Concrete replaces wooden dams

In the last article some of the problems that existed in the Muskingum River Improvements were discussed. This article will continue Clyde Swift’s excerpts taken from the Zanesville Times Recorder (TR) and Zanesville Democrat (ZD).

“Work on river suspended until spring at all points except Lowell where work is being pushed with a view of opening navigation at an early period as possible.” (TR, February 13, 1890)

“Capt. Frank Sullivan of dredge boat [is] lying near Beverly.” (TR, March 27, 1890)

“Muskingum navigation probably [will] not be done by then (July 1).” (TR, April 24, 1890)

“Lowell in six weeks will restore navigation to Stockport.” (TR, May 1, 1890)

“Dredge boats [are] widening and deepening Beverly canal.” (TR, May 15, 1890)

“Bad break at Beverly. 100 feet of channel cut around abutment on west shore Thursday morning. The level between Beverly and Luke Chute drained in a few hours. 20,000 feet of Government lumber, piled on the bank[,] were carried away . . . The repair work began at once.” (TR, July 24, 1890)

Lt. C. E. Gillette is in charge of Muskingum Improvements. Breaks at Luke Chute and Lowell will be repaired. “The Lowell lock above will be complete and ready in a few days, the break at Beverly is 1/3 closed.” (TR, July 31, 1890)

“There is a break at west end of Beverly dam.” (ZD, August 22, 1890)

In one of the many articles about the Muskingum River by Clyde Swift, he says during the 1898 flood the “Lorena came up over the Beverly and Luke Chute dams. The flood caused the locks to be impassable with mud and logs.”

At the southern end of the mile long Lowell canal, boats were often delayed because there was a drawbridge so vehicles could cross to Buell’s Island. That bridge is no longer needed today, since there is a ramp down to the island from the bridge crossing the Muskingum River.

Pictured is the wooden dam at Lowell about 1900. Possibly on the left are members of the Mason family fishing on the cribs. This picture was provided by Everett Yarnell.

These events were all overshadowed by the 1913 flood. The forceful current was too much for the dried out timbers in the dams that were poorly anchored from the beginning. One by one the dams on the Muskingum washed away, creating a stronger rampage downstream. The Corps of Engineers came to the rescue again and soon new dams were constructed at the old sites. These dams were made of concrete and will soon be one hundred years old.

First a cofferdam was constructed and this diverted the water away from the area where concrete was poured. The concrete was transported in a large bucket which moved on a cable from the river bank to the site of the pour. A bucket used at the Beverly dam was donated by Clem Biedenbach, who purchased it at a sale. It is now on display at the Oliver Tucker Museum in Beverly.

After construction of concrete dams, less mud and debris fill the canals because the river is better controlled. The canals, locks and especially the concrete dams are a modern success story.

There is no way of knowing the number of lives that have been lost while making repairs on the Muskingum River Improvements. In October 1914 a scow carrying men and materials flooded above the Beverly dam. Seven men-six Turks and one American-were drowned as they were swept through the break in the dam by the surging water. This story will be the topic of the next two articles.

In recent years bridges have been constructed on the lower Muskingum River with less than 24 feet clearance. Boats that exceed this height, unless some alteration is made, can no longer navigate the river beyond these points. The pier of the old Beverly-Waterford Bridge remains in the water just a few feet below water level, making the whole river on the Beverly side out of the navigation channel. The locks now have limited hours and there are fees for the use of manually operated machinery.

Although repairs are often necessary and obstacles limit navigation, the Muskingum River is a story of the ingenuity and perseverance of a state and nation to make it one of the wonders of our time. (See Reflections, Vol. 17, No. 1, Jan.-March 1991 and Vol. 17, No. 2, April-June 1991

Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events that occurred in the Lower Muskingum Valley. )