The Old Lock & Dam System On The Kanawha

Lock 6 Kanawha River

The photo above is Lock 6, still locally famous today for it's pier fishing and Marina.  Lock 6 is located between South Charleston and North Charleston.  Here you see North Charleston to the right in the photo.

In 1819, the steamboat Robert Thompson ascended the Kanawha River for the purpose of ascertaining whether it was navigational to Charleston. The voayage continued as far as Red House Shoals, in present-day Putnam County, where two days were spent in a vain effort to pass the rapids, and the boat returned to the Ohio; the officers reported to the Virginia Assembly the result of the experimental voyage, and that body in 1820, made the first appropriation for the improvement of the river. Before the first lock system was completed in 1898, the river had ten separate rapids or shoals between Charleston and Point Pleasant. They were all well-known to river men but still caused numerous wrecks, often resulting in the loss of lives and cargoes. Johnson Shoals at Scary Creek and Red House Shoals between present Red House and Winfield were the most treacherous.

 In 1820, the Albert Donnally, built for salt manufacturers located along the Kanawha Saltines, ascended to Charleston and the traffic by river thereafter steadily increased.

Following the creation of West Virginia in 1863, the State took charge of the Kanawha River and created a Kanawha board to carry on this improvement and collect tolls as the James River and Kanawha Company had been doing. It was not until 1870 that work was begun on a regular system of locks and dams upon action of Congress.

Between 1875 and 1898, ten low-lift wicket dams with single-lock chambers were built on
the river by the federal government. The first two units of this system were the first
movable wicket dams completed in the United States, and when the system was completed,
the Kanawha was the nation’s first river to be completely canalized with wicket dams.

 This system was were replaced in the early-1930s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with four high lift dams with German roller gates.

*Moveable wicket dams* were invented by Jacques Chanoine of the French Corps of Engineers, in 1852.  His design was modified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to serve the needs of Ohio and Kanawah river navigation. 

Chanoine wickets are timbers bolted together that somewhat resembled huge wooden ironing boards laid flat against masonry foundations at high water which left an open channel for navigation. They could be raised on end at low water to form a dam. Each dam actually consists of a row of 300 or more little dams, individually hinged to a foundation on the river bottom. The wickets are constructed of heavy timber about 4 feet wide and up to 20 feet long. Raising or lowering the wickets is done by a crew on a maneuver boat that moves along the upstream face of the dam. A bar is connected to the back of each wicket with the free end riding in a groove in the foundation. To raise them, a grapple hooks a wicket and pulls it from the bed of the river. The bar slides up the groove to a niche, where it catches and supports the wicket upright against the flow of the river.


Wicket Dam On The Kanawha River

This Wicket is being built on the Kanawha River, and is most likely Lock 6.

Wicket Dam On The Kanawha



Lock 6 was in North/South Charleston, where the Marina is today.
Lock 7 was near the mouth of the Coal River. .....  1898
Lock 8 was 4 miles above Winfield......................  1898
Lock 9 was near Frasier's Bottom. ........................1893
Lock 10 was 2 1/2 miles below Buffalo..................1893
Lock 11 was near Point Pleasant.

The Elk River had a single lock and dam, built approximately two miles above its junction with the Kanawha in 1848. This structure was removed in 1881. Beginning in 1855, eight locks and dams were built on the Coal River, another Kanawha tributary, and a single lock and dam was built on the Little Coal River. More than a half-million tons of cannel coal was shipped on the Coal River before and shortly after the Civil War. The system was abandoned in 1882.

William Price Craighill (July 1, 1833 – January 18, 1909) was born in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia). He was an author, Union Army engineer in the American Civil War, and later served as Chief of Engineers.

A classmate of Philip Sheridan, John Bell Hood, and James B. McPherson, he ranked second in the United States Military Academy class of 1853 and was commissioned in the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

When the Corps began to build locks and dams on the Kanawha River in West Virginia in 1875, Craighill assumed charge there as well. He completed the first of the moveable wicket dams built in the United States, after visiting France to study their use. 

He  died in Charles Town, West Virginia.  Burial: Zion Episcopal Churchyard , Charles Town  Jefferson County West Virginia, USA [unmarked]


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