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McAlpine Locks and Dam

The Louisville & Portland Canal, completed in 1830, was the first engineering project undertaken to move boats and barges around the navigational obstacle at the Falls of the Ohio. Today that function is served by the McAlpine Locks and Dam, which control the movement of all Ohio River traffic around Louisville.

Once known as Lock and Dam Number 41, the project is operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has been upgraded many times throughout the years. In the 1960s, a new lock chamber and dam were completed at the Falls, and the project was renamed in honor of William H. McAlpine, the only civilian to serve as district engineer at Louisville and a nationally recognized authority on river navigation.

The McAlpine Locks and Dam are accessible off 27th Street at Northwestern Parkway, in the Portland neighborhood. The main lock chamber measures 1,200 by 110 feet. At 37 feet, the McAlpine project’s lift is the highest among all the locks on the Ohio River.

According to the Corps of Engineers, 58 million tons of cargo passed through the locks in 2006. This high volume of river traffic, plus projections of continued growth, has necessitated the building of a new chamber. That $430 million project is expected to wrap up in 2009.

More on the McAlpine project can be found in a new history book published by the Corps of Engineers Louisville District. Triumph at the Falls: The Louisville and Portland Canal traces efforts over the past 200 years to provide safe navigation around the Falls of the Ohio and examines other topics of river interest. The book was written by Dr. Leland Johnson, a historian specializing in USACE history, and Chuck Parrish, long-time historian with the Louisville District. Triumph at the Falls is available free while supplies last; call (502) 315-7093.

A few more facts:

  • The McAlpine Locks and Dam are located on the Ohio River 606 miles downstream from Pittsburgh. The dam pools water about 75 miles upstream to Marland Locks and Dam.
  • As of March 2007, construction crews were completing work in the concrete tunnels in the bottom of the new lock chamber at the McAlpine project. Next on the agenda was to fill the lock with water and then remove the cofferdam—the large cylindrical barriers holding back water. Then only the approach walls and new modernized visitors’ platform will remain to be built.
  • Water transportation of coal helps keep costs down for consumers on their utility bills.
Program 123
Branding Louisville, the Young Chefs Academy, Science Hill, the McAlpine Locks and Dam, and nationally renowned entrepreneur Charlie W. Johnson. (#123)