Contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District install a 23-foot-tall concrete shaft enclosure weighing approximately 120,000 pounds as part of the guard wall at the Monongahela River Locks and Dam 4 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, Nov. 16, 2023.

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Louisville District announces official closure of Lock and Dam 53

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District
Published Jan. 16, 2024
Updated: Jan. 16, 2024
A historical photo of the construction of Lock and Dam 53 in Grand Chain, Illinois, from August 1926.

A historical photo of the construction of Lock and Dam 53 in Grand Chain, Illinois, from August 1926.

After being in service for nearly 90 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District announced the official closure of the Lock and Dam 53 project, Jan. 16, 2024. 

This is a historic milestone for navigation on the lower Ohio River, as this project and its replacement marked the end of the modernization era for locks and dams on the Ohio River.

Lock and Dam 53, on the Ohio River near Grand Chain, Illinois, was authorized by the River and Harbors Acts in 1909. Construction was completed and the facility opened in 1929. Located 962 miles downstream from Pittsburgh, Lock and Dam 53 had two locks for commercial barge traffic, one that was 1,200 feet long by 110 feet wide, the other 600 feet long by 110 feet wide. 

According to Last of the Old Wicket Dams: A History of Ohio River Locks and Dams 52 and 53 1928–2018 History book, Lock and Dam 53 was, at that time, the final structure on the Ohio River that would provide a navigational channel of at least nine feet. Louisville District employees operated and maintained the project to ensure river traffic moved efficiently. This involved raising and lowering the wicket dam, operating the locks, performing maintenance, making repairs, and reacting to the dangers of the river, such as ice, drift, severe weather and breakaway barges. 

As conditions deteriorated at Dams 52 and 53 in the late 1900s, Louisville District employees worked to innovate solutions to prolong the life of these structures as the construction of the new Olmsted Locks and Dam project progressed.
Lock and Dam 53 ended operations Aug. 15, 2018, and the project was replaced when Olmsted Locks and Dam in Olmsted, Illinois, opened Sept. 4, 2018.

The Olmsted facility came online just in time, said Waylon Humphrey, Louisville District Operations Division chief in an excerpt from the Last of the Old Wicket Dams. Dams 52 and 53 were “essentially in active states of failure . . . It was truly a race against the clock.” He expressed the Corps’ gratitude to the personnel who had kept the projects in operation. “It is impossible to articulate our thanks to the men and women who gave up so much of their personal time, through unmatched dedication and service, to ensure the navigation mission continued on the lower Ohio, even as the infrastructure was literally crumbling around them.”

In its final years, more than 80 million tons of freight, worth more than $22 million, moved through the area controlled by Lock and Dams 52 and 53. Goods included coal, gasoline, jet fuel, de-icing fluid, cement, scrap steel, metal ingots, soybean oil, wheat, and an array of other bulk commodities. A single tow of fifteen barges could weigh more than 20,000 tons and be worth millions of dollars.

The demolition of Lock and Dam 53 started under the Olmsted Dam construction contract and was completed under a final demolition contract. By early November 2018, the lower approach walls at Dam 53 were being removed. The contract for the final demolition of Lock and Dam 53 was awarded in August 2020.

Lock and Dam 53 was demolished down to elevation 280.0’ (Ohio River datum) across the width of the river, and the river has returned to open navigation in that area.

Chick Lock

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