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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Meeker Island Lock & Dam
Historic Mississippi River Lock & Dam
Minneapolis, MN

Meeker Island Lock & Dam

• Structure: Meeker Island Lock & Dam.
• Location: River Mile 850.2.
• Dam Width: 600 Feet (Estimated).
• Water Fall: 14 Feet.
• Date Opened: Completed 1907, Closed 1912.
In the middle 1800s, transportation on the major rivers was dominated by the riverboats, and to a lessor extent, the raftsmen who carried goods one-way down the river. Saint Paul was the head of navigation on the great river in that era. Minneapolis had the falls, the best natural falls for creating mechanical power in North America, but it could not get the goods created by that power of the falls to market. An eight mile long section of rocks and rubble prevented the river boats from going any further north than Fort Snelling.

Even before the Civil War, local leaders dreamed of taming the river and bringing river navigation to Minneapolis. In 1857, a local judge named Bradley Meeker organized a group of businessmen to build a lock and dam on the Mississippi River. A financial panic, civil war, and reconstruction got in the way. Congress came on board in 1873, but local politics stalled the project another 20 years. Finally, the invention of electricity and hydropower only served to add to the debate. Both Saint Paul and Minneapolis wanted the hydropower from this section of the river.

A compromise was struck. Two lock and dam structures would be built. Lock & Dam #1 would be at the location of the current Lock & Dam #1 near the Ford Motor Plant. Lock & Dam #2 would be upriver, just above Lake Street, and be located totally within the City of Minneapolis, at a location near an island named after Bradley Meeker.

Construction began in 1899, and Lock & Dam #2 opened in 1907. Work then focused on Lock & Dam #1, which was about half done at that time. Both were low water dams with a water fall of about 14 feet.

The hydropower question was raised again in 1909. The two low water dams could not support hydropower generation. In addition, industry was pushing Congress for a 9-foot navigation channel. The two locks could not handle that depth of a channel. A decision was made to rebuild Lock & Dam #1 as a high water dam. The hydropower would be sold to investors, a deal that Henry Ford took advantage of.

The high water dam would have the side effect of flooding the newly opened Lock & Dam #2. To prevent the submerged dam from being a navigation hazard, the top 5 feet was blasted off in 1912. As a result, Lock & Dam #2 was in operation only 5 years. The structure was then promptly forgotten.

To avoid confusion with the current Lock & Dam #2 near Hastings, MN, the old Lock & Dam #2 is now generally called the Meeker Island Lock & Dam. Every so often, low water on the Mississippi River exposes part of the old lock structure. One such occasion was in August, 2007, following the I-35W bridge collapse, when the US Army Corps of Engineers drew down the Ford Dam pool by 2 feet to aid in the search and recovery operation. That action made it possible to photograph some of the remains of the Meeker Island structure.

The image above is a postcard from the very early 1900s showing the Meeker Island Lock & Dam in operation, and the newly rebuilt Short Line Bridge in the background.


Meeker Island Lock & Dam
The photo above is a public domain photo of the Meeker Island Lock & Dam in operation. The lock chamber is on the nearside of the river, and two dam control gates are on the far side of the river. The photo below is the downstream exit of the lock chamber. The two lock walls are 56 feet apart.

Meeker Island Lock & Dam
Meeker Island Lock & Dam
The photo above shows the end of the lock wall. The metal spindle is a rope tie anchor. The thinner section of the wall near the small gap is where the lock door would fold against the wall when the lock was opened. The photo below is looking upstream at the flooded lock chamber. The lock chamber is estimated to be 400 feet long.

Meeker Island Lock & Dam
Meeker Island Lock & Dam
The photo above is looking across the river at the white sand beach. The dam structure would be in the river below the beach. The photo below shows the upstream entrance to the lock.

Meeker Island Lock & Dam
Meeker Island Lock & Dam
The photo above is one more look at the upstream entrance to the lock. It is interesting that this was once called Lock & Dam #2, but was up river from Lock & Dam #1. Today, the locks and dams are numbered higher as you go south, which is just the opposite of how the Meeker Island structure is numbered. The National Park Service built a trail down to the lock site and erected interpretive signs between 2005 and 2007. The photo below is the sign along side East River Parkway at the top of the trail leading down to the park.

Meeker Island Lock & Dam
Meeker Island Lock & Dam
The photo above is the trail leading down to the lock site. The trail has a switchback. The park bench in the distance is only half way down to the river level. The photo below is the end of the improved trail where it arrives at the lock site. In 2010, City Pages rated the Meeker Island Historical Park as the best place in the Twin Cities to have a picnic.

Meeker Island Lock & Dam
Meeker Island Lock & Dam
There was high water most of 2011, with the lock being underwater much of the year. The top of the lock walls were only about an inch above water level when I visited in late October of that year. The photo above is the west wall that would have faced the river. The photo below is the east wall that was along the shoreline.

Meeker Island Lock & Dam
Meeker Island Lock & Dam
The photo above is a close view of one of the iron mooring posts. The photo below is the only piece of mechanical remains that was visible. I have no idea what this is, but it is located near the upstream end of the lock, so it might have been part of the lock door mechanism.

Meeker Island Lock & Dam
Meeker Island Lock & Dam
The photo above is looking north through the upstream end of the lock, with the Short Line railroad bridge visible just upstream from the site. The photo below is a closer view of the concrete remains at the upstream end of the lock.

Meeker Island Lock & Dam
Meeker Island Lock & Dam
The photo above is looking downstream towards the upstream end of the lock. The Lake Street Bridge is visible downstream of the lock & dam site. The photo below is a closer view of the upstream entrance to the lock.

Meeker Island Lock & Dam

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