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John A. Weeks III
Sunday, July 23, 2017, 5:48:55 AM CDT
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Lock & Dam #1
Mississippi River Lock & Dam
Minneapolis/Saint Paul, MN

Lock & Dam #1

• Structure: Lock & Dam #1.
• Location: River Mile 847.9.
• Dam Width: 950 Feet Overall, 574 Foot Longest Structure.
• River Elevation (Pool): 725 Feet.
• River Elevation (Outflow): 686 Feet.
• Water Fall: 38 Feet.
• Annual Lock Traffic: 4,949 Vessels, 1,160,000 Tons (2005).
• Date Opened: Completed 1917.
Also called the Ford Dam, this is this only twin lock structure in the Saint Paul District of the US Army Corps of Engineers 9 foot navigation channel project. Each lock is 56 feet wide by 400 feet long. The hydro power station, which generates 14.4-megawatts of electricity, is owned by Brookfield Power Company. It was built to supply power to the nearby Ford Motor Assembly plant, but excess power sold to Excel Energy and fed into the regional power grid.

The history of the Ford Dam is the result of a 50 year struggle between Minneapolis and Saint Paul to exploit hydro power and navigation rights on the great river. The original project was for two low-water dams. Lock & Dam #2 was to be built just north of Lake Street, and Lock & Dam #1 was to be built just south of Ford Parkway. Lock & Dam #2 was started around 1897, and finished in 1907. It featured a single small steamship-sized lock. Locals now call this Meeker Island Lock & Dam since it was built at the site of the former Meeker Island. Lock & Dam #1 was started about 1912. Just as the low water dam and locks were finished, the US Government stepped in and declared that the Lock & Dam #1 would become a high-water power dam. The result is that Lock & Dam #2, which had been in operation only 5 years, was closed and demolished. The downriver dam was rebuilt, and a power house was installed. While the logic of having one high water dam with a single set of locks makes great sense, it is too bad that all the work was invested in building and later demolishing the Meeker Island Lock & Dam.

Lock & Dam #1 has an excellent visitor center and observation area. Parking is available along the road leading to the lock & dam. The visitor experience starts as you get out of your car, or as you walk down the hill from the West River Parkway, where can get a good view of the upstream side of the locks. You can then head in towards the visitor center, where you can walk along the western side of the locks. At the visitor center, you can walk up a stairway (or take the elevator) to a series of bridges located high over the locks. This allows you to walk to the south end of the locks, then across the locks. You can get a great view of the locks in operation from the observation deck located on the lock & dam control tower. From here, you can walk down to a large plaza situated between the locks and the dam spillway. This gives a good view of the eastern of the parallel locks, and also provides a spectacular view of the dam spillway. Of all the visitor facilities operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi River, this one gives the best view of the river, the locks, and the waterfall.

The locks at this dam were closed from August 1, 2007 to October 5, 2007, following the collapse of the I-35W bridge. The river was closed above this lock & dam during the recovery and bridge clean-up operations. The river level was dropped by two feet to aide in the bridge collapse clean-up.

Update—The Brookfield Power Company purchased the power plant from Ford Motor Company in 2007. Ford is planning to close the nearby automobile assembly plant, so the hydropower will be used to feed the regional power grid. Brookfield is building a new hydropower station at Lower Saint Anthony Falls, and also operates the power plant at the Old River Control Structure some 1,500 miles downstream.

Update—On May 28, 2009, the US Army Corps of Engineers issued a warning that the Ford Dam was potentially unsafe. They are concerned that water might be seeping under the dam, putting it at risk of failure. If the dam would fail, it would put a halt to navigation above Saint Paul, and flood areas of the river below the structure. The Corps plan to perform a detailed inspection of the dam to determine the extent of the problem.

Update—Lock & Dam #1 was in the news in October, 2011, after an invasive species of fish known as silver carp, a subspecies of Asian carp, was found on the downstream side of the dam. This was not totally unexpected since the carp have been moving upstream for several years. Lock & Dam #1 is one of the few structures on the river that could block the fish from moving even further upstream, but only if the navigation locks were permanently closed. The invasive fish could devastate the sport fishing industry in the state if they move further north. At the same time, closing the navigation locks would have a negative economic impact and cost hundreds of jobs.

