The Great Kanawha Navigation

The Great Kanawha Navigation

Emory L. Kemp
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 312
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    The Great Kanawha Navigation
    Book Description:

    The vision of a central waterway connecting tidewater Virginia with the Ohio River to rival the Erie Canal persisted for decades during the 19th century. The idea was at first fostered by the commonwealth of Virginia and then reincarnated as the Central Water Line, which was endorsed by the federal government. It was a grand vision, and though never implemented, the Great Kanawha Navigation nevertheless became a highly successful regionally controlled waterway that developed the rich resources of the Kanawha Valley. Emory Kemp has compiled a comprehensive history of navigation on the Great Kanawha River, detailing the industrial archaeology of this waterway from the early 19th century, and offering a detailed case study of a major 19th- and early 20th-century civil engineering project that would significantly advance the nation's industrial development.Using the early unsuccessful attempts to connect the James River and western waters as a background,The Great Kanawha Navigationemphasizes technological innovation and construction of navigational structures on the river. With the river men championing open navigation during favorable stages of the river, and at the same time clamoring for controls to ensure navigation during periods of low flow, the Corps of Engineers responded with the concept of the movable dam to provide a cost-effective means of moving bulk cargo, especially coal, salt, lumber, cement, and chemicals, along nearly 100 miles of the Great Kanawha River.The Great Kanawha Navigationemployed a series of ten locks and dams and became a laboratory for the use of movable dams in the United States, using first the French Chanoine shutter wicket dam and then the German Roller Gate dam. The innovative technology of the ten dams, the volume of freight carried and the management of the system by the Corps of Engineers made this one of the most significant public works in the nation. Each of the two systems provided cost-effective and environmentally sound means to tap the rich mineral resources of the Kanawha Valley. By any measure, the Great Kanawha Navigation has been one of the more successful ventures of the Corps of Engineers; Kemp has provided extensive photographs, illustrations, diagrams, and maps to further emphasize the construction of the various hydraulic structures. The result is an interesting and significant blend of biographical, technical, political, geographical, and industrial history that will delight historians of technology and the region.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7392-8
    Subjects: Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. VII-X)
    Robert F. Maslowski

    Dr. Emory Kemp has skillfully drawn together technical, historical, and archival materials on the Kanawha Navigation Project and presented them in a book that will be of special interest to historians, industrial archeologists, and engineers, as well as of general interest to the reading public. Beginning with Albert Gallatin’s 1808 report on “Internal Improvements,” and continuing with the planning of the James River and Kanawha River Canal and the Great American Central Water Line, Dr. Kemp weaves a fascinating story. It incorporates a detailed history of the technology as well as the national, regional, and local politics and economics that...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XI-XII)
  5. Part I: Chanoine Wicket Dams and Locks
    • Introduction: An Old and Contrary River
      (pp. 3-4)

      From the time of the earliest European settlements in what is now southern West Virginia, the Great Kanawha River has been the principal artery of commerce, partly because of its singular geology. The geologic predecessor to the Great Kanawha River was the Teays River, an immense drainage system stretching from North Carolina to eastern Illinois and called more precisely by geologists the Teays-Mahomet River. During the uplifting of the land that formed the Appalachian Mountains, the river cut a path through successive ridges, crossed the more level parts of Ohio and Indiana, and emptied into the Mississippi drainage basin in...

    • CHAPTER ONE The Internal Improvements Movement in Virginia
      (pp. 5-14)

      Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, presented a report to Congress in 1808 on internal improvements, which was the first attempt to involve the federal government in the national improvements that were expected to stimulate trade and industrial development. In a larger sense they would also be the instrument for cementing a more perfect union of the former colonies in the new republic.¹

      In the case of Virginia, the vision of connecting the eastern-flowing rivers, which emptied into the Atlantic Ocean, with the Ohio drainage system, first arose not in 1808 but during the colonial period. Until the advent of...

    • CHAPTER TWO A View from the Western Waters
      (pp. 15-22)

      Many had anticipated that the Central Water Line would be a large public work symbolic of the reconstruction in the South. The overly ambitious project, however, foundered in financial and engineering difficulties. Instead, the Kanawha became one of the tributaries feeding water-borne traffic westward into the Ohio-Mississippi system. The lack of a direct connection with the Atlantic tidewater did not prevent the Great Kanawha River navigation from becoming a highly profitable venture and a vital link in the movement of commercial traffic on the western waters. As they planned improvements to the Kanawha through a series of locks and dams,...

