Sunday, February 9, 2020

A relic treasured

The old wicket dams on the Ohio River have interested me for a while, but when Locks and Dam 52 went out of service in 2018, for some reason it became more urgent for me to learn what I could about them.
For years, I’ve looked for signs of their remains as I’ve driven along the river. Some have been demolished, and no sign of their existence remains. Some remain but are in private hands. And some are parks, such as Lock and Dam 27 near Proctorville, Ohio, and Lock and Dam 22 at Ravenswood, W.Va.
When I’m in the Cincinnati area, I try to stop at the wicket dam museum at Chilo, Ohio, where the powerhouse of Lock and Dam 34 now serves as a tribute to the dams that made the Ohio River navigable yearround.
If you’re up at Hannibal, Ohio, there’s an outdoor exhibit on the grounds of the Hannibal Locks and Dam that gives you an idea of how wood timbers controlled the Ohio.

Recently I was able to acquire this beauty. It’s the program of the weeklong celebration that marked the completion of the dam system and the nine-foot navigation pool from Pittsburgh to (almost) Cairo.

Here are photos of the title page, the last page, the inside back cover and the back cover.

The book has had a bit of a rough life, and I admit I’m reluctant to read it all the way through for fear of damaging the binding. I don’t want to be the person who destroys it.
The book is 104 pages of copy and ads. I assume the pages were white when they came off the press 91 years ago, but they're yellow with age now.
From pages 5-22, a writer tells of the history of European exploration in the Ohio Valley, of settlements, the first flatboats and steamboats and the system of locks and dams.
One thing I learned that I should have known was the Ohio River Memorial Monument at Eden Park in Cincinnati. It was dedicated October 22, 1929, by President Herbert Hoover to mark the nine-foot channel from Pittsburgh to Cairo, "a distance of nine hundred and eight miles."
Several pages are devoted to the Ohio Valley Improvement Association, which lobbied for the nine-foot channel.
Page 75 begins the program of the "Ohio River Dedicatory Celebration" itself, which began October 15 in Cincinnati, then proceeded to Pittsburgh and from there back down the river, with several stops on the downbound trip. As the steamboats passed Gallipolis, Ohio, on the return trip, they were to slow as they passed the homestead of the late John L. Vance, founder of the OVIA.
The celebration ended the evening of Friday, October 25, in Cairo. A boat was to leave the next morning to return people to Evansville, Louisville and Cincinnati.
I probably could have looked online for an electronic copy of the book and downloaded it, but it’s not the same. When I read a book, I want a physical copy in my hands. Computer screens are good for compiling and analyzing information, but I like the feel of a book in my hands.
I’m still researching the old dams. After all this time, most of the people who lived at them and worked at them are either old or passed away, especially in my part of the river. The father of the best man at my wedding was the final lockmaster at Lock and Dam 21. He was the person who locked the gate for the last time when the Racine Locks and Dam raised its pool. I regret that I never took the time to pick his brain. You think some people will be around forever. You know they won’t, but you overlook that basic fact.
Buried in the government archives are logbooks of the dams. It’s beyond my resources, but I would love to spend a few days studying the records of at least one or two dams in my area.
As my last surviving brother -- our family historian -- said, you don’t get interested in genealogy until you’re of the age when the people who could help you most are gone. It’s that way with a lot of history, isn’t it?
So if you see someone lurking around the remains of one of the old dams, it could be me wondering what it looked like, sounded like and smelled like in its heyday.
And for what it’s worth, the 50 cents it cost to buy the program in 1929 is worth $7.43 cents today. Even with advertising, I doubt anyone would sell such a book at such a low price here in 2020.
P.S. If you have a few minutes, get on YouTube and watch the movie of steamboats gathered at Pittsburgh in 1929 to celebrate the completion of the nine-foot channel. River fans will love it. The EPA probably winces at the sight of all that coal smoke.