Update—Lock & Dam #1, as well as both the Upper and Lower Saint Anthony Falls Locks & Dams, were closed twice during 2012 due to high water flows following unusually large rainfalls in central Minnesota. The first closing was to recreational users on May 28 and May 30 for commercial users. The locks were reopened on June 8. They were closed again on June 22 for recreational use and June 24 for commercial use, then reopened on June 28. The US Army Corps of Engineers closes the locks to recreational users when the flow hits 30,000 cubic feet per second, and closes to commercial traffic at 40,000 cubic feet per second.

The photo above is a view from the scenic overlook on the East River Parkway. During much of the year, the dam remains dry, and the river current passes through the power house. A small gate next to the power house maintains the pool level behind the dam just below the level of the top of the main dam structure.


Lock & Dam #1
In contrast to the photo at the top of the page, the photo above shows a high water flow over the dam. This is unusual for late summer, but a very wet winter in 2010/2011 lead to the reservoirs being full in northern Minnesota, resulting in high water flow rates most of the summer. The vantage point for this photo is the east bank of the river located about 1,400 feet downstream of the dam, an area that is not open to the general public. The photo below is the official project sign at the entrance to the lock & dam from the West River Parkway. The entrance road is a bit hard to find since it is at the back of a small parking lot to the north of the Intercity Bridge, while the lock & dam is south of the bridge.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is a view of the locks from the overlook on the east side of the river. The photo below is the power house as seen from the visitors center on the west side of the river.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is a view of the locks from river level just upriver of the lock & dam structure. The photo below is a view of the dam and power house taken from the same location on the west side of the river. The water is about 40 feet deep at this location.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is a close view of one of the locks just after the upstream door has opened. These boats are headed up river, and have just been lifted 38 feet. The photo below is a close view of the Ford Motor Company sign on the east side of the river. The Ford assembly plant is the reason that the dam was built some 90 years ago. The Ford plant builds Ford Ranger light pickup trucks as this was written in 2008. The plant is slated to close down at some point in the near future, and the land will be redeveloped.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is a view of the lock structure as seen from the Intercity Bridge. The access road and visitor observation area is on the right side of the photo. The Minnehaha Creek flows into the Mississippi River just below the lock structure, and just below the Minnesota Veterans Home. The photo below is a view of the power house from the same location. Note the small gate on the right side of the power house.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is an overview of the lock & dam project as seen from the Intercity Bridge. The photo below is a view of the dam and power house as seen from Minnehaha Park, which is on top of the bluff on the west side of the river.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
These two photos are views from Hidden Falls Regional Park located just downstream of the lock & dam on the east river bank. The photo above is the downstream side of the west boat lock. The photo below is the western half of the dam spillway. The lock gates are about 1,100 feet from this vantage point, while the dam is about 1,400 feet to the north of this spot.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
These two photos are additional views from Hidden Falls Regional Park located just downstream of the lock & dam on the east river bank. The photo above is the eastern half of the main dam spillway. The photo below is the power house building. Note the small gate located just to the left of the power house building. That gate is used to regulate the pool water level during times of lower river flow rates.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
These two photos are views of Lock & Dam #1 as seen from the west bank of the Mississippi River just downstream of the structure. The photo above is looking to the north towards the two parallel locks. The right lock has its downstream doors open, allowing the upstream doors to be visible. The photo below is a view of the dam spillway.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
These two photos are views of Lock & Dam #1 as seen from the west bank of the Mississippi River just downstream of the structure. The photo above is the hydroelectric power plant. The photo below is an overview of the lock and dam with the mouth of the Minnehaha Creek in the foreground and the Intercity Bridge in the background.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is looking upriver to the north towards the western half of the dam spillway, with the Intercity Bridge in the background. The vantage point is the visitor center plaza at the lock and dam. The photo below is a cold winter view looking north from the edge of the bluffs in Minnehaha Park.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
These two photos are looking upstream towards the south face of Lock & Dam #1, with the Intercity Bridge in the background. The photo above is from the west shore of the river just upstream of Minnehaha Creek. The photo below is from the edge of the bluffs just below Minnehaha Creek.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is a view looking east across the boat locks from the parking area at the lock and dam. Note the Ford Motor Company sign in the background at the Ford assembly plant. This plant is slated to close in 2011. The photo below is looking south towards the upstream entrances to the two parallel boat locks.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
