Old Dam 52 at Brookport

With the new Olmsted Dam in operation, we will no longer be able to see

a waterfall at Dam 52. This picture was taken back in 1999 when the

water level was very low.

— Clyde Wills | Metropolis Planet

For some reason, I have spent nearly all of my life living along rivers. And in the Midwest, where there are rivers, there are dams.

Of course, the only reason to build a dam on a river in this part of the country is to have locks. The locking chambers are the important part of the dam.

By living along rivers, I have been able to watch the construction of three dams, and the locking chambers.

My first dam was in Calhoun, Kentucky at Mile 62 on the Green River. The Green is nothing like the Ohio. It is small compared to what we see here in Metropolis. But it is a beautiful river which actually does turn very green in the

summer. It is also deep compared to most of the Ohio where we have seen sandbars at certain times of the year.

The Green River has had dams for many, many years. Even though it has very deep holes, it also used to have shallow places. At Calhoun, Long Falls Creek empties into the Green River. The creek got its name because of the shoal near the mouth of the creek. So a dam was built there to hold back enough

water for the boats to get over the shoal and into the deep hole above


The old dam was technically at Rumsey, a small town across the river from Calhoun. I say that because the lock chamber and the lock master’s house were on the Rumsey side.

When the new dam was built in 1954-55, the lock chamber was moved to the Calhoun side and greatly expanded. The old lock chamber was so small, barges had to be pushed through it one at a time.

The new lock chamber was constructed 600 feet long so four barges and the tows could fit inside all at one time. That greatly sped up the process of getting the boats up and down the river.

The lock and dam we saw constructed in the 50s was probably built because of the need to ship coal out of the Muhlenberg County area. The coal barges kept the Green River Towing Co. busy for years, but now have slowed to a


The demand for western Kentucky high-sulfur coal has greatly diminished.

As a 10-year-old boy I could ride my bicycle to the edge of town and watch the concrete being poured for the new lock and dam.

My next dam was one many of you also watched being built. It is the Smithland Locks and Dam. Since most big dams are built away from cities, they are sometimes constructed without being observed by many people. I did

visit the Smithland Dam on several occasions to take pictures of the progress. I also went down into the bottom of one of the lock chambers before water was let in. The bottom of a lock chamber is a long way down.

To my way of thinking the Smithland Dam should have been named for Dog Island. The construction of the facility wiped out the island that was on the Ohio River.

But for some reason, the Corps of Engineers did not ask me what I


I don’t remember how long it took to build the Smithland Locks and Dam. But it certainly wasn’t 30 years.

So, many people are asking why it took so long to build my third dam, the one at Olmsted. Stories in recent issues of the Planet explained much about the new facility down the river. One of the issues, of course, was a very long time it was under construction.

Two of the reasons include the design changes during construction, and the fact that Congress did not release as much money each year as was expected.

The recent opening celebration of the Olmsted Dam drew about 500 people, including two U.S. Senators and many other officials. They know the importance of this new facility for the river industry. It will greatly speed up deliveries since the tow boats will not have to wait in line to lock through the

Grand Chain and Brookport chambers.

It is a bit sad to think about old locks number 52 and 53 disappearing. The water that was held back when the wickets for the new dam were put up has already changed the look of the river. The sandy shorelines have been covered up, and while crossing the I-24 Bridge, we will no longer be able to see the

waterfall created by the Brookport Dam during low water.

Of course, the water level we are now seeing is not because of the new dam. The high water now is due to the rains upstream. We only had a couple of days last week to see what the new pool stage will look like.

Hopefully in a few days the river will drop back down and we can see

what a normal pool stage will look like.

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