Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Place in History: Plaquemine Locks

I wrote a post about the historical Plaquemine Locks in my other blog, The Family Snoop, but I thought it was important to post it here because of its significance to the history of Iberville Parish.  

Plaquemine Locks, early 1900's

In 1895, construction of the Plaquemine Locks began after many delays.  Several years later they finally finished the project, in 1909.  The Plaquemine Locks were designed by Colonel George W. Goethals, who eventually became the Chief Engineer and Chairman of the Isthmian Canal Commission.  He also designed and constructed the Panama Canal.

Plaquemine Locks were needed to join Bayou Plaquemine with the Mississippi River, thus creating an "avenue" for local industry and trade to deliver their "goods" on a major waterway- the Mississippi River.  The majority of all water traffic made its way through the Plaquemine Locks to access major ports along the Mississippi River during the early 1900's.  The locks had the highest fresh-water life of any lock in the world at the time it was completed.  It was modernized to keep up with the heavy demand of traffic in the late 1940's by installing hydraulic pumps.  

So how do the pumps work exactly?  To give you a visual image of the Locks, imagine a large, tall concrete wall worn from the river's swift movements with the huge iron gates.  The Locks controlled the water levels but a boat could not enter until the level of water in the chamber was the same level as the Mississippi River.  At this time, the gates would open up and the boat would be able to enter Plaquemine Locks.  After the gates closed, the valves in the bayou side of the gates would open.  Water could then flow from the locking chamber into Bayou Plaquemine.  The water flowed by the force of gravity alone.  It never needed pumping out.  When the water in the lock chamber reached the level of Bayou Plaquemine, the emptying valves would close and the gates would again open on the bayou side.  The boat could then leave the Locks and continue on its journey.

The Plaquemine Locks were shut down permanently in 1961 soon after the opening of a more modern set of locks in Port Allen, Louisiana.  The original locks were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.  The present levee, built in 1974 by the Army Corps of Engineers, stretches across the mouth of Bayou Plaquemine at the Mississippi River.  This closed off access to the Mississippi River through Bayou Plaquemine, but also provided greater flood protection and stability for the historic structure.  Ownership of the Locks was transferred to the State of Louisiana in 1978 by the U.S. Army of Engineers.

Present day view of the Plaquemine Locks

The site is located off La. 1 in downtown Plaquemine in Iberville Parish, 13 miles south of Baton Rouge and 8 miles north of Nottoway Plantation in White Castle. The site is on historic Main Street directly across from Iberville Parish Museum and historic St. John's Church.

As a young boy, my husband and his friends spent a lot of time along the levees near the Plaquemine Locks.  He walked the grounds surrounding the locks often and has many memories connected with the historic place.  At one time, his family resided just around the corner from the Plaquemine Locks, therefore, he holds this place in close reverence to his boyhood memories.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing how simple it can be to communicate with people and have them understand a certain topic, you made my day.

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