Iowa History Daily: August 24 - The Des Moines Rapids Canal

Iowa History Daily: On August 24, 1877, The State Journal reported completion of the canal bypassing the Des Moines Rapids of the Mississippi River. The original canal stretched seven and a half miles and measured 800’ in width. The $4 million project featured three locks each 850’ in length.

The Des Moines Rapids posed a significant challenge to all river-goers for a time dating long before American control of the Mississippi. The twelve mile stretch of water often proved deadly during high-water and impassable during low. Forcing early shippers on the rapids to unload, portage, and reload cargo in horse-drawn wagons, the government started to assess the area in 1829.

The US Army sent a young lieutenant named Robert E. Lee to provide an initial survey of the rapids. From 1831 to 1833 the future Confederate General led workers in removing snags, blasting rocks, and charting the dangerous waters. Still dangerous, Lee suggested the government construct a canal to bypass the rapids.

Over thirty years passed before construction got under way in 1866. For over a decade, workers toiled to construct the initial wall, deepen the channel, and install locks. Finally, in 1877, the canal opened to traffic. For the next 36 years the canal serviced river traffic on the Mighty Mississippi. However, the increasing size and weight of boats and barges led the government toward the construction of a massive lock and dam to replace the canal in 1913. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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