NASHVILLE, Tenn. (June 24, 2020) – The city of Nashville unveiled a historical marker today at the site of a navigation lock that went operational in 1907 to tame the Cumberland River, but where only remnants of its stonework remain visible on the shoreline.
Dignitaries dedicated the marker in a ceremony at Lock 2 Park, highlighting the historical relevance of Lock and Dam 2, and Lock 2 Park, and city officials reinforced their commitment to preserve, protect, and document historic places.
Participants included Jeff Syracuse, Metro Council member for District 15; Jessica Reeves, who oversees the historic markers program with the Metro Historical Commission; Lt. Col. Sonny Avichal, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander; and Bill Holman, son of former lockmaster Red Holman.
The Corps of Engineers opened Lock and Dam 2 in 1907 and discontinued operations Dec. 5, 1956. Metro Parks leased the property in 1956; Lock 2 Park still contains the lock keeper's house, several outbuildings, a lock wall, and a river gauge on the concrete steps. In 2017, Metro Council approved the purchase of approximately 75 historic markers for all 35 Council districts, including the marker for this old navigation lock.
Syracuse lauded the history of the community of Pennington Bend and Lock 2 Park, which are situated on the tip of his district bordering the Cumberland River.
“This park here is a very special place to a lot of neighbors,” Syracuse said. “It’s a very special partnership between Metro Parks and the Corps of Engineers.”
That partnership, Reeves added, predates the creation of Nashville Metro. She noted that Davidson County Parks started leasing the land nearly a decade before Metro’s creation in the 1960s.
Reeves said a favorite part of her job is learning nuance history about a wide range of topics, things she never thought she would have an interest in such as the engineering behind the locks and dams, and why they were once named by numbers and letters.
“So we’re really excited we’re going to have a marker here now that explains why it was called that, what the history is behind that,” Reeves said.
From 1888 until 1928 the Nashville District struggled against all odds to create a system of locks and dams along the Cumberland River to aid navigation and facilitate trade. In all the Corps built a total of 15 of 26 planned navigation locks on the Cumberland River. The Corps constructed what are now known as the “Old Locks and Dams” A-F (downstream of Nashville) and 1-8 and 21 (upstream of Nashville).
Using a wood coffer dam, primitive hand tools, A-frames and even animals to haul in supplies and stone blocks on tracks from a rock quarry, Army engineers constructed Lock and Dam 2 between 1892 and 1907. The lock measured 52-feet wide and 280-feet long.
Avichal said thinking about the Corps of Engineers and the history in this region is fascinating because of the construction of these old locks for navigation.
“They established the Cumberland River as a future waterway… to transport goods and commerce up and down the river,” Avichal said.
By the end of June 1889, the site of Lock and Dam No. 2 and the lockkeeper’s house, had been approved by the chief of Engineers and negotiations were in progress for the purchase of the land at “Becks Ripple” about 12 miles upriver of Nashville. In 1891 excavation revealed that suitable bedrock foundation at this site did not exist at a consistent depth, which led to the selection of a new site location.
In March 1894 the Corps decided to construct Lock 2 about one and one-half miles below the old site at its present-day location on Pennington Bend. Construction began in late April.
By the end of June 1906 the filling valves and maneuvering appliances had been placed in the lock. An unusually high stage of water in the river and a lack of labor delayed the installation of the lock gates until November. Construction of the dam began Aug. 13, 1906. The Corps completed the dam and put the lock into operation Oct. 9, 1907.
Holman said he has fond memories of Lock and Dam 2, and growing up on the reservation when his dad supervised operations at the project.
“It is near and dear to my heart because I was born here,” Holman said. “This is where I spent most of my life. I probably traveled that road more than anyone else ever has.”
He recalled the great flood of 1937, when the water reached near the top of 13 steps on the front of the home he lived in. They would get into a row boat from the second step from the top during the flood, he recalled.
Holman’s mom and dad moved from Lock C to Lock 2 not long before his birth in 1928. The U.S. Army drafted Holman in 1950 and he left Lock 2 for military service. He returned about two years later and his dad had been promoted to lockmaster. Holman stayed at the reservation until his marriage in 1954.
“This was a place of gatherings on Saturday and Sunday afternoons,” Holman said. “People on the ‘Bend’ thought this was the greatest place, which it was. I couldn’t have had better parents or a better place to grow up.”
His dad, who went by the name of “Red,” retired not long before the lock closed in 1956.
The construction of the old locks did a lot to facilitate the growth of commerce on the Cumberland River, especially after World War II, along with the development of the modern diesel towboat and welded steel barge. Tows increased, but with the old locks being small by this point, barge tows were split into two or three pieces, increasing the time it took to deliver goods up and down the river.
To improve navigation and add hydropower as a project purpose, the Corps constructed modern multi-purpose dams from the 1940s through the 1970s, which replaced the need for the Corps of Engineers to maintain and operate the old locks and dams.
Little remains of the 15 old locks and dams, although portions of some of the locks, like at Lock 2, can still be seen today.
Avichal said the Corps takes pride in the past history of Lock 2, and he appreciates the fact that Metro Parks is preserving the historical structures and reminding citizens of the importance of navigation, while providing recreational opportunities.
“The commemoration of this marker and lock is really a culmination of a partnership. This partnership didn’t start yesterday. It started back in the late 1800s with establishing the Cumberland River as a major waterway system,” Avichal said.
A collection of maps in the USACE Digital Library of the Cumberland River in 1930 include annotations of the locations of the old locks. It is available at http://cdm16021.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16021coll10/id/8741.
(For more information about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, visit the district’s website at http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)