Monday, July 25, 2016

Images and a Little History from Keokuk Iowa

Finally we made it across the Mississippi River from Illinois to Keokuk Iowa.  A long day of driving still lay ahead of us but I had noted many historic places and landmarks that I wanted to check out along our route.

I had listed 12 places from the National Register of Historic Places in Keokuk alone… As it turned out, we only had time to take a look at 4 of them.  The others will have to wait for us to make another family visit to Omaha.

This is a statue of Samuel R. Curtis.  We didn’t have time to look for his former home in Keokuk so this was the next best thing.  Curtis was one of the first Republicans elected to Congress.  He was most famous for his role as a Union Army general in the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War…especially for his victories at the Battles of Pea Ridge in 1862 and Westport in 1864.

Curtis was a West Point Graduate who’d resigned his commission in 1832.  However, during the Mexican-American War, he was appointed as a colonel and he served as the military governor of several occupied cities.  After the war, he moved to Iowa and became the mayor of Keokuk in 1856.  In 1856 he was elected to represent Iowa's 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives, where he served 3 terms.

The George M. Verity is a historic towboat on display as museum ship on the Mississippi riverfront in Keokuk.  Built in 1927 as SS Thorpe, she is nationally significant for being one of only three surviving steam-powered towboats still in existence in the United States.

As the SS Thorpe, she was one of four towboats that inaugurated barge service on the upper Mississippi River.  She was the first to move barges from St. Louis Missouri north to St. Paul Minnesota.  She is 162.5 feet long with a beam of 40.5 feet.  Her second owner was the Armco Steel Company and they renamed her after their founder.  After 33 years of service on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, she was retired and given to the city of Keokuk Iowa to serve as the George M. Verity River Museum.  If you’re interested in visiting this towboat, you can go to

This is a photo of the railroad swing bridge over the channel leading to Keokuk lock and dam #19 on the Mississippi River.  This swing segment connects with the stable portion of the Keokuk railway bridge, at the upper right in the photo, whenever a train is crossing the river.

Construction of the dam began in 1910 and was completed in 1913.  The main portion of the dam is 4,620 feet long.  At the time the dam was completed it was second in length only to the Aswan Low Dam on the Nile River.  River traffic’s drop through the lock from the upper pool to the lower pool is 38 feet…


·       If you look carefully, you’ll see that the railroad bridge is a double deck affair.  That’s because, prior to the new highway bridge completion in 1985, the upper deck of the old bridge was a 2-lane roadway. 

·       The old eleven-span, double-deck steel superstructure was built in 1915-1916 on piers retained from an earlier (1869-1871) bridge.  It still serves as the railway bridge! 

I borrowed this aerial view of the Keokuk Lock and Dam from Wikipedia.  It shows the new (1957) 1,200 foot long lock at the left.  The dewatered drydock and the original 1913 lock are at the upper right.  The current US Hwy. 136 bridge is at the very bottom and the old dual level railroad/highway bridge is just above the current highway bridge. 

Lock and Dam No. 19 Historic District encompasses 1,605 acres, 7 buildings and 12 structures.  The lock itself is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dam is owned and operated by Ameren, a Missouri power company.  This lock and dam eliminated the Des Moines Rapids, a natural barrier to Mississippi River traffic.  In that area prior to dam construction, the river was only about 2.5 feet deep. 

Various attempts to make the river navigable actually started in 1837 when a channel was blasted through the rapids by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team led by Robert E. Lee.  A canal was built around the rapids 1877.  That canal has now been obliterated by Lock and Dam No. 19.

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I like restaurants, food, history, airplanes, automobiles, railroad related items or property and ships.  While taking photos of Lock and Dam #19, a river barge and tow boat came down river after passing through the lock… In this photo, the nose of the first barge is peeking out of the lower lock area.

There were 3 or 4 fishermen working the channel looking for a bit of excitement…or perhaps dinner.
In 2015, a total of 21,273,045 tons of product was ‘locked through’ Lock #19 via over 19,000 barges and almost 2,000 towboats.  A modern 15 barge tow is the equivalent to 1,050 semi-trucks or 240 railcars…

The towboat pictured above is the City of Louisville.  She has been around for a while.  Originally the Mary B, she was built in Pennsylvania in 1962.  Her name was changed to the Walter Curley in 1966 and then she was given her current name in 1976.  She’s had 6 different owners.

The City of Louisville is 148 feet long with a beam of 34.5 feet.  She is a twin screw towboat equipped with two 3,200 horsepower diesel engines.

I don’t know how long this barge and tow boat combination was but as you can see, it was sizable! (Perhaps 700 – 750 feet long with the towboat)

Located just a little downriver from the George M. Verity Towboat Museum and Lock #19 is Keokuk’s old Union Depot.  This Romanesque Revival depot, which was completed in 1891, was designed by the famous Chicago architectural firm, Burnham and Root.  It was one of the last buildings that Root designed before he died. 

Five railroads banded together to form the Keokuk Union Depot Company and then to build the depot: Keokuk and Western Railroad; St. Louis, Keokuk and Northwestern Railroad; Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (Rock Island line); Toledo, Peoria and Western Railway, and; the Wabash Railroad. 
There is currently a major push to revitalize the old depot with the immediate effort focused on replacing/refurbishing the roof.  Volunteers spend 3 days a week on the project.  There is a solid chance that this beautiful old depot will be preserved…

After 75 years of service, passenger rail service ended at the depot in 1967.  Then it was used by the railroads as a headquarters for their agents and operators.  The Keokuk Junction Railway acquired the local yard trackage and switching rights from the bankrupt Rock Island lines, and in 1981 they bought all of the shares of the Keokuk Union Depot Company.  The depot was used by the KJRY as the base for their tourist train operations, and its trolley rides across the Mississippi into Illinois.  Shortline Operator Pioneer Railcorp acquired the Keokuk Junction Railway's assets in 1996.  They used the old depot for storage until 2011.  At that point they conveyed the depot and the adjacent land to the City of Keokuk for 99 years. 

To learn more about this railroad depot and to see some photos of it back in the day when it was still serving as a passenger station, just go to

This is the Hotel Iowa at 401 Main Street in Keokuk.  This Chicago Commercial Style structure was completed in 1913 to house workers working on a big local project…Keokuk Lock and Dam #19.  Today, it is a facility designed for independent living…for seniors who are at least 55 years of age.  There are 53 newly renovated 1 or 2 bedroom apartments in the building.  To check out the amenities offered as well as the costs, just go to  It’s great to see that this handsome building has been repurposed!

Just click on any of the photographs to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to see what we’ve been up to!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. You are a historical encyclopedia David, I am learning so much about the States from you. I regret not having travelled more when I lived in New York, I only travelled around the East Coast, but once I did manage to see the West...Arizona state, loved it. Thank you for the birthday wishes and happy belated birthday to you!

  2. You are a historical encyclopedia David, I am learning so much about the States from you. I regret not having travelled more when I lived in New York, I only travelled around the East Coast, but once I did manage to see the West...Arizona state, loved it. Thank you for the birthday wishes and happy belated birthday to you!

  3. Interesting bunch of history, David.... I love the way you two travel--checking out interesting places along the way --to break up the trip... We always seem to be going from here to there as quickly as possible --skipping all of the good stuff in between...

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Dear Dave it is nice that you set out with a plan and try to get all the sights along the way and take the time to stop and see them. It is such a beautiful country.