Fort Loudoun Navigation Lock

Published Jan. 11, 2024
Fort Loudoun Navigation Lock aerial view

Fort Loudoun Navigation Lock

Fort Loudoun Lock is located near Lenoir City, Tennessee, some 55 miles downstream from Knoxville.

It is at Tennessee River mile 602.3, some 73.4 miles upstream of Watts Bar Lock.

Fort Loudoun is the uppermost dam on the Tennessee River.

Lock History

Fort Loudoun was the last dam built on the Tennessee River.  Construction of the dam began  July 8, 1940 and was completed in June 1944.  The dam was constructed in three phases.  Phase One was the lock and earthen dam on the south side of the river.  The lock was constructed on Belle Island.  The lock went into operation October 10, 1943.  Phase Two was the construction of the spillway.  Phase Three was the construction of the Powerhouse.  During the construction of the lock and earthen dam, all of the water was channeled through the main river channel.  During the construction of the spillways, the water was channeled through the lock and remaining river channel.  During the construction of the powerhouse, the water was diverted through the spillways and the lock.
The highway bridge over the dam was not added until 1963.

Area History

Fort Loudoun Lock, like the dam and the lake, derives its name from an old military outpost near this site in colonial days.  The original fort was the first major structure established in Tennessee by English-speaking settlers.
When it was founded it was the western-most military installation in the new country which was to become the United States of America.  It was named in honor of John, Earl of Loudoun, who arrived in 1756 to assume command of British forces on the continent.
Because of the intense rivalry between the English and the French in colonization of the frontier,  the British decided to establish a fort in accordance with the Cherokee request.  They seized the opportunity and acted quickly to prevent the French from preceding them, persuading the South Carolina assembly to vote a loan of two thousand pounds to King George for construction of the fort near a small Indian village, Taskegee
After experiencing considerable hardship in transporting supplies and cannon over the rugged mountains , a fort was established (about 14 miles from the present lock and dam) and a few traders, trappers and settlers moved into the area.  Meanwhile, the French became active in trying to defeat the British colonization west of the Alleghenies and succeeded in influencing the Indians against the British settlers.
The unfriendly situation worsened until there were armed clashes between the tribes and the settlers and atrocities were committed by both.
Finally, the pioneers realized that they could not regain the friendship of the Indians and that their little garrison would not receive any support from settlers on the other side of the mountains.
Without such help, the settlement was doomed.  So, the leaders decided to abandon the outpost and return to safer areas already established east of the mountains.
When the evacuation commenced, however, the settlers were ambushed by the Indians only a short journey from their fort.  Available records of the event indicate that except for a possible few, the entire group was annihilated.  There are no accounts of survivors.
The Fort Loudoun Dam and Lock provides a relatively easy water transportation route from the dam to Knoxville.  This stretch of river was unruly in the past when seasonal extremes presented many navigational hazards.

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