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Workers at Wheeler Dam find drawings of Muscle Shoals Canal Lock

Due to heavy rainfall and flooding conditions, Wheeler Dam has recently been spilling as much as 260,000 cubic feet of water per second into Wilson Lake.

Flooding conditions have stopped commercial traffic on parts of the Tennessee River, but this has not limited the crew at Wheeler Dam’s navigation lock.

On Monday, February 10, while moving office furniture inside a work area, a historic discovery was made by Wheeler Dam Lock Supervisor Carl Scott.

Scott found an original drawing, dated May 22, 1893, and signed by W.A. McFarland, assistant engineer to Captain George W. Goethals, Corps of Engineers. The drawing was wedged between a desk and the wall.

The large, immaculate print detailed plans for rebuilding the drop gates at the Muscle Shoals Canal.

A second drawing, dated January 1877, depicted Lock Number 2.

The Muscle Shoals Canal opened in 1890.

Rapids, islands, reefs and bars from Elk River to Florence via the Tennessee River created obstacles so difficult to navigate that it divided the river into two sections. In 1827, the U.S. Congress authorized a survey of the Tennessee River at the Muscle Shoals. Work first began on the canal in 1830, but it could not accomplish its goals, and worked was stopped.

Another canal was built and opened in 1890 by Captain Goethals, who also administered and supervised the construction and opening of the Panama Canal.

The Muscle Shoals Canal was 14.5 miles long. It had nine locks and a total lift capacity of 85 feet. The system included the Elk River Shoals Canal and a navigation channel at Little Muscle Shoals. The Elk River Canal was 1.5 miles long. It had two locks and a total lift of 23 feet. The entire project cost $3,191,726.50.

After the creation of TVA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to develop the Tennessee River as one river system were implemented. Wheeler Dam, along with Pickwick and Wilson dams, eliminated the dangers of the shoals, clearing the way for safer and expanded river navigation.

According to Wheeler Dam Lock Master Brian Brewer, plans are underway to have the newly-found drawings framed, but he is unsure exactly where they will ultimately be displayed.