The Dam

The buildings and grounds of Ohio River Lock and Dam No. 31 is a complex containing five houses, a powerhouse, a blacksmith shop, a garage, paved roads and sidewalks, a stone road and landscaping which were built and used by the Corps of Engineers for the operation of Lock and Dam #31 of the Ohio River System. The dam and locks have been demolished. The complex is located on a high bank of the river in northeastern Lewis County approximately 20 miles upstream from Vanceburg, the county seat, and 2.5 miles below Portsmouth, Ohio.


The complex is located on a 7.71-acre plot, most of which is located on a high terrace overlooking the Ohio River. The six primary buildings face the River and are parallel to it. All are about thirty feet from a sidewalk that runs along the edge of the terrace.  Connecting this row of buildings to the old lock and dam complex was a concrete stair built on the riverbank.  The concrete drive provides access to the garage and workshop area located adjacent to the railroad and to an abandoned road paved with stone that provided access to the lock and dam when they were in operation.


The primary building in the complex is the powerhouse, built in 1919, which is located at the top of the stairs leading from the lock and dam. A tall, one-story, brick structure measuring 32′ x 77′, the powerhouse has an irregular, coursed-stone foundation with stone watercourse.  The powerhouse is a well-executed Classical Revival industrial building that serves as the focal building in the complex.


Lock and Dam Site #31 is significant in American transportation history as a significant component and in the Ohio River Navigation System operated by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1875 and the 1960s. This system of 53 locks and dams located between Pittsburgh and the Mississippi River was critical to the development of a modern transportation system on the Ohio River. Surviving as the best-preserved lock and dam support complex in Kentucky, Lock and Dam No. 31 provides us with an important link to this historic transportation system.


Lock and Dam No. 31 was constructed between 1912 and 1919. In 1920, Dam No. 31 was dedicated.  At a cost of over $1,000,000 and over 200 men, the dam took nearly eight years to complete due to weather delays.  The fifty-three lock and dams in the system were built between 1906 and 1929 with the exception of the first, Davis Island, which was completed in 1885. Built and operated by the Huntington District of the Ohio River Division, Lock and Dam No. 31 is located, like most units in the system, in a remote area. Utilizing the most modern technology in an area not yet served by electricity, the complex required facilities making it self-sufficient such as a power-generating facility and a blacksmith shop. It also provided the quality housing required to recruit and retain the technical staff required to operate it. As such it remains an outpost of the Federal Government and modern technology in an area where unpaved roads were the rule.


The Lock and Dam No. 31 Complex became obsolete in the 1960s with the completion of the Meldahl high lift lock and dam downstream. When Meldahl came on line, Dam No. 31 became an obstruction in the new system that resulted in its demolition along with the obsolete lock. The balance of the complex was sold to the Edward L. Glockner, in March 1968.  The Glockner family has retained ownership and preserved the site in excellent condition since its acquisition.

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