    • CHAPTER THREE Movable Dams
      (pp. 23-41)

      The French movable dams were seen as a system that would permit open navigation on the Ohio and Kanawha while at the same time extending the navigation season by providing a slackwater system analogous to a series of steps from one pool level to another. By the 1870s it was clear to the Corps of Engineers that the development of sluice navigation, even with reservoirs on non-navigable tributaries, would not sustain the increasing coal traffic, both in terms of the numbers of tows plying the Kanawha River and the size of the individual tows and lumber rafts. The tows consisted...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The First Kanawha Locks and Dams
      (pp. 42-82)

      The Kanawha River improvement, under construction for more than two decades, was completed in 1898. Many engineers were involved in the design and construction of this great public work, together with civilian building contractors and of course the legion of anonymous workmen. The contractors are known only in a corporate sense on the basis of available official documents. In contrast, biographical information is readily available on the military engineers involved in the project, together with details of the career of Addison Scott, the only senior civilian engineer in a position of leadership.¹ Addison Scott emerges as the leading engineer; he...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Operations for More Than Two Decades
      (pp. 83-92)

      In a confidential report prepared in 1926, the expenditures for construction, operation, and maintenance of the Kanawha system were estimated. Construction cost approximately $4,072,100, while operating expenses from 1880 to 1926 amounted to $3,047,100, giving a total of $7,119,200. The report declared the direct saving to shippers using the navigation system exceeded this total figure by $8,249,000, or approximately $15.4 million.¹ By 1926, however, the savings were about equal to the operating and maintenance costs if the capital invested in the system were not figured into the total. Coal continued to represent the vast majority of tonnage shipped on the...

  6. Part II: Roller Gated Dams and Locks
    • Introduction: The Prelude to a New Navigation System
      (pp. 95-101)

      Engineers of the Huntington District had become concerned during the late 1920s with the deteriorating condition of Locks and Dams 4 and 5. They were the oldest in the Kanawha system, having been completed in 1880, and the dams used a traditional wood-crib structure lacking in durability. Expensive rehabilitation work would be necessary to keep the navigation above Charleston in operation. Another, far better, proposal emerged in the late 1920s, as the Corps completed its nine-foot channel project on the Ohio River to deepen the Kanawha navigation channel to the same depth as the Ohio’s.

      On February 17, 1928, the...

    • CHAPTER SIX Design of the Locks and Dams
      (pp. 102-139)

      The first set of locks and dams on the Kanawha, as well as the four constructed in the 1930s, adopted foreign designs for movable structures to be mounted on top of fixed-crest dams. In the first case, it was the French Chanoine wicket; in the second, it was the German roller-gate system licensed to the Dravo Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thus, the Corps of Engineers did not have a direct role in the conception or design of these movable systems. Its role was to adapt these systems to traditional construction techniques perfected by the Corps over a number of years....

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Work at London and Marmet Begins
      (pp. 140-168)

      The General Contracting Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, received the contract for the construction of Lock A at Marmet with a low bid of $968,802.¹ Within three weeks of the opening of bids for the Marmet locks and dam, bids were invited for the first lock at the London site, with a stipulation that they would be opened on March 16, 1931. Indicative of the difficult times during the Great Depression, ten companies bid on the London lock. Fegle Construction Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota, was the apparent low bidder with an offer of $914,295. The Dravo Corporation was second with a...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Gallipolis and Winfield Locks and Dams
      (pp. 169-206)

      After years of discussion, debate, and planning, the Huntington, West Virginia,Advertiserjubilantly announced that bids would be taken for the Winfield and Gallipolis locks and dams during September 1933.¹ Months before there was a public announcement, Lt. Hugh J. Casey, in a letter to the division engineer dated February 8, 1933, indicated that the Chief of Engineers had the report of the Board of Engineers for rivers and harbors recommending the construction of both of these locks and dams. This letter confirmed there would be twin locks at both locations. The projects would be funded under the National Recovery...

    • CHAPTER NINE Labor and Land
      (pp. 207-222)

      The unheralded heroes at London, Marmet, Winfield, and Gallipolis were the workers engaged in building the four locks and dams, both those hired from the relief rolls and those skilled in various trades. We know little of the crews or the individual workers unless they were involved in a noteworthy event, such as an accident or a strike. We do, however, know the job skills required in certain aspects of the work. Perhaps the most visible equipment on site was the large barge-mounted whirlers (boom derricks) on derrick boats as well as rail-mounted whirlers. Job descriptions, established in connection with...

    • CHAPTER TEN Hydroelectric Power Generation
      (pp. 223-248)

      In a demonstration of great expectations, theMontgomery Newson April 27, 1933, proclaimed “Fayette County has one of world’s greatest hydroelectric projects. Foundation for a vast steel industry run wholly by electric power, now being laid, will make the Montgomery Community a miniature Niagara Falls.”¹ This announcement concerned the completion of work begun in 1929 by the Electro-Metallurgical Company at Hawks Nest on the New River, above the falls of the Kanawha. There had been much interest for more than two decades in the possibility of hydroelectric power generation on several of the tributaries of the Kanawha River. This...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 249-252)

    The vision of a central waterway connecting tidewater Virginia with the Ohio River persisted for decades during the nineteenth century, first with the James River and Kanawha Canal fostered by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and subsequently with the Central Water Line endorsed by the federal government. The Central Water Line, cutting through the Appalachian Mountains, would rival the Erie Canal since it would connect with the lower reaches of the Ohio River and, indeed, the entire middle of the country drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries. It was a grand vision, never implemented, but nevertheless became a highly successful...

  8. Appendixes
      (pp. 253-258)
    • Appendix B District Engineers: Huntington District, 1922–1977
      (pp. 259-260)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 261-286)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 287-292)
  11. Index
    (pp. 293-300)