Look Back: Locks, dams change look of Ohio River

A view of Ohio River Lock #18 at Vienna that hasn’t been seen since 1910 when the lock was completed. (Photo Provided)

Dam No. 18

The preliminary work on dam No. 18, the new government dam to be constructed in the Ohio is underway.

The location of this dam is near the head of Vienna [Neale’s] Island, extending from the S.S. Stone farm to Constitution [Ohio]. It will be a movable dam, similar to the Davis Island dam a few miles below Pittsburgh. It will be the most complete affair of the kind that has yet been constructed along the Ohio River. Its estimated cost is above one million dollars, and as it is near the city, Parkersburg will reap considerable benefit during its construction.

A corps of engineers arrived here several weeks ago, as already noted in the SENTINEL. They have since been engaged in making preliminary surveys and estimates. These are nearly completed. Agreements have also been entered into with the owners for the land to be used for the shore ends of the dam and details of that character have been settled through Mr. Hall, the engineer who has headquarters in this city.

The C.P. Presler Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati have a force of men at work drilling test wells at various points in the river where the dam is to be located, to ascertain the depth necessary for a solid foundation.

When these tests are completed it will be but a brief time until the active work on the construction of the dam will be begun. A small army of men will be employed and probably several years will be consumed.

The Parkersburg Sentinel

Oct. 23, 1901


Lock 18 Model for the World

Lock and dam number 18 is built of monolithic Portland cement concrete without any stone masonry — the first of its exact kind, not only in Ohio, but in the world. Europe, as well as America, had been experimenting, and lock 18 seemed to reach the ideal, and it has since been accepted by the Government as the pattern; and was copied in the construction of the locks in the Panama Canal.

The location of Lock 18 had already been selected at Vienna Island [Neale’s] before the arrival of Mr. Hall [the engineer], and he at once recommended that it be changed to the present site for economic reasons, but his recommendation was opposed. Standing one day in front of the old Jackson Hotel on the corner of Third and Market streets, General William Bixley, United States Engineer, emphatically declared that the site had already been selected and that there would be no change. But he went to his office in Cincinnati and began studying the situation, and ordered an examination of the site recommended by Mr. Hall, which resulted in the change being made to the present location. [Note” Ms. Lowther’s article goes on to say that relocating the lock and dam upriver saved the government over $200,000.]

Excerpt from The Parkersburg News by Minnie Kendall Lowther

Aug. 4, 1939


With the completion of the new Belleville Lock and Dam in 1968, Ohio River Locks #20 (Belleville), #19 (Washington), #18 Vienna and Lock #17 (Willow Island) were removed.)


Bob Enoch is president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society. If you have comments or questions about Look Back items, please contact him at: roberteenoch@gmail.com, or by mail at WCHPS, PO Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102.


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