Wilson Lock & Dam - Muscle Shoals, AL - the largest construction project of its time




The Wilson Dam spans the area of the Tennessee River found between Colbert and Launderdale Counties in Alabama. Wilson Lake is impounded by the Wilson Lock and Dam which is one of thirty-three dams on the Tennessee River that is under the authority of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The construction that began during 1918 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers was not completed until 1927.

The Wilson Dam is actually older than the TVA and is one hundred and thirty-seven feet high. The dam covers 4,541 feet of the Tennessee River and was nearly forty-seven million dollars to build. The Dam's main lock is 110 ft high by 600 ft long with the maximum lift being 100 feet. This lift at the Wilson Lock & Dam is the highest single lock that can be found to the east of the Rocky Mountains. There is also an auxiliary lock with two sixty feet deep by three hundred foot long chambers that are operated in tandem. The Dam sees almost four thousand vessels travel through the lock each year.

Wilson Lock & Dam is named for former United States President Woodrow Wilson and has the ability to generate 675 mega watts of electricity. The Dam is used for flood control, the regulation of the six hundred and fifty mile navigational channel and to provide over one hundred billion KW hours of electricity to the seven states that make up the Tennessee Valley Region.

The lock for the Wilson Dam was built during 1959 and has recently been damaged. There are plans to build a seven story hotel on the banks of the river overlooking the dam to soften the visual effects. Wilson Dam & Lock is one of the world's highest single lifts and is located on Highway 133 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The project was the first one to establish a federal hydroelectric project and was the first success attempt at gaining access to the Tennessee River's potential.

While the original purpose of the Wilson Lock & Dam was national defense the project's completion led the way to economic diversification and industrialization of the area and improved the lives of area residents. Major Harry Burgess the Nashville District Engineer submitted a survey report that showed the Dam to be the American public works most ambitious project of the time. The construction required almost one and a half a million cubic yards of rock and earth to be excavated to make room for it and used over one million cubic yards of concrete. There were over four thousand men working at the site during the peak of the construction.

With 630,000 KW the Wilson Lock & Dam is still ranked as one of the nation's highest capacity hydroelectric plants after seventy-five years in existence. There was a comprehensive survey taken of the Tennessee River's future improvement and economic potential by the Nashville District at the same time the dam was constructed. The valley's multipurpose development was the result of this study. The sheer size and vast history of the Wilson Lock & Dam make it a must to see for anyone in the Muscle Shoals, Alabama area.


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