Nickajack Navigation Lock

Nashville District
Published Jan. 11, 2024
Nickajack Navigation Lock aerial view, thin land strip in the upper left

Nickajack Navigation Lock

Nickajack Lock is located 35 miles west of Chattanooga, Tennessee near the city of Jasper.

The lock is at river mile 424.7.  It is 46.3 miles below Chickamauga Lock and 75.3 miles above Guntersville Lock.

Lock History

Construction began on the 600 foot-long Nickajack Auxiliary Lock  in March of 1964.  TVA completed it for operation in December 1967.  The foundation for an 800-foot-long main lock was also laid, but it remains incomplete.  This lock will not be completed until the amount of traffic exceeds the capacity of the current auxiliary lock.

More About Nickajack Lock and Dam

Nickajack was not the first Dam on this stretch of the river.  Built by private interests in 1913, Hales Bar Dam was an engineering milestone.  At the time, it was the world's highest single-lift lock.  It marked the first use of caissons in dam construction to penetrate rock and was one of the first instances of pressure grouting a dam foundation.  Hales Bar had problems though.  Its foundation leaked.  Several contractors went bankrupt while attempting to excavate and construct the facility.  Even then, the leakage was never fully corrected.  Eventually, it was decided that creating a new project was more economical than maintaining Hales Bar. 
Nickajack helped eliminate the area's navigation problems, but it also caused the older Hales Bar Dam to be flooded.

Area History

The name Nickajack is generally thought to come from a free African American man who was taken prisoner by a band of renegade Indians.  The band was a mix of Cherokee and Creek warriors, white fugitives, and some African Americans.  The band collectively took the name Chickamauga.  They settled in an area called the Five Lower Towns below present-day Chattanooga.
One African American named Jack Civil became a leader of the band, and one of the towns was given the name Nick-a-Jack.  Like other Chickamauga towns, Nick-a-Jack was located along a narrow and perilous stretch of the Tennessee River.  The river contained hazardous places with names like the Suck and the Whirl.  The towns were also protected by Lookout and Sand mountains.
Their strategic location allowed the Chickamauga band to pillage and murder parties of frontiersmen and settlers as they headed west.  A secret cave called Tecallassee (now called Nickajack Cave) was both a hiding place and a storage area for the band.
The natural hazards as well as the fierce Chickamauga prevented migration through the basin until 1794.  General James Robertson of Nashville sent an expedition that year to destroy the Five Lower Towns.  Ironically, the guide to Tecallassee was a young man named Joseph Brown.  Brown had been orphaned by the Chickamauga and reared in the tribe until he was ransomed.
Tecallassee also played a role in the Civil War.  More than 100 men mined saltpeter there as a source of the nitrate needed for gunpowder.

(Go to the Tennessee Valley Authority Nickajack Reservoir web page for more information about this project)