These two photos are looking east across the western of the two boat locks at the location of the upstream entrance doors (top gate). In the photo above, the gate is fully closed. In the photo below, the gate is opening to allow boats to exit the lock.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is the western lock looking north towards the Intercity Bridge. The lock top gate is open, and several boats are exiting the lock, with a few smaller boats near the riverbank waiting to enter the lock. The photo below is the control tower for the lock. The truss bridges not only allow workers to get to the control center, but it also allows the public access to the plaza located between the locks and the dam spillway.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is looking south along the walkway bridge leading from the visitor center entrance to the south end of the locks. The photo below is looking east down the length of the two walkway bridges that cross the boat locks.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is the downstream face of the truss bridge that crosses the western of the two boat locks. Note the stop light head mounted on the bridge to signal to boats when it is safe to enter the lock. The photo below is looking down towards the bottom gate (downstream exit doors) for the western of the two boat locks.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is looking upstream down the length of the western of the two parallel boat locks. Note that the two small boats that we saw waiting to enter the lock above are now entering the lock. The photo below is the eastern of the two boat locks, which was empty and not in use on the day that I visited. The visitors plaza is located to the right of this lock.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is looking downstream along the exit from the eastern of the two boat locks. The photo below is the main channel of the Mississippi River as it flows downstream from the dam spillway and powerhouse. There is a sizable island just below the dam that splits the channel. The building with a smoke stack is a power plant for the Ford Motor Company.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is looking northeast across the river channel towards the hydropower plant. The photo below is a view of the dam spillway from the same location. The dam structure has a inflatable section at the top that can be used to adjust the pool level. The inflatable section on the right side of the dam is a little lower, allowing more water to flow over that side of the dam. The concrete blocks at the base of the dam are called ‘grinders.’ The clam the flow of water at the base of the dam.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is looking southeast from the east end of the pedestrian bridge that crosses the locks. The stairway leads down to the plaza located between the locks and the dam spillway. The photo below is looking north along the visitor plaza.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
These two photos are views of the dam spillway from the visitor plaza. The photo above is looking upstream towards the face of the spillway, while the photo below is looking downstream. The 38 foot drop is almost invisible from this vantage point.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is looking east across the river along the apron located in front of the dam spillway. The photo below is looking east across the river along the crest of the water fall.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is the upstream side of the top gate of the eastern of the two boat locks. The photo below is looking west across that top gate, which has a walkway for workers.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is the north end of the wall between the eastern boat lock and the channel leading to the dam spillway. The photo below is looking down from the pedestrian walkway towards the bottom gate on the western lock as it opens to allow boats to exit from the lock heading downstream.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
These two photos are two different views of the walkway over the eastern of the two boat locks. The photo above is from near the entrance to the visitor center, while the photo below is from the plaza located between the locks and the spillway. We can see the two small boats (from the photos above) exiting the locks.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is looking downstream through the open bottom gate of the eastern boat lock. The photo below is a view of the walkway bridges between the visitor center and the lock control tower. These walkways are open to the public to allow access to the plaza overlooking the spillway. The buildings above the retaining wall are part of the Minnesota Veterans Home.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
The photo above is a closer view of the walkways located between the visitor center and the control tower. The photo below is a view of the bridge leading from the visitor center as seen from the observation deck on the control tower.

Lock & Dam #1
Lock & Dam #1
These two photos are views of the visitor plaza located between the locks and the dam spillway. The photo above is looking northeast from the observation deck on the control tower. The photo below is looking east from the walkway bridge near the visitor center.

Lock & Dam #1

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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