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Posted 7/24/2017

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By Carol E. Vernon
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District

With the snip of a ribbon and a rotation of a turnstile, the Hannibal Locks and Dam Visitor Center officially reopened, July 1 after nearly 16 years.

“This is an important event for the Corps and the community,” said Col. John Lloyd, commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District. “The center chronicles a time when operating the dam was accomplished manually using the wicket-type gates and a steam-powered boat. It also depicts the history of navigation on the Ohio River and the birth of a community.”

In those days, Hannibal featured wicket-type gates that were hoisted into position with a boat and the strength of the dam operator using a pole to pull the gate into place. Once in position, the wicket gate was propped up and held the river waters at bay, reducing the flow downstream.

Visitors to the center can view a model-sized replica of the stream-powered Maneuver Boat 35 and other memorabilia from the era. From the center’s deck, visitors have a view of the original wicket dam gates, which were removed and put on display after the completion of the Hannibal Lock and Dam in 1975. 

The center also offers breath-taking views of the dam and the river.  With any luck, visitors to the center can see a barge locking through the facility’s lock chamber.

“We are very, very thrilled we can have this center reopened.” Mick Schumacher, commissioner Monroe County said. “Having a tourist destination like this in the county is invaluable.”

According to Frank Hoagland, Ohio 30th District senator, the visitor center is important recognition.

“This center brings recognition to one of the most major arteries in the United States of America for commerce,” Hoagland said. “I can only imagine how many billions [of dollars] are going through the Ohio River from Pittsburgh on its way to Charleston. It amazing, what this river is doing for the country.”

For Carol Smittle, the daughter of Hannibal’s first lockmaster, Andrew Karpacs, the Hannibal dam and its fields are not just about the commerce -- it holds many of her favorite childhood memories.

As a child, Smittle and her brother and sister ran and played in the fields here. The family house was “the house” in the neighborhood where are the children would gather and play. Now that the center is reopened, she hopes the Corps and the community will continue to improve the land and make it a destination for not only the community, but for travel too.

“This was a place where families came together, children would be playing in the field and families picnicked,” Smittle said. “My dad would have loved this. The wicket gates display, the swing set and the covered picnic area would make him very happy.”

A little more than a year ago, 13 community partners came together and signed a first of its kind, handshake agreement.

The efforts required hundreds of volunteer hours, 13 community organizations, and a $25,000 grant to renovate, clean and restore the center.

The ceremony was dedicated to Barbara Rush, director Ohio Valley River Museum, who recently lost her battle with cancer. Her leadership and dedication was instrumental to the restoration of the visitors’ center, said Scott, Edgar, Lock Master.

“The $25,000 grant was critical in renovating and re-opening the visitor center; however, people like Barb and the other volunteers truly made this happen,” Edgar said.

With the help of two summer hires and more than nine months of repairs, the center can take its place as the iconic symbol of the Ohio River’s great history and the community’s commitment to preserve it.

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