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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Le Claire Canal
Mississippi River Canal At Le Claire
Pleasant Valley, Iowa

Le Claire Canal

• Structure: Le Claire Canal.
• Location: River Miles 493.0 to 496.1.
• Canal Length: 3.5 Miles.
• River Elevation: 572 Feet.
• Date Opened: 1924.
The Quad Cities area was known to river boat pilots as 13 miles of dangerous rapids during high water, and 13 miles of impossible rapids during low water. The US Army Corps of Engineers worked to clear the snags and build wing dams, but that was more of a band aid than a solution to the rapids. The real solution would be a pair of enormous lock and dam structures.

We are all familiar with the 9-foot navigation channel, and the locks and dams that were built mainly in the 1930s to support the 9-foot river channel. But before the 9-foot channel was built, there was an earlier effort to build a 6-foot navigation channel. One of the few works that survive from the 6-foot channel project is the Le Claire canal and lock.

There is a particularly dangerous stretch of rapids running the location of the present day Lock & Dam #14 to a mile or so above the I-80 Schwengel Bridge just north of the Quad Cities. The design to fix this area started with building a wall down the river channel. The area between this wall and the Iowa bank would be excavated to create a canal. Near river mile 494, it was no longer possible to run the canal in the river channel. As a result, the canal was dug following a slough around the west side of Smith's Island. Since the river dropped approximately 8 feet in this three mile section, a lock would be needed at the south end of the canal.

The canal and lock were built between 1921 and 1924. The structure operated as built until the early 1930's. At that time, the large structure for Lock & Dam #14 was installed. Completed in 1938, it raised the river water a few feet. This had the effect of submerging much of the canal wall north of Smith's island.

Today, the main 9-foot lock is heavily used by river tows. As a result, pleasure craft use the canal. Lights have been installed where the canal wall sits just under the surface of the water. At 320 feet long and 78 feet wide, the old 6-foot lock is obsolete for handling river boat traffic, but it works great for pleasure craft.

The photo above is looking south towards Smith's Island. The photos below are (a) looking north at the tip of Smith's Island, with the Mississippi River in the background, (b) looking at the south end of Smith's Island (note the US Army Corps Of Engineers Equipment at the very end of the canal), (c) looking upstream at the 6-foot lock, and (d) looking downstream where the canal reenters the Mississippi River.

Le Claire Canal
Le Claire Canal
Le Claire Canal
Le Claire Canal

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