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De Pere Lock
The De Pere Lock is the last lock in the historic Fox River lock system. Once consisting of twenty-four locks from Portage to De Pere, this mid-19th century system connected the Great Lakes with ports on the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Today it is one of two hand-operated lock systems left in existence in the United States.
The DePere Lock has operated continuously since the 1850s. A major upgrade including steel gates was completed in the 1930s. A seasonal coffee shop is operated in the two story Dutch Colonial Revival National Historic Register locktender house.
This lock site is located at former location of Rapides des Peres, or Rapids of the Fathers. It was here that French missionary, Father Claude Allouez, built the St. Francis Xavier Mission in 1671. Father Allouez’s mission marks a 150-year period when the Parkway was part of New France. During this time the Fox-Wisconsin waterway was a strategic resource in France’s attempts to gain control of the fur trade in New World, which fueled the economy of the Upper Midwest throughout much of the 17th and 18th centuries.
After the United States declared independence and Wisconsin was admitted into the Union in 1848, work began on creating an easier passage over the rapids. The De Pere Lock was built as part of the Fox-Wisconsin Improvement project, which resulted in twenty-four locks and the Portage canal being built in the early to mid-19th century.
Today the lock is located at Voyageur Park in downtown De Pere. Visitors can enjoy picnicking, boating, and fishing. The Fox River State Recreational Trail, which runs 25 miles from downtown Green Bay to near the Village of Hilbert in Calumet County, is located along the western boundary of the park. An open pavilion, playground, portage locations, and parking are located near the lock site and park. The nearest boat launch is at the Fox Point Boat Launch, just north of Voyageur Park. Contact FRNSA for maps and more information.
National Register of Historic Places:
Part of the De Pere Lock and Dam Historic District: NR #93001331
Construction of the first lock and dam facility at De Pere was begun in 1836. This dam was subsequently washed away by a storm in 1847.
In 1848, the Board of Public Works of the newly formed State of Wisconsin appointed engineer Condy R. Alton to survey and assess the condition of the existing dams on the Fox River and suggest navigational improvements to other areas of the river. In his assessment of the De Pere Lock and Dam, Alton reported the existing wooden lock and dam was in disrepair and suggested the lock be replaced by one built of stone. Construction of a composite lock at De Pere began in 1849, coincident with construction of other facilities along the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway. By the summer of 1850, construction of the De Pere lock was complete, with the first riverboat passing through the facilities on June 14, 1850.
In 1866 the federal government surveyed the navigation facilities of the entire Fox-Wisconsin Waterway. During the survey, the De Pere Lock and Dam facilities were measured and noted to consist of a 6 foot high, 1,400 foot long dam, bypassed by a 750 foot long canal containing a composite lock measuring 140 feet in length and 35 feet in width. The length of the De Pere lock was noted to be some twenty feet shorter than the lengths of other locks on the Fox-Wisconsin.
Following the purchase of the lock and dam system of the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway by the federal government in 1872, another assessment survey was conducted by government surveyors. During the course of the survey, it was found that the length of the De Pere locks had been increased some 23 feet since 1866. The dam at De Pere was listed as being in “decent shape”. Subsequent to the 1872 survey, the United States Army Corps of Engineers embarked on a program designed to keep the Fox-Wisconsin system open to navigation. This program consisted of regular maintenance and construction of lock and dam facilities as well as dredging of navigation canals. At De Pere, work began with the construction of a locktender’s house in 1879. Throughout the late 1880s and early 1900s several repairs were made to the lock facilities at De Pere, including the replanking of the lock chamber as needed. In 1887, the lock chamber was lowered by 2.5 feet and entirely replanked. Additionally, the lock’s miter sill was secured to the rock floor, and seams in the floor were filled with rock and mortar. New timber lock gates and valves were installed in 1905 and wooden gate spars which had rotted were replaced in 1907. Between 1912 and 1913 the original locktender’s residence at the De Pere Lock and Dam facility was replaced by a new dwelling at a total cost of $3,052. In 1927, in the Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers, the De Pere dam was noted to be in a state of decay and construction of a concrete replacement was suggested as soon as funds were available. The report also suggested that prior to the rebuilding of the dam a sluiceway portion “should be provided to increase discharge capacity and reduce present danger of washout”. Construction of the sluiceway began in 1928 and was completed in 1929, at which time construction of a concrete spillway was begun. By 1930 the rebuilding of the De Pere dam was completed. The De Pere dam has been altered little since its completion in 1930, apart from the cleaning and painting of the sluice gates in 1947 and 1948. In 1934, plans were made to replace the composite lock at De Pere with a concrete lock with steel gates. Construction was scheduled to take place from December to March in 1934-1935, and was to be completed during the winter of 1935-1936. By 1936, the concrete lock was in place. The De Pere lock configuration has been altered little since 1936 apart from periodic cleaning and painting of the gates and steelwork. Additional minor alterations include various repairs and improvements to the canal banks.