam became redundant with the completion of the Captain Meldahl Lock and Dam downstream in December 1964. 2 3 Following the activation of the new dam, both the lock chamber and the wicket dam at Lock No. 32 were dismantled.

Ohio River Lock No. 34

Lock No. 34 was constructed over a period from 1914 to 1925. 4 The federal government initiated the project by acquiring 14 acres of land, but the main construction activities, led by the National Construction Company, only commenced in 1924. The construction involved the installation of wooden cofferdams which enabled workers to establish the wooden wickets in a dry environment. The project was completed at a cost of $3.336 million and officially opened on October 6, 1925. 4 5

The facility boasted a two-story powerhouse surrounded by nine residential houses, an eight-bay garage, a maintenance shed, a paint locker, and other auxiliary buildings. 4 5 The dam itself was equipped with 200 wickets, each of which required several hours of manual labor to raise or lower. The dam’s lock chamber was sizable, measuring 600 feet in length and 110 feet in width.

The powerhouse was equipped with two air tanks on its third floor, which were used to operate the roller gates of the lock chamber. 4 Additionally, there were equipment doors on the same floor, paired with a pulley system, to hoist machinery into the powerhouse. In times of flooding, this system was also employed by the residents to elevate their belongings to safety above the flood levels.

This lock and dam system was eventually deemed outdated with the completion of the Captain Meldahl Lock downstream in December 1964. 2 3 The newer and larger Meldahl facility maintained a regular river pool level of 37 feet, which led to the decommissioning and removal of the older lock and wickets shortly thereafter. 3



  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. “Captain Meldahl Locks and Dam.” US Army Corps of Engineers. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2014. Article.
  3. O’Bannon, Patrick W. “Caissons.” Working in the Dry: Cofferdams, In-River Construction, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Pittsburgh: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, 2009. 44-45. US Army Corps of Engineers. Web. 30 Jan. 2014. Book.
  4. Interpretative signage.
  5. Rains, Laura. “Unlocking memories: Chilo No. 34 Park visitors center, museum opens.” Ledger Independent [Maysville], 24 Aug. 2005.

Leave your comment!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Introducing the new 2024 Abandoned Kentucky calendar, a captivating journey through the hidden gems of the Bluegrass State.