Adsactly Education - Mississippi River-Dams Bridges Locks

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Adsactly Education: The Mississippi River-Dams Bridges Locks

The River still has stories to tell. Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) would become America’s first superstar writing stories and books about his time on the Mississippi. The river was a huge booming economic engine that was unstoppable. Let’s look at the progression that made it be so.

In the first part of this series (available here) we discussed the geologic history of the river and it’s flow. The second part of the series (available here) was about the early human history in the valley. The third part (available here) went from European contact to full American influence. The fourth part of the series (available here) is all about the Civil War on the River. The most current piece of this series deals with the US westward expansion and is available here.


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Dams, Bridges and Locks

The story of real navigation and travel on the Mississippi starts early in the US History of the River. In the early 1800s the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) started clearing the river of snags, the inevitable root ball and debris piles left behind after every flooding event on the River. By 1832 they had started clearing the lower Missouri and by 1867 steamboats could go as far as Fort Benton, Montana.

Steamboats were shoal draft vessels, usually requiring water depths of less than 10 feet (3 m) and could go in places that no normal vessel could navigate. But in order to truly exploit the freight potential of the River navigation had to improve.

Dredging of deep water channels was started by the 1820s and continues today. Channelization of the River started about the same time. Channel straightening was originally done by slowing the water flow in a bend in the river and forcing it to cut off the loop and straighten itself out. These straight channels tend to provide higher water velocity and also tend to be self cleaning of rocks and snags. Some of these efforts required the first levees to be built. A levee is a raising of the bank of a river to handle higher velocity and improve channel depth.


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Dykes, which are typically made of soil and rock, direct the current to the deepest channel thereby increasing velocity and depth. Levees were used to create floodways which are used only in high water events. These channel excess flow from the main river and into agricultural areas where the damage from flooding will be far less than in a city.

All these methods were in use by 1850, but still floods and snags impeded serious navigation of the Mississippi. In 1869 the ACOE was charged with improving the navigation capabilities of the River. The Corps started building dams on the river in 1881 with the Headwaters Dams project north of the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Those first dams were principally for flood control but also improved navigation.


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Today there are 29 dams and locks all on the Upper Mississippi. The project allows for year round navigation between Minneapolis and the Gulf of Mexico. This series of “stair steps” on the Mississippi takes in over 400 feet (125m) of elevation change in the River. The middle and lower River are not impounded by any locks or dams.

This allowed the Twin Cities to become manufacturing giants of the plains. It also made electricity available up and down the river.

There are literally hundreds of bridges over the Mississippi River, but most of them are on the upper river. Only 26 bridges cross the lower river from the Ohio confluence to the Gulf of Mexico. These bridges allow free traffic from bank to bank ensuring growth and potential prosperity on both sides of the river.

The Mississippi River has become an incredible freight handling artery of the US. The percentage of goods produced and consumed in the US that travels on the Mississippi is prodigious.

Sweet Sweet Music

The Mississippi River is the birthplace to four genres of music. Blues, Cajun, Jazz and Zydeco. Incredibly all 4 were born within a stretch of 100 miles of the river.

There are two known hotbeds for the music. The Mississippi (state) Delta and the Mississippi River Delta. Freed black slaves had to do with three of the four.

When France ‘owned’ the river they encouraged people to settle, particularly on the mouth of the river. Many of those early French speaking immigrants were actually from Canada where they were known as the Acadians. The settlement by the Acadians drastically increased when France lost the French and Indian War and many were ejected by the British in Canada. Many, if not most, moved to Louisiana where they would be known as ‘Cajuns’ with a rollicking music form of the same name.


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When the Civil War ended tens of thousands of freed blacks settled in Louisiana and took part of the Cajun Sound and made it their own, called Zydeco. The two music forms are very closely related but also distinctly separate, particularly in the instruments used to make the music. Both of these are from the Mississippi River Delta country.

The ‘Mississippi Delta’ is actually a huge flood plain between the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers entirely located in the state of Mississippi. The flood plain had been home to huge Plantations prior to the Civil War and immediately following the war freed blacks settled and homesteaded much of this area.

Those freed black people started with literally nothing but freedom. One of the freedoms that they embraced with gusto was the ability to make music. Gospel takes much of it’s energy from the Mississippi Delta, but another non church related form soon generated. The Blues were born in the Delta, and it is still considered the home of the Blues. Many of the original settlers migrated to the northern manufacturing areas but they took the Blues with them. Notably to Chicago.


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Jazz is considered by some to be an offshoot of the Blues. Whether or not you consider it such it also started in the Delta and migrated north to Chicago. Chicago turned out to be the great incubator of both of the forms, giving us the music we enjoy today.

Even this mighty river is at risk. In the concluding part of this series we will look at some of the risks that the Mississippi faces.

Unsourced Photos are used courtesy of the author.

While the words and ideas in this post are strictly those of the author these sources were referred to by me to insure numerical and historical accuracy.

Wikipedia: Mississippi River
USGS: A Brief History and Summary of the Effects of River
Engineering and Dams on the Mississippi River
System and Delta

Wikipedia: List of crossings of the Upper Mississippi River

Authored by: @bigtom13

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I would like to focus on the second part about music born in the mythical Mississippi, on its banks musical notes resound in the air, where trumpets and saxophones have been running in unison for centuries. It is as if a sacred breath animated this state which has managed to impose itself as a high place of musical culture.

Land of miscegenation, music missisipi is above all the fruit of the meeting between peoples. Everyone has grown rich in contact with other cultures so that over the centuries, the state has become an incubator of musical genres.

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Yeah. The music has been waiting for centuries, and now it is free. Without regard to race, creed, color or sexual preference. The music unites us all.

Thanks for a wonderful comment.

@bigtom13, Yes, in my opinion also there are so many stories associated with the River and by that i mean, Rivers are life for the Human Being and effective for their Evolution.

And we should not forget the Importance because, many times people forget about those aspect which plays an important and vital role in their life.

And really informative to know that Mississippi River is also known for the birth of four music genres. And these kind of Historical aspects really great to know.

And in my opinion every river holds one or more stories associated to it and for sure it will be an great aspect to know the stories because it will going to give the Taste of History.

Wishing you an great day and stay blessed. 🙂

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I truly agree that all rivers have stories. The Mississippi certainly. I can't over emphasize how much it means to America. Not just the freight it handles but the story of it,

I've spent some time down in the Delta looking after the blues. It's quite a place.

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Great to hear these words. Stay blessed. 🙂

lovely pix

awesome .

Education is the backbone of a nation. Which country develop his Education system he will shine his goal obviously.

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The more we know the better we do. Thanks for stopping by,

cool scenes to watch. thanks for posting.. @babara20

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You are welcome

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@adsactly that was awesome, I have not yet fated to see The Mississippi River. It's great to read your post

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I crossed it 4 times this summer while I was out and about. The first time was up in Minnesota and it wasn't very big. It get's bigger and bigger as you go south. It's impressive.

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@bigtom13 that was awesome to visit .. i feel lucky when I will get chance to see in my real eays .

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Great post!!

Awesome article. Great scenery to watch. Yes, in my opinion also there are so many stories with the River and by that i mean, Rivers are life for the Human Being and effective for their Evolution. Thanks for sharing .

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The river tells deep stories and shallow stories. And the river does not care, it just carries the stories.