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Page history last edited by Shamella Cromartie 14 years, 1 month ago











Dam at Lock #2, 2009.

"Mattress" of Lock & Dam #3.



Wide angle view of lock construction.


Charles W. Stewart, bookkeeper for construction of Lock #2.

Lock Tender's House, 1935 

Lock tender's kept a log of ships going through locks.




The three locks and dams faced strong opposition within the Corps of Engineers. The Division Engineer, Colonel Dan. C. Kingman, inspected the river and concluded, "I doubt very much if this river is worthy of improvement by locks and dams."45

On 11 January 1907, Major Joseph E. Kuhn, District Engineer, wrote a memorandum for the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors on the project for canalization of the upper Cape Fear. Kuhn found fault with the project for several reasons. First, considered as a business proposition, the commerce on the river did not justify canalization at the estimated cost. Second, little new com­merce could be expected because the river was paralleled on both sides by railroads out of Wilmington, although boats on the river might exercise a restraining influence on freight rates charged by the railroads. Third, Kuhn re­jected the argument that canalization of the river would make Fayetteville a distributing point for a sizable territory beyond. "The benefits likely to result from this condition are, to say the least, extremely problematical, and probably chimerical."46 The board agreed with Kuhn and recommended the construction of only two of the locks and dams, at Kings Bluff and Browns Landing. Congress appropriated $100,000 for the project in 1910.

The construction of the two locks and dams was hampered by the poor foun­dation at Kings Bluff and by high water. The test pit at Kings Bluff was begun in February 1912 by enclosing an area of 36 square feet. When the excavation reached 16.5 feet, a boiling spring burst through the clay, bringing up quicksand and ris­ing nine feet in 30 minutes. A new test pit was enclosed, but before excavation could begin, the river began to rise; the crews worked feverishly to build a coffer­dam and keep it just above the rising water. When the water receded, the excava­tion resumed. At an elevation of minus four feet (Bald Head datum), a new boil­ing spring, far greater than the first one, burst through and damaged the sides of the cofferdam. The exceedingly frustrated District Engineer, Major Horton W. Stickle, told Colonel Kingman, "If any site could be found more unsuitable for foundation purposes it has never come to my attention."47

By November 1913, crews had completed the cofferdam with a bottom secured with concrete, 18 feet below low water. Once the cofferdam was finished, the work progressed smoothly. On 15 July 1915, the lock gates were closed for the first time and the lock put into operation.48The dam is a fixed, rock-filled, timber crib structure. The lock is concrete with steel gates and measuring 40 feet wide and 200 feet long.

The District learned several lessons while building Lock and Dam 1 and applied them to the construction of Lock and Dam 2 at Browns Landing.  For example, the Board of Engineers had recommended pumping out of the cofferdam of Lock and Dam 2 without sealing the bottom with concrete.  However, the concrete floor at Lock 1 prevented the cofferdam’s failure when pumped out, by providing a secure foundation for the steel sheet piling.  District Engineer Clarence S. Ridley recommended following the same method at Lock and Dam 2.  By pouring the concrete lock floor in 20 feet of water, the cofferdam walls were enabled to withstand the pressure of the river.

The District completed work on Lock and Dam 2 in 1917.  The dam is a rock-filled structure with a portion of the rock coming from an old Corps of Engineers jetty between Browns Landing and Fayetteville.  Lock 2 is identical in size to Lock 1.

A Board of Engineers appointed in 1911 postponed construction of Lock and Dam 3 to determine if an eight-foot channel could be maintained by dredging to supplement the two sets of locks and dams.  Dredging began in June 1919, starting at Fayetteville.  Wilmington District’s pipeline dredge Croatan worked only three days between 18 June and 25 October because of freshets or low water.  Ordinarily the Croatan would remove between 1,500 and 2,000 cubic yards per day, but while on the Cape Fear she seldom removed more than 300 cubic yards.  The material was a fine and heavy sand with a large percentage of gravel in places.  Also, the large number of stumps, roots, and rocks in the stream frequently stopped the pumps, requiring repairs.

Although during the time the dredge was in operation it removed 41,984 cubic yards, a survey made just after the work stopped showed that the cuts had shoaled 23,339 cubic yards while the work was under way.  During freshets, the river erased all signs of the dredged channel.  District Engineer J.R.D. Matheson reported, “The whole river bottom is alive during a freshet and the sand is constantly moving.”  He concluded “that the project was utterly hopeless by this means of improvement.”  The construction of the third set of locks and dams would be necessary if the project depth of eight feet was to be achieved.



Marker to measure depth of water in lock. 



Lock #1 today.




Fishermen enjoying the Cape Fear.


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