Keokuk-Hamilton Dam

99 Counties | FIND Iowa
Mar 5, 2024 | 02:40

How did humans overcome natural barriers with engineering solutions in the past?

Learn how the town of Keokuk overcame travel and trading obstacles on the river using engineering solutions.


Abby Brown:

The Mississippi River borders the eastern side of Iowa and it goes all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico so it's no wonder that people want to use it for travel. But, right here in Keokuk, there was a big challenge blocking the way.

A long time ago this area of the Mississippi had the Des Moines Rapids. It was a rough patch of water caused by the huge differences in the depth of the river. Within just a few miles the river went from 22 feet deep to just two and a half feet deep. That was a real headache for boat captains bringing goods and people up into Iowa. They would need to stop where the Des Moines Rapids began here, in Keokuk, transfer all their cargo to horse-drawn wagons, travel the 10 miles by land, transfer their cargo back to a boat to continue their journey. In 1913 that changed when the Keokuk-Hamilton Dam opened.

Here at the Keokuk-Hamilton Dam Museum we get to see the history of the Dam's construction and its impact on the community.

Hugh Lincoln Cooper designed the Keokuk-Hamilton Dam to not only solve the problem of the 10 mile long Des Moines Rapids, but to also generate electricity for surrounding communities.

Inside the museum there are pictures and artifacts from the construction of this important piece of Mississippi River history. Today, the impressive Keokuk-Hamilton Dam structure operates as part of Lock and Dam 19. It generates enough power to provide electricity to thousands of homes each year. And it also helps ships and barges easily navigate the Upper Mississippi River. Plus, it's so interesting to see it in motion.

Every county in Iowa has an ingenious story to tell. Thanks for visiting Lee County with me.