Local plans for improvements to the Osage River to make it a commercially navigable stream projected a series of locks and dams. Work by the Corps of Engineers on the first one began in September 1895 at Shipley Shoals, then seven miles from the mouth of the Osage. A key feature of the project was the “Chittenden Drum Wicket” (or the Chanoine wicket), the half-round section shown in this diagram. Designed by Army Corps Captain Hiram Martin Chittenden to regulate the flow of the river, the retractable 375-foot long iron mechanism was installed on top of a 9-foot concrete dam. It was prone to being jammed by mud and clogged by drift and was eventually scrapped.
Soon after its completion in 1906 a 30-foot section of the dam collapsed. That was rebuilt and for more than a century the lone lock and dam has served more as an impediment to river travel than as an improvement.
Capt. Chittenden redeemed himself with the Chittenden locks in Seattle, a complex of locks at the west end of Salmon Bay, part of Seattle‘s Lake Washington Ship Canal. Chittenden became the Seattle District Engineer for the Corps soon after completion of Lock and Dam No. 1. Seattle’s locks include working fish ladders for salmon. They were formally opened in 1917 and are still in operation. Chittenden retired as a general.
Possibly he erred in his calculations for Lock and Dam No.1 because he was absorbed in the writing of multi-volume books on the fur trade in the West and on steamboating on the Missouri River. Remarkably, unlike other histories written in that era, these are still in print, and even available in e-book format. His guidebook to Yellowstone is also still in print.
Today there is growing interest in getting rid of Lock & Dam No.1. The sad, crumbling state of the structure was painfully exposed during the drought of 2012. We have added a section to the Web site pulling together information on the current controversy surrounding Lock and Dam No. 1
Every week we post an unpublished image that relates to the Osage River, its ecology, history and development. None of these have been used in Damming the Osage, but they relate to the themes of the book. A brief caption identifies the location and our thoughts on its significance and meaning. Feel free to use these images for personal use if you credit “Collection of Leland and Crystal Payton.” For commercial use, email us for details and a modest fee for a higher resolution image. We have thousands of historic photographs and brochures as well as our own contemporary photos.
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