Keokuk is located at the site of the Des Moines Rapids. These rapids
were 12 miles long and according to records had an average depth of less
than 3 feet. The Des Moines Rapids comprised the first major obstacle to
river traffic on the Upper Mississippi River since they were first
scouted by the U.S. Army explorer Lt. Zebulon Pike in 1805. A number of
different methods were use to circumvent the rapids beginning with a
small fleet of keelboats that were used for “lightering,” where goods
and passengers were transferred from steamboats to these smaller boats
for carrying over the rapids. In 1866, Congress authorized the
improvement of the rapids at Keokuk and Rock Island. Pressure by Keokuk
city leaders resulted in a design for a 7.6 mile canal that would run
parallel to the Mississippi. In 1877 the canal was opened providing
In 1905 the U.S. Congress passed a bill granting the
Keokuk and Hamilton Water Power Company the right to dam the river and
construct a hydro-electric plant at the foot of the rapids and to build
a new lock and dry dock to replace the canal which had become too small
to handle the newer boats of the day. Construction on Lock and Dam No. 19
was started in 1910 and completed in 1913 with the cost being borne by
the power company. The Keokuk Power House was the largest capacity,
single powerhouse electricity generating plant in the world. The power
house provided electricity for Keokuk and cities as far away as St.
Louis. The power house also attracted a lot of industry to the Keokuk
In 1957, the lock was replaced and upgraded to measure 1,200 feet by 110
feet at a cost of 13.5 million dollars.
The lock and dam
obliterated the Des Moines Rapids
and created Lake Cooper, named after Hugh L. Cooper, the designer of the
Keokuk Dam. Lake Cooper is the largest pool in the series of dams with
240 miles of shoreline.
With a 38 feet (11.6 m) difference between the normal pool above and
below the dam, the lock has the highest "step" in the stairway of the
Rock Island District locks and dams. Lock and Dam #19 is owned and
operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The power house is owned
and operated by AmerenUE, a privately owned utility company. The
facility was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
Lock and Dam No. 19 is an excellent spot to look for Bald Eagles because
the facility keeps the water free of ice and allows the eagles to hunt
and Dam No. 19
and Dam No. 19, as well as the rest of the river, can be viewed from a
distance on the Observation Deck of the Keokuk Rail Bridge.
The Lock and Dam
No. 19 can be
viewed daily from dawn to dusk.
There is no charge to visit Lock and Dam No. 19.
Lock and Dam No. 19 is located along Keokuk's
riverfront. To reach the Observation deck from Main Street (US-136,
US-218) in downtown Keokuk take N. 1st Street to Blondeau Street. Take
Blondeau Street to N. Water Street. Parking for the observation Deck
will be at the end of the old bridge and just north of the new bridge.
Regional Locks and Dams - Get more
information on the Locks and Dams in the Middle Mississippi River Valley
from Lock and Dam No.19 in Keokuk, Iowa to and Lock and Dam No. 27 in
Granite City, Illinois just north of St. Louis.
Learn more about the