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Belle of Louisville

Belle of Louisville river steamboat that still travels the Ohio River with its passengers. –

Shot, stripped of his clothes and jewels, the first explorer of the Ohio River died a rather humiliating death–not at the hands of natives, but by his own crew. Who was he? The somewhat infamous Rene R. de la Salle, a Frenchman who’d immigrated to the French colonies in North America in 1666.

La Salle was a fur trader desperately searching for a route to China, which back in the 1600s he thought might be through North America. He was wrong. Instead, he found the Ohio and paddled its length down to present-day Louisville. His demise, however, came several years later when he brought four French ships, with over 300 people, to start a colony by sailing up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico. One disaster led to another and eventually he ended up with just 36 men and some stolen canoes, but still couldn’t find the Mississippi. Mutiny was inevitable.

The Ohio River, on the other hand, became the primary transportation route for pioneers, taking them from Pennsylvania on the east coast inland to what today is Ohio.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Ohio River and McAlpine Locks

1. The first three-stage locks, the Louisville and Portland, were completed on the Ohio River between 1825 and 1830. The canal was 50 feet wide and the three locks were the largest in the world. The lock was to bypass the Falls of the Ohio, where the river drops 26 feet in just two miles.

 McAlpine Lock

McAlpine Lock

2. The canal was widened at various periods over the next century, mainly in response to the increasing size of steamboats. The locks were widened to 200 feet in 1921.

3. In 1961 one of the largest undertakings on the Ohio was completed, increasing the lock size to 1200 x 110 feet. The surge basin was dredged at the same time.

Ship at McAlpine Locks & Dam

Ship at McAlpine Locks & Dam

4. In 1981, the U.S. Congress created the Falls of the Ohio National Wildlife Conservation Area–it includes the locks and dam, as well as the waters between Indiana and Kentucky, the fossil beds, and various other features on 1400 acres.

5. 200 million tons of cargo travel the Ohio and its tributaries each year. Today, there are two 1200 foot locks. The lock gates are made up of two leaves, each 70 feet wide and 60 feet high, and weighing 300 tons!


McAlpine Locks & Dam

Visit the Free McAlpine Locks and Dam Outdoor Interpretive Center

You can get a close up look at the dam by visiting the free Outdoor Interpretive Center. It features a series of informational displays that provide full information on the history of the McAlpine Locks and dam. See: CivilWorks/Navigation/LocksandDams/McAlpineLocksandDam/ VisitorInformation.aspx

McAlpine Locks and Dam Visitor Area
805 North 27th Street
Louisville, KY 40212

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