Cordell Hull Navigation Lock

Nashville District
Published Jan. 12, 2024
Cordell Hull Navigation Lock aerial view

Cordell Hull Navigation Lock

Cordell Hull Navigation Lock is located near Carthage, Tenn., at river mile 313.5.

Clear Chamber dimensions: 84 by 400 feet

Lift at normal pool levels: 59 feet

Minimum lock filling time at normal head: 11 minutes

Gallons: 17 million

If you are interested in locking, please call the Old Hickory Lock at (615) 847-3281.  All lockage reservations must be made 48 hours in advance (no same day lockage).

History - Navigation on the Cumberland River

As humans have explored and settled the world, they have always depended on following water.  They use it drink, water crops, and as a means of travel.  Traveling by sea or rivers, people can travel faster and more easily than by land.    Native Americans, and later settlers, are an example of this as they used the Cumberland River as a way to explore, settle, and trade. 

Once it was realized that the Cumberland River fed the Mississippi River, the river’s use was greatly increased as a means of transporting goods.  By 1824, steamboats were carrying hemp, tobacco, and cotton down the Cumberland.  Unfortunately, traveling the Cumberland River was not without dangers.  In the Cumberland’s natural state, the river was almost impassable at its lowest water levels, strewn with rocky shoals, rapids, and sand and gravel bars.  Navigations was extremely hazardous, and wooden hulls were easily damaged, and after accidents (which were common) boatmen could usually only salvage the damaged cargo. 

Navigation Improvement

In May 1824, the first Rivers and Harbors Act was passed.  It provided for the improvement of navigation by removing snags, old sand bars, and the clearance of timber from the banks.  It was with this Act that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was given the mission of keeping the rivers navigable.  During the 1830s, workmen cleared the banks of the Cumberland of trees and driftwood, and blasted rock obstacles.  In 1887, the Nashville District Engineer, Colonel John Barlow, prepared the designs for the first lock and dam on the Cumberland River, located in Nashville, Tennessee.  A total of 15 locks and dams were constructed on the Cumberland, with the last completed in 1924.  This created a six-foot minimum project depth for the Cumberland River.

Modern Dams and Locks

During the 20th century, dams’ purpose for navigation only changed.  Dams began to include hydropower and flood control.  Of the 10 dams Nashville District constructed, four still included navigational locks:  Lake Barkley, Cheatham Lake, Old Hickory Lake, and Cordell Hull Lake. 

The Cordell Hull Dam and Reservoir was completed for full beneficial use in November 1973.

Old Locks

Two of the 15 locks were located in what is now the Cordell Hull Lake Area of Responsibly.  Lock Seven was constructed in the early 20th century located on river mile 299.7, near Carthage.  The remains of Lock Seven is leased to Smith County, and can be visited today as a recreation area.  Lock Eight was also constructed in the early 20th century, and is located on river mile 317, near Defeated Creek.

End of an Era

By the End of the 20th century, river commerce on the Cumberland River was dying.  Railroads ended flatboat and raft traffic on the waterways and reduced steamboat traffic.  River traffic dropped down to less than ten boats per year.  The last commercially – operated steamboats were taken out of commission in 1933.