In September 1921, 100 years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District opened Emsworth Locks and Dam located along the Ohio River in Emsworth, Pennsylvania, and placed it into operation.
“Emsworth Locks and Dam is a critical part of our nation’s navigation infrastructure as it maintains the navigation pool for the Port of Pittsburgh,” said Col. Adam Czekanski, commander, Pittsburgh District. “This not only creates the beautiful vista of the city from Point State Park, but it is also instrumental to the regional economy."
The Emsworth locks are the oldest on the Ohio River system. Construction began in 1919 and the lock opened in 1921. The dam, which replaced three wicket-type locks that had been operating since 1877, improved navigation in the Pittsburgh area by stabilizing the local water level and enabling commercial industry to transport coal and other commodities by river year-round.
The facility was initially constructed as a fixed-crest dam, which spanned the river’s width to maintain a channel depth necessary for large navigational vessels. In the late 1930s, the corps converted the dam to a gated structure. The gated-structure design raised the pool above the dam by seven feet to accommodate modern barges.
In the early 1980s, the corps invested roughly $30 million to perform major rehabilitation on the facility. The rehabilitation included replacing electrical systems, buildings, operational machinery and resurfacing the lock walls.
In 2020, the corps dewatered the primary lock chamber to inspect the chamber’s interior walls and perform maintenance work not possible during normal operations. Local government officials and media were invited to tour the dewatered chamber and walk along the Ohio riverbed.
Emsworth Locks and Dam affords $228 million to the economy annually by providing a more cost-effective alternative to costlier shipping methods, such as trucks and railroads.
Today, the facility averages almost 500 commercial lockages per month and an additional 350-400 lockages during summer months for recreational boats.
Emsworth is one of 23 navigation locks and dams on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers operated by the Pittsburgh District. Pittsburgh District’s 26,000 square miles include portions of western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Maryland, and southwestern New York. The district also manages 16 multi-purpose flood-control reservoirs, 42 local flood-protection projects, and other missions across 328 miles of navigable waterways to protect and enhance the nation’s water-resource infrastructure and environment.
Media can contact the Public Affairs office at CELRP-PA@usace.army.mil.
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